Posts Tagged ‘Islamaphobia’

I came home from the grocery story just a little while ago, and logged into my email after I put the groceries away. I was surprised and pleased to see an email from my fabulous editor, Britney Thompson Mills, with her marks and remarks on the third draft of Video Rage. You know what that means! One more draft and we begin the publication process!

Now if you don’t know what Video Rage is, it’s the sequel to my first novel, Reborn City.  And if you don’t know what Reborn City is, it’s the story of street gangs in a dystopian city-state in Earth’s near future, and a conspiracy involving the leaders of a rising gang known as the Hydras and the leaders of the city. The novel features themes of Islamaphobia, racism, drug addiction, gang violence, and overcoming other people’s expectations. It’s also a bit more realistic than other dystopian stories, with problems that mirror problems of today’s world, and a society that you can actually imagine forming.

Reborn City, my very first published novel.

Reborn City, my very first published novel.

The sequel to Reborn City, Video Rage, follows the Hydras soon after the end of the first novel, as they face the same problems made that much worse, and deal with new threats that are intent on taking their lives. I’ve been working on VR since my third year of college, and I’m glad to see that we’re finally just one step away from publication. So I’ll take a break from working on Rose–I’ve only gotten a tiny bit of that edited, anyway, so no big deal–and get through VR as fast as my little fingers can type.

In fact, I think I’ll start tonight! Look forward to seeing a post with a release date some time in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, why not check out Reborn City? A lot of people have told me that they really enjoyed reading the book, and that they cannot wait to read VR. So if you think it sounds interesting and want to check the novel out, you can find copies in paperback and e-book from Amazon, Createspace, and Smashwords. And whatever your thoughts, please let me know what you think. Review, comment, I love some good feedback, and I would love to hear yours.

And if you’re an author looking for someone to edit your book, why not check out Britney’s website? She’s got great skills and she’ll give your book the touch-up it needs. I speak from personal experience, and I highly recommend her.

That’s all for now. See you in a few hours, when it’s Friday (you know what that means). I’m off to edit!

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Earlier today, Brussels was hit by a wave of terrorist attacks. An airport and a metro station were hit by explosions that killed thirty and injured one-hundred and thirty more. ISIS has claimed responsibility, making this the second attack in Europe the group has perpetrated in the past year. And once again, we are reeling from the horrors caused by these monsters, and coming together to stand firm against them.

In these troubled times, it is good that we come together. ISIS and those who think like them hope that there actions will cow the Western world, fill us with fear and make our governments and our societies collapse. Instead, the Western world comes together in support of our fallen and wounded, vowing to stand against and increase our efforts to destroy vicious cancers like these terrorist groups.

However, at times like these it is tempting, even in our solidarity against terrorism, to give into fear and turn on those whom we should stand with because of a misplaced association. Already in the wake of Brussels, increased calls to monitor Muslims have been sounded from all sectors, including from presidential candidates here in the United States. On social media, the hashtag #StopIslam has been trending, associating Islam with terrorism. And although this hashtag has been condemned by both social media companies and users, the outcry has seemingly only grown the trend. Once again, it seems a lot of people feel that Islam and Muslims are to blame for what happened in Brussels today.

I have met and made friends with plenty of Muslims in my time. I’ve studied the religion, out of curiosity and for my own education. And as many of you know, my first novel featured very prominently a main character who is Muslim. And I’ve maintained for years that the people who commit these horrible acts of barbarism, no matter what they may believe or claim, are not Muslims. Or if they are, they are very poor examples of Muslims, like Westboro Baptist is a poor example of a Christian church, or the man who murdered Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is a poor example of a Jew.

And yet it saddens me that so many people disagree, and that the world is slowly beginning to look like the fictional landscape of my novel Reborn City.

In these times, it is important to not turn on each other and look for scapegoats. The only people to blame are the actual members of ISIS, the terrorists who set off the explosions and the people who funded them and helped to coordinate their attacks. Not the people who worship in peace, who go to work every day and bring home money for their families and want only to live a good life, and condemn every act of terrorism that is done by these monsters. We must remember this as we move in the coming months to prevent further attacks and to beat back this menace. Only together can we truly stand together in solidarity and win this war.

So in the future to come, let us not give into fear or hate. Let us not blame people who have never done an aggressive act in their lives or just want to live in peace and harmony with their neighbors. Let us not listen to those in power who make it seem acceptable or even smart to give into this hate and fear. Instead, let us come together. because only together are we strong enough. Let us embrace love, unity and kindness, and say to those who dislike our way of life, “You shall not tear us down! We are working together, we are embracing our neighbors, and because of that you shall not win!”

