Posts Tagged ‘politics and leadership’

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live long as God himself. Never.

Elie Wiesel, Night

This is really hard for me to write. I actually cried a little when I found out. It feels like I lost someone dear to me. A few minutes ago, a friend of mine sent me a message over Facebook. It was a New York Times article, telling me that Elie Wiesel had died. He was 87.

My only response was “No.”

Now if you’re unfamiliar with who Elie Wiesel was, he was a Holocaust survivor who was liberated from Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945, one of three survivors of his family. Ten years later, he wrote a 900-page account of his experiences in the camps, which was later shortened to the 127-page memoir La Nuit, later translated into English as Night. As time went on, and Night gained attention, Wiesel became a well-known speaker on the Holocaust, as well as other subjects, including Israel, genocides across time and the world, and human rights. He also wrote over 56 more books, helped to found the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (where, on opening day, he famously interrupted one of the speakers, I think President Carter, by saying that all the niceties were meaningless when there were horrors being perpetrated in Yugoslavia), received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, started the Elie Wiesel Foundation with his wife, Marion, to fight intolerance and prejudice, and taught at Boston University as the Andrew Mellon Professor of the Humanities.

I first met Mr. Wiesel as a boy. Not in person, though I would do that when I was a teenager. My father had a copy of Night, along with his other books Day and Dawn, in his office in the synagogue. My dad gave it to me, though I can’t remember why. Perhaps I’d been asking questions about the Holocaust, or maybe he just thought I’d get something out of it. Either way, I did. I read Night several times over the many years, stealing to my dad’s office after services on Saturdays to read the story of a fifteen year old boy who had experienced so much at such a young age.

I only realize this now, but Wiesel became, in my mind, one of the older kids whom I looked up to and hung out when I saw them. There were plenty of guys and girls like that when I was a kid, teens who tried and became real role models for the rambunctious young me. I always looked up to those kids, and Wiesel became one of them, esteemed more than any of the others.

I later got to meet this hero in my mind, though he was not the young man I always imagined in my head. I think I was twelve or thirteen at the time. My synagogue has a yearly event where some big speaker is invited to speak to the congregation. That year, we were excited to have a huge coup in our speaker.

I think I remember seeing him for the first time, and remembering how small and old he was. At my age, I was around the same height as him. It was quite the contrast from my mental image. But he was so kind. And even though my vocabulary wasn’t that big at that age, I knew that, the moment I shook his hand, I was shaking the hand of a giant. He was like the titular character of my dad’s favorite Yiddish short story, “Bontsha the Silent” (you can read a full PDF in English here), in which the main character finds out that if he only opened his mouth to complain about the world, he would’ve shook the heavens, only in this case, Wiesel made use of his power, and it resonated.

Sadly, I only remember a little bit from that evening. It was ten years ago, and you don’t tend to remember much from that age, even when it’s from great men. I do remember, quite clearly, that he started with a story about how a woman and her friends thought they recognized him on the street, only to conclude that it couldn’t possibly be him. I think you can tell a lot about a titan when they begin a speech with a humorous story.

And that’s what Elie Wiesel was. A titan. A giant. A being that was more than what “man” could ever constitute. He spoke louder than Bontscha ever felt the need to, and the world shook in response. It took notice. He made the world notice Bosnia, Darfur, all the horrors of the many genocides over the years, and then some. Through his foundation and his many books and speaking engagements, he educated the world, molded minds to be more cognizant of both the great evils and the great goods that human beings were capable of, and encouraged them to take action.

And that night, I got to hear him speak, I got to enjoy desserts with him and the rest of the VIPs at the event that night, and I even got a photo with him. When he left and I got the chance to say goodbye (we were both leaving at the same time), it was like using a huge force go by.

He wasn’t the friend I had in my mind. That was the only encounter I had with him outside of the books he wrote. But he was so much more to me and to so many more people out there. Perhaps one could make the argument that he was the greatest Jew of our modern times (sorry, Jon Stewart), and one of the greatest living people to boot. Across the world, people will hear the news and they will feel his passing. They will cry, like I did. They may even tear their clothes, a tradition in Judaism on the passing of someone important. And that’s what’s happened. Someone important has left this world. A great titan, in a form that spoke of gentleness and tolerance, has gone onto the next life, and we have all suffered a great loss because of it.

