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.

David Clark Scott
Editor & product manager

Sen. Bernie Sanders’s proposal for a single-payer (i.e., US-government funded) health-care system isn’t going anywhere in this Congress.

But as Monitor editors discussed today, what makes this “Medicare for all” bill noteworthy is that it highlights a shift: There’s growing support for it, especially among Democratic leaders, and the American public.

Sixty percent of Americans back government-sponsored health care. That’s up 19 percentage points among Democrats in three years, according to a 2017 Pew poll.

Our politics editor says that’s because "Obamacare" was effectively a half step to a single-payer system. Voters with a diagnosed preexisting condition don’t want to lose access to affordable insurance. Once people get a government benefit, as the Republican repeal effort found, it’s really hard to take it away.

Senator Sanders frames health care as a universal human right. Most Americans agree. In 2015, a Harris poll showed that 84 percent of Americans said a system that ensures sick people get the care they need is a moral issue.

Yes, but for most Republicans, putting health care completely under the government is not the morally – or fiscally – correct way to deliver that care. And half of Americans polled also said that government-funded health care would cost too much.

While the Sanders plan isn’t likely to get traction at the federal level, we wouldn’t be surprised to see some states pushing the frontier of universal health care.


Now our five stories today, illustrating unity, reconciliation, and bridge building in the news.

1. ‘Sanctuary state’? California sizes up the practical realities.

Sanctuary cities see themselves as taking a stand for compassion and fairness. Advocates say the policy also lowers crime by building trust between Latinos and law enforcement. Some California officials are looking at what the evidence says.


The 30 Sec. ReadThe debate over “sanctuary” policies for unauthorized immigrants has grown increasingly shrill as states and cities play a tug of war between enacting and banning them. And yet, with California poised to take sanctuary statewide, what do we actually know about how such ordinances affect immigrant communities and their relationships with law enforcement? As both sides have grown louder, hard data at the local level remains scarce. Arguments in favor have for the most part focused on research that shows community policing is a more effective way of keeping cities safe than punitive actions alone, as well as anecdotes from immigrant families. “It would suggest that sanctuary policies are going to be very beneficial to Latinos and people from other ethnic and immigrant communities. But we don’t know that for sure,” says Loren Collingwood, coauthor of a 2016 report on sanctuary laws and crime. “To use anecdotes as a basis for policy, even though there’s a big history of it here in the United States, is not wise.” For good policy to prevail, more data and cool heads need to run the show. “The whole fight has gotten very political and not very constructive,” says Larry Benenson of the National Immigration Forum.


1. ‘Sanctuary state’? California sizes up the practical realities.

California is one step closer to calling itself a “sanctuary state.”

On Monday Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and state Senate leader Kevin De León struck a deal on Senate Bill 54, or the California Values Act, making the state potentially the next in the nation to limit state and local law enforcement’s ability to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. Only Oregon has a similar law, which it passed in 1987 – though some have called Illinois’ newly signed TRUST Act a sanctuary state measure. New Mexico and Colorado also have comparable proposals pending in their respective legislatures.

The move to take sanctuary policies statewide comes in a year in which the Trump administration has vowed to take action against cities and counties that have adopted measures to shield undocumented immigrants from deportation. More than 500 jurisdictions now have some form of sanctuary policy in the books. The trend has prompted backlash from the Department of Justice and some police departments, which say that such policies make it more difficult for law enforcement to maintain public safety.

“We believe that it is in everyone’s best interest to have [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] remove dangerous and violent criminals because the people they prey on are disproportionately the immigrant community itself,” says Bill Brown, sheriff of Santa Barbara County and president of the California Sheriffs’ Association. 

One state legislature, Texas, has passed a law making sanctuary policies illegal – and is being sued by its cities in court.  

The dome of the California state Capitol glows in the early evening in Sacramento.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP/File

California lawmakers, meanwhile, are poised to go the other way. Advocates say that sanctuary laws are necessary to shelter immigrant communities from harsh federal actors and build trust between immigrants and the agencies sworn to protect and serve them.  

The debate has grown increasingly shrill as states and cities play a tug-of-war between enacting sanctuary policies and banning them. And yet, what do we actually know about how sanctuary ordinances affect immigrant communities and their relationships with law enforcement?

As loud as the calls for and against these laws have become, hard data on the impact they’ve had at the local level is still scarce. The basis for these laws have for the most part been a combination of research that shows community policing is a more effective way of keeping cities safe than punitive actions alone, as well as anecdotes from local immigrant families.

“It would suggest that sanctuary policies are going to be very beneficial to Latinos and people from other ethnic and immigrant communities. But we don’t know that for sure,” says Loren Collingwood, a political science professor at the University of California, Riverside, and co-author of a 2016 report on the relationship between sanctuary laws and crime. “To use anecdotes as a basis for policy, even though there’s a big history of it here in the United States, is not wise.”

Limited evidence

The idea that the foundation of public safety is trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve has been around since the 1970s. Local agencies at the time began using less stringent approaches to maintaining law and order and shifted to strategies that had officers treating local residents as partners in keeping the peace. In 1994, the federal government passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which created the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS).

The generally accepted notion of “sanctuary,” analysts say, suggests that the same philosophy could, and should, extend to immigrant communities. At the heart of the sanctuary policy, they say, is a clear division of labor between local law enforcement agencies and the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“These trust policies are put in place to ensure there’s cooperation,” says Larry Benenson, assistant director for immigration policy and advocacy at the National Immigration Forum. “If you have a conflation of local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities – if there’s even a belief that reporting a crime could lead to you being deported, or even if somebody is a legal resident but if a friend, loved one, or family member could potentially get caught up – you’re not going to cooperate [with the police].”

Protesters hold signs as they listen to speakers at a rally outside of City Hall in San Francisco on Jan. 25 in support of statewide sanctuary for people living illegally in the US.
Jeff Chiu/AP/File

But the term “sanctuary” itself is problematic, he says, because it doesn’t refer to any federally defined jurisdiction. Federal law applies everywhere, and even localities that have “sanctuary” laws generally abide by them.

“The whole fight has gotten very political and not very constructive,” he says.

Another issue is that the policies as they are today emerged only around 2014, following the murder of Kathryn Steinle by an undocumented man in San Francisco and picking up steam immediately before and after President Trump’s election. That relatively short lifespan means the jury is still out on their quantifiable impact. The studies that do exist suggest some positive effects: One report, released in January, found that sanctuary counties have lower crime rates and stronger economies than comparable non-sanctuary jurisdictions. Professor Collingwood’s study at UC Riverside, which compared cities instead of counties, found no statistically significant difference in crime between those with sanctuary ordinances and those without – which suggests that there’s no evidence that enacting them would make cities less safe, he says.  

'The vast majority have no teeth'

In general, advocates and opponents alike say that local sanctuary ordinances have been more a symbol of where officials stand than true game-changers in the struggle over immigration reform.

Except for those in San Francisco and Santa Clara counties, none of the ordinances already in place in California have specifically precluded local law enforcement from communicating with federal authorities, Sheriff Brown says. 

“The vast majority have no teeth,” adds Joseph Mckellar, co-director of PICO California, a faith-based community organization that has lobbied for measures to protect undocumented immigrants over the years.

On the one hand, symbols matter, Mr. Mckellar says. True to the president’s campaign promises, the Trump administration has cracked down on illegal immigration. ICE arrests have spiked to an average of about 13,000 per month between February and June, compared with about 9,100 per month in the last three months of former President Barack Obama’s term, USA Today reports. On Sept. 5, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Department of Homeland Security will no longer be taking new applicants for the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, which kept nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children from deportation. Current DACA authorizations will remain valid only until the end of their two-year lifespans, though Trump has given Congress six months to pass legislation that would provide these immigrants with a path to legal status. On Monday, California filed suit against the administration

Such actions have created a climate of fear in undocumented immigrant communities, with families afraid to let their children out of the house and parents getting picked up by ICE at county jails after serving time for unrelated petty crimes. So when the mayor, the police department, and the local school district declare their jurisdictions sanctuaries in a place like Oakland – which is within nonsanctuary Alameda County – some of that fear is dispelled, advocates say.

