shadow
binoculars
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.

2018
November
28
Wednesday

In tripping across the internet, I recently came across Sabine Hossenfelder, a physicist who seems to have something fascinating to say pretty much any time she puts pen to paper.

I was first intrigued when she essentially asked why there aren’t any Albert Einsteins or Max Plancks today. In other words, after the advances of general relativity and quantum mechanics, why is physics now spinning its wheels? (You can read her take here.)

Then I saw this: “How to Save the World in Five Simple Steps.” How could I not read that? Here’s an executive summary: Humans have thrived because they can think in more complex ways than any other creature on earth, Dr. Hossenfelder writes. But the societies we have built have become more complex and interconnected than most individuals have the time to deeply understand, so many just resort to making choices according to personal biases.

For an editor, that hit home. And Hossenfelder’s conclusions are bracing. Relying on humans to inform themselves and be rational actors in the current global environment is gross naivete, she suggests. Human beings simply aren’t wired to do that, she argues.

You can read about her solutions here, but for me, it was eye-opening. In a very real way, the task of today is overcoming how human beings have been conditioned to think.  

~

Now on to our five stories today, which deal with the deeper story behind a Russia-Ukraine flare-up, the ethics of art collection, and how one Canadian theater is promoting tough conversations. We also have a bonus story for you today. Click here to read about how soccer hooliganism is forcing Argentina to think differently about security ahead of this weekend’s G20 summit.

Share this article

1. Saudi succession pot stirred as US sours on young prince

According to the old playbook, American support was crucial to the royal family of Saudi Arabia. But the crown prince, now embroiled in an international murder scandal, is trying to rewrite the playbook.

Mark
Hassene Dridi/AP
Protesters in Tunis demonstrated Nov. 27 with saws and placards reading “You are not welcome” in advance of a visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. International concern about the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has not abated.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 7 Min. )

The Saudi royal family has relied on Washington’s military support as the bedrock of its security and stability for 75 years. Today, President Trump's administration is standing by Saudi Arabia and its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, despite a growing international outcry over the murder of Saudi dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But across the United States and in both parties in Congress, sentiment is turning against the prince and against Saudi Arabia in general. And that has the Saudi royal family worried, so much so that the prince's rivals reportedly are pushing to have him removed from the line of succession. They may be too late to move against the strong young prince, and the Saudi royal family and government emphatically deny there are challenges to his succession. But observers say this could change as support grows in Congress to stop arms supplies to Saudi Arabia or withhold backing for its war in Yemen. And, warns F. Gregory Gause, professor of international affairs at Texas A&M University, “Being crown prince does not automatically make you king. In Saudi Arabia, you are always the heir presumptive, not heir apparent.”

Collapse

Saudi succession pot stirred as US sours on young prince

Growing bipartisan opposition in Congress and across America to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Saudi Arabia itself has shaken the House of Saud, reportedly emboldening rivals to push for the de-facto ruler to be removed from the line of succession.

The royal family has relied on Washington’s military support as the bedrock of its security and stability for 75 years. Within the family, the crown prince’s detractors are seizing on the October murder of Saudi dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the strained US ties as a “now-or-never” opportunity to prevent Bin Salman from reaching the throne.

But their aspirations face a profound challenge from a rapidly changing Saudi society that appears receptive to a new kind of ruler: a youthful strongman who defies tradition, appeals to nationalism over religion, and seeks to create modern opportunities for the country’s burgeoning youth.

President Trump has continued to back the prince and cast doubt on the CIA’s reported finding that he ordered Khashoggi’s murder. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed the president’s stance Wednesday after he conducted a closed-door Senate briefing. CIA Director Gina Haspel did not attend – an absence criticized by legislators on both sides of the aisle.

But White House affirmations aside, the mood in Washington represents a dramatic shift in American sentiment toward MBS, as the young crown prince is known. In his first months in power, he portrayed himself as a social reformer, and he was warmly received on a coast-to-coast tour of the United States just last spring.

In a bid to prove to potential rivals in the royal palace, security agencies, and religious establishment that his brand has not been damaged beyond repair, MBS embarked on a goodwill tour across Saudi Arabia and the Arab world before heading to this weekend’s G20 summit in Argentina. 

Yet the photo-ops with Saudi tribesmen and Arab leaders who rely on Saudi support reportedly are doing little to dispel concerns by elites at home over the crown prince’s long-term viability.

Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Reuters
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman receives a gift from Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in Manama, Bahrain, Nov. 26, 2018.

Indeed, two days of mass protests in Tunisia with banners depicting MBS with a chainsaw ­­– a riff on reports that Khashoggi was dismembered after being killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul – ahead of the prince’s visit in the North African country created a less than reassuring image.

Publicly, the Saudi royal family and government have shown a united front, emphatically denying challenges to the crown prince’s succession.

But longtime observers say even this public face could change as support grows in Congress to stop arms supplies to Saudi Arabia and support for its war in Yemen, and even consider sanctions against members of the royal family and the kingdom itself.

“In time, if they start seeing the US security relationship disintegrating, and there are no more arms sales or training, then Saudis are going to say that this young man is chipping away at the bedrock of our stability and leaving us vulnerable to Iranians and others,” says Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and Saudi expert at the Brookings Institution. “That is a pretty serious indictment and an issue that is much harder to fix.”

Succession challenge?

Attempts by members of the historically cautious royal family to convince King Salman to rein in or demote his favored son reportedly have fallen on deaf ears, Saudi sources say.

Instead, those opposed to MBS are hoping to challenge the 33-year-old’s ascension to the throne through the so-called Allegiance Council – after King Salman has passed or abdicated due to failing health.

The Council, a non-formal grouping of 33 royals, must certify the ascension of any prince to the throne.

Even before the Khashoggi affair, the Council had several grounds on which to challenge the young prince’s ascendance: He would be the first king who is not a son of the kingdom’s founder, Abdulaziz Al Saud, and it would mark the first time that the Saudi line of succession would go from father to son, rather than the brother-to-brother succession set out by Al Saud’s wishes.

Saudi Arabia, however, has no clear legal guidelines for succession, and the decade-old Allegiance Council has rarely enforced its authority and itself was largely bypassed when MBS was promoted to crown prince in 2017.

Then there is the question of an alternative contender for the crown; even detractors agree there is no obvious candidate.

The strongest contender is Prince Ahmed, the 76-year-old brother of King Salman and son of the Saudi founder, who recently returned to the kingdom from self-imposed exile in Britain and has been critical of the crown prince.

The other is Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the former crown prince, long a favorite in Washington because of his security acumen and his two-decade body of work in counter-terrorism.

But these two princes lack influence and power bases back home.

Military and security services

In testament to his far-reaching power, MBS has taken the defense portfolio, Interior Ministry, security services, army, and the national guard. Yet each of these institutions was once the domain of prominent Saudi princes and rivals who had hand-picked appointees whose allegiance to the crown prince is not guaranteed.

With the disastrous war in Yemen grinding on with no end in sight, and with MBS blaming “rogue elements” in the security establishment for the Khashoggi killing and seeking the death penalty as punishment, there may be little incentive to side with the crown prince should a palace coup take place.

“Loyalty is not a given,” says Mr. Riedel. “If you are in the royal guard or intelligence services and you see the crown prince is throwing you under the bus, that is not going to help maintain loyalty.”

With Bin Salman’s campaign of kidnapping and arresting rivals, many observers warn that dissenters may have already been permanently sidelined.

“Despite the concerns over the US relationship, it may already be a missed opportunity,” says Giorgio Cafiero, CEO of Gulf State Analytics, a DC-based analytics firm specializing in the Gulf. “He has removed so many of his critics and he has intimidated the population so much that his regime seems to be rather bullet-proof right now.”

Old Saudi vs. New Saudi

Should the headwinds of a challenge to MBS gather, another potential wrinkle may throw the potential game of thrones into a free fall: the prince’s forging and stoking of Saudi nationalism.

Since becoming de facto ruler, MBS has steered Saudi Arabia away from decades-old use of Arab ties and its Islamic credentials as custodian of Mecca and Medina to promote its interests, instead forging an inward-looking and at times extreme nationalism.

Most importantly, MBS crafted the image of a strongman who broke the bindings of tradition and “drained” the Saudi swamp of corruption with his mass lockups of influential businessmen and princes.

It was a carefully calculated political move. More than 50 percent of Saudis are under the age of 25 and over 60 percent under the age of 30; the crown prince is decades closer in age to the average Saudi than his septuagenarian uncles.