In the Jewish tradition, we often put a special suffix after the names of people who have died: z”l. It means zichrono liv’racha, which means “may their memory be a blessing.” The Holocaust was a horrible event, a memory that mankind would rather forget, but it produced one of the greatest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. And we shall remember him, and his memory shall be a blessing, encouraging us to be better in all circumstances. And I shall definitely try to live up to those lessons, even more in Wiesel’s death as I did in life.

Goodbye, Mr. Wiesel, z”l. We shall miss you so.

Baruch Dayan Ha-emet.

I’m both shocked and, at the same time, not surprised that I’m on this topic again. I was really hoping to talk about something writing related this morning, but events this weekend have caused me to shift gears. So prepare, because I’m about to do one of my world-famous gun violence posts!

Now if you’re unaware, on Friday evening at 10:30pm in the city of Orlando, Florida, singer, YouTube star, and “The Voice” contestant Christina Grimmie was shot by a deranged fan who apparently drove from St. Petersburg with the express purpose of killing her. Grimmie’s brother (without a gun of his own, no less) tackled the shooter to the ground, probably preventing more people from being killed. Grimmie later succumbed to her injuries and died, leading to a powerful outpouring of grief on the Internet. Even I, who only had a casual acquaintance with Grimmie’s work, felt her passing deeply.

Just a little over twenty-four hours later, a man armed with an assault rifle entered the Pulse, a popular Orlando gay bar and dance club, and started shooting, leading to a hostage situation that ended with the shooter’s death. The latest numbers show fifty confirmed deaths and even more injuries, making this the worse shooting in American history, worse than Newtown and Aurora. All this happened despite the fact that an armed police officer (a good guy with a gun) was on scene at the club.

All this, barely a day and a half apart, in the same city, in a state with very lax gun laws and a high amount of gun violence. Both shootings involving guns.

I wrote last year after a spate of shootings that America’s gun problem is like a chronic illness, a constant condition that plagues and grieves us, and needs treatment to be fixed, even when the treatment isn’t always available or the subject doesn’t want to admit there’s a problem, let alone that they need treatment. And that comparison still holds water nearly an entire year later. America is plagued by shootings. We’re the only developed nation with this much gun violence, to the point where it’s almost considered normal. Guns are causing more deaths than the United States should have.

These aren’t toys. They’re not meant for anything creative.

Now, I know some people will say, “But Rami, how can an inanimate object cause murder? People cause murder.” Well, people cause murder, that’s true. But guns, like missiles and military drones, are designed to facilitate killing. They’re made with that express purpose. The first firearms were used for military purposes, and so were the cannons and flintlock rifles that came later, with hunting being a secondary use for the latter. They were invented for the strategic purpose of taking enemy life, not for baking cookies or improving home decor. This is in direct contrast to knives, which unless made for military purposes like the Marine Corps Ka-Bar combat knife, has other primary uses like cutting and preparing food.

There’s no argument around this. Guns are made for killing, whether it’s animal or human life. 

In the next couple of weeks, we’re going to be seeing renewed calls for restrictions on gun sales and ownership, as well as push back from the NRA and other Second Amendment advocates trying to frame this as a mental health issue (in the case of Christina Grimmie’s killer) or as an issue with ISIS or Muslims (early reports indicate that the shooter at the Pulse had ISIS leanings). And while I do believe that mental illness and terrorist ideologies may have played a part in these tragedies, Christina Grimmie might still be alive if the deranged fan had gone at her with a knife instead of a gun, and I doubt fifty people would be dead if the killer had a knife. Maybe a couple people, but after the first few attempts at stabbing, someone’s bound to tackle this guy.

And it’s hard to argue mental illness or terrorism when a man uses a gun to intimidate his wife, which happens all too often, unfortunately.

The problem is, both these tragedies, and so many more, have been made possible by the use of guns.

Luckily, there is treatment for this problem. In Australia, Canada, England, Japan, and many other developed nations, gun violence is at waaaaaay lower levels than in America. The difference is that they have restrictions on who can have guns and what kinds of guns. Not a blanket ban on all guns, but some restrictions are in place. And I’m sure, that if America were to institute similar restrictions, we would see the same results. In fact, states with more gun control measures have lower instances of gun violence than states that do not. If we were to implement the same thing on a nationwide level, imagine how much the loss of life could be lowered.

