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Rethink the News

Perspective matters.

Reducing news to hard lines and side-taking leaves a lot of the story untold. Progress comes from challenging what we hear and considering different views.

May
23
Tuesday
David Clark Scott
Chief product manager & editor

Yesterday, conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas appeared to do something quite unusual: He sided with his more “liberal” justices, and cast the deciding vote. It was a triumph of principle over politics.

The court ruled 5 to 3 that North Carolina violated the US Constitution by using racial gerrymandering to create two congressional districts. The landmark case reaffirmed that political parties can’t use race as the basis for creating a contorted map or district of voters. In the 1990s, Democrats tried to use redistricting as a form of affirmative action for blacks. At the time, Justice Thomas said it was wrong. In another case in 2001, Thomas  said it was wrong, as he notes in a concurring opinion. This latest case was about Republicans using racial redistricting to empower white Republicans. Once again, Thomas said this was wrong.  

On this issue, Thomas is both a model of consistency as well as a champion of the constitutional principle of equality.

Here are our five stories for today – and a view from our editorial board on the concert attack last night in the city of Manchester, England.

1. How the new budget reflects White House values

How do you measure compassion? The White House budget director says this administration wants to measure it in terms of the number of people it gets off food stamps and welfare. Here’s a look at the ideals shaping the Trump budget.  

David
Eric Ueland, Republican staff director of the Senate Budget Committee, hands copies of President Trump’s fiscal 2018 federal budget to a congressional staffer on Capitol Hill, on May 23.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
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The 30 Sec. ReadAs the White House unveiled President Trump’s proposed budget, the prevailing story lines on left and right were stark: Republicans say that tax cuts and right-sizing government will boost the economy. Democrats say the tax cuts go mainly to those who are already well off, while the spending cuts will eviscerate needed federal programs – especially for the poor. There’s a real clash over those points. But in another sense, the two sides are fighting over different visions of how to get to the same goal: a United States where citizens have greater prosperity and security. Where Democrats see a strong role for the federal safety net, Republican budget plans seek to promote self-reliance, free markets, and state-level policies. And average voters are torn. Many Republicans are wary of the Trump cuts. But in Peoria, machine shop supervisor and Trump voter Matt Erickson says he shares the president’s aversion to "giving people money to not work."

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1. How the new budget reflects White House values

To the Trump team, the president’s budget proposal is rooted in unassailable values: respect for the people “who are actually paying the taxes,” as White House budget director Mick Mulvaney puts it.

In President Trump’s $4.1 trillion fiscal 2018 budget plan, released Tuesday, that approach translates into deep cuts in social safety-net programs that Mr. Mulvaney suggests discourage work and hinder economic growth. To others, the values reflected in the Trump budget are no less than “Robin Hood in reverse” – take from the poor to give to the rich, in the form of tax cuts.

But is this really a clash of values, or just differing pathways toward realizing the same values? That question burns at the heart of the American debate over the role and size of government.

Leaders of both parties espouse the desire to help Americans have greater prosperity and security. Where Democrats see a strong role for the federal safety net and are girding for battle over Trump's proposed cuts, Republican budget plans seek to promote self-reliance, free markets, and a preference for state or local policies over federal ones.

“There’s a certain philosophy wrapped up in the budget, and that is that we are no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs,” Mulvaney said. “We're going to measure compassion and success by the number of people we help get off of those programs, and get back in charge of their own lives.”

Mr. Trump’s budget blueprint, called “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” calls for deep cuts in health care for low-income Americans, food stamps, student loans, farm subsidies, and assistance for the disabled, while boosting spending on defense, border security, veterans’ care, and school choice. As Trump promised during the campaign, his plan doesn’t touch the Social Security retirement program or Medicare, health-care for seniors. (Details below.)

Trump’s budget also aims to get more Americans working, as an essential piece of two central goals: reaching an ambitious economic growth rate of 3 percent and a balanced budget in 10 years.

“If you're on food stamps, and you're able-bodied, we need you to go to work,” Mulvaney told reporters. “If you're not truly disabled, we need you to go back to work. We need everybody pulling in the same direction.”

To some budget experts, the proposals in Trump’s blueprint represent a stark choice that would have an immediate impact on the lives of Americans.

“It certainly makes a decision to value the elderly over children,” says Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a fiscal watchdog group. “One can be cynical and say that the elderly vote and kids don’t.”

'Abandoning many people'

As always, the president’s budget is an opening bid in a protracted legislative process, and has no chance of becoming law. But as a reflection of the administration’s priorities, it sets the stage for debate in the months to come, both between Democrats and Republicans in Congress and among factions within the parties.

Mulvaney, a former House member from South Carolina and a founder of the conservative Freedom Caucus, returned repeatedly in a press briefing to the perspective of Americans who work and pay taxes, and to making sure that the programs Americans pay for are effective.

It is a classic conservative approach rooted in a philosophy of self-reliance, but the starkness of the cuts – juxtaposed with tax cuts that disproportionately benefit upper-income Americans – may well make it politically unpalatable. The Trump plan would cut more than $1 trillion in spending on social programs over 10 years, cuts that would potentially hurt many of the rural and low-income voters who supported Trump last November.

“We fear that Tuesday’s budget will show that the president is essentially abandoning many people the economy has left behind – a large number of whom voted for him – and is pursuing policies that would make their lives more difficult than they already are,” says Robert Greenstein, president of the progressive Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

On Capitol Hill, some Republicans pushed back on Trump’s budget. Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky called cuts to the social safety net “draconian.” Senate majority whip John Cornyn of Texas called the budget “dead on arrival.” But House Speaker Paul Ryan praised the projection of a balanced budget in 10 years, despite a widespread view among economists, including the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, that reaching 3 percent economic growth is unrealistic.

