Case Studies of Discrimination

This lesson examines specific cases of discrimination against Middle Eastern Americans in post 9/11 America.  Students will study the case of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, the central figure in Dave Eggers’ novel about a Syrian American who gets taken into detention during Hurricane Katrina.  His case illustrates how biases against Middle Eastern Americans, especially Arab Americans, lie just below the surface and can influence behavior in times of crises.  Students will have a chance to see how court interpretations of the Constitution prevent violations of civil liberties.  The lesson concludes with a critical thinking activity that asks students to prepare a plan for dealing with acts of discrimination on a high school campus.


  • Given a real case, students will be able to identify the Constitutional rights that were violated.
  • Students will be able to explain the value of oral interviews.
  • Students will be able to identify the parties in a civil suit.
  • Students will be able to compare the treatment of Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor and the treatment of Middle Eastern Americans after 9/11.
  • Students will be able to analyze a statement made by Eleanor Roosevelt.
  • Students will be able to use their critical thinking skill to write a plan to alleviate ethnic tensions on a high school campus.


National Standards for Civics and Government
9-12 Content Standards From the Center for Civic Education

B. What are the distinctive characteristics of American society?

Diversity in America: Students should be able to evaluate, take and defend positions on issues regarding diversity in American life.


A. What is citizenship?

Students should be able to evaluate, take, and defend positions on issues regarding the criteria used for naturalization.

B. What are the rights of citizens?

Personal rights: Students should be able to evaluate, take, and defend positions on issues regarding personal rights.

California Standards for Principals of American Democracy

12.3 Students evaluate and take and defend positions on what the fundamental values and principles of civil society are (i.e., the autonomous sphere of voluntary personal, social, and economic relations that are not part of government), their interdependence, and the meaning and importance of those values and principles for a free society.

  • Explain how civil society provides opportunities for individuals to associate for social, cultural, religious, economic, and political purposes.
  • Explain how civil society makes it possible for people, individually or in association with others, to bring their influence to bear on government in ways other than voting and elections.

12.10 Students formulate questions about and defend their analyses of tensions within our constitutional democracy and the importance of maintaining a balance between the following concepts: majority rule and individual rights; liberty and equality; state and national authority in a federal system; civil disobedience and the rule of law; freedom of the press and the right to a fair trial; the relationship of religion and government.

California Language Arts Standards
Research and Technology
 1.4 Plan and conduct multiple-step information searches by using computer networks and modems.
1.5 Achieve an effective balance between researched information and original ideas.
1.0 Writing Strategies
Demonstrate an understanding of the elements of discourse (e.g., purpose, speaker, audience, form) when completing narrative, expository, persuasive, or descriptive writing assignments.
Organization and Focus
Demonstrate an understanding of the elements of discourse (e.g., purpose, speaker, audience, form) when completing narrative, expository, persuasive, or descriptive writing assignments.
1.2 Use point of view, characterization, style (e.g., use of irony), and related elements for specific rhetorical and aesthetic purposes.
1.3 Structure ideas and arguments in a sustained, persuasive, and sophisticated way and support them with precise and relevant examples.



  • Evacuate: When people are forced to leave an area.
  • Terrorists: People who attack innocent civilians in order to promote a cause.
  • Taliban: A group of very strict religious people who ruled Afghanistan and are believed to have assisted those who attacked the World Trade Center on 9/11.
  • Arbitrary Detention: To arrest someone without a reason.
  • Guantanamo: A U.S. military facility in Cuba used as a prison to hold persons suspected of terrorism. They were detained for a long time and in very poor conditions.
  • Civil Suit: When one person sues another for money or to force the other person to take a particular action.
  • Plaintiff: A person who is suing someone else.
  • Racial or ethnic profiling: To suspect someone has committed a crime or is planning a crime just because of their race of ethnic group.
  • Internment: To lock people up in a prison or camp.
  • Class Action: When a group of people join together to file a law suit.



PDF  Handout #1  PDF  Handout #2  PDF  Handout #3  PDF  Handout #4
PDF  Handout #5

I. The Story of Zeitoun

  • Ask the students to read Handout #1 (Lesson 4), The Story of Zeitoun.
  • Have the students do a quick writing assignment in which they answer the following question: What did writer Dave Eggers mean when he called the Zeitoun family an “all American family who happens to be Muslim?”
  • Have the students make a list of which of Zeitoun’s Constitutional rights might have been violated. Using students’ lists compile a master list on the board of the rights that may have been violated. Have the students suggest which part of the Constitution protects each of the rights.

Possible Answers: Article I Sec. 9 Clause 2-right to habeas corpus hearing, 4th amendment-no search or seizure without probable cause, 5th amendment-right to due process of the law, 6th amendment-right to an attorney, 8th amendment-protection against cruel or unusual punishment.

II. Interview with Zeitoun

  • Before students read Handout # 2, An Interview with Zeitoun, discuss the value of oral histories. What do we learn from firsthand accounts of an event?  Why didn’t the publishers fix the grammar?

Probable answers: We learn just what emotions the interviewee is feeling. We get a more accurate report on what happened. Leaving the grammar as is helps us better understand the interviewee and his or her background.

  • Ask the students to read the interview and underline the examples of behavior by the authorities that would be considered “abuse.”

Probable Answers: Examples of abuse would be: being called a “terrorist” and a “Taliban.” Being forced into a prison-like setting without counsel or a hearing. Being placed in a prison indefinitely without knowing the charges. Not being able to contact one’s family.

  • For homework, have the students use the Internet to find other stories of Middle Eastern Americans who have been arrested and detained after 9/11.

 III. Innocent Men Win Lawsuit

  • Ask the students to read Handout # 3, Innocent Men Win Lawsuit, and answer the following questions:
  • Who were the plaintiffsin the lawsuit?
  • Who was being sued?
  • Why did the plaintiffs believe they should be given money?
  • Why did the Center for Constitutional Rights believe it was very important to file these suits?

Probable Answers: The plaintiffs were Turkmen (Ibrahim) on behalf of himself and others. John Ashcroft, U.S. Attorney General at the time. The plaintiffs felt they should receive money because they were detained without cause. The Center for Constitutional Rights thought this was an important suit because it wanted to prevent other cases of unconstitutional detention.

  •  The attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights compared the post-9/11 detention of Arab s and Muslims to the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II.  For homework have the students write a short report comparing the actions of the United States government took after the attack on Pearl Harbor with the action the government took against people of Middle Eastern heritage after 9/11. Students should use library and Internet resources.

IV. Lessons from Eleanor Roosevelt

  • Have the students read Eleanor Roosevelt’s remarks in Handout # 4, Eleanor Roosevelt Speaks out.
  • Assign a persuasive essay on the following questions: What lessons can we learn from Eleanor Roosevelt regarding how Middle Eastern Americans should be treated in a post-9/11 America?

V.  Dealing with Prejudice

  • Divide the class into groups of four or five students.
  • Have each group read and complete the tasks in Handout # 5, Dealing with Prejudice, A Hypothetical Case
  •  Ask a leader from each group to stand and report out the plan the group made to combat prejudice at Lawson High School.
  • Debrief the simulation. Have someone from each group explain that group’s plan.







♦ Retrospectives

♦ Celebrating Ethnicity

The Last Harvest
The Last Harvest: The Yemenis of the San Joaquin

Voices from the Heartland
Voices From The heartland: Young Yemeni Americans Speak

Middle Eastern American Youth