2017
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Monitor Daily Podcast

May 03, 2017
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TODAY’S INTRO

Monitor Daily Intro for May 3, 2017

Today, Japan marked the 70th anniversary of its pacifist Constitution, which specifically renounces war as a tool to resolve disputes. But the moment came with a couple of large asterisks.

Japan has a military – it’s known as the Self-Defense Forces. On Monday, one of its warships escorted a US Navy supply ship toward the Korean Peninsula. There, it will join the USS Carl Vinson – and two Japanese destroyers – in military exercises.

That relates to the second asterisk: Also today, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe unveiled his plan to revise that pacifist Constitution. He wants, he says, to clarify the role of the Self-Defense Forces.

Few would argue that the security environment Japan confronts has changed dramatically – most recently with Kim Jong-un’s intensified nuclear threats. But its World War II military aggression still hangs over Asia. That means Japan has a more fundamental challenge: addressing the fears of those who felt its sting. Mr. Abe said today that Japan “must hold fast to the idea of pacifism.” That outlook is deeply rooted in Japanese society, even though a slight majority of Japanese support revision. His acknowledgement may be a calming first step.

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Asia: Can US see past threat, to opportunity?

Good diplomacy often includes a willingness to adopt new positions. That’s what President Trump appears to be doing in Asia. It's a region where engagement is much needed amid a looming nuclear threat as well as trade opportunities – and where perceptions of neglect could spur unwanted pivots by friends.

Amelia

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Security challenges in Asia have become the top-line concern: There’s the saber-rattling being directed at North Korea. There are the promises to Beijing that it can count on better trade with the US if it acts to rein in its belligerent ally. But beyond the symbolism of his move to withdraw from the Pacific Trade Partnership, President Trump has done little to signal how he sees relations with the most economically dynamic region of the globe. Tomorrow, his administration gets an opportunity to start sketching out what could replace President Obama’s Asia pivot when the foreign ministers of the nine-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations meet with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington. That “opportunity” is coming none too soon, some regional experts say. While partnership with the US is highly desirable for Asian countries, US leadership is not the only game in town.

Asia: Can US see past threat, to opportunity?

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Evan Vucci/AP
In this Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, file photo in the Oval Office of the White House, President Trump signs an executive order to withdraw the US from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact agreed to under the Obama administration.

When President Trump withdrew the United States from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, he pulled the rug out from under the Obama administration’s much-vaunted but still largely aspirational “pivot to Asia.”

With the stroke of a pen, Mr. Trump made clear what US relations with Southeast Asian nations are NOT going to be – a strategic alliance built on the framework of a multilateral trade and investment partnership with the US economy.

But beyond the symbolism of pounding a nail in TPP’s coffin, little has emerged from the “America First” president about how he envisions business and trade relations with the most economically dynamic region of the globe.

The Trump administration will have the opportunity to start sketching out what will replace President Obama’s Asia pivot, particularly when it comes to economic relations, when the foreign ministers of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meet Thursday with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington.

And with America’s jilted Southeast Asian TPP partners tempted to look elsewhere for big-power partnership – to China, but even to Japan and Canada, which recently have expressed growing interest in leading TPP into implementation without the US – that “opportunity” is coming none too soon, some regional experts say.

The Southeast Asian countries “will definitely be looking for what [the US] Plan B is,” says Walter Lohman, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center in Washington.

“Withdrawing from TPP was a blow to our engagement in the region, and it has tempted our Asian partners to contemplate looking elsewhere” for leadership, he adds. “Either we come up with that Plan B to engage the region, or we may risk being marginalized.”

Campaign promise

Only four of the ASEAN countries are also TPP members – Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam – but a number of others, including Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, aspire to membership as their economies conform to TPP standards.

Trump fulfilled a campaign promise and pulled the US out of TPP – signed by the US under Mr. Obama – calling it another in a string of bad trade deals that allowed countries unfair access to the US economy without giving much of anything in return.

But since taking office, Trump has shifted his focus in regards to Asia largely to security concerns and in particular to North Korea’s nuclear threat. He has even told China, which he blasted during the campaign as an economic predator, that it can count on a better trade deal with the US if it acts to rein in its belligerent Korean ally.

The problem is, analysts say, that a sustained focus on security challenges over economic ties to the region could help perpetuate the “unfair” dynamic candidate Trump lambasted whereby the US provides much of the expensive security structure that has allowed the Asian-Pacific to prosper – without reaping a fair share of the economic benefits.

“We’re seeing that the administration is going to stay involved militarily, and we see them defend the right to access to and to navigate the [international] waters,” Mr. Lohman says. “What is needed is a broad-based approach that includes the economic side with the security interests.”

Competition for leadership role

Whether the ASEAN foreign ministers meeting with Mr. Tillerson will get a preview of such a comprehensive Asia policy – essentially Trump’s replacement of the Asia pivot – remains to be seen. But analysts say Tillerson should be mindful that while partnership with the US is highly desirable for Asian counties, US leadership is not the only game in town.

“There is competition for leadership in the region,” says Philip Levy, a senior fellow on the global economy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. The region’s smaller countries are wary of China’s increasingly aggressive and expansionist stance on a number of territorial disputes, particularly in the South China Sea, he notes. But that has not deterred them from exploring closer economic associations with the Asian behemoth.

With the US out of TPP, Asian countries see the China-promoted (though less ambitious) Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, as the only game in town.

“I think the feeling for many of these countries is that while RCEP is less attractive and less ambitious than TPP, something beats nothing – and at the moment, the US has nothing on the table,” Dr. Levy says.

Even TPP, once thought dead without the US, may have new life. Canada is holding talks this week with partners to see how the remaining 11 TPP countries might proceed, and Japan – the largest economy still in the deal – is expressing interest in keeping the trade pact alive.

In the meantime, advocates of a robust and comprehensive US partnership with Asian Pacific countries say they are seeing signs the Trump administration is looking to move beyond a rocky start with the region.

'Reset' with Australia

Even as Tillerson meets Thursday with ASEAN ministers in Washington, Trump will meet in New York with Australia’s prime minister, Malcom Turnbull, on the sidelines of a commemoration of the World War II Coral Sea battle – a battle (against Japan) that cemented the US-Australia strategic partnership.

