Thursday, October 22

Allure of security

Fear of Beauty addresses the challenges for military and security personnel in protecting facilities in Afghanistan during the war. Military representatives and security details must walk a fine line between a show of force versus a show of respect, cooperation and trust. Such personnel make difficult decisions on mingling with local people in communities without fear and, by their very presence, challenging long-held opinions.

One line of questioning during a hearing of the House Select Committee on Benghazi is telling. Hillary Clinton, former US Secretary of State and presidential candidate, testified in response to questions from Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia.


Clinton suggested she could not micro-manage or second-guess the assessments from security professional on the ground, and Westmoreland insisted on protection for US facilities such as the compound in Benghazi.

Westmoreland:  I'm not saying shut it down. I'm saying protect it....  And when you say security professionals, I'm not trying to be disparaging with anybody, but I don't know who those folks were but ...

Clinton: Well, they are people who risked their lives.  

Westmoreland: ... but it's just my little opinion that they were not very professional when it came to protecting people

Clinton later returned to defending  capabilities of security personnel protecting diplomatic and other US staff. 

Clinton: I must add, Congressman, the diplomatic security professionals are among the best in the world. I would put them up against anybody. And I just cannot allow any comment to be in the record in any way criticizing or disparaging them. They have kept Americans safe in two wars and in a lot of terrible situations over the last many years. I trust them with my life, you trust them with yours when you are on Codels. they deserve better, and they deserve all the support that Congress can give them because they are doing a really hard job very well.

Westmoreland: Well, ma'am, all I can say is that they miss something here and we lost four Americans."

The committee was established to investigate events surrounding the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi September 11, 2012.  Assignments in countries with extremists and insurgengies are difficult. Any encounter, even ones with a child, can turn into a deadly suicide bombing or attack. Security teams must constantly observe surroundings and nuances to make instant assessments. Security teams must also assess the courage of those whom they protect.

 Such decisions are a constant worry for the Army Ranger in Fear of Beauty: 

As they turned the corner, a young girl emerged from the brush, unnoticed by the driver or Cameron. Joey gripped his M16, and Habib's hand covered his side arm.... Smiling, she approached the Humvee, running her hand along the side and letting it rest there, as if posing for a photo.... Startled the driver turned. A more skittish soldier might have shot her - he fervent wish of every extremist. 


Old rules or codes of conduct do not apply in conflict areas like Afghanistan and Libya and even the security forces on the ground struggle over such decisions.

Photo of Benghazi, courtesy of Dennixo and Wikimedia Commons.




Thursday, October 1

Freedom

A friend is working in the Great Lakes region of Africa and talked about traveling by bus from a small community in the southern part of Zambia to the capital city. New to the country, she looked forward the jostling three-hour ride, chatting with seatmates and catching quick glimpses of the countryside. Soon after the bus got rolling, a man stood and started pacing back and forth in the aisle, issuing what was for her a surprise sermon. The preacher shouted about Jeremiah, one of the major prophets of the Bible who had the lonely task of warning about the judgment of God and the people of Judah who refused to listen about the threat of invasion.

The passengers had little choice but to listen to the message on impending threats, the need for caution, fear and shame. He railed on about Jeremiah's warnings, frequently pausing to lean over a passenger and challenge the individual with the question, "Do you believe in the Lord God Almighty?"

The incident was nerve-wracking, calling to mind similar incidents in northern areas of Africa, where extremists board buses and demand passengers to recite a quote or two from the Koran to prove they are not infidels.

Some passengers pointedly ignored him. Most nodded nervously. He did not confront my friend, but the  sermon went on for 90 minutes, intruding on any plans for passengers to converse, read or contemplate the scenery. Shortly before his destination, he passed a hat for donations. Not all gave. Videos of the clean-cut preachers in dress shirts and ties dating back a few years can be found on YouTube, and my friend was told the preachers receive a free ride in exchange for a sermon.

 There are varying statistics for the demographics of Zambia: The CIA World Factbook suggests that 75 percent are Protestant, 20 percent Catholic, and the remaining a mix of Hindu, Muslim and indigenous tribal religions. Others report the percentage of those who are non-Christian may run as high as 12 percent. No surprise that there are reports of Muslim preachers are taking up the practice, too.Christianity is the country's official religion, but the constitution protects the freedom of conscience or religion for all. Religious instruction is required for grades one through nine: "Religious education focus on Christian teachings but also incorporates comparative studies of Islam, Hinduism, and traditional beliefs," reports the Zambia 2013 International Religious Freedom Report.

A lack of consideration by any one religion can diminish faith in general among the wider populace. A generous spirit, open minds, support of equality for all including women and men, common courtesy, all these can restore one's faith in human nature and the power of religion.

In Fear of Beauty and Allure of Deceit, characters must wrestle with doubt over longstanding religious beliefs, especially when values come in conflict with protecting the ones they love.  And as an author, I feel very fortunate that few suggest that the topic is inappropriate for a mystery novel. I had one memorable experience a few weeks after Fear of Beauty. I was on a panel for a book festival in Charlottesville, Virginia, an older woman snapped, questioning why I would even think about writing about the Muslims in Afghanistan. But such a response has been a rarity. Most readers express curiosity about the books - and especially so in rural areas of Michigan, North Dakota, Georgia and Louisiana. So few are closed-minded or mean-spirited, and as I have said before on these pages, our values are strengthened by comparing and contrasting those held by others.   
 
Jeremiah offered another warning that may not have been mentioned during the bus ride: "From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit." 6:13.

Photo of a road in southern Zambia, courtesy of Amantia Phalloides, Namwianga Mission and Wikimedia Commons.