And for those who say that gun control measures don’t work because bad guys will still get guns, so it’s best to give the good guys guns instead, I have this to say: if there are still people who run red lights, do we throw out traffic laws and just let people drive as they wish without consequences? If a boat or a house has a leak and water comes in, do we destroy the boat or the house and say they were useless and never would have worked? No, we prosecute the people who run the red lights for violating traffic laws. We patch up the holes so that water can’t get in. And if people are still getting restricted weapons and committing acts of violence with them, then doesn’t that prove even more that they’re criminals, and that they were willing to go to unsavory means to commit acts of violence? I think it does.

Not to mention, how do you know who’s a good guy and who’s a bad guy? It’s not as if the good guys are marked in green and the bad in red when they pull out their weapons. And in a crowded room where everyone has a gun? Really hard to tell!

It’s time to put a stop to displays like this.

Treatment is available. We just have to be brave enough to take it.

Otherwise, we’ll continue to have incidents like what we experienced this weekend, and families will wake up without loved ones because tragedies that could’ve been prevented weren’t. We need to admit that there’s a problem, we need to take measures to stop the problem, and we need to do this now. Not tomorrow. Not next month. Not next year, or in another years.

Now. Let’s push for expanded background checks, closing gun show loopholes, and banning assault weapons or other military-grade weaponry on the open market. Let’s also put aside funding for research into gun violence for the CDC, and expand the requirements needed to purchase and use a gun (a yearly gun safety course, for example, sounds sensible enough). If we can do that, I’m sure we can prevent more innocent losses of life.

Or we can go on as we have been doing. And we can’t allow that, under any circumstances.

Note: Immediately after finishing this, I saw a report that a man with weapons in his car had been arrested in LA near the Pride Festival there. Thank God law enforcement caught him, or who knows how many people might’ve been killed.

I’m taking a break from setting up Video Rage (more on that in a later post) to talk about a serious subject that needs to be talked about before serious damage is done to my state and to the transgender community here.

If you’ve been paying attention to developments in LGBT rights here in America, you’re probably aware that North Carolina has a transgender bathroom law that effectively bars transgender people from using the bathroom aligning with their gender identity, forcing them to instead use the bathroom corresponding to their biological sex. Mississippi has a much broader anti-LGBT law that includes this provision, and Kansas is considering a law that would force school districts to pay twenty-five hundred dollars to any kid who finds a transgender kid in their bathroom (how the schools are supposed to pay for that, I’m not sure. Kansas is flat broke).

Now Ohio’s got a bathroom bill. Or it will. A representative named John Becker from Clermont County is planning on introducing a bill that would “protect” families from “predators” who take advantage of businesses’ LGBT-friendly policies that allow customers to use the bathrooms corresponding to their gender identities. Becker says that the bill will have an exemption from LGBT individuals, which would make it different from the law in North Carolina. But with a bill like this, can you really just say there’ll be an exemption and expect people not to get worried?

And we should be worried about this bill, no matter what promises of exemptions or assurances that the transgender community isn’t the problem here. You know how I know this? Because people who would harass or harm men, women and children already exist! Not just in bathrooms, but in schools, homes, places of worship, government buildings, private businesses, public parks, and more than I can list in a single blog post! And you know what else? They don’t need to pretend to be transgender to do the attacking! They’ll just do it! I’m surprised we’re not getting more laws and outrage over that?

In fact, where is that anger? Where is that outrage, those proposed laws? Why aren’t we more upset about the rape that occurs everyday whether there’s a non-discrimination ordinance or not? Ke$ha was assaulted by her producer but is still stuck in a contract with a guy, even after several legal battles with him. A former Speaker of the House raped young boys in the shower (without putting on a dress, I might add), but nobody seems to care that he was only convicted for another crime. A well-known media critic has been constantly harassed online by people threatening to rape and kill her, but where’s the rush of politicians and clergy to pass laws to protect her? I find it very odd that the outrage only comes when there’s transgender people involved. Like allowing transgender people to use the bathrooms of their choice, rather than forcing them to use one aligning to their biological sex and possibly face physical assault, is somehow a recipe for increased assaults.

We should not be punishing the trans community for an imaginary fear!