“The day before the first day of school, we received a call from the superintendent [of the Oakland Unified School District] reminding us that we are a sanctuary district,” says Marina, a mother and local organizer with Oakland Community Organizations (OCO) who arrived with her family in the US from Guatemala seven years ago. (She asked that her last name not be used because she works with undocumented families.) “That made us feel a lot calmer.”

Yet it’s precisely because these ordinances are largely symbolic that state legislation is so crucial, Mckellar says. “They give people a sense of hope,” he says. “But hope alone can’t stop a local law enforcement officer from handing over a person to ICE.” He calls for “tangible policies” like S.B. 54 to limit coordination between police and ICE.

'It's dangerous ground'

To critics of the bill, taking sanctuary to the state level runs the risk of doing what by and large local policies don’t yet do: prevent local law enforcement from cooperating with the feds, especially in investigations that involve transnational crimes like human or drug trafficking. They also point out that limiting cooperation with ICE won’t stop the federal agency from tracking down and arresting suspected undocumented immigrants.

“There will be confrontations that could risk other undocumented but otherwise law-abiding people who could end up getting picked up collaterally,” Brown says. “It’s dangerous ground to tread on.”

Despite the wrangling over the bill, California’s Democrat-led Legislature looks likely to send S.B. 54 to the governor’s desk before Sept. 15, when the session ends. Mr. Brown would then have a month to sign the measure.

But the dispute highlights the problems with a debate that centers more on politics than fact, critics note. For good policy to prevail, Benenson and others say more data and cool heads need to run the show.

“Rather than use ‘sanctuary city’ as both a catch-all and a scapegoat, Congress should make a good-faith effort to clarify immigration enforcement responsibilities,” writes Benenson in a July blog post for the National Immigration Forum. “Rather than a political firestorm … we need cooperation that demonizes no one and at the same time makes all of us safer.”

( 1573 words )


Stories you may have missed

2. In plight of Rohingya, Arab Muslims find a unifying cause

Arab Muslims are often split along a Sunni-Shiite divide. We look at why there’s now a rare unity over a group of Asian Muslims, and ask: Will it make a difference?

Newly arrived Rohingya refugees from Myanmar (Burma) wait to collect shelter-building material distributed by aid agencies in Kutupalong refugee camp, Bangladesh, Sept. 13. As more arrive at camps and makeshift settlements, basic resources are running low.
Dar Yasin/AP

The 30 Sec. ReadOn social media, at protests, and in sermons, Arab Muslims are demonstrating their support for Myanmar’s Rohingyas with a unity and passion usually reserved for the Palestinians. It’s a rare outpouring of Arab solidarity and activism for non-Arab Muslims. One reason is the sheer volume of media coverage. Says one Emirati political analyst: “The more we know of the atrocities that are being committed, the more sympathy we exhibit.” Another is that Arab governments and media are not coloring the coverage with the same sectarianism with which they report on crises in the Arab world. “Publics have been brainwashed by these narratives about the region, which are not being applied to the Rohingyas,” says an observer in Amman, Jordan. It remains to be seen whether Arab governments will involve themselves in a conflict in which they have no direct interests, but they are under growing pressure to help provide humanitarian relief and intercede diplomatically. Simply by being the world’s richest and most influential Muslim countries, citizens and activists argue, Gulf Arab states must use their influence to halt the bloodshed. 


2. In plight of Rohingya, Arab Muslims find a unifying cause

The WhatsApp and Facebook messages in Arabic come by the minute: “I am a Muslim and I stand in solidarity with my Muslim Brothers in Burma,” “Burma is my cause,” “Pray for the Rohingya.”

Graphic images of dead children and burning villages are circulated with exhortations to “pressure the UN and the government.” The Arabic hashtag #rohingya_are_beingeliminated_silently is trending with tens of thousands of posts.

At Friday prayers across the Arab world, “Pray for Muslims in Palestine and Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen – and Burma!” has been a common prayer. This past Friday, the plight of the Rohingya was the main subject of sermons.

In short, the state-driven violence in Myanmar (Burma), which reportedly has killed more than 1,000 people and driven 370,000 Muslim Rohingya into neighboring Bangladesh, has caught the attention of the Arab world, promoting a rare outpouring of support, solidarity, and activism.

In Jordan alone, two protests recently took place in the span of five days, including at the UN headquarters in Amman and in the desert frontier town of Maan some 250 miles to the south. On Monday, dozens of Israeli Muslim Palestinians protested at the gates of the Myanmar Embassy in Tel Aviv.

It remains to be seen whether such activism can push autocratic regimes to involve themselves in a conflict in which they have no direct interests, but the breadth of support for the Rohingya on its own is remarkable. It is at an emotional volume mostly reserved for the plight of the Palestinians, whose displacement and drive for statehood has for decades been one of the few issues with the power to unite the Arab and Muslim world.

Afghan Muslim protesters in Kabul, Afghanistan, shout slogans on Sept. 8 during a protest against the persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar.
Omar Sobhani/Reuters

Still, in a region not lacking its own violent conflicts and humanitarian crises, how has the plight of the Rohingya Muslims jumped to the forefront?

One large factor is technical: the widespread coverage of the massacres by Arab and international media.

“The more we know of the atrocities that are being committed, the more sympathy we exhibit,” says Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, an Emirati political analyst and professor of political science.

“Every day we are flooded with reports, everyone is focused now on this crisis, and it is only natural that people sympathize with them – Muslim or otherwise,” he says.

The activism and outpouring of support for Myanmar’s Muslims has even dwarfed that shown for Yemen, Iraq, or the ongoing violence in Syria.

A cause for all Muslims

Analysts say Myanmar has taken priority over regional conflicts for Arabs for a reason.

Arab media and regimes have depicted the strife in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq through a sectarian or political lens, reducing the conflicts and related humanitarian crises to their Sunni vs. Shiite, Islamist vs. secular, or Saudi vs. Qatari components. This has left Arabs divided and at times misinformed about the violence raging at their doorsteps.

But the Rohingya have not been colored by the sectarian or political divides that afflict the region, making it a cause that transcends barriers and that all Arabs – and all Muslims – can rally behind.

“Because of sectarian divides and government-influenced media, publics have been brainwashed by these narratives about the region, which are not being applied to the Rohingya,” says Oraib Rantawi, of the Amman-based Al Quds Center for Political Studies. 

With Arabs having suffered a series of conflicts and refugee crises over the past decades, the images of the Rohingya marching in the mud with their possessions on their backs is all too familiar.

This has been particularly true for Palestinians and Jordanians, who have been the most active in terms of protests and social media.

“Palestinians more than any other people know what it is like to be in camps and to have been pushed from their lands – the same can be said for Jordanians and others who witnessed it,” says Mr. Rantawi.

“They have serious historical memory about being uprooted and ethnic cleansing that is being triggered by watching this crisis.”

Governments 'underwhelming'

Yet while Arab publics have been moved to action by the Myanmar crisis, the response from Arab governments has been “underwhelming” at best, observers and pundits say.

It took days, in some cases more than a week, for Arab governments to denounce the atrocities being committed against the Rohingya. There have been no calls for an emergency session of the Arab League or the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the world’s largest Muslim body. Diplomatic pressure has been limited.