Because only together, only through love and through reaching out and not giving into fear can we beat back this evil and make tomorrow safer. If we give into our fears, we’ll only divide, and victimize, and maybe feed the phenomena we are trying so hard to destroy.

And that cannot happen. We cannot let it happen.

So let us come together. Let us stand together. And let us come out of this so much stronger than we did coming in.

How many of you are fans of my first novel, Reborn City? I’m hoping a lot of you are thinking to yourselves “I am!” or “It’s something I’ve been meaning to check out”, because I’ve got some good news for you! As you know, I’ve been editing RC‘s sequel Video Rage on and off since I finished the first draft, and that I wanted to have another editor take a look at it before I get it published and into your hands.

Well, here’s where the good news comes in: I met an editor through one of my writing groups on Facebook who was willing to work within my budget. Her name is Britney Mills, and can I just say, she does great work and a fast turnaround? She read through RC within a few weeks, and then read through VR within a similar amount of time. I was like, “WOW!” And she does amazing work. I looked over three of VR‘s chapters last night with her corrections, and it’s all solid suggestions and points. Definitely what I was looking for in an editor.

So now that I have a third party’s feedback on VR, I’m going to dive right into editing tonight, making corrections and thinking about Britney’s suggestions. After I’ve done all that (and hopefully that won’t take more than a few weeks), I’ll send it back to Britney for her to take another look at. Once she gets back to me and any other problems she finds are corrected, I’m going to say “Done!” with VR, send it off to the copyright office, have a cover designed, and once all that’s taken care of, set a release date.

In short, Video Rage will be published sometime later this year.

Yeah, exciting news, right? Especially for my three biggest fans of the first book (aka my mother, my sister, and my stepmom). I can’t be more exact on a release date, but I’m hoping for a summer release. And I promise you, it’s going to be good. Britney told me in her email from last night that one of the things she liked about VR is that it “did a great job of keeping things interesting but not letting me guess ahead of time what is going to happen”. I think that’s a very good sign.

Reborn City

Reborn City

So if you’re looking forward to Video Rage and are tired of the wait, you can start getting ready for more adventures of the Hydras. And if at all you’re now interested in reading the first book Reborn City, it’s available from Amazon, Createspace, and Smashwords. From what people tell me, it’s my most popular book right now, and it’s not hard to see why. The story follows Zahara Bakur, a Muslim teenager in the dystopian city-state of Reborn City as she’s forced to join an interracial street gang known as the Hydras for protection. It’s a great book that includes themes of gang violence, racism and Islamaphobia, drug addiction, and many others (and if you’re tired of dystopian fiction that you can’t imagine actually happening in the world, like Hunger Games or Divergent, you might find RC more appealing).

And if you’re an author looking for an outside party to take a look at your book and make sure it’s up to scratch, I highly recommend Britney’s services. She gives great feedback, does a quick turn around, and I didn’t have to pay an arm and a leg for her help. You can check out her website, Writing Unblocked, if you like for more information.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ve got a few things to take care of today before I start editing, so I’m going to get on that. As more news comes in, I’ll make sure to update you. Have a good one, everybody!

Oh, and if any of you do decide to read Reborn City, make sure to let me know what you think, either in a comment or a review online. Positive or negative, I love feedback, and it helps me become a better writer in the end. Thanks!

I read an article on BuzzFeed yesterday that really upset me. According to the article, emails from the University of Chicago’s chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi, a historically Jewish fraternity, had been released and revealed a culture of racism and Islamaphobia within the chapter. The N-word was used prolifically, Muslims were called “terrorists” or “towel heads”, a vacant lot next to the fraternity’s house was called “Palestine”, and some of the brothers turned MLK Day into “Marathon Luther King Day”, celebrating with drinking and eating at a fried chicken place.

Over the past couple of years, stories about fraternities and some of the disgusting things going on within their walls have been coming out. Every time I’m absolutely disgusted, but this one hit me in a number of ways. For one thing, I have friends who are part of the Ohio State chapter of AEPi. They are good people, upstanding young men connected to their heritage and active in the broader community. To think they are in any way associated with this scandal just horrifies me.

Alpha Epsilon Pi’s University of Chicago branch is in deep trouble for the emails that have been uncovered.

But that’s only one level that this hit me on. Because this story also brought back memories from when I was young:

I went to a Jewish overnight camp from fifth grade to tenth grade. During my last year or two there, I noticed a disturbing trend among the boys in my year. Swearing was a regular part of camp culture–even the counselors swore on occasion–so saying “shit” or the F-bomb didn’t make me bat an eye. In fact, I reveled in it. We were being adult, we were being naughty. It was great.

