The Twitterverse went bananas when Love, Hate & Other Filters came out. I wanted to read it, but was elbows deep in 2017 Vancouver Writers Festival titles. I finally tackled Samira Ahmed’s book about an American-born Muslim girl dealing with the already difficult difficulties of being a teen, compounded with Islamophobia.
Maya Aziz is 17 and infatuated with a boy in her class—a white boy with the whitest name of Phil. For the first time in the years they’ve known each other, he seems interested in her too. But her parents want her to date a good Muslim and go to college locally. And get married. Like, right now. Maya wants to go to film school. In NYC.
What’s weird for me is the pressure to get married or be thinking about getting married in high school. Maya’s mom is super worried that she’s throwing away her chances already and tells her daughter she’d be lucky to get engaged. Maya’s parents aren’t even that obsessed about it. They want her to finish college first. They’re progressive. I actually know someone who got married right after high school graduation and it did not end well. I’m not even sure full blown grownups should get married sometimes.
Maya secretly applies for film school in New York. And she gets in! And just as she finally, finally convinces her parents to let her go, a horrible crime is committed in their community and everyone loses their collective minds and blames a Muslim man. Maya’s family gets attacked, because they share the same last name with the alleged perpetrator.
Maya is just a girl, trying to find a way to be her best self. I’m going to repeat that. She’s just a girl. And Muslims are just people. We’re all just people. And there are some major misconceptions about Muslims in the world. That’s why YA fiction like Ahmed’s is so important. It’s humanizing and a pointed reminder we’re all humans. Fiction should stir understanding and let readers into the heads of people with different opinions, different viewpoints and different challenges. I’m all for diversity in fiction, because, hello, there is diversity in life.
Like Maya, whenever there is an act where innocent bystanders are attacked, I cross my fingers about two things.
I always hope it’s a white man who is the perpetrator. How crazy, that we have to live in a world in which we cross our fingers that it’s a white perpetrator so that Muslim or minority communities aren’t targeted with hate crimes by crazies in retribution. Maya, when she first hears about the incident in her community, desperately wants the guy to be white.
My second hope is that the alleged perpetrator gets reported on fairly. The media is quick to point to radicalization if the criminal is a Muslim, but if the perpetrator is white, he’s just a troubled guy. In the YA book I Am Thunder, author Muhammad Khan tackles this more directly: the two main characters discuss the portrayal of Muslims or blacks in the news. They point out that if a black man creates a crime, he’s a gangbanger. If a Muslim commits a crime, he’s a terrorist.
“But if it’s a white guy, he gets called a “lone wolf”, and suddenly it’s all about mental health issues,” Arif, a young Muslim male, says in the book. Succinctly put. And observant. And correct. And appalling. How we describe people is important. We need to remove bias from reporting to help tamp down on hysterical and unnecessary reactions.
To bring it back to love: love, especially within families, is tough. In both these books, the love between children and their parents is strained and complicated by expectations and misunderstandings. The parents straddle their experiences as immigrants, while the children look for new footing as citizens of countries their parents didn’t grow up in. Things are bound to be a little tricky, no matter how much love is between them. Their definitions of love, what it looks like, and how it’s communicated, are different.