Polls: government should do more

Trump’s budget also faces a countervailing shift in public opinion. Just six months after voters handed control of the White House and both houses of Congress to the Republican Party, two recent polls show a significant uptick in Americans’ support for a bigger government that does more rather than a smaller government that does less.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last month found that 57 percent of Americans favor government doing more to solve the nation’s problems, an all-time high for that poll, up from 50 percent two years ago. A Pew Research Center poll found a similar result. Support for government rose regardless of party affiliation, though it remained lower among Republicans. 

Karlyn Bowman, an expert on polling at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, said she wasn’t sure why the change in attitudes has occurred, but she floated a theory: “Could it be the public reacting as a counterweight to Republican control of the budget?” she asked.

Another possibility is that Trump, a populist with a long history outside the Republican Party, has enhanced public expectations for what he can accomplish as president, coming to the position as an outsider. Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” by eliminating programs and shrinking the Washington bureaucracy held wide appeal with his supporters, many of whom agreed with his plans to go after the “welfare state.”

Much also depends on what voters mean by “a government that does more.” Some may interpret that as enhancing domestic security, beefing up the military, and cracking down on illegal immigration, all measures Trump has taken.

To Matt Erickson, a machine shop supervisor in Peoria, Ill., Democrats’ “social policies” keep him resistant to the party, despite his reluctance in voting for Trump last November.

Mr. Erickson objects in particular to “giving people money to not work,” and food stamps that he sees abused, hearing stories from his mother who works at an Aldi’s grocery store.

Policy experts say that many food stamp recipients already work, and the federal benefit is designed to avoid giving recipients a disincentive to work. 

One element of the Trump budget that stuck out was a provision calling for $25 billion over 10 years to provide six weeks of paid parental leave, an initiative promoted by presidential daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump.

Mulvaney noted the seeming incongruity of the proposal, and pitched it as part of his drive to get more Americans working.

“It goes right to the heart of the matter on 3 percent growth,” he said. “We try and create the environment where people are more comfortable going back to work and staying at work knowing that if they do have a child, they’ll be able to spend time with that child under the paid parental leave program.”

Details of the Trump proposal

Overall, the Trump budget would cut $3.6 trillion of projected government spending over 10 years, even as it boosts spending on some areas.

Proposed spending reductions include:

•29 percent cut to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a.k.a. food stamps.

•19 percent cut to Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

•17 percent cut to Medicaid, government health insurance for the poor.

•17 percent cut to the Centers for Disease Control.

•13 percent cut to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, formerly known as “welfare.”

•12 percent cut to unemployment insurance.

•8 percent cut to the Earned Income Tax Credit.

•3 percent cut to Supplemental Security Income.

•2 percent cut to Social Security Disability Insurance.

•Eliminating federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

Some areas of increased spending:

•10 percent increase in discretionary defense spending ($469 billion).

•$200 billion over 10 years for infrastructure.

•$29 billion over 10 years for Veterans’ Choice Program, which allows veterans to seek medical care in private facilities outside the VA system.

•$19 billion over 10 years for new paid parental leave program.

Staff writer Francine Kiefer contributed to this report from Peoria, Ill.

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2. An attack on youths puts focus on parental balance

Last night’s bombing at a pop concert in England could be seen as an attack on childhood. By definition, terrorist attacks aim to create fear, and this was an attempt to instill fear among British parents and their children. The Monitor’s Sara Miller Llana, a mother herself, looks at how parents can deal with those concerns.

David
 

The 30 Sec. ReadChildren have always been the victims, direct and indirect, of war and violence. They have been singled out in school shootings that have become too common in the United States. They were targeted by Anders Behring Breivik while at a political summer camp in Norway in 2011. In the violence perpetrated by extremists they have been killed, caught at the wrong place, and lost parents and loved ones. The latest attack comes as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has reported a 35 percent rise in counseling sessions – about issues ranging from family matters to world affairs (including "Brexit") to terrorism. The charity says it sees a spike after any attack. Linda Blair, a clinical psychologist who writes a column for The Telegraph, advises parents not to initiate a conversation about the attack, but rather to follow a child’s lead. Ms. Blair says when children do have questions, it is the job of parents to not project their own anxieties. “This is an unbelievably terrible thing, but it is one thing, and also there will be good people trying to help,” she says. “Keeping our balance will help us let our children grow up embracing life rather than fearing it.” 

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2. An attack on youths puts focus on parental balance

When she took her 7-year-old on a visit to London just days after the terrorist attack near Westminster in March, Vicky Hall-Newman felt it her duty as a mother to explain what to do in the case they were to run into a “bad guy.”

“ ‘If mummy runs, you run. If mummy says to get on the floor, you get on the floor,’ ” she told her daughter. “She said ‘OK,’ and then went off to play. Later on I heard her talking to her dolls, she was saying, ‘If mummy tells us to run, we have to run.’ ”

But the mother, who writes a blog at Beingtillysmummy.co.uk and has written about stress in children, suspects the latest attack at a concert of a pop teen idol in Manchester will be a harder talk than simple instructions – because children were among the 22 killed and teen girls were the overwhelming witnesses of the chaos and carnage Monday night.

“It is going to bring reality to them,” says Ms. Hall-Newman, in a telephone interview from Manchester where she happens to be at a conference – and where she spent the weekend with her daughter.

The suicide bomber is reported to be 22-year-old Salman Abedi, who was born in Manchester to parents who fled Libya's Qaddafi regime. He is believed to have set off an improvised explosive at around 10:30 p.m. Monday night at the Manchester Arena just after Ariana Grande, an American singer who first became known to the public on Nickelodeon, finished her set. Among the 22 dead, and more than 50 injured, is Georgina Callander, 18, whose photo shows her sporting big glasses. The youngest confirmed victim is Saffie Roussos, age 8, just a year older than Hall-Newman’s daughter. The so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility.

