Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero

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yusuf azeem is not a hero by saadia faruqi

“Imagine there’s no countries

It isn’t hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion, too”

-- John Lennon (1971)

“Rather than exemplify the nation’s highest values, the official response to 9/11 unleashed some of its worst qualities: deception, brutality, arrogance, ignorance, delusion, overreach and carelessness...The betrayal of America’s professed principles was the friendly fire of the war on terror...In the name of counterterrorism, security [was] politicized, savagery legalized and patriotism weaponized...By 2004, when the 9/11 Commission urged America to ‘engage in the struggle of ideas,’ it was already too late; the Justice Department’s initial torture memos were already signed, the Abu Ghraib images had already eviscerated U.S. claims to moral authority. And it has lasted long. The latest works on the legacy of 9/11 show how war-on-terror tactics were turned on religious groups, immigrants, and protesters in the United States. The war on terror came home, and it walked in like it owned the place.”

-- Carlos Lozada in The Washington Post, “9/11 was a test. The books of the last two decades show how America failed.” (9/3/2021)

“Miss Terrance was ready for a discussion in social studies class. She stood with hands on her hips, legs spread slightly apart so that they looked like two tall buildings teetering on the spindly foundations of her heels. ‘All right, everyone saw the words on the warehouse outside school this morning, so let’s talk about it and get it off our chests before we work on today’s lessons. Okay?’

Nobody said anything. Yusuf’s throat was dry. Uncle Rahman’s journal entry about the Twin Towers tumbling down in a pile of ash and stone echoed in his mind. Did anyone even know what ‘Never Forget’ really meant? Had anyone ever really thought about it, the way he hadn’t been able to stop thinking all night long?

‘We learned about it in fifth grade,’ Madison finally said. ‘It was a bunch of terrorist attacks a long time ago, when my mom was a teenager.’

‘Yes,’ said Miss Terrance, writing 9/11 on the whiteboard with a bright red Expo marker. Then she wrote Never Forget under it.

A boy with wispy red hair raised his hand. ‘It was Arab terrorists. Like him.’

Yusuf felt the hair on his neck rise in protest. ‘Like me?’ he squeaked. Why did people think all Muslims were Arab? His family was from South Asia, not that anyone in the class cared.

Miss Terrance scowled heavily. ‘How old do you think Yusuf Azeems is, fifty? How could he have anything to do with 9/11?’

There was an awkward laughter, but the red-haired boy persisted. ‘It was his folks. They said that on the news last night.’

Miss Terrance’s scowl got even darker. ‘Okay, seems like you kids need some education. I don’t want anyone pointing fingers at one of their classmates. She turned away and wrote on the whiteboard: ASSIGNMENT!!!

‘I want you to research 9/11 and present a report two weeks from now. And it better be good, because you’ll be reading it in front of the class.”

Yusuf Azeem is able to write off the rude note that he finds in his locker on his first day of middle school (You suck). But the second day’s note (Go home) makes it clear to him and to readers that it's not a random incident.

Growing up in a small town between Dallas and Houston, Yusuf is about to turn twelve as he begins sixth grade at Frey Middle School in the fall of 2021 (Right now!). Yusuf’s focus as he starts the school year is on the team that he and his friend Danial hope to put together to enter the Texas Robotics Competition.

But Yusuf’s and Danial’s families are part of the community’s growing Muslim population, and this is the 20th anniversary of 9/11. As 9/11/21 approaches, the Islamophobia aimed at Yusuf and Danial escalates into a vicious movement that affects the town’s entire Muslim community and threatens the modest mosque it is constructing.

Yusuf’s mother’s younger brother, Uncle Rahman, was exactly Yusuf’s age when 9/11 occurred. One evening, he slips Yusuf the journal he, himself, filled over the course of that miserable 2001-2002 school year. The story of Yusuf’s struggles with the notes in his locker and the daily bullying in the classrooms, hallways, and even in town, is interspersed with passages from Uncle Rahman’s journal from twenty years ago. Talk about the same old-same old!

Message in the locker, Day 3: “We hate you.”

Yusuf is an admirable, memorable, and relatable character. YUSUF AZEEM IS NOT A HERO is gripping and, unfortunately, all-too-believable. Next weekend, in addition to remembering the brave first responders who suffered and died on 9/11, I will be thinking of American Muslims, born in the U.S. but not treated like it, For two decades, they have suffered insults, been discriminated against, surveilled, pushed to become FBI informants, or even attacked and killed.

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

See more of Richie's Picks <http://richiespicks.com/http://richiespicks.pbworks.com

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At a time when we are all asking questions about identity, grief, and how to stand up for what is right, this book by the author of A Thousand Questions will hit home with young readers who love Hena Khan and Varian Johnson—or anyone struggling to understand recent U.S. history and how it still affects us today.  

Yusuf Azeem has spent all his life in the small town of Frey, Texas—and nearly that long waiting for the chance to participate in the regional robotics competition, which he just knows he can win.

Only, this year is going to be more difficult than he thought. Because this year is the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, an anniversary that has everyone in his Muslim community on edge.

With “Never Forget” banners everywhere and a hostile group of townspeople protesting the new mosque, Yusuf realizes that the country’s anger from two decades ago hasn’t gone away. Can he hold onto his joy—and his friendships—in the face of heartache and prejudice?---from the publisher

368 pages                         978-0062943255                         Ages 8-12

Keywords:  racism and prejudice, acceptance, accepting others, Muslim Islamophobia, school story, robotics, competitions, American history, friends, friendship, diversity, diverse books, 8 year old, 9 year old, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old

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