Historically, Saudi Arabia has been the only Arab state to openly support the Rohingya. During previous crackdowns on the Rohingya, Saudi Arabia opened its doors to 250,000 Burmese Muslims. In 2012, the late King Abdullah extended free residency permits for the Burmese diaspora within Saudi Arabia, offering them access to free education, health care, and employment. But the kingdom has yet to indicate it will take in Rohingya fleeing the current violence.

Newspaper columnists – some of the most influential opinion-makers in Arab media and public debates – have sharply criticized Arab governments for failing to play a larger role in ending the bloodshed.

“As to what happens when massacres of Muslims take place, many look for a clear position from Saudi Arabia because of the weight of its religious influence,” noted the newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi. “Except for a statement issued by its diplomatic mission to the United Nations, official Saudi silence has prevailed.”

In the Qatari newspaper Al-Sharq, Rabia Kawari wrote: “The Organization of the Islamic Cooperation, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and countries that lead the Muslim world today such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia must play a leading role to save these poor people from a cruel annihilation.”

In Jordan’s Ad Dustour newspaper, Yasser Zaatreh asks: “How come we have only seen shy statements of condemnation.… Why is the [Arab] and international community silent on these crimes and imposing no sanctions on Myanmar?”

What has drawn the particular ire of Arab citizens is Qatar providing $30 million in support for the US relief response to hurricane Harvey in Texas, while to date it has provided $100,000 to the Rohingya.

More cards to play

Heeding the calls of their outraged publics, Arab states this week began sending urgent aid and assistance to Rohingya refugees. The UAE provided an emergency supply of 1,700 tents to provide shelter to fleeing families in neighboring Bangladesh as part of its response, while the Qatari Red Crescent Society has dispatched a team to set up mobile clinics and water tanks. Saudi Arabia has provided funds for emergency relief.

But Arab Gulf states, namely Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have more cards to play, critics say.

Saudi Arabia has invested millions in Myanmar’s oil infrastructure, and is set to use a recently-completed oil pipeline running through the country to continue to provide China, the Burmese government’s largest backer, with more than 10 percent of its oil supplies.

Qatar has also provided infrastructure support across Myanmar.

The Gulf’s standing with major powers such as China and the US – as well as with Myanmar’s neighbors Pakistan and Bangladesh – could facilitate intense diplomacy to stop the violence and improve conditions for refugees, say analysts and activists.

Simply by being the world’s richest and most influential Muslim countries, citizens and activists say, Arab Gulf states must use their influence to halt the bloodshed.

“Arab countries should be in the forefront and … doing more lobbying at the UN and the world’s capitals,” says Mr. Abdulla, the Emirati political analyst. “But hopefully we will see this grow into an international response.”

( 1240 words )

3. In northern Iraq, post-ISIS, calls for inclusion and compromise

In Iraq, mediators hope to draw on their experience in Tikrit to build a lasting peace in the city of Mosul. It won’t be easy. But they say there’s a credible path to postwar reconciliation.


The 30 Sec. ReadAfter Iraq finishes pushing the so-called Islamic State out of the country, what can it do to stitch itself back together? It’s a daunting task. One key is preparation. As security forces clear one village and city after another, teams of Iraqi peacemakers are prepared to move in, establishing mechanisms of reconciliation aimed at preventing revenge attacks. But the liberation of Mosul in July has highlighted how much more work needs to be done – and urgently – if Iraq’s volatile mix of problems is to be at least contained. Peacemakers say too few lessons have been learned by politicians, in Baghdad and elsewhere, about inclusive rule and compromise to prevent more chaos in the future. Yet they are confident they can make a difference. “This is the peacebuilding world; there are not guarantees that the process is going to be 100 percent successful,” says Haider al-Ibrahimi, executive director of the Iraqi peacemaker group Sanad. “It is not a slogan, it is a reality: Peace is possible,” he says. Iraqis “are ready for change. They have had enough.”


3. In northern Iraq, post-ISIS, calls for inclusion and compromise

Pity the Iraqi peacemaker.

As the dark cloud of Islamic State occupation is forced to recede from northern Iraq, it is leaving behind a complex array of tensions over sectarian divides, security, and governance that require immediate attention if new violence is to be averted.

Already Iraqi peacemakers supported by Western aid groups and the United Nations have been making tangible progress. As Iraqi security forces push ISIS out of one village and city after another, the peacemakers establish mechanisms of reconciliation aimed at preventing revenge attacks.

But the liberation of Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul in July has highlighted how much more peacemaking work needs to be done – and urgently, from Kirkuk to Tal Afar, from Erbil to Baghdad – if Iraq’s volatile mix of problems is to be at least contained, if not resolved. And still, despite the catastrophic harm caused by ISIS, peacemakers say too few lessons have been learned by politicians about inclusive rule and compromise to prevent more chaos in the future.

Emblematic of the challenge and uncertainties facing Iraqi peacemakers is the recent scene at Qayarrah, 40 miles south of Mosul. At a military pontoon bridge over the Tigris River, two bodies clad in black were pinned by the flow of the green-hued waters to the cables that held the bridge in place.

Were they casualties of the anti-ISIS assault, swept downriver from Mosul? Or civilians killed by ISIS? Or could they be the result of anti-ISIS revenge killings by Shiite militias, which have reportedly conducted frequent summary executions?

In this Tuesday, July 18, 2017, photo, Shiite volunteer fighters from the Imam Ali Brigade, an armed faction with the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, train in their camp in Najaf, Iraq. Iraq’s political, religious, and military leaders are debating the future of the country’s powerful Shiite militias after defeating the Islamic State group in Mosul.
Ali Abdul Hassan/AP

The answer may never be known, in the same way that no Iraqi peacemaker can quantify exactly how or how much peace can be achieved at any potential flashpoint, given the ever-changing array of actors, historic animosities, and ISIS impact.

After years of work and lessons learned, though – with notable successes in Tikrit – peacemakers here know they can make a positive difference, even in post-ISIS Iraq.

“This is the peace-building world; there are not guarantees that the process is going to be 100 percent successful,” says Haider al-Ibrahimi, executive director of the Iraqi peacemaker group Sanad. “We have spread these messages: Military operations, it’s a need. But it’s equally important to lay the ground for dialogue and community issues.”

One metric of success is getting all players to sit around one table, discussing contentious issues freely. Others are more quantifiable, such as engineering the signed agreement last January of more than 40 tribal leaders in Hawija, a town southwest of Kirkuk still under ISIS control, to avert post-ISIS acts of revenge.

“It is not a slogan, it is a reality: Peace is possible. Change could happen,” says Mr. Ibrahimi, speaking in Erbil. “We have tested very small [cases], but we are pretty sure that these can be maximized. [Iraqis] are ready for change. They have had enough. They have seen enough.”

Inclusion and compromise

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has couched all anti-ISIS military victories in nationalistic terms, and called on Iraqis to unify.

But analysts and professional peacemakers say that neither Baghdad nor the leaders of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) based in Erbil – whose peshmerga fighters have been instrumental in the anti-ISIS fight – have learned the lessons of inclusion and compromise that can yield reconciliation.

The expected offensive to dislodge ISIS from Hawija, for example, has reportedly been complicated by Baghdad-Erbil mistrust over the fate of Kirkuk and its oil resources, as a Kurdish independence referendum looms Sept. 25. 

Some problems predate the ISIS sweep into northern Iraq in June 2014, such as the power struggle between Baghdad and Erbil, and the territories disputed between them in the Nineveh plain, where minority groups with their own historical animosities have been caught in the middle and neglected. Kurdish forces extended their control far across these disputed areas – including taking complete control of long-contentious Kirkuk – as the Iraqi Army crumbled before the 2014 ISIS advance. 

Militants from the Islamic State parade in a commandeered Iraqi security forces armored vehicle on a main street in Mosul, Iraq, in June 2014.