Andrew Mumford, co-director of the Center for Conflict, Security, and Terrorism at the University of Nottingham, says that the timing, right before a snap general election called for June 8, as well as the targeting, is not random. “One of the things clearly most shocking about this attack is the victims look to be mainly young people, young girls, children who were enjoying one of the most innocent pleasures that we enjoy in the Western world – a pop concert,” he says. “That I think was deliberate.”

Pink balloons and iPhones

Video footage taken on iPhones and spread across social media shows those lingering after the concert clutching pink balloons that had been released in Ms. Grande’s final song. After an explosion is heard, a girl is recorded asking, “Oh my god, what just happened?” In another video are the sounds of voices squealing, the unmistakable tones of those underage.

The bomber exploded the device, and himself, in the foyer of the arena, in the heart of Manchester, a thriving, post-industrial city that launched many bands in the 1980s. Many parents were waiting on the steps outside the arena to pick up their young concert goers, some of them at their first-ever concert unchaperoned, when the bomb went off.

Grande wrote on Twitter hours later: “broken. from the bottom of my heart, i am so so sorry. i don’t have words.”

Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the EU, tweeted in support of the young. “Fear won’t prevail. European youth will continue to enjoy their love for life, freedom & joy, together.”

Children have always been the victims, direct and indirect, of war and violence. They have been singled out in school shootings that have become too common in the United States. They were specifically targeted by Anders Behring Breivik while at a political summer camp in Norway in 2011. In the violence perpetrated by Islamist extremists they have been killed, caught at the wrong place, and lost parents and loved ones. Even children not directly affected by attacks have been shaken, as a video that went viral of a man consoling his son after the Bataclan attacks in Paris in November 2015 shows.

The latest attack comes as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, a British charity, has reported a 35 percent rise in counseling sessions through their “Childline” between 2014-15 and 2015-16. The reasons include everything from family matters to world affairs (including Brexit) to terrorism. The office says they see a spike after any attack. They released a statement today urging adults to listen carefully to a child’s fears and to avoid “complicated and worrying explanations that could leave them more frightened and confused.”

Fred Zelinger, a New York-based psychologist who works with teens and young adults, says that Monday night’s incident could impact children more because they will relate to the victims. “For all of us, the closer we identify with the victim the more significant the impact is going be. A child witnessing a child being injured or hurt, has much more impact ... because it directly deals with their perception of safety,” he says. They’ll think, “If that child wasn’t safe how can I be safe?”

His wife Laurie Zelinger, a child psychologist who wrote the children’s book “Please Explain Terrorism to Me,” agrees that children have a “magical sense” where they more closely identify with young protagonists that could make this tragedy harder to process.

She decided to write her book, which includes illustrations and text, to help children navigate the terrorism they are increasingly seeing around them – especially portrayed in the media – in an age-appropriate and calming way.

Linda Blair, a clinical psychologist who pens a column for The Telegraph, says she believes that the ages of the victims could make a deeper psychological impression on parents, who are “100 percent programmed to be protecting the young,” more so than the children themselves. And she advises parents not to initiate a conversation about the attack, but follow a child’s lead.

'Keeping our balance'

Still, Ms. Blair suspects in this case children could be more prone to questioning – simply because the attack at the arena involves younger people and a star that they admire. She says when they do have questions, it is a parent’s job not to project their own anxieties, and to give the child a more balanced picture than the media does when it focuses on the negative side of the news. One academic study conducted after the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, for example, concluded that “repeated bombing-related media exposure was associated with higher acute stress than was direct exposure.”

“This is an unbelievably terrible thing, but it is one thing, and also there will be good people trying to help,” Blair says. “Keeping our balance will help us let our children grow up embracing life rather than fearing it.”

Hall-Newman is trying to strike that balance right now. “I’m supposed to bring my daughter [back] to Manchester at the weekend, and I’m thinking, maybe I shouldn’t. Or should I?”

At first she woke up saying to herself that she wouldn't have her daughter come, especially because they are supposed to be going to a kids’ musical festival this weekend. Then she changed her mind, in part because she says: "If I do stop, then they [the terrorists] win.”

She doesn’t believe that it’s a more dangerous era to be growing up. When her other, now-adult daughter was young, there was no major terrorist threat, but more attention on kidnapping and child murder. And Hall-Newman's father was in the army, so she grew up around conflict with Northern Ireland.

She says she believes it’s her duty to tell her daughter what are the dangers in the current area, in simple, non-threatening terms. She put a post on Facebook today, imploring her friends and family not to mention the Manchester bombing to her 7-year-old daughter, especially while she is still there. “I don’t want her worrying about me,” she says. “ Also I feel I can explain it better to her.”

• Tamara Micner contributed reporting from London.

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3. In ancient multifaith city, a community that coheres

This next story offers a stellar example of brotherhood. It’s not just about love thy neighbor – it’s about defending him or her, too. These Jordanians fiercely resist any effort to divide their community by religion.

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Muslim artist Izdehar Soub and Father Boulos Baqaeen speak in front of Ms. Soub’s mural at St. George's Church outside Karak, Jordan, a city in which Christian and Muslim residents have lived in harmony for more than a millennium. 'Sectarianism is very alien to us,' says the artist.
Taylor Luck
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The 30 Sec. ReadChristian and Muslim residents of Karak, Jordan, have lived together in harmony for centuries. They stress that what their community enjoys is more than interfaith coexistence. It’s interdependence. The community’s resilience was on display during the Crusades, again under Ottoman rule, and, most recently, in the face of an attack last December by the so-called Islamic State. Key to their success, Karak residents say, are some basic principles: putting community first, respecting religious sensitivities, and maintaining vigilance against outside and inside attempts to promote sectarianism. Through the centuries, Muslims and Christians have lived together, studied together, and prospered together. The mayor of the Karak village of Adir puts it simply: “Here in Karak, you cannot divide us as Christians and Muslims as we function as one and we rely on one another. We are too intertwined; you would have to demolish the whole city and surrounding villages.”