The meeting is being portrayed in Australia as a “reset” of bilateral relations after a newly inaugurated Trump had an angry phone call with the Australian leader over an Obama agreement to resettle a number of refugees held in Australian camps.

The Trump administration has since agreed to honor the accord – a sign to some that the president now understands the broader importance of close relations with Australia, a faithful contributor to US-led security coalitions.

“This is all part of them [in the administration] getting their act together and putting things with important partners back on track,” Lohman says. “Australia is one of the more vocal advocates of the freedom of the seas,” he adds, “so I think we’re seeing recognition of their solidarity with us in the Pacific.”

What worries some is that the emergence of a comprehensive Asia policy – whatever Trump envisions to replace the Asia pivot – may take too long for some countries, like the ASEAN states.

“Before, US trade strategy followed a predictable pattern, there was pretty much a template that told partners where we were going and the obligations they’d have to fulfill,” Levy says.

“That’s a template Trump seems to have rejected, but we don’t know yet how he plans to replace it, other than to suggest that he prefers bilateral deals over multilateral arrangements,” he says. “But many bilateral negotiations would take a lot of time, and that could leave smaller counties like in ASEAN thinking they are at the end of a long line.”

For US policing, verdict may show path forward

Yesterday, the Monitor's Dave Scott wrote of key steps toward better addressing police shootings of unarmed black men. What may be emerging is a clearer understanding of the corrosive effects of unwarranted lethal force – as well as the legal and the moral importance of greater police accountability. 

Amelia

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The police shooting of Walter Scott in 2015 “was one of the ugliest things I’ve reviewed,” says Robert Taylor, a top police misconduct investigator. “It gave every police officer in the country a black eye, and you have to show communities that [police] can’t do this.” On Tuesday, Mr. Taylor says, the Justice Department took steps toward doing just that when former police officer Michael Slager pleaded guilty to a felony civil rights charge for Mr. Scott’s death. The struggle for justice in North Charleston, S.C., is part of a broader exploration of the line between cultural and legal deference to police and a growing imperative for officers to respect the lives of citizens. Against that backdrop, the federal resolution of Scott’s killing suggests to some a path forward: increased awareness by law enforcement of the broader societal damage caused by poor police training and aggressive use of force policies, as well as a need for empathy toward citizens – even those who are suspects. 

For US policing, verdict may show path forward

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Mic Smith/AP/File
Former South Carolina police officer Michael Slager, right, photographed on Dec. 5, 2016, pleaded guilty to violating the civil rights of Walter Scott, an unarmed black motorist he shot and killed during a 2015 traffic stop.

On Tuesday, a former police officer stood in a South Carolina court and pleaded guilty to a felony for shooting an unarmed man in 2015 – the first time that has happened in a string of high-profile deaths since 2014.

In that light, “what these government officials did is they told Walter Scott and they told the Scott family, ‘You matter,’” Justin Bamberg, a Scott family attorney, told reporters.

In Louisiana that same day, the Department of Justice said it would not charge officers in another shooting of an unarmed man. Both deaths were caught on video by bystanders, both victims were African-American, and both shootings sparked widespread protests.

The struggle for justice in North Charleston and Baton Rouge is part of a broader exploration of the line between cultural and legal deference to police, and a growing imperative for officers to respect the lives of citizens.

Former police officer Michael Slager pleaded guilty not to murder, but to a federal civil rights felony for shooting Walter Scott in the back five times after pulling him over for a broken tail light. Depending on what a judge decides at the end of the sentencing phase, Mr. Slager could face life in prison, or no jail time at all.

The Scott shooting “wasn’t a split-second decision,” says Robert Taylor, a top police misconduct investigator who is based in Dallas. “There’s a guy running away, the officer shoots at him eight times. It was one of the ugliest things I’ve reviewed, it gave every police officer in the country a black eye, and you have to show communities that [police] can’t do this.”

Slager’s guilty plea also came on the same day as the quick firing of an officer in a Dallas suburb after he shot into a moving car with a rifle, killing an unarmed teenager.

To be sure, the emerging standard of what an illegitimate police shooting looks like may be tested under a new White House administration that has vowed to show more deference to police departments.

The plea deal came after a grand jury indicted Slager in May, after a jury deadlocked on all charges against him last December. The case underscores how difficult it can be to make the most severe charges stick when a police officer is being implicated. The US has seen what appeared to outsiders to be solid cases evaporate in trials in Baltimore, Minneapolis, and New York.

For Richard Mack, the former sheriff of Graham County, Ariz., and founder of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, the Slager plea deal in some ways reflects the kind of protections that has made police reform, especially involving officer training, difficult to achieve.

The deal “shows how you have to have a video for every step of the frame or you’re not going to get anything [on a police officer],” says Mr. Mack. “There’s still too much of this [from cops]: ‘I’m going to go home at night and that’s all that matters.’”

Experts say the Obama Justice Department at times relied too heavily on consent decrees and other punitive measures to correct patterns of police misconduct. It also did not charge former police officer Darren Wilson, who killed Michael Brown in 2014, setting off intense national debate. Still, the decision to not levy charges in Mr. Sterling’s death, which witnesses called “murder, plain and simple,” raises questions about changing priorities at the Department of Justice, given Trump’s tough-on-crime rhetoric.

A path forward?

At the same time, Mr. Taylor says, there’s no evidence that the Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions will look away from the misdeeds of individual officers, if there is clear evidence of a crime.

“The Department of Justice will hold accountable any law enforcement officer who violates the civil rights of our citizens by using excessive force,” Mr. Sessions said in a statement Tuesday. “Such failures of duty not only harm the individual victims of these crimes; they harm our country, by eroding trust in law enforcement and undermining the good work of the vast majority of honorable and honest police officers.”

Against that backdrop, some observers say the federal resolution of Scott’s death suggests a path forward: increased awareness by both police and the DOJ of the broader societal damage caused by poor police training and aggressive use of force policies, as well as a need for empathy toward citizens – even those who are suspects. Those hopes were tempered hours later, after the Justice Department failed to bring charges in the Sterling case.

But policing experts see signs that police departments are reacting more quickly to charges of officer misconduct – a model that can be traced back to North Charleston’s swift decision to fire Slager after Scott’s death.