Which it isn’t. Look at the research. A non-discrimination ordinance doesn’t increase sexual assaults. There are no recorded cases of NDOs leading to an assault in a bathroom. This is fact. This is just trying to punish transgender individuals. Sure, perhaps some of it is actual fear of sexual assault, but if this was the real focus, then we’d be seeing bills that more heavily punished sex offenders or took steps to do away with rape culture and the systemic causes of it. We’d be seeing all this outrage 24/7, no matter who is perpetrating the raping.

But these aren’t the only reasons this bill shouldn’t be passed. Oh, all that I’ve talked about are definitely the most important reasons, but they’re not the only reasons. No, there are other reasons, and these are the reasons that politicians who aren’t that sympathetic to the transgender community. The reason that they should get these folks against this bill is that if it passed, all of Ohio would be punished. Not just the transgender community in Ohio. All of Ohio.

Since North Carolina and Mississippi passed their bills, they’ve received such a backlash. Celebrities have canceled concerts or filming movies in those states due to these laws. Large companies like Paypal or the NBA have said they won’t do or expand business in North Carolina or Mississippi if these laws stay on the books. Entire towns and states have even passed resolutions not to have business with these states unless absolutely essential (my own Columbus passed such a resolution for North Carolina).

What would happen if that happened in Ohio? I don’t think we’d lose our swing state status come November (especially with the GOP convention in Cleveland in July), but we’d lose a whole lot in the process! Nationwide has its headquarters here in Columbus, and a lot of other major businesses have important branches in our metropolitan areas. We have several sports teams throughout the state at the college and professional levels. And prior to contrary belief, we get a lot of musical stars in Ohio during their tours. If this bill gets passed, those businesses may want to halt expanding in the state or relocate elsewhere, hurting our economy. Sports teams and celebrities may not want to play in our state, to the detriment of people who just want to see their favorite celebrities do their thing.* Entire states will say, “Sorry Ohio, we don’t agree with your human rights laws. Unless it’s absolutely essential, we’re discontinuing our business with the Buckeye State.”

This bill won’t deter sexual predators. It’ll just hurt Ohio, hurt its citizens, no matter if they’re trans or cisgender. So even if you don’t care for or dislike the the LGBT community, you should be worried for that very reason.

Now the good news is that there’s at least one petition out right now against this bill. At the time I’m posting, it’s got 7,022 signatures out of 7,500, and depending on how many people sign, it may go for even more signatures. This is great, and I hope more people, including you, my dear Followers of Fear, sign this petition. However, it’s not enough. It’s far from enough.

Not now. Not ever.

In order to stop this bill from becoming law and damaging Ohio, we need to make our voices heard. Writing blog posts, or writing or calling or tweeting Ohio representatives and Governor John Kasich, telling them that this bill is just plain wrong and that Ohioans will not stand for it. We have to make sure that when Representative Becker comes to the Legislature in Columbus, which happens to be one of the LGBT capitals of the Midwest,** that this bill is dead on arrival, and that no one is going to support such a hateful bill.

So do what I’m doing now. Make your voices heard, and don’t let anyone shut you up. Encourage others to speak their minds. Start petitions, talk to your elected officials. Make sure they know how the public feels about Becker’s bill. Because we can’t afford a bill like this, and we can’t afford hate in the Buckeye State. Not under any circumstances.

*We have a heavy metal festival in Columbus every year called Rock on the Range, that attracts bands and fans from all over the world. Imagine how bad next year’s festival will be if this bill is passed! Believe it or not, we heavy metal fans can be pretty liberal, and so can our bands.

**No seriously, Columbus is an LGBT power center! Our Gay Pride Parade and Festival attracts thousands of people every year. Not to mention that the rest of the year, we have a vibrant LGBT community active in our city. And a couple of really fun gay bars, more than a few within walking distance of each other. Believe me, I know.

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.

Around this time of year, it’s customary for many bloggers to do a post reflecting on the last year and their hopes for the coming year. I decided to wait a few days to do mine because I posted a lot of stuff during the first couple of days of the New Year, and I didn’t want you guys to get sick of me (especially since a lot of what I posted was advertisement). And I won’t be doing the sort of post with the odd comparisons to famous venues and the listing stats, because I dislike doing those sorts of posts. Instead, I think I’ll just do what writers and bloggers do best, and write.