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3. In ancient multifaith city, a community that coheres

When Islamic State jihadists seized the Crusader castle in the heart of this southern Jordanian city in December, Maher Habashneh had just one thing in mind.

Braving stray bullets from a firefight playing out in the city center between ISIS and an alliance of security forces and city residents, Mr. Habashneh rushed to the home of Waddah Amarien, where he stood guard until his childhood friend returned from Amman early the next morning.

Habashneh, an unemployed university graduate, is Muslim, Mr. Amarien is Christian. Habashneh insists it was not an act motivated by support for interfaith coexistence – it was merely second nature.

“The last thing I was going to do was let anyone intimidate my brother and his family,” says Habashneh, speaking recently at Amarien’s flower shop in downtown Karak.

“We will not let them divide us.”

At a time when polarizing politics and extremist groups are dividing Christians and Muslims who have lived together in the Middle East for centuries, residents of Karak, which has endured despite Crusades and occupations for more than a millennium, say they have their own unique model for interfaith interdependence that has withstood the test of time.

Residents say respect for each other’s religious sensitivities, putting the community first, and vigilance against attempts – from outside or within – to divide the community along sectarian lines, can all help interfaith communities withstand extremist forces threatening to pull them apart.

Common history

Time and again Karak’s residents have chosen to rally around their common culture, traditions, and language in the face of forces that sought to turn Muslims and Christians against each other.

When, in the 7th century, the Muslim armies arrived in Karak in one of their first battles against the Byzantines, records and local historians state that many Christian tribes sided with the Muslim army, seeing them as liberating Arab tribes against the foreign Byzantines.

Under the brutal reign of the Crusaders, Christian Arabs in Karak suffered alongside Muslims, and under the ensuing Muslim regimes, Christians in Karak gained full citizenship and rights, which they enjoyed through the rule of the Ottoman Turks.

During a bloody Ottoman crackdown in 1910, Christian tribes offered protection to Muslim leaders.

They were always in close proximity. Christian and Muslim tribes would pitch their tents together on pastoral lands. As they became settled, in the 20th century, Christian and Muslim families built stone houses side-by-side, sharing a communal courtyard.

“Christian and Muslim families literally lived together for centuries,” says Karak historian Nayef Nawiseh.

“We have a unique situation in Karak, where community comes first and religion is second.”

Deep ties

As in other historically mixed-faith communities elsewhere in the Levant, Muslims and Christians, whether merchants or Bedouin herders, would rely on each other for access to markets and the trade of their wares and livestock.

But in Karak, the bonds between Christians and Muslims went far beyond economic interdependence. Over the centuries, residents would rely on each other to broker disputes and represent each other in important rites of passage.

Karak oral histories are replete with stories of priests carrying the Bible and walking between feuding Muslim tribes, and with Muslim tribes brokering disputes between feuding Christian churches (Orthodox and Latin).

To this day, respected Christian and Muslim tribal leaders will represent each other’s clans at rituals to ask for the hand of someone in marriage, or to request a tribal atwa, or settlement, in the event of a feud or an accidental death.

Such reliance on either side for major social milestones or for conflict resolution has transformed the community from “coexisting” to what many call “co-dependent.”

“Here in Karak, you cannot divide us as Christians and Muslims as we function as one and we rely on one another,” says Mohammed Maaytah, mayor of the Karak village of Adir.

“We are too intertwined; you would have to demolish the whole city and surrounding villages.”

People pass a building that was the site of clashes between Jordanian police and Islamist militant gunmen in the village of Garifla, in Karak, Jordan, Dec. 21, 2016.
Muhammad Hamed/Reuters
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Church and mosque

Another key to Karak’s harmony is the role of, and reverence for, each other’s houses of worship.

When Latin and Orthodox Churches opened in Karak in the 19th century, they opened the city’s first schools and health clinics, serving Muslims and Christians equally. Generations graduated from Orthodox and Latin schools, with nuns and priests as their teachers and headmasters.

“As children, our teachers were ‘sisters,’ and we volunteered to clean the church – even though we are Muslims, it was an important part of our lives,” says Maisoun Soub, 40, co-founder of Mesha of Moab Cultural Society, a local NGO that involves Karak youths in culture.

In the villages surrounding the city, the churches provided the only schools and health centers in the area until the late 20th century.

A Muslim tribe provided the black basalt stone that adorns St. George’s Church in Adir on the outskirts of Karak. In return, a few decades later, Christian residents donated land and raised money to expand the mosque across the street.

And to this day, many Christians fast during the holy month of Ramadan, while older generations of Muslims had baptized their children as an extra blessing.

Vigilance

Due to Jordan’s relative stability, Karak has been spared the conflicts that have inflamed sectarian tensions in nearby Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

But residents try to learn from their neighbors’ misfortunes, and are ever vigilant to ensure sectarianism does not emerge in their city. Any attempt to draw lines between Muslim and Christian residents, from outside or within, is met with fierce resistance. 

A key has been a keen understanding of each side’s religious sensitivities.

In 2015, when a Christian member of Parliament from Karak insulted Khalid ibn Walid, a revered companion of the prophet Muhammad, by calling him a drunkard and a “womanizer,” his tribe denounced and excommunicated him the next day.