After the death of 15-year-old Jordan Edwards, police officials in Balch Springs, Texas, reacted swiftly, firing an officer for violating several use-of-force protocols. The teen’s family says it now hopes his dismissal will be followed by murder charges.

'Everybody's life is critically important'

Policing experts point to another recent defining moment, during last year’s sniper attack in Dallas, which killed five officers. During the attack, Dallas police officers used their bodies to shield Black Lives Matter protesters from bullets.

“It’s one of the most important things that never comes out: Police are learning that the highest respect that a police officer can give to the community is that everybody’s life is critically important, including that of suspects,” says Mr. Taylor, a criminologist at the University of Texas in Dallas.

He adds: “After 40 years in this field – as a sworn officer, consultant, professor, and author of books on this – I’ve finally got hope, because we’re putting the focus back on the quality of a single interaction between one police officer and one member of the community.”

An Iraqi cleric recasts himself, and his fight

What defines a patriot in a country riven by tribalism and conflict? Moqtada al-Sadr is a fiery cleric whose militia battled US forces after the 2003 invasion. Now he is breaking tribal and religious barriers to challenge the Iraqi government. But his goal now: reforms that upend corruption – and a path that is more peaceful.

Amelia
Alaa Al-Marjani/Reuters
A portrait of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is held high during Friday prayers in Kufa mosque near Najaf, south of Baghdad, in March.

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While Iraqi forces push further into the ISIS stronghold of Mosul, a fight over the future of Iraq is brewing in Baghdad. As has been the case since Saddam Hussein was toppled, a mercurial cleric from a revered Shiite family is playing a leading role. “Whatever he says we do – if he says ‘live’ we live, if he says ‘die’, we die,” said Haider Kamal, a laborer from Baghdad’s Shiite neighborhood of Shuala, at a protest called by Sadr last summer. “All my family and all my neighborhood follows Sayyid Moqtada. He is a resistance leader.” Over the past two decades, Moqtada al-Sadr transformed from a young man little known outside religious circles to a militia leader who posed a major threat to US forces. Now, he is reemerging in Iraqi political life as a nationalist political figure agitating against corruption and in favor of government reform. With Iraq’s Sunni leadership deeply fragmented and accused by many of selling out to wealthy Gulf Arab states, Sadr’s demand for an Iraqi government that benefits Iraqis has found fertile ground among some Sunnis. It’s a major shift from the leading role played a decade ago by his militia, whose death squads fueled the flames of Iraq’s civil war.

An Iraqi cleric recasts himself, and his fight

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Thaier Al-Sudani/ Reuters
Supporters of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr gather during a protest against corruption at Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq on March 24, 2017.

The young men storming the entrance to Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone as part of an antigovernment demonstration in February were waving Iraqi flags as a sign of their commitment to country. But there was no question their loyalty was at least as strong to Moqtada al-Sadr, the powerful Shiite cleric who called for the protests against a leadership he considers illegitimate and irredeemably corrupt. 

While Iraqi forces push further into the ISIS stronghold of Mosul, a fight over the future of Iraq is brewing in Baghdad. As has been the case since Saddam Hussein was toppled, the mercurial cleric from a revered Shiite family is playing a leading role.

At least five protesters and a policeman were killed when the Feb. 11 protest turned violent. Mr. Sadr, who commands his followers to wave only the Iraqi flag as a sign of nationalism, had called for peaceful protests, though his history as a militia leader may have undermined that request. And in Iraq, where religious and political leaders command paramilitary forces, armed confrontation is always a possibility.

“Whatever he says we do – if he says ‘live’ we live, if he says ‘die’, we die,” said Haider Kamal, a laborer from Baghdad’s Shiite neighborhood of Shuala, at a protest called by Sadr last summer. “All my family and all my neighborhood follows Sayyid Moqtada. He is a resistance leader.”

Over the past two decades, Sadr transformed from a young man little known outside religious circles to a militia leader who posed a major threat to US forces. Now, he is reemerging in Iraqi political life as a nationalist political figure agitating against corruption and in favor of government reform.

He is challenging Shiite political elites and, in fact, the entire Iraqi political system. He has reached beyond Sunni-Shiite divides, testing Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, a fellow Shiite, and threatening to boycott upcoming elections in the absence of reforms to Iraq’s electoral commission, which Sadr accuses of being under the sway of rival Shiite political parties he says are corrupt. On many Fridays he brings thousands into the streets in protest. 

In the process, the still relatively young cleric, the son and the son-in-law of two Shiite clerics revered for their concern for the poor, has increasingly made an effort to portray himself as an Iraqi patriot. Now, he is poised to consolidate his position not only as an influential political kingmaker but as someone who can mobilize potentially millions of followers from Baghdad to the southern coastal city of Basra.  

In April, he even broke with other Iraqi Shiite leaders in calling on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Iran, to step down to save the country from more bloodshed. 

“He really is someone who has provided a social and political outlet for the impoverished, particularly for those southerners who have never had a chance to have their say in middle-class and upper-class politics, which defines much of what goes on in Baghdad,” says Ahab Bdaiwi, a specialist in Islamic history at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

Known by the honorific al-Sayyid, connoting a descendant of the prophet Muhammad, he only rarely appears in public and normally only in his home base in the holy city of Najaf.  A rare appearance at an entrance to the Green Zone a year ago was the first time that many of his most devout followers had seen him in person. Some wept with emotion as he spoke.

Weeks later, in a move to reshape the country’s political system by pushing Mr. Abadi to appoint a cabinet of technocrats, he ordered supporters to storm the Iraqi parliament.

With Iraq’s Sunni leadership deeply fragmented and accused by many of selling out to wealthy Gulf Arab states, Sadr’s demand for an Iraqi government that benefits Iraqis has found fertile ground among some Sunnis. It’s a major shift from the leading role played a decade ago by his militia, whose death squads fueled the flames of Iraq’s civil war.

How it began

The fall of Saddam Hussein freed Sadr to organize millions of his family’s followers, creating an armed wing as well as a political and public service organization, and in 2004, Sadr mobilized his Mahdi Army militia to drive out US occupation forces.

Young fighters armed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades fought American soldiers in the streets of Baghdad and cities across the south, including the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala.

