A Guest Post From Eileen Carr: A Response to the Attacks in Paris


Eileen Carris new book, Veiled Intentions, was published on December 29th.  Thank you, Eileen, for this lovely response to the murders that have occurred in Paris this week.

Nine days after I published Veiled Intentions, a book about a small town erupting into violence and hatred after the arrest of a Muslim teenager for a crime she did not commit, armed terrorists broke into the office of Charlie Hebdo in Paris and gunned down twelve people. The violence was in response to some cartoons published in the satirical magazine. It wasn’t the first time the magazine had been targeted by Islamic extremists. It was, however, the bloodiest.

The message of my book (not to give too big a spoiler) is that hatred breeds more hatred and that we must combat the forces of intolerance with acceptance and understanding. In the face of what happened in Paris on January 7, that feels incredibly weak and naïve. Is it enough to express outrage? Is it enough to verbally condemn reacting to satire with AK-47s? Would putting flowers in those gun barrels make anyone change their minds?

I don’t know. I don’t know the right way to move forward after an attack like this one. I do know, however, a few things that would be wrong.

It would be wrong to condemn all Muslims for the actions of a small number of Islamic terrorists.

It would be wrong to attack mosques.

It would be wrong to make Muslims feel unsafe on our streets.

It would be wrong to stop talking about these very difficult issues.

There is no doubt that there is a strain of Islam that is breeding extremists who feel justified in killing people who don’t agree with them, in oppressing women, in persecuting people of other religions. It’s imperative to remember that those extremists do not represent the vast majority of Muslims. In fact, the Islamic community is responding to the attack with every ounce of the outrage the rest of the world is with the added heartbreak of knowing that the violence tarnishes a religion in which they believe. Let’s stand with them. Let’s honor their words. Let’s make sure their voices are heard.

One of the cartoons I saw in response to the attacks showed a pencil labeled yesterday, then a broken pencil labeled today and then two pencils made from the one broken one labeled tomorrow. What if the outcome of this attack was more people writing about this difficult and complex issue with compassion and forbearance? What if it was more people trying to promote understanding and tolerance? What if that was really how we could defeat the terrorists?

I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to keep writing. I’m going to keep trying to understand. I’m going to keep trying to accept. I’m going to keep my mind open. I don’t want else to do. #JeSuisCharlie

cover of Veiled Intentions

Book Review: Veiled Intentions. by Eileen Carr

cover of Veiled IntentionsVeiled Intentions is a book which takes on a weighty topic (prejudice against Muslims) with mixed success.  Bias alert – I’ve met Eileen Carr, and she is just about the sweetest person ever.  Also, I discussed the book with her prior to reading it, which has definitely had an effect on my perception of the book.

Veiled Intentions concerns a high school guidance counselor, Lily Simon, who becomes worried about a student, Jamila.  Jamila is accused of having hit a man with her car and having fled the scene.  The case causes intense tensions in the high school and the town and Lily hits caught up in the middle of it.

There are a lot of things happening in this book, and most of them are not fully realized.  There’s a mystery, but the reader knows the answer early on so we don’t have the pleasure of figuring it out.  There’s a romance between Lily and a cute reporter, but we don’t get to know the reporter very well and it’s tacked on.  The relationship doesn’t proceed past dating and I didn’t particularly root for it or against it.  One of the better threads involves an alcoholic student who believes that her parents are clueless about her behavior even when she catches them talking about sending her to rehab.  It’s quick but painful look at the gap between teens and parents, and the power of denial.

In Veiled Intentions, a lot of white people have heated opinions about what Islam means and what it means to be Muslim in America.  The message seems to be, “Hate begets hate, so don’t hate, OK?”  While I am 100% behind this message, I think the reason it falls flat in the book is that, with the exception of Kamila, the Muslim characters get very few opportunities to speak for themselves.  They stay firmly entrenched as stereotypes.  Kamila is a dutiful and faithful daughter.  Her parents are strident and angry with a great deal of justification but no nuance.  The teen boys at school are angry and one is legitimately scary.

Lily has a hard time countering anti-Muslim statements because she doesn’t know much about Islam or Arabic history, and she knows noting at all about the Muslim families in her town or the students in her school.  She barely knows Kamila and they do not become close as the book progresses despite Lily’s efforts on her behalf.  Lily makes efforts to change this at the end, pointing out “Negative perceptions of Muslim drop fifty percent if the person knows one Muslim.  One.”  It’s a lovely effort on Lily’s part but it’s too little too late for the reader, who never has a chance to get to know the Muslim characters.

Through some twists and turns that I was totally surprised by, the book makes an effective point that an atmosphere of hatred and mistrust poisons everyone, not just people from any one specific group.  It also does a good job of demonstrating that hatred has very little to do with facts (the reader figures out very quickly that, as regard the hit-and-run, not all is as it seems).  It’s a fast-moving, interesting book, one that keeps the reader’s attention through all the plot developments.  The book does a lovely job of challenging attitudes of hatred but falls short when it comes to countering stereotypes.