Usama Alshaibi was born in Iraq and raised in the United States. This makes him an American Arab, but what does that term actually mean? The film begins at the grave of Usama's brother Samer. Photos and film excerpts plot the course of Samer’s life: he was born in the U.S. and grew into a talented and promising young man, before his addiction to cocaine and heroin proved fatal. American Arab deals with life in between two cultures, and the expectations, prejudices, suspicions and stereotypes that any American with an Arab appearance and name will encounter. But to what degree is one's identity determined by one's birth country, and to what extent do we identify with the nation in which we live? During Alshaibi's personal journey, he talks to friends and kindred spirits such as Marwan Kamel, the guitarist for a punk band called Al-Thawra. He believes that everyone has the right to be "complicated." In the Taqwacore subculture of punk music, that right is expressed through an anarchistic approach to both Islamic and American cultural traditions. But Usama discovers firsthand just how persistent racist preconceptions can be.