So, how was 2015? Well, I was surprised by how many people found 2015 to be a really bad year for them. So many people on Facebook and in daily conversation went so far to call 2015 “shitty”. Even my sister, who accomplished so much this past year, including getting her driver’s license and car and becoming a certified professional baker (so proud of her on that). This is especially odd when you think about how these people don’t live in war zones or aren’t homeless or anything, but then again we can’t always be expected to compare ourselves to those who have it worse, can we?

Personally, I feel that 2015 was a bit of a roller coaster with all sorts of ups and downs. I had a pretty mellow final semester with only three classes and a thesis to do, but at the same time I had a job search that sometimes felt like it wasn’t going anywhere. During graduation and the two-three weeks surrounding it, I felt like the prom queen, with all the attention on me, showering praise and good wishes. Not too long afterward I got to go see some of my favorite metal bands in concert, and got the chance to intern in Germany. Of course, the trip to Germany got delayed, and one set of tickets I couldn’t fully refund, so that was money wasted.

Life’s a rollercoaster, is it not?

When I finally did get to Germany, it was a great experience. I learned a lot working with the US Army, explored as much of Germany as I could in the four months I was there, and made some memories and friendships that I hope will stay with me for a long time. On the other hand, I could get very tired, and if things didn’t go as planned, that stressed me out. I didn’t get to stay, and even when you’re making a good living and have a place to stay on base, which is much cheaper than getting your own apartment, living abroad is expensive. I came back to the States with about the same amount of money in my bank account as when I left.

And finally, when I got back home, I found a lot a lot of people wanting to know how I did in Germany and what it was like. I also got a lot of support as I started up the job search again, and I finished editing one novel and made significant progress on another. And I even got a narrator for that audio book for Reborn City I’ve been trying to get off the ground! On the other hand…still jobless for the moment, and until I have some income, I can’t get an editor to look at Video Rage for one final touch-up before publication.

All in all, I felt this year reflected life in general. There are things that don’t always go your way and you could live without, but there are plenty of good things to even it out, and in the end you wouldn’t give up the experiences you’ve had for the world. That’s certainly been my experience. While I would’ve loved to not have those delays with Germany and still have some more money in my bank account, and I had hoped to be employed by this point, I am very happy that I’ve had the experiences and learned the lessons that I did this year.

As for this coming year…well, I have my hopes. I want to get a job, obviously, and without getting into specifics, I’ve had some luck with that, thanks in part to the help I’ve gotten from numerous sources. I want to publish at least one book this year, though I’m aiming for two, plus some short stories here and there. And I would definitely like to move out into my own place (preferably a one-bedroom apartment that allows pets, like cute little kitty cats).

Oh, and I would definitely like to finish editing a few more stories, make some more progress on my new collection of short stories Teenage Wasteland, and get that audio book of Reborn City released.

Will any of this happen? I can’t say, because the future is not certain. However, a lot of stuff is very likely, including the stuff listed above. And I’m hoping that along with those, a lot of other stuff happens this year. While I had a pretty good 2015, I know that on a global scale things were, to say the least, messed up. Gun violence, terrorism, refugees not given the treatment they deserve, continued abuse of the environment. There was plenty of good–gay marriage is now legal all throughout the nation, thank God–but I feel we need to see a lot more of that sort of good to outweigh the bad. Already I’ve seen what I feel is good action from the President, but it’s going to take a lot more than that before I’m satisfied.

Cheers to a fresh start.

Well, I’ve rambled on enough for one evening. I’ll finish off with a reminder that all of my books are on sale through January 14th from Amazon, Createspace, and Smashwords, and that I hope we all accomplish the goals we set ourselves this year. And I guess that includes new year’s resolutions, though I know those rarely last long. Oh well, good luck with those too I guess.

Happy 2016, my Followers of Fear!

I’ve been meaning to write this post all week, but for a number of reasons–including my desire to wait and see how this played out–I’m only just getting around to it. But now that I am, let me start by saying this is a most unusual blog post, even for me. It has only a little to do with anything writing or horror-related, which usually means this would be a political post or about my life in general, but politics is only incidental to this story, and it doesn’t really feel like something affecting my life. It’s just amusing, like watching a cat chase a laser dot around the living room without realizing it’ll never catch that dot.