Late last year, as sectarian tensions grew in Amman over the killing of controversial Christian writer Nahed Hattar – who was gunned down for blasphemy and insulting Islam – Karaki Muslim women painted a mural of Jesus on St. George's Church in a sign of solidarity.

“Sectarianism is very alien to us and is a challenge to our very identity. We respond to each attempt to divide us with a message: we still stand strong together,” says Izdehar Soub, one of the muralists.

And residents remain wary of attempts by outside groups – such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafist preachers, or Western churches – to encourage Muslim or Christian identity, or mix religion with politics.

De-escalating disputes

As part of this vigilance, Karak has developed another trait it believes other communities could learn from: de-escalation.

When a dispute erupts in the city, community and tribal leaders react to it as an individual case rather than a tribal, or sectarian matter.

When electoral violence erupted in Adir last September, vandals attempted to set fire to buildings, including St. George's Church. The church and the community dealt with the attack as election-inspired vandalism, rather than a targeting of Christians, and to this day speak of the incident carefully.

“We are in an age when perception, rather than actual facts, matter and travel much faster,” says Father Boulos Baqaeen of St. George’s Church.

“We deal with such incidents on the individual level and stop to look at the motives behind each incident rather than immediately concluding ‘this is Christian vs. Muslim.’”

Yet fears for the future persist.

Four of the ISIS attackers last December were from Karak. According to sources, the ISIS cell’s original targets were Karak’s churches during New Year’s celebrations, mirroring its devastating targeting of Christians in Egypt.

With extremist groups’ long reach through social media and the internet, Karak leaders privately question whether their community model can withstand the increased challenges of the digital age.

“We look around the region, and we have to ask at the end of the day: Is Jordan next?” says Father Boulos.

But they insist they will not face it alone.

“Whoever threatens one of us will have to face all of us,” says Habashneh.

By Taylor Luck
Correspondent
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4. Same-sex marriage tests Taiwan as region’s change leader

Taiwan often portrays itself as a counterpoint to China: more liberal, more democratic, and more socially tolerant. But Taipei’s effort to lead Asia in legalizing same-sex marriage may yet founder in the face of conservative family values.

David
 

The 30 Sec. ReadTomorrow, Taiwan’s top court is expected to rule on whether the Civil Code’s definition of marriage – one man, one woman – is constitutional. It’s a decision that will shape the island’s debate over same-sex marriage, the legalization of which was making its way through the legislature before hitting a surge of resistance late last year. But for some Taiwanese LGBT advocates, it seems like another type of verdict: on whether the self-ruling land of 23 million can solidify its image as a leader for gay rights in Asia – particularly compared with its neighbor to the west. China, which lies just 100 miles across the Taiwan Strait and claims sovereignty over the island, has long sidelined Taiwan in terms of diplomatic and economic clout. In response, Taipei has tried since the 1990s to emphasize its arts, culture, and civil society, highlighting each contrast with Beijing. Now, LGBT supporters wait to see: Will same-sex marriage become one more “soft power” distinction? Or will Taiwan instead prove one more example of a place where people remain deeply divided over the issue, especially as debate spreads beyond the West?

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4. Same-sex marriage tests Taiwan as region’s change leader

As bills to legalize same-sex marriage made their way through the legislature last year, Taiwan seemed poised for a blast of international limelight – not so common for the island of 23 million.

For LGBT advocates throughout Asia, the proposed law promised to be an exciting “first” for the region. For a groundswell of Taiwanese, it also represented one more step in Taipei’s years-long strategy of compensating for its diplomatic handicaps with “soft power” strength, bolstering its image as a place open to social change – particularly in contrast to mainland China, which claims sovereignty over Taiwan.

“It’s no longer the more traditional China,” says Jens Damm, associate professor in the Graduate Institute of Taiwan Studies at Chang Jung University in Taiwan. “We don’t discriminate,” he says, summarizing his view of Taiwan’s message to people overseas. “We have gender equality, gender mainstreaming. These are all seen as positive.”

But after a surge of resistance, that legislation’s future looks less certain. Taiwan’s top court is expected to rule Wednesday on whether the Civil Code, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, is constitutional – a ruling with the potential to shape the current bills, which are some of Taiwan’s most controversial in years.

The results of this legal showdown could give Taiwan international attention, supporters say. But the question is whether Taiwan cements its image as a leader for gay rights in Asia, or simply is seen as another place where same-sex marriage remains a fraught issue, especially as the debate spreads beyond the West.

'We're getting there'

Two complementary bills that were once expected to receive parliamentary approval early this year have faltered under opposition from conservative advocacy groups. The legislature, which is controlled by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, will recast the bills as needed to accommodate the ruling of the constitutional court, says an aide to Yu Mei-nu, sponsor of a pending bill.

“We’re getting there,” says Jay Lin, a Taipei father who would consider marrying his partner if allowed by law, says of progress on gay rights. Even if the bills fail, he says, the “dialogue” and “visibility” they have created will help Taiwan. “I do feel that society as a whole has changed quite significantly over the past decade or so.”

It's common for same-sex couples with children to get questions, but conversations often end on a note of support, says Su Shan, mother to twin babies. Pop stars A-mei and Jolin Tsai have performed at lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender events in Taipei, such as the annual Gay Pride Parade, which drew 80,000 this year. Television host Kevin Tsai, who is openly gay, puts a face to LGBT issues in the island’s free-wheeling mass media. And President Tsai Ing-wen backed same-sex marriage during her campaign, although some say she has dialed back support since taking office.

A poll commissioned by the Kuomintang opposition political party found that just over half of the public supported same-sex marriage, while 43.3 percent opposed it. Support is as high as 80 percent among people in their 20s, according to university studies compiled by the group Taiwan LGBT Family Rights Advocacy.