But then I heard my friends calling each other “n***er”, and occasionally “faggot” or “fag”.

Understand, there were no black kids or staff on the camp, at least not as far as I know. This was also well before I realized I was bisexual. And my friends assured me their black friends were cool with it.

Even if I believed them, I still told them that I wasn’t comfortable with it, that they shouldn’t say it, or at least not around me.

Maybe it’s because I was bullied a lot back in the third grade (most of it verbal) and it left a big impact on me, but I’m sensitive to when people use words to hurt others. Especially those words. As much as words only have meaning if we give them meaning, these words do carry a meaning bred in deep history, and the meanings are not easily separated from the words. Every time a white person uses the N-word, they’re saying that African-Americans are lesser beings, second-class citizens and do not have the same rights as people with light skin. Every time someone calls a Jew a kike (like when, after a soccer match between my all-Jewish high school and a school of mostly African-American Christians, the opposing team began using the word after they lost the game and things nearly came to blows), that someone is calling the Jewish people a strange people, a parasite that takes money and power and killed the Christian God. Every time someone calls someone else a fag, they’re saying that there’s something inhuman or strange or obscene about being LGBT. And every time someone–not just a fraternity brother–calls a Muslim or a Palestinian a terrorist, they’re saying that entire religion is incapable of being peaceful, that their whole goal is destruction. That’s all completely wrong, and there’s not excuse to use those words.

Even if I had been as eloquent then as I am now, I doubt that would’ve swayed my friends, because they continued saying those words without any care to my feelings. Even when the head counselor of our year had a discussion with us one evening about how disgusting we were being. Even after, while on a field trip to the city, my friend said the N-word and it was almost overheard by a passing black man. They just went on saying all those nasty words and by doing so, they were saying it was okay to say words charged with prejudice and not care whom it might hurt.

For the first time today I wondered if any of my camp friends ended up at University of Chicago, and then at the school’s chapter of AEPi. Those camps have the effect of bringing Jewish teens closer to their heritage. Maybe some of my friends went there and brought some of their bad habits with them.

Believe it or not, this is some of the nicer things this sort of uncaring attitude can lead to.

The only time I approve of those words are when they’re used in mediums like literature or film to illustrate a particular time period or mindset, like in Huckleberry Finn or even in my own Reborn City. The rest of the time, there’s no good reason to say that trash. Not only is it hurtful to the people those words denote, they are harmful to the people saying those words, desensitizing them to the effects of these words. At best, that leads to dumb crap from fraternities and doddering old men in front of cameras or near cell phones. At worst, that leads to hate groups, violence, and lynchings or shootings in churches.

My hope that in the wake of this scandal, people–especially students and teenagers–realize that you can’t be blase about saying the N-word or calling people terrorists because of where they’re from or what their beliefs are. They’re hurtful. They’re damaging. And I hope that maybe the backlash these students will get will teach them and others what happens when you’re not cognizant of the feelings of others.

And I hope my friends from those long ago days aren’t members of that fraternity, and that they learned long before this what your words can do to themselves and to others.

As many of you know, this isn’t the only blog I write for. Another, Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors, is another blog I’ve been contributing to for a little over two years now. And there’s a third blog that I set up over the summer, The Voice of Common Sense.

That’s the blog I’m here to talk about. I started that blog over the summer because I was tired of the amount of stupid I was seeing from the US government and the people in it, the things they said and did and how so many people ate it up. I was tired, and a little angry (especially whenever Trump opened his mouth). So I started The Voice of Common Sense, where I pretended to be the actual personification of Common Sense and reamed out in hilarious fashion all the stupidity I saw on the news every day.

And for a while, I stuck with it. I got out about fifty posts, most of them Donald Trump-related. I managed to snag a few followers. And I think I got people thinking a little bit, which was the point. I wanted people to think, to really wonder if they were perhaps getting too upset over the renaming of Mount McKinley or if Kim Davis was actually someone to call a hero (and of course I took several swipes at Donald Trump).

But after a while I started posting less and then I completely stopped somewhere in September, even though I meant to get back into it. And now I don’t post there at all. In fact, I don’t plan to post there ever again. Why? Because I got so busy. Let’s face it, I was in Germany doing a full-time job, I was working on editing two different books and producing an audio book, and I was searching for a job (still am on that last one). I had no time for another blog that, let’s face it, is basically a full-time job that I don’t get paid for.

And I got tired of that blog as well. The Voice of Common Sense was fun, but it was exhausting. You had so many idiots saying so much stuff (especially Donald Trump). I couldn’t keep up. Heck, there are three late-night comedy shows on two different channels whose sole purpose is to do just what I was trying to do, and even between the three of them they can’t keep up. How could I be expected to? After a while you get sick of just trying to keep up.