In the Iraqi capital, the militia took over neighborhoods, running death squads and expelling Sunnis and Christians. In a security vacuum, some Sunnis turned to Al Qaeda to protect them, igniting Iraq’s civil war.

Sadr ultimately disbanded his militia in 2008, but still considers the United States and Britain occupying authorities and has declared that American troops deployed to fight ISIS will be legitimate targets.

Unlike Iraq’s most influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who rarely engages in politics, Sadr has nourished the following he inherited with political activism, nationalism, and promises of social justice that resonate particularly with the poor.

“Sayid Muqtada stands for justice … he supports us,” said a protester, Um Yas, at a demonstration last summer over Bahrain’s detention of a Shiite cleric. A pin shaped like a map of Iraq superimposed with Sadr’s face held her headscarf.

Although Iraq’s Shiite underclass form Sadr’s traditional base, he has made an effort in recent years to reach out to Iraqi Sunnis and religious minorities as well as the international community – except for the United States and Britain.

The overwhelmingly Shiite protest near the Bahraini embassy last June included two young Sunni men who wore tight jeans and T-shirts, carefully gelled hair, and black sneakers with gold-colored accents.

“I decided to follow him when I saw his statements and protests,” says Saif Ali, a cleaner from Ghazaliya neighborhood who is Sunni. “There is a big difference between him and the Sunni leaders. I also follow some of them, but Sayid Muqtada is different.”

Asked how he reconciles Sadr’s call for inclusion with his militia’s attacks on Sunni Iraqis a few years ago, Ali says both Sadr and Iraq have changed.

“That was true in sectarian times, but now Muqtada Sadr teaches us how to avoid sectarianism,” he says.

Sadr City

In Baghdad, most of Sadr’s support comes from the dusty streets of Sadr City, a two million-strong neighborhood on the outskirts of Baghdad. Almost all the residents are Shiites who for generations have been the underclass.

He has strong opposition credentials: When Moqtada Sadr’s father, the Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr, was assassinated in Najaf in 1999, his followers in Sadr City rioted in a rare and dangerous show against Saddam Hussein.

The latest Sadr has taken up the family mantle of speaking for the poor and dispossessed but his support taps into a much deeper vein of religious belief that transcends politics and the trials of day-to-day life in Iraq.  

“Muqtada’s popularity has much to do with his family name,” says Bdaiwi. “His father was revered because of his revival of messianic sentiment in Iraq.”

Iraq is the modern-day successor to ancient empires that included the cities of Ur and Babylon. Shiite Islam traces its roots to the south of Iraq where Imam Ali, believed by Shiites to be the rightful successor to the prophet Muhammad, and his son Hussein were killed in the 7th century.

“Since the advent of Islam, the idea of redemption and suffering Messiah-like figures are all associated with the southern regions of Iraq, but in the 20th century that messianic sentiment died down,” says Bdaiwi. He says the elder Sadr articulated and "rebranded" messianic beliefs in language that ordinary Iraqis could understand.

In Sadr City, the crowded outdoor markets are a frequent target of bombings claimed by ISIS, which like Al Qaeda, views Shiites as unbelievers.

In the Hamidiyah district, the poorest part of the generally poor Sadr City, children dart between makeshift houses illegally built on vacant property. A tangle of electricity wires run from private generators for those who can pay. Sewage runs in the streets. There are no police.

Near a corner store, a group of boys play games on the sidewalk. Ali Sadr says his parents took him out of school in the fifth grade because they could not buy uniforms.

“Nothing here works,” says his friend Saif Mahmoud, who dropped out in the third grade. “Every time it rains our houses get flooded.”

For all of Sadr’s emphasis on social justice and economic equality, there is little in Sadr City to show that residents have reaped tangible benefits from the movement’s activism.

Before he announced he was withdrawing from active politics two years ago, Sadr decreed that members of parliament in his movement live in the neighborhoods they represented – a radical thought in a country where many politicians flee to the relative safety and luxury of the green zone.

Most of his followers blame the lack of development in their neighborhoods on corrupt government officials and Sadr’s political opponents.

Misleading image

Sadr is still little understood by the West, described as a mercurial firebrand and belittled for his lack of religious credentials.

Before 2003 he was portrayed as lacking intellectual prowess – a young man more interested in playing video games than his religious studies. Patrick Cockburn, the author of "Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the struggle for Iraq,’’ suggests after the assassination of his father, the image was deliberately fostered by his followers to persuade Saddam he wasn’t a threat.

By 2009 Sadr had moved to Qum, the center of religious scholarship in Iran, to continue his religious studies.

In 2013, Mr. Cockburn met him in a rare one-on-one interview with a Western journalist.

“He was highly intelligent and I thought fairly open,” Cockburn recalls. “He was very quick to take a point and very quick to argue and quite convincing. He was friendly, and I thought very much engaged with what was going on in a realistic way.”

The Sadr movement has undergone a political evolution. UK-educated men in suits have replaced some of the starkly sectarian political operatives who were on the front lines of Sadr movement. Sadr has replaced his Mahdi Army with a paramilitary group he calls the Peace Brigades, whose role in the fight against ISIS has largely been guarding Shiite shrines.

While Sadr’s militia was supported by Iran and he still spends time there, his relationship with Iranian leaders is said to be strained. Sadr has increasingly made an effort to portray himself as an Iraqi patriot. Most of the movement’s discourse now is about nationalism and inclusiveness.

“I think there are lots of hidden and open regrets about what happened to the Mahdi army and its involvement in the sectarian killings in the height of 2006 and 2007,” Cockburn says. “It was explained away subsequently by saying they were those who were not obeying orders … but certainly there is a very strong desire to show that things are genuinely different.”

And some of his followers have undergone a political evolution as well.

Yousef Mukthadh, who graduated from law school two years ago and is still looking for a job, has been a Sadr follower since he can remember, but says it is no longer out of blind loyalty.

“I was young when I first started following the movement – It didn’t know what it meant,” he says. “But as I became older my way of thinking changed.”

Mukthadh, one of the several thousand young Iraqis who made it to Europe and then returned, describes Sadr as a revolutionary and says he welcomes the new openness of the movement.