People elsewhere in Asia see Taiwan as a place gay people can live with little fear, says Jovi Wu, an online sales worker in Taipei who once lived in China. “In Taiwan, people are nice to gays and lesbians, so we feel safe here,” she says. “We don’t fear our family and employers. There’s pressure, but nothing like political repression or a backlash from the schools.”

Cross-Strait contrast

In mainland China, which claims Taiwan as one of its provinces, gay communities have seen growing acceptance. But cultural emphasis on children's duty to support their parents, and provide them with grandchildren, discourages openness: fewer than 5.5 percent of gay people in China were open about their orientation in public, according to a UN-supported survey. Homosexuality was only removed from an official list of mental illnesses in 2001.

China has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since the civil war of the 1940s, when Chinese Nationalists opposed to Communist rule fled across the Taiwan Strait. Sidelined by China’s economic and political clout, with just 21 official allies, Taiwan has tried since the 1990s to impress other countries via soft power, emphasizing the arts, its culture, and civil society.

Former president Chen Shui-bian elevated a series of social causes to help Taiwan stand out from China, which he harshly criticized during his time in office in the early 2000s. His government approved a $195 million budget for the health and education of Taiwanese aborigines, for example, who make up about 2 percent of the population: an attempt to improve their standard of living after decades of forced assimilation, but also to emphasize the non-Chinese aspects of Taiwanese history and identity.

Gay rights got a lift after multi-party democracy replaced martial law in the late 1980s, as did other social and civil rights issues. As Taipei mayor in the 1990s, before becoming president, Mr. Chen spoke up for LGBT causes to help Taiwan stand out in Asia as an open society, Dr. Damm says.

“Taiwan can look like an Asian democratic country, so that’s good for Taiwan’s image,” says Tsao Cheng-yi, senior project manager with the Taipei-based LGBT advocacy group Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association. “This would remind other Asian countries you can do this. I think it would be a major encouragement for LGBT people in neighboring Asian countries.”

Sparking resistance

But visible opposition to same-sex marriage picked up in December, with a demonstration in central Taipei that organizers claimed drew 30,000 people. Only about 5 percent of Taiwanese are Christian, and much larger percentages identify with Taoism or Buddhism, which have few explicit prohibitions against homosexuality. Church groups, however, have merged with those promoting traditional Chinese family values, which they say favor households headed by one man and one woman, to build resistance.

“The overall aim is to destroy marriage as we know it,” says Joanna Lei, a former legislator and the chief executive officer of the Chunghua 21st Century think tank in Taiwan. “Some places are waiting for Taiwan to set the example. If Taiwan falls, then the rest of Asia will fall.”

Death of a same-sex spouse would leave the survivor dependent on government support, as a disproportionate number of couples might lack children to support them in old age, a common expectation in ethnic Chinese societies such as Taiwan’s, says Chen Chih-hung, who chairs a small Christian political party, the Faith And Hope League.

Yet greater acceptance of LGBT causes follows gradual acceptance of another challenge to Confucian family values, Damm says: more Taiwanese women’s decisions to stay single. Once critical, conservative elders now largely leave them alone, although Taiwan now has one of the world’s lowest birth rates: 1.1 children per couple, on average.

Then again, some skeptics see support for same-sex marriage as just a way for the president and her party to hold onto the support of LGBT groups, rather than because they believe in same-sex marriage itself.

“This is kind of a pragmatic thing,” says Nathan Liu, an international affairs and diplomacy professor at Ming Chuan University in Taipei. “Taiwan society is pretty conservative.”

By Ralph Jennings
Correspondent
( 1166 words )
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5. Climate change: making points heard across party lines

Here’s a shift for you: A small number of Republicans are no longer simply denying climate change. Instead, they’re focusing on solutions that fit their conservative values. This could be a first step toward disentangling climate change from identity politics, Jessica Mendoza reports.

David
 

The 30 Sec. ReadA small but growing number of Republican leaders have undergone a change of heart on addressing climate change, but with solutions that they say are palatable to conservatives. California Assemblyman Chad Mayes, a Republican who represents Yucca Valley, is seeking common ground with state Democrats on the state's cap-and-trade program, which requires companies to purchase permits to emit greenhouse gases. “We can either decide to not engage and let it be really bad for our economy and the people of California,” he says, “or we can engage and say we’re going to protect the environment and make sure that California is a place we can still afford to live in.” Mr. Mayes is not alone: In places across the country, Republicans are calling for solutions, such as the removal of tax subsidies for fossil fuels, that help frame climate change as a conservative issue, one that seeks to undercut the polarization and tribalism that often accompany climate politics.

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5. Climate change: making points heard across party lines

California Assemblyman Chad Mayes doesn’t lose much sleep over whether or not climate change is real.

“That debate of whether it’s a hoax or isn’t a hoax is a good mental exercise,” but serves little practical purpose, he says.

What the Republican from Yucca Valley does care about is getting conservative voices in on the discourse around the state’s climate initiatives. He’s especially concerned about the costs of extending California’s cap-and-trade program, which requires companies to purchase permits to emit greenhouse gases, which they can then sell to other companies if they don't need them. He insists that any version of the program after the current 2020 deadline must incorporate conservative principles and receive bipartisan support.

To that end, Assemblyman Mayes and his colleagues are ready to work with Democrats, who hold a supermajority in the state Legislature.

“We can either decide to not engage and let it be really bad for our economy and the people of California,” he says, “or we can engage and say we’re going to protect the environment and make sure that California is a place we can still afford to live in.”

