Yellow Stars, Pink Triangles, and Blue Crescents

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As part of their systematic program of dehumanizing people in concentration camps, the Nazis made Jews and gays wear yellow star and pink triangle badges, respectively. In the case of the Jews, this eventually led the Nazis trying to kill them off in the world’s most reviled case of genocide. They were also made to wear yellow stars in public, too. Gays were subjected to execution, bizarre medical experiments, castration, and jail sentences.

I bring these horrific atrocities up for a reason. The United States is in danger of succumbing to a dark fear that the country will consistently victimized by Islamic State terrorists, radicalized criminals who state Islam as their cause.

Bigotry waged against Muslims is reaching an all time high in this country, perhaps worse than the period of time immediately following 9-11. Hate crimes are increasing.

To be clear, the acts of radicalized terrorists are those of extreme fundamentalists, nor do they speak for the vast majority of 2.6 million Americans who state they are Muslim. Angst against American Muslims is fueled by the United States’ own radical conservatives, the Christian right and extreme Republicans.

The worst of the worst, presidential hopeful Donald Trump wants to close the borders to the Islamic peoples of the world, all one billion of them. In prior statements (since deflected as taken out of context), the demagogue Trump said he is willing to create a database — the modern registered list — of Muslims.

These rhetorical statements and the actions they imply are dangerously close to taking yet another dark step, requiring all Islamic people to wear blue crescent badges. Fortunately, all of these “solutions” are unconstitutional in our Democracy.

The Inexcusable Rhetoric of Racism

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Image by Padraig Rooney.

Trump’s defense is to have minions state that this is no different than when the United States put Japanese citizens in internment camps during World War II. This was one of the most cruel and embarrassing moments in U.S. history. Forty years later, Republican President Ronald Reagan signed a law apologizing for racism and paying reparations to those Japanese citizens.

Don’t think Donald Trump is alone in his fear-mongering demagoguery. Another leading Republican Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz has stated the United States should only accept Christian refugees from Syria because they won’t commit acts of terror.

Christian right leader Jerry Fallwell Jr. suggests that all Americans should carry guns to shoot Muslim terrorists. Because guns are the answer, right? We don’t have enough armed American psychopaths going on mass murder rages. Now let’s arm more people and encourage them to shoot threatening Muslim Americans.

The real issue is ignorance and fear. Ignorant American citizens who don’t understand others, and are now reacting to fear. These people are preyed upon by their so-called political leaders. The end result of this rhetoric? Inexcusable wide-spread racism and bigotry.

This groundswell of hate supports the Islamic State’s rhetoric that Americans hate Muslims. Further, the angst meets the terrorist group’s goal of inspiring fear.

A Time to Be Active

We need to look at the moral fiber of this country. Do we truly believe in the principles outlined in our Constitution, the principles of tolerance and freedom? Or will we succumb to fear and hate-mongering.

If you think it can’t happen, that we won’t force Muslim Americans to wear blue crescent badges or register at the police station in every town they visit, then just consider what happened to Jews, gays and others in Nazi Europe; yellow stars, pink triangles, and horrors beyond the imagination. That Western “civilized” country succumbed to the fear and war mongering of Adolf Hitler.

Informed Americans need to be active in politics right now. It is a time to participate in debates, and make sure your voice is heard. More than anything, this is a time to fight racism and make sure that every American — regardless of race or religion — is welcome as part of our community.

It’s also a time for people to start taking Donald Trump seriously. The GOP has been forced to acknowledge Trump may actually win the Republican ticket. Like the Huffington Post, the rest of us, too, must come to grips with Donald Trump’s demagoguery and damaging statements.

We cannot allow the Donald Trumps and Ted Cruzes of the world destroy all of the great freedoms protected by the United States’ Constitution. To quote one of our founding fathers John Dickenson, “By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall.”

Clarifying Views on Faith

Last week turned out to be a fantastic for Exodus. More than 2000 books were moved, and when I woke up on Christmas morning, the book was ranked #207 on the Amazon Kindle free rankings, and number six in the science fiction category (I engaged in a modified version of Brian Meeks’ strategies).

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The success brought some interesting commentary (cough) from some more devout Christians who weren’t pleased with the depiction of a medieval-like fundamentalist state that used their faith to conquer others. This post is not a response. I did want to take the opportunity to clarify my views on fundamentalism, Christianity or otherwise, for friends and readers who may be curious.

As to the hate mail itself, I expected this when I published the book. I don’t believe hardliners will actually get the message. As soon as the more devout read the first chapter, they’re certain that I am a heretical liberal. By the fourth they may think I am in league with Old Scratch himself (thus the preface from Paul Dunn).

To be clear, I read every remark to see if it’s an actual critique of the book, or someone ranting that Christianity was used as an example of fundamentalism. If it’s the prior, I pay attention. If it’s the latter, I ignore it. Welcome to America and The First Amendment.