Other problems have been exacerbated by the ISIS presence, such as the militarization of ethnic communities – with many fielding their own militias – and the huge economic burden of post-ISIS rebuilding. For example, with more than a quarter of Mosul’s residential districts completely destroyed, the UN estimates that making livable this city alone could cost $700 million.

“Neither Baghdad nor the KRG have a clue about what to do about reconstruction,” says Khogir Wirya, a researcher for the Middle East Research Institute (MERI) in Erbil. “They lack money, they are both in financial crisis, and both in political crisis. And there are too many actors on the ground…. All in all, it’s chaos.”

The Kurdish vote

Limiting that chaos is proving a challenge, complicated by a string of upcoming votes. Kurds are due to vote in the independence referendum later this month – which Washington, Ankara, Tehran, and Baghdad have all discouraged, fearing further instability and encouragement of independence actions by other disenfranchised Kurdish populations, especially in Turkey and Iran. Kurds are also to vote in presidential elections Nov. 1.

Across Iraq, provincial elections were expected in 2017, and a full parliament vote in April 2018, but those dates remain in doubt. Pre-election politicking and power structures that may change at the ballot box add to the uncertainty for peacemakers as they try to forge agreements that will stick.

“Where progress is paused is at the political level, the decision-makers’ level in Baghdad and the KRG. They continue to do exactly the opposite” to ease concerns of minorities, and even Sunnis, says Ibrahimi of Sanad.

One example was parliament’s decision last November to legalize the mostly Iranian-backed Shiite militias that make up the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), which have been accused of atrocities in the anti-ISIS fight.

“It could be worked out, and it doesn’t require a genius to do this change – it only requires a will and motivation, and unfortunately these are not there,” says Ibrahimi.

Iraq’s peacemakers have an endless to-do list, each case presenting different challenges that require bespoke solutions. Two examples of works-in-progress – that of post-ISIS Hawija, when it comes, and of minority groups in the Nineveh plain – illustrate the scale and complexities of many of Iraq’s problems.

Preparation is key

Though Hawija is still occupied by ISIS, and is widely chastised as the purported birthplace of Islamic extremism in Iraq, Sanad has been working with Kirkuk and Hawija community leaders since last year to prepare the ground.

“We established principles for peaceful coexistence that govern community behavior,” and they were publicly agreed and signed by key tribal leaders, says Ibrahimi. Sanad then expanded the reach to local officials and security actors, “to help them reflect these principles into more practical and doable actions,” he says.

Tribal laws about revenge were examined in a way that could support the rule of law, instead of competing with it. All sides pledged not to commit acts of revenge. Plans were detailed to resolve disputes in a transparent, evidence-based way.

“We need to make sure the mechanism is established before the liberation,” adds Ibrahimi, noting that similar work was already underway with tribal leaders of Tal Afar, a Turkmen town near Iraq’s border with Syria, where Iraqi forces launched an offensive to oust ISIS on Aug. 20. The town was declared liberated Aug. 31.

“Everyone [in Hawija] is signing on, so they know their responsibility and scope of work,” says Ibrahimi. “So when the liberation kicks off, it is not a new dynamic but is already embedded, it is already becoming routine.”

In the second peacemaker example, along the Nineveh plain, minorities such as Christians, Shabaks, Yazidis, and Turkmen have their own contentious histories with each other, which have been aggravated by the presence of a patchwork of Kurdish, Iraqi, and Shiite militia forces, in addition to, now, their own armed groups.

The top post-ISIS danger is clashes between these militias, such as the Christian and Shabak over land ownership, says Mr. Wirya of MERI, whose most recent report on minority concerns was in August about the Shabak.

“At the moment they are saying, ‘We are fighting ISIS and repelling any possible attacks by ISIS,’” says Wirya. “But I believe in the future there will be some sort of clash, and more, if it’s not addressed by both Baghdad and the KRG. They need to … engage them in a dialogue. This is not happening at the moment.”

Post-ISIS roadmap

MERI is developing a post-ISIS roadmap that integrates reconciliation, reconstruction and repatriation of displaced Iraqis. They hope it will catch the eye of key players in Baghdad, to ease the anxiety of minorities in Ninevah.

The work started last year before the area was freed of ISIS, when MERI brought together Iraqi and KRG military leaders and commanders to talk. Then they brought community leaders to discuss their vision of the future. Finally, they took real decision-makers – local officials, and those from Baghdad – to the Netherlands to provide neutral ground.

The result will soon be a roadmap and, peacemakers hope, action that will ease the anxiety of vulnerable minorities.

“I don’t think in the long-term or even in the short term this will lead to peace, although we are doing our best,” says Wirya.

“We are doing bits here and there, so we believe we can contribute something to peace and stability in this part of the world,” he says. “In Iraq … a lot of laws and procedures and decisions are made, but influence and implementation on the ground is what is lacking,” he says.

( 1632 words )

4. For US community-college students, a new path to France

You might call it a global experience gap. Students at US community colleges rarely spend a semester abroad. Here’s a look at one French program bridging that gap.


The 30 Sec. ReadThe classic junior-year-abroad experience is getting a boost from the French Embassy in the United States. A new program, Community​ ​College Abroad​ ​in​ ​France, aims​ ​to​ ​open up the option of studying internationally to students who rarely find the means or programs to do so. Thirty-nine​ ​percent​ ​of​ ​all​ ​undergraduates​ ​in​ ​the​ ​2015-16​ ​school​ ​year​ ​in​ ​the​ ​US​ ​were​ ​at two-year​ ​community​ ​colleges,​ ​according​ ​to​ ​the​ ​Community​ ​College​ ​Research​ ​Center​ ​at Columbia​ ​University.​ ​But​ ​only​ ​2​ ​percent​ ​of​ ​them​ ​study​ ​abroad. “They​ ​are​ ​very,​ ​very​ ​underrepresented,”​ ​says​ ​cultural​ ​counselor​ ​Bénédicte​ ​de​ ​Montlaur in​ ​the​ ​French​ ​Embassy​ ​in​ ​the​ ​US. Focused​ ​on​ ​students​ ​studying​ ​engineering​ ​and​ ​environmental​ ​science,​ ​the​ ​program – which​ ​aims​ ​to​ ​expand​ ​next​ ​year – ​also​ ​brings​ ​top​ ​talent from US schools ​to​ ​France,​ ​and​ ​in​ ​doing​ ​so,​ ​gives the​ ​American​ ​community​ ​college​ ​system​ ​a​ ​chance​ ​to​ ​counter​ ​enduring​ ​stigmas. One student offered a scholarship in engineering is just beginning her studies, while 17 other students who participated in a summer “bootcamp” – a 10-day visit with “the environment” as its central theme – have returned home, several with plans to apply for the scholarship, too.  


4. For US community-college students, a new path to France

Daniela​ ​Markovic​ ​worked​ ​hard​ ​in​ ​high​ ​school​ ​with​ ​her​ ​sights​ ​on​ ​college – and possibly studying abroad.​ ​But​ ​when​ ​faced​ ​with​ ​economic​ ​reality,​ ​she opted​ ​for​ ​the​ ​honor’s​ ​program​ ​of​ ​her​ ​local​ ​community​ ​college​, ​and​ ​accepted​ ​that​ ​a two-week​ ​trip​ ​to​ ​Italy​ offered by the program ​would​ ​have​ ​to​ ​suffice​. 

“Whenever​ ​I​ ​saw​ ​all​ ​my​ ​friends​ ​going​ ​off​ ​to​ university,​ ​and​ ​I​ ​was​ ​stuck​ ​at​ ​home – ​you​ ​can ask​ ​my​ ​mom –​ ​I​ ​cried​ ​so​ ​hard.​ ​I​ ​really​ ​did,”​ ​says​ ​the​ ​American​ ​undergraduate​ ​student.​ “I was​ ​expecting​ ​to​ ​go​ ​to​ ​university​ ​with​ ​all​ ​of​ ​my​ ​peers.”