So while I really wanted to make The Voice of Common Sense something special, in the end time and the amount of work that goes into such a blog made it impossible to do so. I accept that, although a part of me wishes I could’ve still done more with that blog, especially after I got home and I had some time on my hands. Not much, but some.

Still, I think it’s time I shut down The Voice of Common Sense. Like I said, I just can’t keep up, so I’ll take it down and devote my time to the projects I know I have time for and that I can make a success of. Like this blog, for instance. I’ve been doing Rami Ungar the Writer for over four years now, and it’s grown immensely. In fact, these past couple of days I’ve seen an increase in new followers (thank you for joining up, I really appreciate that), as well as people checking out my books. That’s hard work paying off right there, and that’s where I’ll continue to devote my energies: my fiction and this blog.

Not to say I won’t post the occasional politically-themed post. I definitely will when the mood and the energy for it hits me, though that isn’t often. But for the most part I’ll devote my time and energy to writing about horror and the craft and just all the crazy stuff that can happen in one’s life. That’s what I like to write about on this blog, and that’s what you come here to read.

Still, I do feel I need to get out a few things involving our crazy, mixed-up world, so I think I’ll take the time to do that now:

  • Donald Trump, your fascist and prejudice-filled rhetoric is sickening, and I wish you would stop making remarks that remind me of Adolf Hitler, because they’re scaring me. The fact that so many of the GOP base like you still and the fact that so few of your opponents in your party take the time to thoroughly condemn you just makes me worry more. Here’s hoping you get visited by three ghosts tomorrow night!
  • Why do so many people think it’s a good idea to increase the number of guns after so many shootings? If we were having a series of stabbings or missile attacks, would we call for more knives or rocket launchers? And how do we know who’s a good guy with a gun, especially in a crowded room? It’s not like a video game, where the bad guy is marked out in red or something. In fact, it’s often more complicated than that.
  • Turning away Syrian refugees because of their religion is no different than turning away the St. Louis in the 1930’s. As a nation founded by religious refugees, we shouldn’t turn away others in dire straits because of a few bad apples who interpret a religion practiced worldwide in a violent away. Either that, or all Christians should be treated like they belong to Westboro Baptist, and all Buddhists should be treated like the radicals in Myanmar who advocate killing Muslims. And I know nobody wants that.
  • Ted Cruz, stop trying to deny climate change or warp the data for your own ends. It’s going to be an unusually warm Christmas this year, that should set off alarm bells in your head.
  • Ben Carson…open your eyes, I guess? Nap time was over a long time ago.

Well, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I’ve got editing and a few other things to do today, so I’ll get on them. Unless something blog-worthy happens soon, I’ll see you all on Friday (you know why that is). Have a good day, my Followers of Fear. I know I will.

RC cover

It’s been a long time in the making, and a lot of work since I announced that I was planning on turning Reborn City, my science-fiction novel, into an audio book back in August. I listened to a lot of audio samples, contacted a bunch of potential narrators, and even received a couple of auditions. But as of today, I am very pleased to announce that Reborn City has a narrator!

If you’re unfamiliar with Reborn City, it’s a dystopian science fiction novel that follows Zahara Bakur, a Muslim teenager who’s forced to join a street gang called the Hydras, and her involvement in a strange plot involving the gang’s superpowered leaders and the shadowy corporation that rules the city they live in. The novel contains themes of Islamaphobia, racism, gang violence, drug addiction and several others.

It also is a world that has much more resemblance to our own than Hunger Games or Divergent does (just look at the refugee situation these days and how some governments have responded to refugees these days) and I like to think it makes a little more sense than those books.

The audio book will be narrated by Barron Bass, an actor and voice artist based out of New York (check out his website here). I heard some of his samples on ACX, the website I’m using to produce the audio book (see my article on that site here). I liked what I heard, and I started corresponding with him. Once I heard his audition, I had a pretty good feeling I’d found my man. After some more weeks of correspondence, I sent him an offer and he accepted.

Our esteemed narrator, Barron Bass.

Now, I’m hoping we’ll have the whole thing done by early March, but I’m flexible. If Mr. Bass needs more time, I’m willing to give it to him. You can’t rush perfection, after all.

So I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next, which following the production process on ACX is that the first fifteen minutes of the book are recorded for my approval. After that, I give some feedback, and we work chapter by chapter on the book. Once it’s all done and it’s uploaded onto Amazon, Audible, and iTunes, I’m hoping a lot of people decide to check it out and take a listen. Maybe leave a few reviews while they’re at it.

