In 2006, I published Ask Me No Questions about a Bangladeshi family snared in a post-9/11 crackdown. Over time I began to see, all around us, a new resonant theme: surveillance. We’ve all seen the headlines about Edward Snowden, the NSA revelations, the controversial stop and frisk procedures used on young men in New York City and the profiling of Muslim communities. At the same time, we do face real dangers, as the tragedy of the Boston bombing and the recruitment of young people to radical causes demonstrates. What is the right balance between security and freedom? What is it like for a Muslim teenage boy—growing up in the U.S., struggling to find his own identity in a tense atmosphere where he is an easy suspect?
I believe it’s time to come forward with the next important beat in this story in our post- 9/11 world. If AMNQ was about the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Watched is about the world we live in now—saturated in watching. And I wanted to explore this issue close up, and seen through the eyes of a teenager.
I’m fascinated with how surveillance feel like from the inside: how does a young man, searching for his identity, for heroes, learn how to be in the world, when he senses that his every move is tracked? What does it mean to always be watched? How, as a young person, does he make an identity for himself when he is often seen as a suspect? And what happens when he’s offered a chance to remake his life and be on the other side—to become the watcher, someone who has the power to see into other lives, and perhaps change his own.