The approach puts the assemblyman in the company of other Republican leaders who are increasingly supporting efforts, direct and otherwise, to address climate change. Like Mayes, these legislators are driven mostly by practical concerns: mitigating the effects of sea-level rise in South Florida, for instance, or ensuring Ohio competes effectively in the growing renewable energy industry.

They’re also part of a broader group of conservatives – including businesses, nonprofits, and religious groups – that have stepped up to support climate initiatives for reasons that range from the moral to the financial.

“We’re getting voices that Republicans trust that are talking about [the issue] more,” says Josh Freed, vice president for clean energy at Third Way, a centrist think tank in Washington. “And they’re trying to decide what are actions that address climate that fit their ideology.”

The focus on solutions marks a shift in the deeply partisan debate that’s surrounded climate change for nearly two decades, political analysts say. And while this shift is still in its early days, it could be a crucial first step toward disentangling climate change from identity politics – and developing a more diverse set of voices on the issue.   

“It’s incumbent upon everybody who sees the need for climate action to find a way around that polarization,” says Nat Keohane, who heads the global climate program at the Environmental Defense Fund. “We’re only going to succeed if we have serious solutions coming from both sides of the political aisle.”

A 'badge of identity'

Like immigration, abortion, and gun control, climate change is among a slew of issues swept up in the hyperpartisanship of American politics in recent years, political and cultural analysts say. Many on the right have come to view climate change as a pretext for expanding government regulations, Mr. Freed says, while some progressives see the issue as a way for conservatives to attack any form of environmental action, regardless of what the science says.

The result is that “the issue becomes a referendum on who’s virtuous and who’s vicious,” says Dan Kahan, a professor of law and psychology at Yale University who studies how cultural values shape perceptions of risk and individual beliefs.

They become “a kind of badge of identity in their social group,” he adds. “Those kinds of connotations raise the cost of changing your mind.”

No one knows that better than Bob Inglis, former US representative for South Carolina. Once a vocal climate change doubter, Mr. Inglis came out on the side of climate action after spending time studying coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef with Australian climate scientist Scott Heron – and after his own son urged him to clean up his act on the environment.

The reversal cost Inglis his seat in the House in 2010. “It seemed that I had crossed to the other team, that I was … no longer with my tribe,” he says.

But the loss gave Inglis a new mission.

In 2013, the former congressman started republicEn, a nonprofit that strives to introduce conservative voices and solutions into the national discourse on climate change. Today the group has more than 3,000 members across the country. Inglis himself advocates an environmental tax reform that would remove government subsidies for incumbent fuels and place all the health and environmental costs of fossil fuels “at the meter and at the pump.”

Having those costs reflected in the price of gas and electricity would hold fossil fuel companies accountable for their environmental impact, the theory goes. The higher price, in turn, would incentivize innovation in renewables and encourage consumers to power their lives in climate-friendly ways – all while keeping government intervention at a minimum.

“We’re already paying the full cost of coal-fire electricity,” Inglis says. “It’s in the healthcare system. It’s in the climate damages [they cause].  So go ahead and put that on your meter and let’s see how wind and solar do then.”

More than pushing a particular solution, however, Inglis aims to mobilize conservatives into joining the discourse instead of just going on the defensive against what he calls the environmental left – thus helping to sever the ties between climate action and political identity.

“People assume the solution is bigger government that’s going to tax or regulate more and reduce liberty and that’s completely unacceptable to conservatives,” Inglis says. “We’re trying to build the confidence of conservatives so they can engage in the competition of ideas.”

Working towards a consensus

Back in Sacramento, Mayes, the Republican assemblyman, has less lofty – if similar – objectives in working with Democrats on climate policy. In August he and his colleagues voted against Senate Bill 32, which set tougher goals for cutting the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The bill passed anyway, and Gov. Jerry Brown signed it into law in September.

Now Mayes and other Republicans in the Legislature are involving themselves in the discourse, hoping to ensure conservative principles are preserved as the state maps out how to reduce emissions by 40 percent.

“It’s a matter of settled law. So for us the focus is how do we best protect the environment and make sure we’re not putting incredible burdens on Californians who are struggling to make ends meet,” Mayes says.

Republican California Assemblyman Chad Mayes sits before the state flag in his office in Sacramento, Calif., on May 8, 2017. Assemblyman Mayes joins other Republican leaders across the nation who are increasingly supporting efforts, direct and otherwise, to address climate change.
Jessica Mendoza/The Christian Science Monitor
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Across the country, Republican leaders are making similar statements on climate action, at times aligning themselves with Democrats in the process.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee in December collaborated with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) of Rhode Island on a New York Times op-ed making the case that nuclear power is indispensable in the fight against global warming.

In 2015, New York Republican Rep. Chris Gibson – supported by 14 other GOP legislators – introduced a resolution in the House that says Congress must take “economically viable” steps to mitigate the effects human-induced climate change on the economy and the environment.

Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo and Democrat Rep. Ted Deutch, both of Florida followed the resolution by co-founding the House Climate Solutions Caucus in 2016. In its mandate, the caucus – which as of March had 34 members – echoes the Gibson resolution’s language, seeking “to educate members on economically-viable options to reduce climate risk and protect our nation’s economy, security, infrastructure, agriculture, water supply and public safety.”

“[W]e know that parts of our country, like South Florida, are already experiencing some of the effects of climate change,” Rep. Curbelo said in a March interview with CBS explaining his position. “Republicans and Democrats should work together toward some consensus solutions.”

“When it stops being an abstract issue and becomes a nuts and bolts issue and people's lives are affected – that’s a powerful driver of change,” says Keohane at the Environmental Defense Fund.

In places like Iowa and Texas, the economic potential offered by renewable industries like wind and solar serve as a compelling argument for gaining conservative support.

