The Lebs, written by Michael Mohammed Ahmad, is a complex book. Bani Adam is a young Lebanese man growing up in Punchbowl – a suburb that Bani feels is the ‘arse end of the earth’ – filled with other ‘Lebs’ who are fitting the stereotype of many young people – looking for quick fun at the expense of others, sex, drugs and an identity of their own. Bani and his friends are caught in the racism of our anti-Muslim climate, Bani is looking to break the stereotype by being himself and exploring poetry, love, education, homosexuality, acting and life beyond McDonalds.
Bani Adam is a strong character who is trying so hard to fit in with his friends who are sexist, racist, proud of terrorism and staunchly Muslim, but he is also trying to find his own identity. The book is built into three sections, but all draw on the themes of the paternal beliefs of the worlds Bani moves in, sexism and sexualisation of women and the difficulties in moving away from the culture you belong to, even when you don’t want to identify with it.
Michael Mohammed Ahmad’s first book, The Tribe, tried to pull away from the media stereotype of Muslim young in Australia, yet in The Lebs this stereotype is the sole focus. The sexism, mistreatment of women, celebration of 9-11 by the young people in the book and Bani Adam’s inability to break away from the stereotype himself perpetuates the myths that surround Arab-Australian Muslims.
I would love to ask Michael Mohameed Ahmad if I missed something in the book around this, as I came away feeling sad for Bani and his fellow “Lebs” as being portrayed as shallow, sexist beasts just waiting for their chance to break Australia. I enjoyed the book though – it was thought provoking and an insight into how individuals feel trapped in their culture, and how others portray and see them, as happens to Bani in the final chapter.