Turning Humiliation Into Inspiration

July 26, 2008

Author: Samuel G. Freedman

Source: The New York Times


Yasmine Hafiz was passing through security at an airport near Washington several weeks ago when a federal agent stopped her. Something strange and metallic had shown up in her carry-on bag during screening. Now she needed to explain what the suspicious object was.

At 18, newly graduated from high school, Yasmine knew the drill all too well. A few years earlier, an immigration officer had demanded she present a visa to board a flight from Canada to her home in Arizona. It was as if, because she had dark skin and a Pakistani surname and was Muslim, she, an American citizen, still needed permission to enter her own country.

This time, the security agent began unpacking the carry-on bag until he found his quarry. It was a bronze disc plated with gold. “It’s a medal,” said Yasmine’s mother, Dilara, who was traveling with her. “It’s from the president.”

Yasmine had received the medallion in the White House the day before, when she was honored as one of 139 Presidential Scholars.

Humiliated in the wake of triumph, scrutinized, literally, for her achievement, Yasmine in that moment lived the very contradictions she had sought to address in a book. Called the “The American Muslim Teenager’s Handbook” (Acacia, 2007), written with her mother and her younger brother, Imran, and improbably modeled on that cheeky 1980s phenomenon “The Official Preppy Handbook,” the slender volume aspires to nothing less than bridging a cultural chasm.

“In some ways, the book looks like a novelty because it’s by and about teens,” said Yasmine, who will start college at Yale this summer. “But the book also has some profound things to say about religion and identity and assimilation. And maybe we can get under the radar, and avoid some of the criticism, because we are teens.”