“Before they were radicals. Now they have taken off their religious clothing and they have become open-minded,” he says. “Sayid Muqtada has changed according to the situation. When the Americans were there he was focused on fighting the Americans and when the Americans left, he changed his thinking as well.”

Getting to ‘ready’ on North Korea threat

Many of us have been rattled by the aggressive threats of North Korea's Kim Jong-un. So it helps to better understand how the US and others are countering them. That includes the deterrent capabilities of the US military, an issue that's being reviewed as Mr. Kim voices his goal of being able to strike the US mainland.

Amelia

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Yes, North Korea is developing intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads intended to threaten the US. But the Pentagon has long been working on missile defenses intended to counter just such a menace. It’s not the perfect astrodome defense envisioned under President Reagan’s “Star Wars” dream; there are only about three dozen missiles, and in the 17 full-blown tests since 1997, the payload has destroyed its target just a little over half the time. As of now, the US defense system could probably handle an initial North Korean nuclear capability, say proponents. The problem is whether it could keep up if Pyongyang develops as many as 100 nuclear warheads by 2020, as a John Hopkins report predicted. Lawmakers such as Sen. Dan Sullivan (R) of Alaska think the US needs to look harder at expanding the system. Meanwhile US cyber efforts may be aimed at destabilizing North Korea’s rocket programs. 

Getting to ‘ready’ on North Korea threat

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John Wagner/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner/AP
Since 2004 the US has deployed rocket interceptors at Ft. Greeley, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Here Col. George Bond, second from right, briefed then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, center, and then-Sen. Mark Begich (D) of Alaska, second from left, on the capabilities of such missiles during a 2009 tour of Alaska's Fort Greeley, located about 110 miles south of Fairbanks.

For decades, US presidents have used diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions to try and convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear program. While doing so they have also been working at home on a Plan B: defense.

The Pentagon has been developing a nationwide antimissile program since the early 1990s. The aim is to protect American territory – not from established nuclear powers Russia or China, but any smaller Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) arsenals produced by North Korea, or (possibly) Iran.

Now that nascent missile defense faces an important inflection point, as does the overall effort to block Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions. Increasingly it seems a matter of when, not if, North Korea will develop the means to target the continental US with a nuclear-tipped ICBM.

That moment might be reached in three to five years, according to current and former US defense officials. And by 2020, North Korea could have as many as 100 nuclear warheads, according to a 2015 Johns Hopkins University report.

At that point, will US missile defense be adequate for its task? Even supporters describe the current system as more of an advanced prototype than a finished product. It might be able to protect against an initial North Korean nuclear capability, but if Pyongyang establishes and maintains serial production of missiles, today’s US defensive capabilities might soon become inadequate.

“We’re not willing to accept a strategic relationship of vulnerability to North Korean missiles, in the way we have, de facto, with Russia and China.... This is important. We have to get this right,” says Thomas Karako, a senior fellow and director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

More modest than Reagan's 'Star Wars' dream

The US has been working on various anti-missile programs almost since the dawn of the ICBM age. In terms of funding and prominence, this effort perhaps reached its apogee with President Reagan’s “Star Wars” Strategic Defense Initiative. SDI envisioned a multi-layered system able to target and attack ballistic missiles from launch to warhead descent. Today’s deployed system is not nearly as broad as that dream.

The current US missile defense is aimed instead at shielding the nation from nuclear blackmail or terrorism or threats from a rogue state. (Both China and Russia oppose US defenses, saying it is possible they will destabilize the mutual deterrence that currently exists between big nuclear powers.)

On the list of today’s “rogue states”, North Korea sits at No. 1. The US intelligence community assesses that North Korea is currently in the process of fielding an ICBM capability to strike the American homeland with a nuclear warhead. Such a system hasn’t been tested, nor is it clear whether any North Korean ballistic missiles of shorter range have yet been tipped with nuclear warheads.

After all, this is rocket science, meaning very difficult – as Pyongyang’s many failed missile tests show.

Defenses from Hawaii

The first line of US ballistic missile defense is a global network of sea-, land-, and space-based sensors to detect and track any launch against American targets.

These range from an ocean-going X-Band radar at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, to early-warning radars strung across Alaska, Greenland, Britain, and other northern spots, and SPY-1 radars on Navy Aegis missile defense ships at sea. Data is fed to a central fire control system at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.

Since 2004, the US has deployed rocket interceptors at Ft. Greeley, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Currently there are 36; that number is scheduled to rise to 44 by the end of 2017.

The three-stage interceptors are intended to target missile warheads in the middle of their ballistic course from launch to target. They carry “kill vehicle” warheads of their own, which separate from the launcher and maneuver towards the coasting nuclear warheads. An upgraded Redesigned Kill Vehicle is in the works. Testing won’t begin for a few years; deployment is currently scheduled for 2020.

Testing record: 9 of 17 attempts successful

The US has some mobile defense assets that can augment this basic system. The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) is a rapidly deployable battery of interceptor missiles designed to shoot down short- or medium-range ballistic missiles in the final stages of its flight. It is intended to protect defined areas, such as cities or military forces, as opposed to entire countries. The US and South Korea have recently set up a THAAD system on a former golf course in South Korea.

The Navy’s Aegis cruisers and destroyers also carry interceptor missiles that are designed to give them the ability to defend regions against short and medium-range missile attack. The Aegis defense has the advantage of easy mobility – but the number of ships is limited, and they sometimes have other missions to fulfill.

Is this integrated system effective? After all, in essence it is attempting to hit a bullet with a bullet – not an easy thing to do. Since 1997, the payload has destroyed its target in nine of 17 full-blown intercept tests, or just over 50 percent of the time.

Some scientists harshly criticize the US missile defense program, saying that interceptors could be easily spoofed.

The ground-based defense system “is not on a credible path to achieving an operationally useful capability,” charged the Union of Concerned Scientists in a 2016 report on the effort.

But officials of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency and other proponents say the system is a capable one that is being refined to meet a threat which itself is still developing. They say its testing record should be seen in that light.

A Congressional Research Service report on the system drawn up in late 2016 attempts to strike a balance between these points of view.

“Although the [ground-based missile defense] system is praised by senior military leaders and is generally viewed in successful terms, it does have a somewhat mixed flight test record,” writes CRS analyst Steven Hildreth.

