Sunday, November 22, 2015

Learning to Tell the Difference

I’m appalled at what happened in Paris and Mali—and continues to happen in Syria.

My mother once described her reaction on December 7, 1941. She was sitting in a Redskins football game and said she and friends wondered why so many members of the military were getting paged. Later, she felt sad, but also guilty that she was enjoying herself when so many people were dying. My father and uncles were part of the Greatest Generation who fought in that war. We didn’t suffer through bombings and watch siblings get blown to bits as Europeans did, but we helped win that war against hate.

However, our reluctance to accept refugees meant far more people died in Hitler’s camps than might have otherwise. Look at history books. You’ll see references in diplomatic cables to the U.S. having its own “Jewish problem” and not wanting more. I admit, my initial exposure to the horrific rejections (that led directly to death camps in some cases) was largely through Leon Uris novels. And supplemented by Erik Larsen’s “In the Garden of the Beasts,” though it’s mostly about how we coddled Hitler before 1941 because we wanted war reparations from World War I. We KNEW what Hitler was doing in his camps.

I looked today for articles that cited the U.S. policies during WWII and found a new one in the “Times of Israel.” It notes how similar our reactions today are to those in the 1930s and 1940s.

“No historical parallel is perfect, obviously,” says Allan Lichtman, co-author of “FDR and the Jews” and a professor of history at American University. But U.S. limits on refugees during World War II, influenced by anti-Semitism, were fed by fears the Nazis “would plant agents, spies and saboteurs among the Jewish refugees and that they would pressure the Jews, particularly those whose families were still in Germany, to act as agents on behalf of the Third Reich,” Lichtman said.

So what about refugees today? It takes fully TWO YEARS to be vetted before you can become a refugee to the United States. Refugees stay in overseas camps or other dire circumstances while they go through the process. They meet with the FBI and other security officials.

You want to worry about terrorists (other than people like Oklahoma City bomber Terry McVeigh or the Connecticut man who shot up Sandy Hook Elementary School), worry about tourist visas. Worry about someone who walks across the border without one after overstaying a visa in Canada (where it would be easier to blend in than Mexico). Worry about the loner who’s stockpiling guns in the basement of the home where he lives with his mother because he has no social skills and can’t keep a job. Worry about the conspiracy theorists who say the Sandy Hook shooting never happened, it was made up by gun control advocates.

Should we be concerned about terrorists who say they act on behalf of Allah? Of course. They aren’t a large portion of the Muslim population and are despised by most Muslims. I know many people of that faith, have for decades. To say that all Muslims are terrorists is like saying that because some German Christians fought for Hitler it means all German Christians at that time were evil. (Hitler was not a Christian, but many who fought for him were. And the Catholic Church? Read about how often the church in Rome refused to help many Jews.)

What started this post was reading that Cedar Rapids, Iowa--home to Syrians for many decades, some of them refugees—may be less welcoming in the future. There are three mosques in Cedar Rapids. Christians helped the Muslims rebuild one after the 2008 floods. Muslims are part of the fabric of that city.

How can this hate be happening in our country? Why do good people stay silent while others profess that an entire religion is bad because of some horrible fanatics who act in its name? I’ve been to several countries with Muslim populations, most notably Morocco. It’s the only place (among about 30 countries I’ve been to) where someone invited me (a stranger) to their home for tea.

I get it. We're scared. Bravery takes many forms. Speaking up may be one of them.

I was at a prayer breakfast in my town in Illinois this week. A child from each faith gave a brief talk and prayer (Christian, Jews, Muslims, and more). I complimented several of them.

Here’s something to think about. We white folks often think ‘they’ all look alike, whatever the ‘they.’ While I waited to talk to the kids, I asked one woman if she was the mom of the girl of Hindi heritage who spoke. Nope. She was the aunt of the Muslim boy. Who, by the way, sat next to the Jewish boy. That’s America.

Refugees are not the enemy. The terrorists who create them are. We need to remember that.

I implore good people not to be still and let the discussion in our country be dominated by people who cannot tell the difference or want to use terrorism to score political points.

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Why is a discussion about U.S. fear of refugees on a blog that mostly deals about writing? Because I feel very strongly that not to speak up about this means letting the fear-mongerers take charge. That's scarier than letting in people who have been terrorized by ISIS.
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Saturday, November 14, 2015

In Honor of Reviewers

Reviewers are high on my list of good people, but I review few of the books I read. I'm selfish, but trying to do better.

Largely it's a time issue, but I also blame my mother. (I mean, why not?) She stressed being uncritical in personal relationships, and what is more personal than the connections with the books we read?

Not that my opinions are negative--usually quite the opposite. I finish a book by Sue Grafton, Terence Faherty, or Anne Tyler and think, "Why am I bothering to write?" It's sort of like visiting an art museum. You realize you are a speck on the planet's pallet.

But, why be maudlin?

The biggest benefit of reviews is not for the writer. Reviews help readers decide what to pick up next. We all have authors whose books we grab as soon as they are out (Robert Harris, Erik Larson), but given we are busy people, we may want to know what others think about books they've read.

There are common places to look, such as sites that sell books (Amazon, BN, Kobo, itunes). If you want to read reviews and talk about books with other readers, there is Goodreads. Join a group. I belong to several that talk about cozy mysteries.

You can also look at the lists of paperback giveaways. Goodreads must approve every giveaway offer, so you know it's not a way for some rogue website to get your email address. I have  used the Goodreads Giveaway program for my last few books. It's a neat way to garner interest while doing something for readers, too.

Here are some good sites to check for book reviews. Some let you sign up to review books.

Complete Review  Links to reviews (in English) in major publication, not all in the U.S.
More Than Review Good rankings on violence or sex, in addition to a general review.
Best Book Review Sites  Links to major sites, such as Kirkus and NY Review of Books.
New York Times Book Review   Have to be a subscriber to see the full paper, but you can get an email with the link to reviews.
Self Publishing Reviews  Good site for looks at indie books.
Goodreads lists of reviewers  Many blog authors note they will review books, and you can link to the blogs.

If you want easy access to best seller lists, check out the online version of Publishers Weekly. (It's a fee-based site, but there is a lot you can see without subscribing.)  Some sites, such as Kirkus and Self Publishing Review require that authors pay for a review. They don't guarantee a good review.

Finally, where is the best place to learn about good books? Your local library. Most have librarian favorite lists, and they nearly all have subscriptions to the book review magazines.

Next step? Start a good book.
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