National Press Club

Watching towers fall influences founder

January 23, 2017 | By Mark Krikorian |

Al-Khatahtbeh (sitting), author of Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age, is introduced by Kristin Szremski at a National Press Club Book Rap on Jan. 18, 2017

Al-Khatahtbeh (sitting), author of Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age, is introduced by Kristin Szremski at a National Press Club Book Rap on Jan. 18, 2017

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

"They're going to blame us. And it's going to get much worse."

That's what Amani Al-Khatahtbeh's father told her as they watched the planes slam into the Twin Towers on TV on 9/11 when she was in fourth grade in New Jersey. The experience shaped Al-Khatahtbeh's life. It led her, eventually, to start the blog and then to write Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age, which she discussed at an National Press Club Book Rap on Jan. 18.

"It wasn't until I started writing this book that I discovered how much of an open wound it is," Al-Khatahtbeh said of 9/11; "truly, that day lives on for us, we live it again and again, as Muslim Americans. We are paying the price for it."

Al-Khatahtbeh started the blog to correct what she saw as media misrepresentation, she said.

"I grew up under such misconstrued headlines that painted Muslims in such an inaccurate way," which Al-Khatahtbeh described as "a complete assault on my identity."

The misrepresentation was especially pronounced regarding Muslim women, whose plight was often the focus of policy discussions but who were seldom the ones doing the discussing, Al-Khatahtbeh said.

"It was always non-Muslims, often non-women, that were really speaking on our behalf, and, I mean, that resulted in a lot of inaccurate policies that impacted our communities, both domestically and abroad," Al-Khatahtbeh said.

While Islam means "submission" (to God), the West ironically demands its own kind of submission by Muslim women, Al-Khatahtbeh said. "When we are ridiculed and targeted for covering our bodies in the face of the hyper-sexualization of patriarchal Western society that demands that we as women take our garments off, that is more comfortable with a pair of naked breasts than covered hair, what does Western society want from us but our submission," she said.

A family trip to her father's native country of Jordan opened her eyes to how Islam was actually lived in the Middle East as opposed to how it was represented in the media and that disconnect has harmful effects, Al-Khatahtbeh said.

"So many polls have been coming out that the majority of Americans have never met a Muslim person before. And yet, we just elected a president largely due to his policies about the Muslim-American community," Al-Khatahtbeh said.

Al-Khatahtbeh hopes to grow into "the first mainstream media network by and for Muslim women," to place more Muslim women on television and on editorial pages, and change the way they are portrayed, she said.

Kristin Szremski, a member of the NPC's Book & Author Committee introduced Al-Khatahtbeh at the Book Rap.