Alaskan senator pushes for more robust missile defense

Meanwhile, North Korea grinds ahead with its military programs. That is the military and political reality facing the US, note defense proponents. Holding a nuclear threat over the United States seems a core goal of Kim Jung-Un's worldview. Is that a situation the US can endure?

“Each of the last four administrations has looked at the North Korean threat and said this is not the sort of thing in which we can live, in a state of vulnerability,” says Dr. Karako of CSIS, a principal author of a new “Missile Defense 2020” report that urges devoting more money and effort to outpacing the ballistic missile threat.

Among other recommendations, the CSIS study urges fielding upward of 80 ground-based interceptors by 2020, and completing readiness efforts studying a possible East Coast deployment site.

Some lawmakers are already on board. Alaska, closer to North Korea than the lower 48 states, could be an early target for attack. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R) of Alaska says that in his view the US needs to significantly step up its missile defense system. But “nobody’s talking about that,” he said in a Monitor interview last week.

The senator, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says he hopes to soon introduce a bipartisan bill to significantly boost America’s ability to shoot down rogue missiles from North Korea or Iran.

Senator Sullivan proposes 28 more interceptors, as well as requiring the military to study having up to 100 interceptors distributed across the country.

Should North Korea successfully develop a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile, “the pressure on the president will be enormous to do something ‘militarily,’ ” says Sullivan. But if the US has a system that can, with 99.9 percent certainty, shoot down rogue missiles, with the expectation of “massive” US retaliation, then Kim Jong-un will have to “think really hard” about that, the senator says.

“Having a robust missile defense will give the president more options and breathing room,” Sullivan contends.

Cyber sabotage?

But here’s something the Pentagon doesn’t talk about: ramping up investments in interceptor rockets might not be the only US option to blunt North Korean missile development. Secret cyberattacks to disrupt Pyongyang’s missile tests might be an option as well.

In February, The New York Times reported that the Trump administration planned to continue work on an Obama-era program that charged the Pentagon with developing hacking tools to disable or misdirect launched North Korean missiles. That capability, if confirmed, could give the Defense Department a Digital Age tool to deal with the rogue state.

“[Missiles] have to be linked to a network and to a computer. That’s your entry point,” says James Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and a former rapporteur for United Nations cybersecurity talks in 2015. “Breaking into somebody’s weapons systems and trying to interfere with their operations, that’s just part of warfare now.”

Indeed, the US appeared to have expanded its visibility into North Korean computer networks even before the damaging Sony Pictures hack that leaked private emails and the unreleased film The Interview in 2014, which the FBI attributed to Pyongyang’s hackers.

Classified documents disclosed to the press in 2015 indicated that the National Security Agency, with help from US allies in Asia, penetrated into North Korean networks, including devices and systems used by the country’s top hacking teams and spies. The Defense Department could also target North Korea's suspected suppliers, such as Iran, with digital attacks.

But while the Pentagon and other military agencies may be using cyberattacks to probe digitally connected weapons networks, it’s not clear that it has been the driving factor in Pyongyang’s recent spike in failed missile launches.

Even for elite hackers, targeting North Korea's missile program would be particularly complex. Unlike the Stuxnet computer worm – widely believed to have been developed by the US and Israel – that targeted Iran's central nuclear enrichment facility, a digital attack against North Korea's missile program would have to target multiple test sites and mobile batteries that Pyongyang uses to fire missiles.

“Missiles tend to blow up anyway just given how hard rocket science is,” says Adam Segal, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “To do it seconds or minutes after the launch would suggest a kind of pervasiveness in the networks and an all-seeing ability that would be very expensive and very difficult to maintain.”

Even optimists about using hacking tools against North Korea's missile program see as one piece of a broader solution – not a silver bullet.

"The question is always probability," says CSIS's Mr. Lewis. "If they shot 100 missiles, you could probably disable some of them. You probably couldn't disable all of them."

In Latin America, women code past an employment gap

If you want to get into a new line of work, but don’t have the resources to shift direction, frustration can build. We thought it was noteworthy that in Latin America, a tech training group is looking at that problem as an opportunity – and is opening new doors to women as a result.

Amelia
Courtesy of Edgar Rubio H./CoWdf Condesa
Students participate in a free computer-coding class provided by Laboratoria, in Mexico City. The organization aims to help women acquire skills they can leverage in the job market.

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Latin America today is home to 20 million “ninis”: young people who neither study nor work – or, as they say in Spanish, ni estudian ni trabajan. Two-thirds of those ninis are women, who already face more challenges entering well-paid careers – and dropping out of school doesn’t help. But Laboratoria, a “lab” pioneering a new model of job training, has spotted a potential opportunity: tech jobs, while prestigious, rely on specific skill sets – and they are betting that women don’t need a traditional education to learn them. So far, the organization has trained 400 women in front-end coding, and asks that participants contribute just about $15 for their first six months of training. It’s boosted grads’ confidence, and their salaries: Three-fourths are employed, and earn three times what they did before the program, on average. But Laboratoria may also transform ideas about what education and job training can be, at a time when many students sense a disconnect between the two.

In Latin America, women code past an employment gap

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Edgar Rubio H. / Courtesy of CoWdf Condesa
Laboratoria students working together in Mexico City in April 2017.

Growing up, Adriana Jauregui always pictured herself having a career. But when she dropped out of high school due to financial strains at home, she felt the door to any kind of formal employment close firmly behind her.

“Without school, I was saying goodbye to my dreams,” says Ms. Jauregui, who tried to cobble together odd jobs, and soon after started her own family. “I’ve always felt like I had to leave opportunities behind,” she says.

But last year, while surfing the web, Jauregui saw an ad that made her perk up: a six-month course, specifically for women, to learn how to code. Tech wasn’t a field she’d ever considered, but the organization, Laboratoria, was offering the training in Mexico, Chile, and Peru nearly free of charge. And it pledged to help graduates find high-paying jobs coding once they completed the coursework. The education requirements? None.

“In Mexico, if something seems too good to be true, it usually is,” Jauregui says. But after a nearly two-month application process, complete with logic and personalities tests and a trial course and exam, she now spends some 40 hours a week click-clacking away at a laptop in an office of more than 60 other women, learning front-end coding (which results in what you can actually see on a website or application, like buttons or images).