Okay, back to the beginning. If you’re at all familiar with contemporary American politics, you’ll know that we’re less than a year away from the Presidential election, and already election season is in full-swing. I’ve come out as a Hillary Clinton supporter already, and I follow her on Facebook. On one of her most recent status updates, I left a comment and that was the start of the craziness.

Now I know some people have some really intense opinions on the former Secretary of State. I get that, but I’m going to ask that you hold off on your opinions until this post is finished. Anyway, this was on Tuesday, in the wake of the Paris attacks, and already people in power were talking about limiting refugees based on religion or entirely. Secretary Clinton posted this on Facebook in response:

We’ve seen a lot of hateful rhetoric from the GOP. But the idea that we’d turn away refugees because of religion is a new low. -H

Well, that resonated with me. I’m a supporter of the refugees, and I don’t like the idea of turning them away. So here’s what I wrote as a comment:

America was built by religious refugees, as the GOP loves to point out. Turning away refugees becauseon their religion is hypocritical and goes against what America is supposed to be about.

This was one of the earliest comments on that particular post, which might explain what happened next.

Who knew supporting one candidate could lead to so much craziness?

Within half an hour, that post had over 300 likes and a growing number of comments. Some of them were supportive or in agreement. Others were…angry. Disagreeable. A few were throwing insults at my face. Others were attacking other people. Pretty quickly it degenerated into a debate between various commenters over this or that fact.

Did I say debate? I meant a mess of cobras fighting each other for superiority because they don’t like one another or their political beliefs. I’m pretty sure blood was spilled several times in the course of three or four days.

I won’t quote directly what people said, because some of what was said was just really awful and I like to keep this blog a mostly positive place despite this being the blog of a horror novelist. I will say that a few people called me names, said I knew nothing about the law or what America was about. One guy actually tried to direct message me to tell me I didn’t know anything and call me a dumbass. Thankfully, Facebook allows you to decline messages from people you don’t know, so I deleted that conversation quick as a rabbit.

My favorite insult hurled at me was some guy who had a similar name to a famous American writer’s real name told me I should go and study history. Joke’s on that guy, because one of my majors in college was History!

About an hour into this madness, I decided to comment back, the only comment I left in this crazy den of verbal Hunger Games contestants:

So I posted this comment about an hour ago. It’s got 550+ likes, 50+ comments, and a few people getting angry with one another over differences of opinion. And I’m just sitting here wondering, “Why can’t my sci-fi novel get this sort of attention? Islamaphobia and dealing with it is one of its major themes!”

If I see an opportunity to plug my books, I will. What do you want from me? It’s a hard world for indie authors, and we gotta do what we gotta do to make it in this hard, terrible world. And anyway, I was wondering why Reborn City didn’t get that much attention, especially considering the themes it explores.

In any case, this plug didn’t do me any good. That comment only got three likes, and only one person actually replied to it. They told me it must be because, like me and my original comment, my novel must be stupid because I don’t know anything.

That’s probably the only comment that actually hurt me. I put a lot of work into what I write, to make sure they leave impressions on people. Calling them stupid? I take offense at that.

At least nobody used that comment to seek me out and leave me false reviews just to hurt me. That would’ve been really dickish.

So at final tally, we’ve got 1,383 likes, 243 comments, and a whole rather nasty list of web vitriol. The activity was strong through Tuesday and Wednesday, but dropped off on Thursday, which thankfully I’m glad for. It was just nuts.

And how do I feel about being attacked? Well, I think knowing this was only temporary made it easier for me to just detach from it and not let it get to me. In fact, I felt a little bit good that I managed to stay out of the fire that I somehow managed to cause. I kind of felt like an evil villain with a set of human dominoes, just watching things play out and waiting to see what remains. Yeah, that’s callous, but it’s not as bad as what some of the people were saying in that comment thread. It was enough to make sailors blush.

Still, it was pretty amazing that I could get so many people riled up just with one comment. People really are sensitive when it comes to politics, and that sensitivity can get amplified through the anonymity of the Internet. The worst were the Donald Trump supporters (and they made themselves obvious, believe me). Those guys were the craziest of all

Oh, and people who want to comment some nastiness on this post, be careful. The more you comment, the more my profile is raised. That is all.

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.