And if RC does well, then maybe I’ll do Snake as well, and any other book I decide to publish from here on out. We’ll see what happens.

In the meantime, I’m going to go do my happy dance. Have a good rest of your day, my Followers of Fear. I know I am.

pray for paris

This past weekend in Paris, a city I’ve visited and which I’ve often thought about returning to, was attacked by terrorists affiliated with ISIS. They attacked six different locations throughout the City of Light, including a concert hall, the Stade de France, and two restaurants. At last count, nearly a hundred and thirty people are dead, including seven of the terrorists, and over three-hundred and fifty wounded. The terror threat is apparently still high, and the search for the remaining perpetrators are still ongoing.

And in the midst of the death and horrors, people have come together from around the world for Paris. Through the power of globalization and connection, human beings have shouted out, in tweets and status updates, in blog posts and videos, through television broadcasts and press conferences, through offers of help and condemnations of the terrorists, to stand by France as she works to bring the rest of the terrorists to justice, to take on the sickness that is ISIS, and to heal her wounds after such a horrific series of events.

Still, there’s a dark underbelly to this show of solidarity. My mother and I were discussing this underbelly in the car after dinner last night. Barely two days after the attacks, some people have been condemning Muslims and the refugees from Syria and other parts of the Middle East for the attack (despite the fact that most of the terrorists appear to be European and only one is confirmed to be from Syria). People of all sorts, from members of France’s far-right political party the National Front, including its leader Marine La Pen and US representatives, to bloggers and common people from all over the world. In the need to blame someone for this attack, some are turning to two very large, and lately very popular, scapegoats: those who follow the teachings of Muhammad, and those who left their homes with very little, if anything, just to escape violence and fear.

RC cover

My mom then turned to me and said, “Kind of reminds me of Reborn City. There are people who see a woman with a hijab and feel afraid. Zahara gave that up and even dyed her hair blond to avoid that fear.” That surprised me, but then I realized she had a point. In a small way, the world is beginning to resemble the world of Reborn City.

If you’re not familiar with RC, Islamaphobia is a big theme in the novel. The war on terror devolved into a huge, worldwide conflict, so that by the time of the story most of the world is suspicious of Muslims. Zahara Bakur and her family take measures so that they will be at the very least tolerated by a population that is suspicious of them. Still, it doesn’t always work, and there is still a lot of discrimination in that world that goes unchecked.

While the real world is not at the level that the world of RC is, there are places that have made it difficult to be a Muslim. Angola and Tajikistan actively shut down mosques all the time, and certain European countries have banned burqas and hijabs. France’s Interior Minister has discussed the possibility of shutting down mosques perceived to be preaching dangerous interpretations of Islam. Here in the States,  Donald Trump has said that if elected President he may pursue that course of action.

And because many of the Syrian refugees are Muslim and one of the terrorists was from Syria, some are reacting against refugees. Poland has already said they will not be accepting new refugees, and several US states are now refusing to take in any. Some in the US now wish to screen refugees based on a religious test.

The refugees are not the people we should be lashing out against.

You can’t judge an entire group based on the actions of a few. I don’t judge all Christians based on the actions of Westboro Baptist Church, nor do I judge all football players because a few have been charged and sometimes convicted for violent crimes. But so many people insist on judging Muslims and the Syrian refugees that way. And based on my own experience with Muslims, that isn’t right. That’s nonsensical.

Zahara’s experiences in the book reflect that. Early on she becomes aware that people don’t like her because she’s a Muslim, that they’re afraid of her for things that occurred in her parents’ and grandparents’ generations. She takes steps to be accepted by society by changing her appearance and taking part in “normal” interests and hobbies, but no matter what she tires, people see her as different. They see her as dangerous without even getting to know her. And it’s how people see her that spurs Zahara throughout RC (and its sequel, Video Rage, and probably the final book too) to show people that she is not what people think of her. To show them that she can be kind, and brave. And even good.

In the wake of Paris, we all want to fight back against the evil that caused the attacks. But the evil isn’t the refugees, nor is it Islam and its adherents. No, the evil is ISIS, al-Qaida, Boko Haram and the other terrorist organizations, wearing Islam like a Halloween costume, scary but not the real thing. The real Muslims are standing up to these fakers, standing in solidarity with Paris and showing their disdain towards these inhuman monsters hijacking a respected religion. The last thing we want to do is turn our backs on them, punish them for being who they are.

Instead, we should be thanking them for being allies we can count on for support in hard times, like Zahara is for her friends in the Hydras. Because after all, if we show them the love they deserve, they may return the favor and, like Zahara does, surprise us in all the best ways.