Two​ ​years​ ​later,​ ​however,​ ​after​ ​completing​ ​her​ ​associate’s​ ​degree​ ​at​ ​Lone​ ​Star​ ​College in​ ​Texas,​ ​she’s​ ​gone​ ​much​ ​farther​ ​away​ ​than​ ​she​ ​imagined​ ​–​ ​to​ ​France.​ ​Ms.​ ​Markovic this​ week ​begins​ ​a​ ​four-year​ ​program​ ​that​ ​will​ ​ultimately​ ​see​ ​her​ ​earn​ ​a​ ​bachelor’s​ ​and master’s​ ​in​ ​engineering​ ​from​ ​a​ ​top​ ​school​ ​in​ ​France​ ​–​ not​ ​to​ ​mention​ becoming ​fluent​ in ​French​ ​and acquiring all​ ​the​ ​soft​ ​skills​ ​that​ ​come​ ​from​ ​living​ ​far​ ​from​ ​one’s​ ​comfort​ ​zone.

She’s​ ​the​ ​first​ ​American​ ​community​ ​college​ ​student​ ​to​ ​be​ ​offered​ ​a​ ​scholarship​ ​in​ ​a​ ​new program​ ​launched​ ​this​ ​summer​ ​by​ ​the​ ​French​ ​embassy​ ​in​ ​the​ ​United States.​ ​Community​ ​College Abroad​ ​in​ ​France​​ aims​ ​to​ ​open​ ​up​ ​the​ ​classic​ ​junior​-year​-​abroad​ ​experience​ ​to community​ ​college​ ​students​. Amid soaring tuition prices in the US, they ​make​ ​up​ ​a significant​ ​portion​ ​of​ ​America’s​ ​post-high​ ​school​ ​student​ ​body​ ​but​ ​rarely​ ​find​ ​the​ ​means or​ ​programs​ ​to​ ​do​ ​some​ ​of​ ​their​ ​studies​ ​internationally.

“They​ ​are​ ​very,​ ​very​ ​underrepresented,”​ ​says​ ​Cultural​ ​Counselor​ ​Bénédicte​ ​de​ ​Montlaur in​ ​the​ ​French​ ​embassy​ ​in​ ​the​ ​US.

In​ ​fact,​ ​39​ ​percent​ ​of​ ​all​ ​undergraduates​ ​in​ ​the​ ​2015-16​ ​school​ ​year​ ​in​ ​the​ ​US​ ​were​ ​at two-year​ ​community​ ​colleges,​ ​according​ ​to​ ​the​ ​Community​ ​College​ ​Research​ ​Center​ ​at Columbia​ ​University.​ ​But​ ​only​ ​2​ ​percent​ ​of​ ​them​ ​study​ ​abroad.

Countering perceived stigmas

Focused​ ​on​ ​students​ ​studying​ ​engineering​ ​and​ ​environmental​ ​science,​ ​the​ ​program – which​ ​aims​ ​to​ ​expand​ ​next​ ​year – ​also​ ​brings​ ​top​ ​talent from US schools ​to​ ​France,​ ​and​ ​in​ ​doing​ ​so,​ ​gives the​ ​American​ ​community​ ​college​ ​system​ ​a​ ​chance​ ​to​ ​counter​ ​enduring​ ​stigmas, sometimes​ ​even​ ​among​ its​ ​own​ ​students.

“Community​ ​college​ ​in​ ​the​ ​US​ ​has​ ​suffered​ ​the​ ​reputation​ ​that​ ​it’s​ ​not​ ​the​ ​higher education​ ​of​ ​first​ ​choice,”​ ​says​ ​Katharine​ ​Caruso,​ ​associate​ ​vice​ ​chancellor,​ International, Honors, and Engagement Programs ​at​ ​Lone​ ​Star College.​ “But​ ​within​ ​the​ ​last​ 10 ​years,​ ​we’ve​ ​been​ ​turning​ ​that​ ​previously​ ​held​ ​concept on​ ​its​ ​head.”

Community college students from the US visit the Pavillon de Manse, Chantilly, France, in the summer of 2017.
Courtesy of Natan Leverrier/Office for Science and Technology, Embassy of France in the US

Markovic's scholarship includes​ ​a​ ​preparatory​ ​year ​to​ ​master​ ​French​ ​and​ ​French​ ​methods​ ​of​ ​study,​ ​and​ ​then three​ ​years​ ​of​ ​work-study​ ​to​ ​help​ ​finance​ ​a​ ​degree​ ​from​ ​the​ ​n+i​ ​network​ ​of​ ​the​ ​country’s 50​ ​top​ ​engineering​ ​schools.

As​ ​she​ ​now​ ​begins​ ​her​ ​year​ ​at​ ​​CESI Graduate School of Engineering in Saint-Nazaire,​ ​​17​ ​other​ ​community college​ ​students​ ​have​ ​returned​ ​home​ ​to​ ​school​ ​from​ ​a​ ​“bootcamp”​ ​this​ ​summer,​ ​the second​ ​prong​ ​of​ “​Community​ ​College​ ​Abroad​ ​in​ ​France.​”​ ​Its​ ​goal​ ​was​ ​to​ ​give​ ​students “a​ ​taste​ ​of​ ​France,”​ ​says​ ​Ms.​ ​Montlaur,​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​whet​ ​their​ ​appetites​ ​for​ ​the​ ​kind​ ​of scholarship​ ​Markovic​ ​is​ ​now​ ​pursuing,​ ​which​ ​several​ ​have​ ​said​ ​they​ ​plan​ ​to​ ​do.

The​ ​“bootcamp”​ ​was​ ​a​ ​10-day​ ​visit​ ​with​ ​“the​ ​environment”​ ​as​ ​its​ ​central​ ​theme,​ ​so​ ​the group​ ​learned​ ​about​ ​France’s​ ​air​ ​quality​ ​control​ ​and​ ​its​ ​lighting​ ​management.​ ​They walked​ ​among​ ​the​ ​gardens​ ​at​ ​Versailles,​ ​past​ ​the​ ​Luxor​ ​Obelisk​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Place​ ​de​ ​la Concorde,​ ​and​ ​did​ ​the​ ​most​ ​Parisian​ ​of​ ​all​ ​things,​ ​picnicked​ ​on​ ​the​ ​Seine.​ ​“It​ ​was​ ​like being​ ​a​ ​kid​ ​in​ ​a​ ​candy​ ​shop,”​ ​says​ ​Elena​ ​Bolotova,​ ​a​ ​second-year​ ​student​ ​at​ ​Tunxis Community​ ​College​ ​in​ Farmington, ​Conn.​ ​Others​ ​called​ ​it​ ​“glorious”​ ​and​ ​“lifetime​ ​experience.”

Markovic,​ ​who​ ​was​ ​raised​ ​in​ ​Houston​ ​and​ ​is​ ​the​ ​child​ ​of​ ​refugees​ ​from​ ​Bosnia,​ ​says​ ​that such​ ​escapades​ ​are​ ​not​ ​always​ ​associated​ ​with​ ​life​ ​at​ ​community​ ​college.​ ​“At​ ​my​ ​high school​ ​there​ ​was​ ​this​ ​saying,​ ​‘If​ ​you​ ​are​ ​going​ ​to​ ​Lone​ ​Star​ ​you​ ​are​ ​going​ ​to​ ​13th​ ​grade,’ ” she​ ​says​ ​on​ ​a​ ​Skype​ ​call​ ​after​ ​finishing​ ​an​ ​intensive​ ​morning​ ​of​ ​French​ ​lessons​ ​in​ ​the seaside​ ​community​ ​of​ ​Royan.

