Growing up different

<strong>Arab in America</strong>

Toufic el-Rassi <em>Last Gasp, 117pp, £9.99</em>

Born in Beirut in 1978, Toufic el-Rassi emigrated as a child to Chicago, fleeing the ravages of the Lebanese Civil War. His memoir is a deeply personal indictment of America’s treatment of the Arab world, from Hollywood’s racism to the hypocritical War on Terror.

From a young age, el-Rassi found his identity challenged, beset on all sides by the small-minded prejudices of pop stars, film-makers, classmates and even teachers. “I remember in high school, one of my more patriotic teachers had a cartoon pinned to the wall,” he writes. The image shows a muscular GI, “USA” tattooed on his bicep, extorting oil from a cowering Arab caricature.

From el-Rassi’s point of view, we see the casual orientalism of the song “Walk Like an Egyptian” by the Bangles in a new, unpleasant light, and cringe at the racially denigrating stereotypes peddled by films such as Chuck Norris’s Delta Force, in which Arabs played by “well-tanned” white actors are “slaughtered en masse”.

After the 11 September 2001 attacks, opinion-makers such as Ann Coulter rise to prominence, suggesting that “all aliens from Arabic countries leave”, or that the United States should “invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity”. Rassi’s call to reason is well-illustrated and poignant.

Yo Zushi is a contributing writer for the New Statesman. His latest album, It Never Entered My Mind, is out now on Eidola Records and is on Spotify here.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Moral crisis?