Archive

December 9th

What I saw in the faces of refugees

    "I saw death behind me, and life in front of me," said Safae, a Syrian mother of two young sons, as she told me the story of her family's escape from the Islamic State. They had fled in the night across the Syrian-Turkish border and had arrived, finally, in Greece.

    Looking at her two beautiful boys, I was reminded of my own grown sons. How similar our families were; face to face, it was so easy to imagine myself in her shoes, worn as they were after her dangerous trek.

    After wrapping filming for the fifth season of "Homeland" in Berlin - living in a fictional world of chaos, violence and confusion - I went to the island of Lesbos to spend time with folks from the International Rescue Committee (IRC). I joined them there to support people like Safae and her family, who have faced the realities of terrorism and war that I have only imagined on screen.

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Weak gun laws failed to protect my mom

    The six-paragraph newspaper article about her was headlined, simply, "Shot in Head." It began: "Gay Chamlee is listed in serious condition at Floyd Medical Center after being shot in the head Tuesday afternoon. Her husband is charged with the shooting."

    Sometimes I imagine what she was like before - big blue eyes shining, long hair blowing behind her as she drove too fast, like any teenager. I've only known her the way she is now - bloated from her medication, face sunken where her right eye should be, a large scar running over her head. That she has no sense of smell and has the mental capacity of a 12-year-old aren't visible, but I can see these things when I look at her. My mother has been this way ever since she was shot in 1985 by a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun, more commonly known as a "38-special." According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, American women are 11 times more likely to be killed with a gun than women in other high-income countries. Yet gun laws in this country remain severely lax.

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December 8th

Combating racial isolation in admissions

    When Abigail Fisher's challenge to affirmative action in university admissions was first heard at the Supreme Court two years ago, counsel for the University of Texas at Austin, where Fisher was denied admission, explained that the school's admissions policies are aimed, in part, at ensuring that classes include a critical mass of minority students. Critical mass is necessary, the school's lawyer argued, to address the racial isolation experienced by minority students and to obtain the full benefits of diversity for all students. But some justices were skeptical. "How am I supposed to decide," Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. asked, "whether you have an environment within [which] particular minorities . . . don't feel isolated?" As the court prepares once again to hear arguments on Fisher's claim thisnext week, African American student protesters on campuses across the nation have been offering a powerful response to Roberts's question.

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Why Christians can extend the same benefit of the doubt to Muslims after a violent attack

    A few years ago, a co-worker asked me a question about my evangelical faith that I'll never forget: "Are you one of those Christians who supports people who bomb abortion clinics?"

    I was floored - and it wasn't just because the woman didn't know me well enough to ask something so offensive. I couldn't believe someone actually thought abortion clinic bombers would receive support from a friendly, mainstream evangelical like me.

    A couple of years later, I was talking with a friend who cited, in part, the teachings of TV preachers for his inability to believe in Christian theology. I tried to draw a distinction between name-it-and-claim-it theology and authentic Christianity, but it didn't go anywhere. He had already made up his mind.

    It's hard representing Christ to people who are jaded and convinced that the outliers are the norm in Christianity. I don't blame them entirely, though.

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When mass shootings become part of our routine

    An old love song speaks of "the little ordinary things that everyone ought to do." That phrase used to cover instructions such as: "Take out the trash," "brush your teeth," "close cover before striking," "look both ways before crossing." Ordinary things.

    9/11 changed all that.

    Now "things that everyone ought to do" include "remove your shoes" and "leave liquids at home." And "little ordinary things" involve pat-downs, full-body scans, concrete planters in front of buildings and the horror of the unattended package. No more "none of your business." Now it's "see something, say something." All the ordinary things of our day.

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They terrorized my daughters and killed my baby. That's why we're Syrian refugees.

    Editor's note: Linda J. is a Syrian refugee. She and her family made their way this year from Damascus to Baltimore. She worked with a caseworker and a translator from the International Rescue Committee, the nonprofit agency that helped them resettle here, to tell her family's story of asylum. The Washington Post agreed that she could abbreviate her last name and omit other identifying details to protect family members who remain in Syria.

    The best days of my life were in Syria. I was born and raised there. I married and reared my family in my country. My kids went to school, and my husband worked as a carpenter. I was a 29-year-old stay-at-home mom, and we owned furniture stores in Damascus. We shared everything with our neighbors and felt the love around our home. But in 2011, everything for my family and every family in Syria changed.

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The Senate Goes Gaga on Guns

    Would it be absolutely cynical to say the Senate responded to what appears to be a terrorist mass shooting by declining to ban the sale of guns to people on the terrorist watch list?

    Nah. Let’s go for it.

    This week the Senate voted on two proposals to toughen the nation’s gun regulations in the wake of the San Bernardino murders. The other one would have tightened loopholes in the background-check law that are currently the size of the Pacific Ocean. Both failed on basically party-line votes.

    “It was a huge victory that there was a vote at all,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, in a telephone conference call.

    We normally celebrate winners in this country, but let’s remember the people who keep trudging toward a noble goal at the top of the political mountain, oblivious to perpetual landslides. History will someday reward them. Meanwhile, if you run into a member of the gun control lobby, give him or her hug.

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'Said' is not dead. Save boring words!

    They will wrest "dull words" from my cold dead hands.

    According to the Wall Street Journal, there is a movement - or, as I prefer, "epidemic," of English teachers telling people to ditch "boring" words like "said." "Said," handouts proclaim, "is Dead."

    This is nonsense. Keep "said" where it belongs. Lose everything else.

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No one should be surprised by the pandering to the Republican Jewish Coalition

    Politicians pander. They dredge up memories, adopt inflections and do other things that show the audience they know, understand or can relate to the audience. That's what they do. And, as gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Washington on Thursday showed, it can be a painful display of stereotyping.

    "Morning Joe" presented a gasp-worthy compilation today. Donald Trump dabbled in the Jews-and-money cliche. "You're not going to support me because I don't want your money," he said. The Big Apple billionaire also said, "I'm a negotiator, like you folks. . . . Is there anybody that doesn't renegotiate deals in this room?"

    Former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore, who I'd forgotten is still chasing 1-percent support in his quest for the Republican presidential nomination, strained credulity when he said, "Last night I was watching 'Schindler's List.'" What, "Fiddler on the Roof" wasn't available on Netflix? C'mon, man.

    But my reaction to what Ohio Gov. John Kasich said can be described only in the language of social media: O.o

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No More Thoughts and Prayers

    We never had enough time to rationalize, in the uniquely American way, why that middle-aged white man killed a cop, a mother of two and an Iraq War veteran in Colorado Springs, when the latest slaughter of human life intruded. He was — what, pro-life? Screaming something about “baby parts” while he unloaded in a Planned Parenthood clinic?

    Slow down, slow down, the mind wants to say — one absurd mass murder at a time. They all “make sense,” eventually. Don’t they?

    In Colorado Springs, the man arrested in the killings, Robert L. Dear Jr., fit a profile. Here was another bearded introvert who lived at the edge of modernity, his head stuffed full of hate and half-truths. “He claims to be a Christian and is extremely evangelistic,” his ex-wife wrote in a court document. “He is obsessed with the world coming to an end.” And of course, he had a semi-automatic rifle to go with his delusions.

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