Growing interest from schools 

That’s​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​reasons​ ​community​ ​colleges​ ​are​ ​eager​ ​to​ ​get​ ​involved​ ​in​ ​more international​ ​exchange​: Montlaur​ ​says​ ​many​ ​have​ ​since​ ​contacted​ ​them​ ​at the embassy to​ ​learn​ ​how​ ​to get​ ​their​ ​students​ ​abroad.​ ​Yet​ ​Community​ ​College​ ​Abroad​ ​doesn’t​ ​just​ ​benefit​ ​the participants.​ ​It​ ​also​ ​helps​ ​to​ ​bring​ ​new​ ​ideas​ ​to​ ​France.​ ​

Montlaur​ ​says​ ​that​ ​although France​ ​has​ ​a​ ​reputation​ ​for​ ​its​ ​top-notch​ ​engineering​ ​schools,​ ​most​ ​of​ ​the​ ​17,000 US​ ​students​ ​who​ ​come​ ​to​ ​France​ ​each​ ​year​ ​study​ ​language ​and​ ​other humanities.​ ​“We​ ​want​ ​to​ ​encourage​ ​them​ ​to​ ​study​ ​science​ ​in​ ​France,”​ ​says​ ​Montlaur.

The​ ​“boot​camp,”​ ​in​ ​fact,​ ​took​ ​place​ ​in​ ​June,​ ​just​ ​as​ ​President​ ​Trump​ ​pulled​ ​out​ ​of​ ​the Paris​ ​climate​ ​agreement,​ ​and​ ​French​ ​President​ ​Emmanuel​ ​Macron​ ​appealed​ ​to American​ ​climate​ ​researchers​ ​to​ ​come​ ​across​ ​the​ ​Atlantic.​ ​

For​ ​Matthew​ ​Stromberg,​ ​who finished​ ​his​ ​associate’s​ ​degree​ ​in​ ​engineering​ ​science​ ​at​ ​Norwalk​ ​Community​ ​College in Connecticut, the​ ​timing​ ​was​ ​nothing​ ​short​ ​of​ ​“momentous.” “There​ ​is​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​of​ ​stuff​ ​happening​ ​politically​ ​[in​ ​the​ ​US] ​that​ ​makes​ ​me​ ​uncertain​ ​about the​ ​future​ ​of​ ​environmental​ ​progress,”​ ​he​ ​says.​ ​“You​ ​realize​ ​that​ ​regardless​ ​of​ ​whatever is​ ​happening​ ​here,​ ​other​ ​countries,​ ​or​ ​at​ ​least​ ​France,​ ​is​ ​on​ ​the​ ​right​ ​track.​ ​It​ ​helped reaffirm​ ​my​ ​commitment​ ​to​ ​what​ ​I​ ​want​ ​to​ ​study​ ​and​ ​what​ ​I​ ​want​ ​to​ ​do.”

Exposure to new ideas 

It’s​ ​about​ ​far​ ​more​ ​than​ ​the​ ​science​ ​though.​ ​Mr.​ ​Stromberg​ ​says​ ​it​ ​was​ ​exposure​ ​to different​ ​values​ ​about​ ​education,​ ​particularly​ ​how​ ​much​ ​more​ ​affordable​ ​a​ ​college degree​ ​is​ ​in​ ​Europe,​ ​that​ ​is​ ​a​ ​lasting​ ​takeaway.​ ​As​ ​with every​ ​student​ ​interviewed,​ ​he​ ​always planned​ ​on​ ​completing​ ​a​ ​four-year​ ​degree​ ​and​ ​chose​ ​community​ ​college​ ​for​ ​the​ ​first​ ​two years​ ​due to​ ​budget constraints.​ ​He​ ​transferred​ ​to​ ​the​ ​University​ ​of​ ​Virginia​ ​in Charlottesville this​ ​year​ ​to​ ​complete​ ​a degree​ ​in​ ​environmental​ ​engineering​ ​and​ ​science​ ​and​ ​wants​ ​to​ ​pursue​ ​a​ ​PhD.

“A​ ​lot​ ​of​ ​people​ ​in​ ​this​ ​country​ ​don’t​ ​like​ ​the​ ​idea​ ​of​ ​supporting​ ​anything​ ​seen​ ​as​ ​a​ ​social welfare​ ​system​,”​ ​he​ ​says.​ ​“But​ ​if​ ​you​ ​have​ ​an​ ​educated​ ​populace,​ ​that educated​ ​populace​ ​will​ ​create​ ​new​ ​ideas,​ ​and​ ​inventions,​ ​more​ ​jobs.​ ​It​ ​is​ ​investing​ ​in​ ​the long-term​ ​prosperity​ ​of​ ​your​ ​society.”

Of​ ​course​ ​he​ ​was​ ​faced​ ​with​ ​the​ ​negatives​ ​of​ ​French​ ​culture​ ​too​ ​– ​just​ ​not​ ​as​ ​much​ ​as he​ ​was​ ​expecting. “The​ ​aspect​ ​of​ ​the​ ​waiters being​ ​jerks,”​ ​he​ ​says,​ ​“that​ ​was​ ​very,​ ​very​ ​accurate.”  But, he adds, “That​ ​impression​ ​that​ ​you​ ​get​ ​that​ ​the​ ​Parisians​ ​are​ ​snotty​ ​...​ ​it’s largely​ ​not​ ​true.”

This article has been updated to reflect that the 17,000 students who come to France to study each year are all from the United States. 

( 1096 words )

5. Morocco learns the social costs of becoming a green leader

This next story is a portrait of an African nation trying to balance big, long-term investments in energy self-reliance – with short-term economic fairness to the nation’s poorest.

A security guard patrols the Dhar Saadane wind farm with his dog. The farm has 126 turbines, which line the mountains above Tangier, Morocco. Wind power from farms in Tangier provide 2.5 percent of the country's electrical energy.
Jackie Spinner

The 30 Sec. ReadMorocco has become a green leader among developing nations, with an ambitious goal to produce more than half of its own energy needs by 2030 through a growing network of more than 50 public and private solar, wind, and water projects. The country’s renewable energy policies – and the global attention that comes with it – are a source of pride for many Moroccans. That doesn’t mean the shift has been an easy sell, particularly among the poor and working class. While the sources of renewable energy are free and infinite, producing it requires enormous investment in infrastructure, which doesn’t necessarily translate into immediate cost savings to consumers. The jobs in the renewable energy sector also are highly technical and skilled, meaning that the North African nation has needed to import skilled laborers and equipment to build the sophisticated nuts and bolts of the solar and wind farms, although that is slowly changing. Still, for many in Morocco, the environmental benefits overshadow any growing pains felt in the transition to a green economy.


5. Morocco learns the social costs of becoming a green leader

On a recent morning in the mountains above this thriving port city, the wind turbines are quiet and still. Occasionally a slight breeze catches a propeller, spinning it ever so slowly and filtering the harsh sun in a dance of rays on the brown earth. It is not a good day for wind, but it is a good day for Essedik Chellouch, who is patrolling the Dhar Saadane wind farm with his dog, Weeza.

Mr. Chellouch, who lives in a nearby village, was on a local work crew that helped build the Dhar Saadane project. When it opened in 2009, bringing 126 turbines online to produce electricity, Chellouch was hired as a security guard. With his minimum wage earnings, about $230 a month, he was able to buy a house.

And while the men gathered outside the mosque in his village grumbled about what the Tangier wind farm, which includes Dhar Saadane and another nearby location with 39 turbines, has or hasn’t done for the local economy, Chellouch has made a living from Africa’s largest wind farm, part of Morocco’s extraordinary effort to fight climate change and produce its own renewable energy.

“It’s been good,” Chellouch says. “People have been able to make their life.”

