Friday, March 1, 2019

AUSMA ZEHANAT KHAN GOES ROGUE, and talks about her latest book.



Ausma Zehanat Khan
The Rogues are delighted to have Ausma Zehanat Khan blogging with us today. Her latest novel in the award-winning Esa Khattak/Rachel Getty mystery series is just out. Ausma is the author of eight books—5 mysteries, 2 fantasies and 1 middle grade novel. In addition, she holds a Ph.D. in international human rights law with a specialization in military intervention and war crimes in the Balkans. All around remarkable!  


In difficult times like these, I thought, why not write a difficult book? So I contemplated writing a crime novel loosely inspired by the January 2017 mosque shooting in Quebec, Canada. My lead detective, Esa Khattak, is a Canadian Muslim, and for some time, I’ve been wanting him to grapple with how he would investigate a crime where his community was targeted because of their faith—a crime that was unmistakably a hate crime.

Mysteries by Khan
As a former immigration lawyer with a research focus on human rights, I’ve been keeping an eye on hate crimes for more than a decade. But after the 2016 election in the United States, my focus on both hate crimes and hate speech intensified, and I began to document incidents of hate with more rigor. Then two major events made it so that I began to feel the urgency of writing about this subject: the shooting of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 2015, and the previously mentioned mosque shooting in Quebec.

After these incidents, it became clear to me that fomenting hate against vulnerable groups, whether through political posturing or through views that were propagated on TV, radio, and online forums, was having a measurable dehumanizing effect. The scourge of hate was moving beyond speech – and those who are not members of targeted groups may not fully appreciate the damaging nature of speech alone – to actions against vulnerable groups, that were increasing in severity: hence Quebec and North Carolina, two of the more extreme incidents.

So I wanted to send my detectives, Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty, into a similarly volatile situation to explore the fallout of hate. I thought this would be a challenging book to write, and in many ways it was. I spent more time than I want to recount on various online forums listening to how hate speech was expressed, and how it gathered intensity and traction as general support for it increased. What shouldn’t have surprised me but did was that this type of speech wasn’t only expressed by extremist groups on the fringe. It was becoming mainstreamed with perhaps a more respectable veneer disguising the conversations in the mainstream. This was an ugly place to spend time, but I realized that over the years, the impact of exposure to it had lessened due to a long period of conditioning. We were being conditioned to accept hate speech as a conversation moving from the margins to the mainstream—it didn’t surprise me anymore, I’d become desensitized to it.

Writing A Deadly Divide was my attempt to re-sensitize not only myself but my readers. To understand the human costs of hate, and to understand that hate spreads rapidly beyond the borders of what we are willing to tolerate because we think it will remain at the margins. Writing this book was my way of trying to measure those costs.

You can order your copy of A Deadly Divide today!

10 comments:

  1. What an important and fascinating theme, Ausma. You're reminding me of a Jewish friend who was asked to complete a manuscript by a very well-known novelist who had died. The "hero" of the novel was an unrepentant Nazi. My friend worked on the material a long time and eventually had walk away, just as the author, who was also Jewish, had before his death. The hatred of Jews of the main character got to both of them. Perhaps, if the Nazi had been a secondary character, it would've been a doable book. To the best of my knowledge, the work was never completed. Reading about your research into hate groups, I can feel the desensitization ... the grooming, or so it feels sometimes to me ... that our culture seems to be experiencing. You've written a very important book. Thank you.

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  2. Gayle, thank you very much for your thoughtful comment and for your insights. I hope the book will resonate with many different communities who are suffering a shared impact, and I'm especially grateful for all the organizations that are working so hard to combat hate. There has been a great deal of interfaith solidarity between Muslim and Jewish organizations--and bonds like these are where I find hope.

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  3. Ausma, I'm in awe of your background and can't wait to see what you've done with this latest novel. The subject matter is timely. I'm looking forward to reading A DEADLY DIVIDE!

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    1. Thank you so much, Robin! So sorry for the delay in responding to everyone - I had a deadline in the middle, lol.

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  4. Welcome to the Rogue page, Ausma -- so great to have someone here with such a terrific background - and one whose reviews for this new thriller are so outstanding (I just read a ton of them on Amazon - congratulations). This subject is indeed extremely important as we do see hate crimes perpetrated on so many different individuals and groups in our society. Thanks for shining a light on the subject....Karna Bodman

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    1. Karna, thank you so much for the kind words and encouragement. I really appreciate them!

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  5. Ausma, thank you for the fascinating post. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to research this novel. I subscribed to several newsletters from legal organizations that were tracking hate groups and crimes and after a while had to slow down the pace. It's quite upsetting. I can't wait to read this book and see how you handled this important subject. Thanks for being here!

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    1. Thank you, Jamie, yes I know exactly what you mean. Keeping track, seeing it every day, it has the effect of making one feel afraid. Thanks for hosting me here!

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  6. Timely subject. Acts based on hate and fear of people different from us have become all too common in the last few years. I agree with your comment above: that Jews and Muslims have to form solidarity to fight against those forces of intolerance. Look forward to your book.

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, so appreciated! In solidarity.

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