Faith and Christianity

I believe that any faith is capable of helping people enjoy life more. That includes Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Bhuddhism, and others. I personally believe in God. I also believe that humans are capable of taking any faith, and warping its words to achieve wrongdoing.

I don’t think Islam is a violent religion. In fact, I quite like Sufism. Unfortunately for the faith of Islam, violent extremists use it to justify their actions. And that creates quite a lot of ignorance and stereotypes about fundamentalism.

Back to the impetus for this post, I have seen many benevolent acts performed by Christians. The faith (in its various forms) offers incredibly powerful teachings for anyone who wants spiritual guidance. In fact, while not a Christian, I say the Lord’s prayer several times a week, my wife is of Presbyterian decent, and most of my friends are Christian or of Christian descent.

Yet like any other faith, people can use its words to justify great wrongs. You can look back at the Crusades for an example. Or more recently at the IRA terrorism of the 70s and 80s, or in the Unted States the KKK’s acts of racism and violence. I have experienced this personally in my life. Many people have tried to convert me, or explain to me how I was going to hell because of my decent. You could argue the Christian right’s political impact in our country could (not will, but could) create similar situations.

As for the faith of my blood, Judaism, some feel Israel’s hard line views towards Palestineans and other Islamic states is also in the fundamental extreme. People are dying in the Middle East, and sometimes at the hands of the Israeli military.

In none of these situations is the faith in question wrong. Rather, people make decisions, and use religion as a justification to take actions that impact their fellow man, usually in a negative fashion.

What’s worse, when blind faith exists or when people generally believe what they are told, we create problems. We see this today in the media and the violated trust we feel when the Lance Armstrongs and government officials of this world let us down. To be clear, this is the power of propaganda, not religion.

Now About the Book

Let’s look at several aspects of fundamentalism in the book. First, it was the Islamic fundamentalism of the present (and a fictional Christian right reaction to it) that provokes the Great Sickness, the apocalyptic event that creates the world of Exodus.

Why not continue with Islam as the faith of wrong doing? For starters, it’s too easy per the earlier stereotype discussion. As a writer it’s about as challenging as depicting Richard Nixon as a villain.

Frankly, I think we have a blind eye in this country to our own actions. Since the book takes place in America, I decided to use our country’s dominant faith, Christianity. And per the conversation earlier, Christianity has been misused by the power-hungry for such purposes in the past. Unfortunately for humankind, history has a nasty tendency of repeating itself.

Several of the characters have intentional names referring to Greek mythological characters and one biblical character, Mordecai. Mordecai represents the true Christian faith (at least as it appears to this Jewish fellow’s eyes). In book two, Mordecai attracts new Christians, but he does so through principled action rather than proselytizing.

The power-hungry leader of the Christian Empire is Pravus, which is Latin for depraved. That should be a clear tip off to folks who think I am engaged in blasphemy. I am not, this guy is fricking nuts. There’s a reason why Mordecai left the Emperor’s side to venture out on his own.

Without tipping my hat too much, the entire trilogy explores the concept that every single one of us is capable of rationalizing wrong with ideologies and belief systems. We think we’re right, that our ideas can protect us from wrongdoing, but in actuality we may be harming others.

This is true for every human, and there are many ideologies — not just religious ones — that can be used to justify wrongdoing. Evil is rarely a dramatic moment. It is often the result of small decisions that collectively point someone in the wrong direction.

OK, I’ve said my piece. The floor is yours.

Dancing Around that Religion Thing

There are two things that they say one should not discuss in public settings; politics and religion. Yet, my new book Exodus takes the latter topic head on, and examines what causes people to act violently in the name of religion.

I realize that the time has come for me to have these conversations online, whether I like it or not. You can’t drop a rock this big in the middle of the pond, and expect to walk away without getting a little water on you.

Still, I am reticent to discuss religion here. It’s always a recipe for volatility.

Perhaps the Exodus conversation will be more of a commentary of others. The book may just be the impetus to have those discussions.

I hope the book does not offend the majority of my Christian friends. Exodus focuses on Christian fundamentalism mostly because it takes place here in the United States. One of my greatest fears is a militarized Christian right, a result of life as a Jew who experienced antisemitism.

One could easily swap out Christianity and substitute Islam or another faith. This is a story that’s been replayed throughout history, and it is destined to continue well into our future.

I know the various flavors of Christianity hold great spiritual value, and comfort millions of people. In my adult life, I’ve come to embrace certain aspects of the faith, and know a few prayers by heart. I’ll never call myself a Christian, but I’m happy to admire the faith’s spiritual value.

One of the characters in the book, Mordecai, represents what I really think of Christianity. In the end, Mordecai’s tolerance and willingness to serve the community in the face his hosts’ ignorance become saving graces.

What do you think about religious conversations online?