Morocco has become a green leader among developing nations, with an ambitious goal to produce more than half of its own energy needs by 2030 through a growing network of more than 50 public and private solar, wind, and water projects. The push is part of a national effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions, reduce pollution, and boost Morocco’s energy independence. For many Moroccans, the transition represents a necessary investment in the future. But for others, especially members of the poor and working class, that down payment on a new economy doesn’t visibly help meet their basic daily needs today.

“It’s a good thing but people have no benefit from it,” says Imad Boughlaf, a handyman from the north-central city of Meknes.  “It’s a big nothing for the people.”

At the forefront of a renewable revolution

The country’s signature facility is a massive $9 billion solar farm near Ouarzazate in south-central Morocco that, once completed, will be the world’s largest. The solar farm uses innovative technology to store concentrated solar energy at night, a process that also will be used and expanded at a new solar plant planned for construction in Midelt in central Morocco. A new solar plant planned for Midelt will use cutting-edge hybrid solar-generating technology, which combines concentrated thermal power and solar photovoltaic to create a 24-hour power supply from the sun.

The government also plans to install solar technology and energy efficient lights in 15,000 state-funded mosques in the next five years and banned plastic bags last year to reduce pollution. Morocco is far ahead of the United States and Canada in combating climate change, according to the international science-based Climate Action Tracker. Last year, Morocco signed the Paris Climate Agreement and hosted one of the first United Nations conferences of global leaders and experts to discuss implementation. (In June, US President Trump announced plans to withdraw from the historic accord).

“Morocco in the region has really been at the forefront of these kinds of developments,” says Sameh Mobarek, senior counsel and legal adviser to the World Bank’s Energy and Extractives Global Practice. The World Bank and other international institutions have poured millions of dollars into helping Morocco create green energy policy and build the infrastructure to support it. Other international financiers include the KfW Development Bank, the African Development Bank Group, and the European Investment Bank.

Aerial view of the solar plant of Ouarzazate, central Morocco, Feb.4, 2016.
Abdeljalil Bounhar/AP

The North African country imports nearly all of its energy and relies predominantly on fossil fuels to meet its domestic energy demands. Morocco adopted a new national energy strategy in 2009 that aims not only to reduce its carbon footprint (the energy sector is the largest producer of greenhouse gas) but also to diversify the sector through a new framework of renewable energy projects financed by foreign investors and so-called green bonds the country issued.

Morocco also is pushing energy consciousness in the public and private sectors through new laws and regulations in construction. Another major initiative offers subsidies to encourage farmers and growers to use solar water pumps instead of butane.

“The evolution for Morocco is power,” says Adil Chakrouni, northwest regional chief of renewable energy for the country’s Office of National Electricity and Potable Water.

It will need to be. A 2016 report from the environmental group Germanwatch noted that Morocco’s energy needs are growing even as it is building capacity within the sector, requiring substantial new investment to meet the demand for power. Even though subsidies for gasoline, diesel, and kerosene were eliminated in 2014, electricity prices are still well below the cost of production and transmission, which strains the country’s budget. And while it is considered a role model for renewable energy policy-making, “room for improvement yet remains,” according to the report, which urged better collaboration between Moroccan institutions that deal with renewable energy policy and called for an end to electricity subsidies.

MASEN (Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy) chief executive officer Mustapha Bakkoury (l.), Morocco's King Mohammed VI (c.), while inaugurating a solar plant next to France's Minister of Ecology Segolene Royal (r.), in Ouarzazate, central Morocco, Feb. 4, 2016.
Abdeljalil Bounhar/AP

A tough sell for the poor and working class

In the meantime, the country’s renewable energy policies – and the global attention that comes with it, are a source of pride for many in Morocco. That doesn’t mean the shift has been an easy sell, particularly among the poor and working class. Although Morocco’s gross domestic product – the best measure to gauge economic health, has been steadily rising, the country lacks the oil wealth of other parts of North Africa and the Middle East, and people often feel disconnected from the government, without access or resources that the elite enjoy. Many Moroccans do not see the economic rewards of a greener Morocco, something nearly everyone interviewed for this story brought up.

“I don’t see a benefit from it, but global warming exists and it’s a good thing for sure,” says Adil El Abdellaoui, an orange juice vendor in Meknes.

Morocco has spent more than $7 million in local development around renewable energy production sites across the country, including building roads and schools and supplying drinking water, according to the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy. And yet many people complain that nothing has trickled down to them. Rashid Zaidi, a service attendant at a Shell gas station near the turn-off for the 140-megawatt Dhar Saadane wind farm, looks up at the turbines in the hazy sunshine. “It’s good energy,” he says. “But I don’t know anyone who works there.”

While the sources of renewable energy are free and infinite, producing it requires enormous investment in infrastructure, which doesn’t necessarily translate into immediate cost savings to consumers. The jobs in the renewable energy sector also are highly technical and skilled, one of the reasons that universities across Morocco are creating renewable energy degree programs and research centers to help fill the need, something environmental groups like Germanwatch have urged.

Until now, Morocco has needed to import skilled laborers and equipment to build the sophisticated nuts and bolts of the solar and wind farms, although that is slowly changing. Siemens is building a $120 million manufacturing facility for wind blades in the Tanger Automotive City in the valley below Dhar Saadane. The plan, scheduled to be open later this year, is projected to create 700 jobs and be the first facility of its kind in the Middle East and Africa.

On a recent visit to the Tangier wind farm, a bank of computers (not people) monitored the wind, how much electricity was being produced, and which turbines needed maintenance. Another wind farm in Tangier has 39 turbines.The farm employs about 30 technicians and 40 security guards. Mohammed Benyoussef, the interim chief for the Tangier wind farm, says the plant is producing more electricity than predicted, about 2.5 percent of the country’s total electrical needs. It seems small but if Morocco is not producing the electricity, it must buy it, primarily from Spain. Mr. Benyoussef says the farm also helps save 126,000 tons of fuel oil per year and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 368,000 tons annually.

Greening Morocco's streets

While the turbines spin on the windy days above Tangier – which are most days, in the city below and indeed across Morocco, the most visible sign of the country’s green policy efforts are on the streets of the old medinas, in the vegetable shops, and in the large supermarkets of the big cities. In 2016, Morocco banned the sale, use, and production of plastic bags. Before the ban, Morocco used 3 billion plastic bags a year, making it the second largest consumer after the US, according to environmental groups.

Morocco still has a huge problem with litter – evidenced on its beaches and city streets, but plastic bags, which can take 1,000 years to decompose, are no longer as big a part of it.

On a recent weekday morning in the old imperial city of Meknes, women in the traditional djellaba dress of North Africa hurry across the public square across near the majestic Bab Mansour gate, cloth bags clutched in their hands or tucked under their arms. The day is hot already at just past 9 a.m. The plaza is noticeably cleaner than it used to be when the breeze would blow plastic bags across the clay.

The bag ban, like bag bans everywhere in the world, has drawn mixed reactions from residents, especially in a culture where people go to a series of little market stands to buy a few items at a time, multiple times a week.

Jamal Mekkid, who owns a wool shop in Meknes, says he used to sell plastic bags on the side to make money – income that has since dried up. “It’s bad,” he says. “People worked in plastic, and now they have no money. The new bags are expensive.”

He also says that shopkeepers stocked up on plastic before the ban went into effect, and, indeed, the smaller shops and large pottery vendors still package items in plastic because the bag ban is not really enforced. In the modern suburb of Sala Al Jadida outside of Rabat one afternoon, a shopper walks away from a street-side vegetable and fruit stand with five plastic bags filled with pears, apples, nectarines, peaches, and plums.

