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Alia Malek’s A Country Called Amreeka //

byTaylor Kate Brown

amreekaWhen Alia Malek worked at the Department of Justice in the aftermath of 9/11, the idea of who an Arab-American was more myth than actuality.

“It was as if we were unicorns,” Malek said, guessing she was then one of three lawyers of Arab background in her division.

Malek’s new book, A Country Called Amreeka: Arab Roots, American Stories, is a collection of true stories about Arab-Americans, using historical touchstones to create a diverse mosaic of living in both worlds. She returned to one of her many alma maters, Columbia University recently, to discuss her writing and reporting experience.

After 9/11, Malek expected someone to write a book about Arab-America and its culture. “I kept waiting and waiting,” she said, and by the time she had enrolled at Columbia’s Journalism School in 2005, she knew what she wanted to write.

Malek chose individuals who could illuminate a wide variety of the Arab-American experience. She also had to work against her fear of portraying the book’s subjects as less than 100 percent positive, given the negative stereotypes already in circulation.

Malek read a short excerpt from the “Driven” chapter of the book, which centers on refugee named Muhammad during the Iranian hostage crisis, who’s just trying to make a living and fall in love. The book’s 11 chapters each center around a single character during events from an alternate timeline” – historical events crucial to Arab-Americans. Towards the end of the book, that timeline merges with events inside mainstream history: the 2000 American election, 9/11, and the Iraq war.

“There have been growing pains,” in American society relating to Arabs and vice-versa, she says, but she’s optimistic that more narratives will put a human face on the country’s Arab-Americans. “One day, we will think of Muhammad as a common American name.”

Buy A Country Called Amreeka on Amazon

About the Author: Taylor Kate Brown is a freelance journalist and a digital media student at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. She blogs about culture and international affairs at Follow Taylor on Twitter @wittywhenawake.

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