“Coding is all about logic and searching for solutions,” she says. “I feel like a window has opened. I’m motivated and I can see the path ahead of me.”

Laboratoria reaches out to promising young women with few resources and teaches them skills to enter better-paid career tracks, whether or not they've completed their formal education. For many participants, the training has resulted in a full-time job and a new sense of confidence. But the organization is also a "lab," pioneering a new model of education for skills that are increasingly in demand in Latin America. That could prove particularly useful in a region dogged by sky-high secondary school drop-out rates, where students often express a sense of disconnect between their education and the job market. 

According to 2013 International Labor Organization numbers, some 130 million Latin Americans work in the informal sector, including cleaning homes or selling food on the street, leaving them without safety nets like health insurance or pensions, and with few opportunities to move ahead. What’s more, nearly 20 million people in the region between the ages of 15 and 24 are neither in school nor employed, according to the World Bank. Women make up two-thirds of that population.

While there are a number of organizations working with governments across Latin America to try to improve public education, the region is struggling to create a globally competitive workforce. And women, the poor, and other minority groups are particularly hard hit when it comes to the gap between education and labor market demands. 

“In a region where quality education is limited to the elite, most people are denied opportunities because they are denied education,” says Gabriela Rocha, the Mexico executive director of Laboratoria. The tech field is attractive for its high wages, the demand for trained web developers world-wide, and because jobs frequently don’t require formal education, so long as applicants have the needed skills.

Whitney Eulich/The Christian Science Monitor
Adriana Jauregui takes a break from coding March 31 at Laboratoria in Mexico City. The mother of two didn't finish high school and felt left behind professionally. Today, she's confident about her future for the first time in years. "The stigma is that coding is for men, but there's space for me and there's a future for me in this sector," she says.

“A job interview often consists of opening up a computer and asking the candidate to code,” Ms. Rocha says.

We are trying to “respond to problems in society and trying to see them as opportunities,” she says. “It’s a model that can change Latin America and it’s something that so many other organizations can follow to transform the way we view education, job training, and opportunities for women and youth.” 

Coding can-do

On a recent Friday morning at the brightly yellow- and teal-accented Laboratoria offices in Mexico City, young women sit elbow-to-elbow, working at long tables of laptops. An instructor stands at the back of the room, walking the group through a coding exercise projected on a large screen.

“Click, unclick, click,” the instructor says while doing just that over a small check-box. The projection is a split screen – black on one side, white on the other – covered in columns of numbers and short phrases like “<Input type= ‘check box’ id” and “text decoration = ‘line through’.” A number of women let out audible gasps and a few lightly clap their hands as the clicking and unclicking continues. “The box wasn't filling before,” one of the students whispers. 

Not everyone here is starting from scratch. Gaby Trejo, for example, is also finishing an undergraduate degree in engineering. When she started looking for work late last year, she felt squeezed out of certain positions, either because they were male-dominated (think factory foreman) or because she didn’t have the coding know-how.

“I was always interested in artificial intelligence, but it felt out of reach,” Ms. Trejo says. She applied to Laboratoria because she believes the coding experience will complement her engineering degree and help her knock down some barriers to get closer to the hands-on work she aspires to do.

Gender expectations certainly come into play for many of these women as they pursue their new careers in coding, particularly in a region where machismo still looms large. Forty-five percent of Mexican women are in the workforce, compared to 80 percent of Mexican men.

“In past work, I’ve had people tell me I should be at home, be taking care of my kids,” says Jauregui. “It’s not just men who criticize, it’s women, too. To go against the current is hard.” She feels supported by her peers here, but also by her family. “I’m setting an example for my daughters,” Jauregui says.

Some women, however, don't feel as much encouragement at home.

One student here dropped out of the program when her husband lost his job: the family could no longer afford childcare without his salary, and he felt she should stay home, Rocha says. That’s despite the fact that, by completing the course, the young woman was likely to earn twice her husband’s former salary.

The organization now hosts family days early on in the program, so that partners, parents, children, and friends fully understand what these women are training for and the opportunities that await them.

On average, grads earn nearly three times what their salaries were before the boot camp. Some 400 women have completed the program so far, and there’s a roughly 76 percent employment rate. The goal is to up those numbers to 10,000 and 85 percent, respectively, by 2020.

There’s so much interest in the program, which in Mexico costs the students a symbolic amount of roughly $10-$15 per month for the first six months of training, that only one in four applicants are currently accepted. The low cost is largely supplemented by grants from organizations big and small, including Google.org. Starting this year, graduates are committing to continue their education for another year and a half while also working and earning a salary, and will pay a higher tuition or get contributions from their employers. Mentorship, "soft skills" like time-management, and visits from experts are also part of Laboratoria's line-up.

Arabela Rojas, who finished the program in 2015 in Peru, says she barely recognizes the person she was before going through Laboratoria. She’d dreamed of working in tourism, but dropped out of college because she could no longer afford it. Flash-forward a few years, and she landed a coveted internship coding for the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, D.C., and today is back in Peru working for the digital agency connected to Laboratoria. 

“The results were bigger than I’d ever hoped for,” she says.

Employers in the region are pleased with the emerging pool of talent as well, says Miguel Cabral, who runs the digital agency Pequeño Cuervo here. Today, four of his employees are Laboratoria grads. “We want employees who are self-sufficient, dependable, and eager to learn,” he says. “Yes, these are junior level coders and they still have a lot to learn, but they adapt really well and they absorb information like sponges.”

“I see an important role for this program,” he says. “They are both pushing women into a male-dominated field, adding diversity, and also building a pool of talent that just doesn’t really exist here.”

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Talk with North Korea? Recent precedents help.

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President Trump’s hope for talks with North Korea could be based on cases of other adversaries that shifted away from violence and threats. The United States and other countries agreed to talk with Iran, for example, reaching a deal in 2015 to curb its nuclear program. In Colombia, the rebel group FARC made major concessions after realizing how their own families were as much victims of useless violence as pro-government civilians. The Basque separatist group has rejected violence and is ready to talk. And while Hamas and Israel are a long way from negotiations, Israel does talk to the Palestinian Authority. Like President Barack Obama, Trump may believe that keeping the option of negotiations with adversaries can make it easier for an enemy to shift positions.