But Aziza Mekdad, a retired house cleaner from Meknes who now lives in France – which became the first country last year to ban plastic plates and cups – takes the long view. She makes her way across the plaza with a green reusable bag from the Marjane supermarket, which cost her the equivalent of 40 cents. She comes back to Meknes every summer and she says that this year the city seems cleaner. She also likes that the supermarkets now only offer paper bags for fruits and vegetables instead of plastic. “It’s good for the future,” she says.

Reporting for this piece was facilitated by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

( 1856 words )

The Monitor's View

The West’s learning curve on Russian election meddling


The 30 Sec. ReadAfter seeing Russian attempts to influence the US and French votes – and experiencing a Russian cyberattack of its own in 2015 – Germany has moved to protect the integrity of its democracy before a Sept. 24 election. News media are on guard against false information and hate speech. Election officials are tightening up computer systems. Counterintelligence agencies are equipped to detect the origins of any threat to the German election. With polls showing Angela Merkel easily winning another term, Russia may believe any meddling would be pointless, or even backfire. Russia also now knows that voters in the West have wised up to its tactics. On many fronts, Germany has taken on the mantle of a global leader. Chancellor Merkel’s immediate task is to ensure Germans enjoy a free and fair election. After what they’ve seen in the United States and France, they are more demanding in protecting their democracy.


The West’s learning curve on Russian election meddling

German security officials are scratching their heads. They have yet to see a serious attempt by Russia to meddle in the country’s Sept. 24 election. What’s changed, they ask, since the recent American and French elections when Russia was accused of disseminating fake news, leaking negative information, or trying to tamper with election machinery?

One change may be that Russia now knows that voters in the West have wised up to its tactics and more firmly embrace the essentials of democracy, such as the need to discern the truth in political campaigns and to safeguard the integrity of the voting process. News media in Germany as well as global social media giants are on guard to challenge false information and hate speech. Election officials are tightening up their computer systems. And counterintelligence agencies are better equipped to detect the origins of any threat to the German election.

Rather than simply fearing foreign meddling, Western countries are providing a protective shield for the basic freedoms and necessary mechanics of their democracies. Germany has learned much from the 2016 election in the United States and the French election last spring. But it also experienced Russian hacking of Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, in a 2015 cyberattack. Another attack was attempted in 2016 on the country’s two leading parties. And officials are alert to right-wing hate groups in Germany that seem to mimic Russian propaganda.

It helps that the parliamentary elections in Germany are less divisive than the presidential elections in France and the US. And polls show Angela Merkel easily winning another term as chancellor. Perhaps Russia sees any meddling as pointless. It might even backfire and harm its diplomatic goals in the rest of the world.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has also learned that Germany will stand up to his attempts to challenge the West, such as in Ukraine. With the US reducing its role in the world and Britain splitting from the European Union, Germany has slowly taken on the mantle of a global leader, especially on issues such as climate change and refugees. Ms. Merkel has called on Germans to be a “force for freedom.”

Her immediate task, however, is to ensure Germans enjoy a free and fair election. After what they’ve seen in the US and France, they are more demanding in protecting their democracy.

( 381 words )

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.

Campus safety and being ready


One day during one of Stephen Senge’s classes, an uninvited visitor entered the classroom. Noting the stranger’s dazed look and unusual behavior, Professor Senge called the campus emergency number. The operator told him campus police would arrive shortly but couldn’t tell him what to do beyond that. Realizing that God is always ready, always providing us with wisdom and strength, he gave the students the option to stay in the classroom or leave. When the visitor got up to leave, an intuition led Senge to let him exit, but to stay with him. When they reached the lobby, he persuaded the man to stay, and a campus police officer arrived to take custody of the man. It was later discovered there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest. There had been a safe outcome for all. In our daily experience, whether the events we encounter seem of great importance or not, we can turn to God for help, and trust in the promise of God’s constant readiness.


Campus safety and being ready

As a professor with an active class schedule, I took special note when national news reports described violence in college classrooms. I began to carefully consider my responsibility for the safety of the students. After several of these reports, campus security leaders issued various protocols regarding appropriate action in the event of a threat to classroom safety. My concern heightened when each communication closed with the reminder that the campus security force could not cover every location all the time. To this observation, I silently responded that my answer lay in trusting God, whom I’ve come to understand as ever present.

The Bible provides numerous accounts of blessings and protection resulting from trusting God’s care and direction. Take, for example, Nehemiah, who discerned and defended himself and others from those who would do them harm as they reconstructed Jerusalem’s crumbled walls (see Nehemiah 2-6). He could not have anticipated exactly how he would fulfill his assignment, but he didn’t just “wing it” – he humbly and earnestly trusted God.

Referring to God as divine Truth, Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy writes: “Divinity is always ready. Semper paratus is Truth’s motto” (“Science and Heath with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 458). I recognized that semper paratus – the Latin phrase meaning “always ready” – is also the US Coast Guard motto. I realized that divine Truth would provide the same wisdom and strength for me that it provides for the men and women of the Coast Guard as they provide ready aid to people in many difficult situations.

In regard to safety on the campus, I took a few specific actions in an earnest desire to express God’s readiness, including memorizing the campus emergency phone number and developing a simple safety briefing for my students, emphasizing preparation rather than fear.

One early-spring morning as one of my classes had just begun, a stranger appeared in the open doorway at the back of the somewhat-isolated room. I approached, asking if he needed help, and received a slight affirmative nod. I found him the closest chair and noted his dazed look.

In an action unlike the norm, he slid his full backpack onto his lap and hugged it to his chest, silently staring at me. Relying on the higher spirit of semper paratus – God’s constant readiness – I prayed something along the lines of “Here I am, ready and prepared to listen to You” as I walked quietly to the classroom phone up front. I called the campus emergency number and explained the situation to the operator, who assured me that campus police officers would arrive shortly.

Several times, I calmly asked the operator if we should stay or leave the room, but she did not really have the information to make that determination. I realized that God certainly knew that all of us were safe in Him and would guide each class member. After thanking the operator, I walked back to the location of the uninvited visitor and, with care, mentioned that anyone who wanted to leave class could do so.

Several students left the room, and then the visitor stood up to leave, still hugging his backpack. Then came this intuition: “Do not restrain him, but do not let him escape.” This might sound contradictory, but it made perfect sense in the moment. The visitor and I exited the classroom together and walked side by side down the hall.

When we reached the lobby, he looked toward the outside door, and I gestured toward the seating area. He sat down just as a campus police officer entered the building. I entrusted the visitor to him and returned to class, expressing my gratitude to the students for their calm behavior and everyone’s safety.

I met the same police officer the next morning on my walk to campus. He mentioned that the visitor had a quantity of drugs, differing forms of identification, and several low-level weapons in his pack. During their investigation, the police also discovered an outstanding arrest warrant for him. Truth’s readiness provided a safe outcome for everyone, even the uninvited visitor who could now receive the help he needed.

In our daily experience, whether the events we encounter seem of great importance or not, we can turn to God for help, and trust in God’s promise – always ready.

Adapted from an article in the May 29, 2017, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

( 724 words )


Running toward the rings

French athlete Jimmy Vicaut competes in a men's 100-meter heat Sept. 13 in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. A vote in Lima, Peru awarded the 2024 Olympic Games to the French capital, so the city has been able to plan its celebrations in advance. Los Angeles is to be named the host city for 2028.
Thibault Camus/AP
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

In Our Next Issue

( September 14th, 2017 )

David Clark Scott
Editor & product manager

Thanks for joining us today. Tomorrow, we're working on a story about who's in charge of the US foreign policy under President Trump. The answer isn't as straightforward as you may think. 

Daily Audio Edition

The Christian Science Monitor Daily Audio Edition

Loading the player...

More issues


Give us your feedback

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

of 5 free articles this month > Get unlimited free articles
You've read 5 of 5 free articles

Sign up for a one month free trial.

Get unlimited access to for one month.

( No credit card required. )

( Or, learn about our Subscription options )