“There’s a strong business case for fighting climate change,” says Ethan Elkind, an attorney who directs the Center for Law, Energy and the Environment at the University of California, Berkeley. “This isn’t an economic loser.”

'A nascent movement'

Despite these efforts, it’s a long road to bipartisan solutions to climate change. On the right, supporting climate action can still come with political costs, Freed says, while on the left anything less than full support for environmental justice policies can still be viewed as weakness.

“It’s a nascent movement,” Inglis acknowledges. “It’s a heart issue right now. It’s saying that climate change is real says something about you and your membership in a tribe.”

But he adds, “At some point, we're going to figure out that we’re all in this together, that we’re doing an experiment on our common home.”

And for lawmakers like Mayes, it’s less about picking sides than it is about getting things done – and having their say on a crucial issue.

“We’re not the Dodgers and the Giants, where if you’re a Dodgers fan you have to hate the Giants and if you’re Giants fan you gotta hate the Dodgers,” he says. “It’s not about the game. It’s about trying to make sure people’s lives are better.”

( 1549 words )
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The Monitor's View

After Manchester: How can Britain better engage its Muslims?

 

The 30 Sec. ReadBefore last night’s suicide bombing at a concert, Britain was already in a debate on how to prevent such attacks. Security and anti-radicalization programs are in place. But the heart of the debate is the proper approach in dealing with young Muslims. Do you treat them as potential threats, relying on secret informants, cameras, screening of their online viewing? Or do you engage them at multiple levels of their lives – their social or emotional problems, their education and job prospects, and their understanding of Islam? Britain’s debate is steadily tilting its anti-extremism program toward treating young Muslims with love rather than fear. That’s worth watching.

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After Manchester: How can Britain better engage its Muslims?

In the months before the May 22 suicide bombing in the city of Manchester, England, the British were in a lively debate about efforts to counter the radicalization of Muslims. No doubt the mass killing at a concert by a 22-year-old local man will revive the debate. Yet, given the country’s pioneering interventions in its Muslim communities, the rest of the world can still learn from how it has deterred both extremists and would-be ones.

Under a government strategy known as Prevent, more than 8,000 people have been referred for possible inclusion in anti-radicalization programs since 2012. At the same time, security forces have been on alert for the possible return of hundreds of people who left Britain since 2014 to join Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Officials claim that more than a dozen potential terrorist attacks have been thwarted.

Before the Manchester bombing, the last major attack in the country was the 2005 train and bus bombings in London. Despite this, Britons worry that the country is not doing enough – or is doing the wrong thing.

The heart of the debate is deciding on the proper approach in dealing with young Muslims.

Do you treat them as potential threats, relying on secret informants in mosques, secret cameras in public areas, and secret screening of their online viewing? Such tactics may indeed prevent some extremists but do so at the risk of alienating others against Britain’s democratic values.

Or do you engage them at multiple levels of their lives – their social or emotional problems, their education and job prospects, and their understanding of Islam?

Last year, a government committee suggested renaming the deradicalization program from Prevent to Engage, a sign of an emerging preference for the second approach. And the Muslim Council of Britain, which represents mosques and Islamic schools, decided to begin its own program of offering a counternarrative against jihadist propaganda to young Muslims. The council said the government was watering down Islamic theology in its approach.

One big issue is that government efforts are led by security officials, which scares off many Muslim families from seeking help if a relative appears to becoming radicalized. In some cities, such as Birmingham, local community groups are as active as police in countering extremism, supporting Muslim families in ways that encourage participation in anti-radical efforts. One of the most effective tactics is to have survivors of terrorist attacks or defectors from jihadist groups talk to young Muslims.

Britain’s debate is steadily tilting its anti-extremism program toward treating young Muslims with compassion rather than fear. After the Manchester bombing, it is a debate well worth watching.

By The Monitor's Editorial Board
( 430 words )
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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Is love useless in the face of brutishness?

 

There is no power greater than Love.

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Is love useless in the face of brutishness?

Is love useless in the face of brutishness? The recent attack in Manchester again raises the question. When the MOAB (Mother of All Bombs) was dropped in Afghanistan, it was a show of power. Such demonstrations may quell aggression for a moment, but they may also exacerbate the undercurrent of fear and even escalate into other shows of force.

Love, on the other hand, is a power beyond the brute. Christian and Muslim mothers of Liberia, courageously uniting in public protest, put down the civil war in 2003 because they could not tolerate the nation’s sons being destroyed. Their love-motivated actions brought about a new reality for that nation.

Love like theirs has everything to do with the caring divinity that contradicts the man-generated vision of God as judgmental and punishing. It illustrates the all-compassionate God and the practical yet universal love exemplified by Christ Jesus.

It is the Motherhood of God, not bombs, for which the world yearns and has proven a greater power when lived. Divine Love is the only true power and ultimate reality. Nothing naïve. Ask a Liberian.

By Rich Evans
( 179 words )
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Viewfinder

Relief where it’s needed

Somali women receive food and supplies from the Turkish Red Crescent in a camp near Mogadishu, Somalia. Rains began to spread over most areas last month, bringing some relief from drought. But malnutrition persists, with the number of children admitted to International Red Cross feeding centers nearly doubling over the past year. More than half of the country’s 12 million citizens could need aid by July, reports Reuters.
Feisal Omar/Reuters
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In Our Next Issue

( May 24th, 2017 )

David Clark Scott
Chief product manager & editor

On behalf of the Monitor staff, thank you for taking the time to think more deeply about the day’s news and how perspective matters.

Come back tomorrow. We're working on a series of charts that might challenge your assumptions about immigrants. (We’ll also have that piece we mentioned yesterday on the future of Iran.)

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