LB School: How did the ideas for each of your books come to you, and why did you feel that they were stories that needed to be told?
Samira Ahmed: I always see a character first and then begin by writing a short story around that character to see if the story has legs, to see if this is a character I want to build a world around. After the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, there was a significant uptick in Islamobphobic rhetoric in the United States that spread to changes in policy and an increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes. There was a public guilting or scapegoating of Muslims as if all Muslims had to bear the onus of the terrible acts committed by a few. American Muslims, as ever, were seen as other, a group that continually and consistently was being asked to prove its Americanness, but always falling short because of bigoted standards.
That was the environment in which Layla’s story came to me. I imagined a young woman who just wanted to live her life—go to school, play on the tennis team, apply to college—but who wasn’t allowed to because of fear mongering and Islamophobia. I’m very interested in understanding and unpacking the moments in childhood where life is shattered—how kids react to that gross unfairness, how they respond, how they resist. I believe that teens can be incredibly brave—are often forced to be—because of the failure and cowardice of adults. It doesn’t mean they’re not scared—their courage comes from being scared but knowing act and speak out anyway. That is what I set out to explore in Internment.