Talk with North Korea? Recent precedents help.

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Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal gestures as he announces a new policy document in Doha, Qatar, May 1.

When President Trump says he might be willing to talk to North Korea under certain conditions, his hope may be based on examples of other countries and groups – also known as a nuclear or terrorist threat – that have recently changed their hard positions. To see an enemy as hopelessly intractable is sometimes not the best path to peace.

Iran is the most obvious recent example. The United States and other countries agreed to talk with Iran, finally reaching a deal in 2015 to curb its nuclear program. The Islamic regime backed down largely because it was losing support from restless young Iranians hurt by an economy suffering from sanctions and low oil prices.

Mr. Trump might also point to the negotiations in Colombia that led to an agreement this past year ending a long and violent civil war. The Marxist rebel group FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) agreed to talks in large part because it was losing the war. But rebel leaders also made major concessions after realizing how their own supporters and families were as much victims of useless violence as pro-government civilians. “There is no room for winners or losers when you achieve peace through negotiations,” stated FARC negotiator Rodrigo Granda. “Colombia wins, death loses.”

In Spain and France, meanwhile, the separatist group known as ETA – which stands for Euskadi ta Askatasuna, or Basque Homeland and Freedom – announced last month that it had fully disarmed. The group killed hundreds of people over decades in an attempt to create a Basque homeland. But after losing popular support, it has rejected violence and is ready to talk. One model for ETA is the peace process in Northern Ireland, where the Irish Republican Army disarmed and its political arm, Sinn Féin, was granted a political role.

Another terrorist group that appears to have made concessions is Hamas, the anti-Israel Islamic group that governs Palestinians in Gaza. On Monday, it issued a policy document that accepts the idea of a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders. Hamas still does not recognize Israel. And its anti-Semitic charter from 1988 remains intact. But Hamas feels pressure to change from Arab states. In addition, a poll in February by the Arab World for Research and Development found an increase in support among West Bank Palestinian youth for a two-state solution with Israel. Last year, 57 percent opposed such a plan. The new poll found a more even split, with 47.7 percent opposed and 47.4 in favor.

While Hamas and Israel are a long way from negotiations, Israel does talk to the Palestinian Authority. And the PA is in contact with Hamas, as is Egypt. Trump, meanwhile, has started again the perpetual US search for an end to that conflict.

Like President Barack Obama before him, Trump may believe that not talking to adversaries should not be considered punishment to them. Keeping the option of negotiations can make it easier for an enemy to shift positions.

Former US negotiator Victor Cha says he used to tell his North Korean counterparts that the US is only hostile to their nuclear weapons. “With regard to the rest of your people and everything, we don’t have a hostile policy,” he said. Such a distinction – between people and their actions – can help keep open a door for negotiations.

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.

New views on action from a former activist

Stories of activism are in the news every day. When people feel something is unjust, or wrong, they protest. Certainly wrongs should be righted, but there’s a spiritual dimension that makes activism more powerful and effective. Yielding to God’s all-power, and obediently following His leading, results in spiritual strength and action that heals. This strength comes from humility, and an understanding of one’s relation to God. It inspires action that is secure and divinely led. As the great healer Christ Jesus said: “I can of mine own self do nothing” (John 5:30). 

New views on action from a former activist

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In many parts of the world there is a lot of focus on activism that promotes justice and reform. I admire many individuals throughout history who have done noble works and courageously taken a stand for humanitarian issues, such as equal rights for all.

I’m also beginning to discern that there’s a spiritual understanding of action and justice that makes a difference in how effective activism is. To me, the crucial distinction is whether we see ourselves or God, as the source of the good we can do. Do we rely on a human mind, will, or power of our own? Or do we understand, moment by moment, that it is actually the infinite wisdom and goodness of God that gives us wisdom and justice and action; and do we turn to God meekly and prayerfully before we make decisions or take steps?

During my career, a strong part of how I identified myself had been as an “activist.” But when I learned of the teachings of Christian Science, I experienced an intense period of sorting through my thinking about a lot of things, especially my identity. I found I could give up a personal, material sense of myself for a clearer and more humble understanding of my spiritual individuality as an expression of God. I also appreciated learning that this surrendering doesn’t in any way weaken or diminish us. Instead, it does the opposite. Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, wrote, “This scientific sense of being, forsaking matter for Spirit, by no means suggests man’s absorption into Deity and the loss of his identity, but confers upon man enlarged individuality, a wider sphere of thought and action, a more expansive love, a higher and more permanent peace” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 265).

I also found and appreciated stories of people in the Bible who challenged mainstream thinking and stood up to injustices in mighty ways. What I especially learned from their stories, and began to practice more diligently myself, was a strong reliance on and closeness to God – in other words, humility.

This understanding has translated into a more continual surrendering of human will, and praying before and while taking action. I wait until I can feel a strong sense of rightness and conviction about a decision – until I feel confident that my thought has yielded to God – before going forward. This doesn’t mean that I’ve gotten it right every time. But whenever I recognize that I’ve made a misstep, I just pray and listen more, and trust that the effect of God governing my life will adjust things and help me correct my course.

The results of these changes in my understanding include letting myself be led into and out of various jobs, and sometimes I’ve taken what turn out to be valuable steps in my work before I knew why they would be beneficial to me or others. Not long ago I even gave up, without looking back, a decade-long career in a field of work I cared deeply about to pursue a new direction that felt progressive and more right.

Christ Jesus declared his utter dependence on God in his statement, “I can of mine own self do nothing” (John 5:30). With this new understanding of man’s spiritual identity and relation to God, I’ve given up the human label “activist” and instead recognize that spiritually we are activated by God.

With this prayerful and trust-filled grounding, we can expect that whatever we are inspired to do will contribute in a significant way to justice, health, and harmony for others, as well as for ourselves.

This article was adapted from an article in the May 1, 2017, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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Liberty, with security

Christian Hartmann/Reuters
French soldiers patrol near the Eiffel Tower in Paris May 3 as part of the ‘Sentinelle’ security plan ahead of the May 7 presidential election runoff.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

 

That's it for today. Thank you for taking the time to think more deeply about the day’s news. We hope to see you tomorrow, when we take a look at the upstart politician who would be France's next president. 

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