Saudi insiders and observers say Bin Salman has bet his future reign on the forging of a new pillar of support among disenfranchised young Saudis, allowing him to run roughshod over the traditional pillars of the Saudi establishment: the royal family, Wahabi religious authorities, and even tribes.

By addressing youths’ concerns in education and jobs, attracting investment, opening cinemas, and allowing women to drive, Bin Salman cultivated personal loyalty in a top-down nationalism, one that he can wield to isolate any dissenters as “enemies of the state” and head off any potential rival.

“Before we were a country based on tribal and Islamic ties where we were connected to the region; now we are a paranoid country where many people think we are under threat everywhere we turn, and all their problems will be solved by this one ‘strong leader,’ ” says a Saudi observer who did not wish to be named due to security concerns.

“It is as if we are living in Russia or North Korea – no one knows how to navigate this but the crown prince.”

It is difficult to gauge the crown prince’s popularity in the opaque kingdom, but average Saudis are adamant he is truly popular at home.

“Today there is a new Saudi Arabia molded around King Salman and his son MBS – the kingdom and the crown prince are very well tied together, and these bonds cannot be undone easily,” says Mr. Cafiero.

Enemies in high places

Yet the prince has made few allies and reportedly several enemies among traditional power centers in the kingdom, where citizens have traditionally had little influence over policy decisions.

Businessmen who were once eager to work with the crown prince on his Vision 2030 modernization plan for Saudi Arabia have soured after the 2017 lockup and alleged shakedown of prominent businessmen of billions of dollars.

Intermediaries say Saudi religious leaders, who are closely monitored by the regime at home and abroad, are becoming increasingly resentful over rapid social liberalization – particularly the introduction of cinemas and plans to open the country to tourism – without their consultations.

“We certainly know that MBS has alienated a number of important social actors,” says F. Gregory Gause, professor of international affairs at Texas A&M University. “While he has projected himself as a champion of the youth, we know he has alienated large swathes of the business community and religious community.”

Should these forces still hold influence in Saudi Arabia, they could prove to be the difference-maker in whether Bin Salman remains or is removed.

“Being crown prince does not automatically make you king,” Professor Gause warns. “In Saudi Arabia, you are always the heir presumptive, not heir apparent.”

shadow

2. Russia-Ukraine crisis turns on Kiev politics, divergent views of Crimea

On the surface, Ukraine and Russia appear to be at each other’s throats after a recent military incident. But look deeper, and the Ukrainian reaction reveals a nation struggling to make its fledgling democracy work.

Mark

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 5 Min. )

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s declaration of martial law earlier this week, coming after Russia seized three Ukrainian ships near the Kerch Strait off Crimea, was the first such invocation in five years of conflict between the two countries. But it may have less to do with the importance of the naval incident than Ukraine’s internal politics. Ukraine has a presidential election coming up in March, and Mr. Poroshenko is trailing badly in the polls. Critics worry that he might have forced the Kerch Strait crisis – by suddenly violating Russia-imposed rules that Ukrainian ships had been following without issue for months – to gain martial law powers which he would use to reshape the political landscape ahead of the vote. But Ukraine's parliament, perhaps concerned about such a possibility, limited the scope and duration of Poroshenko’s expanded powers such that they will not likely help his campaign. “Polls show that up to 80 percent of the population are distrustful of both the president and the parliament,” says Mikhail Pogrebinsky, director of the independent Center of Conflict and Political Studies in Kiev. “That will not improve because of martial law.”

Collapse

Russia-Ukraine crisis turns on Kiev politics, divergent views of Crimea

As military engagements go, this past weekend’s action, in which Russian forces seized three small Ukrainian naval vessels near the disputed Kerch Strait, was a small skirmish on the edges of a simmering conflict zone.

But the incident, which left 24 Ukrainian crew members in Russian custody, three of them wounded, is also the first time in Ukraine's almost five-year-long conflict with Russia that the two countries’ servicemen fought each other directly and openly. That is the ostensible reason that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, citing Russian aggression, declared a state of martial law, which would give him sweeping powers to suspend human rights and democratic freedoms over much of the country.

The invocation of martial law underscores just how shaky Ukraine’s democratic institutions remain, despite almost five years of aspiring to European standards. More seriously, critics worry that Mr. Poroshenko might use his strengthened powers to reshape the political landscape ahead of scheduled March presidential elections that polls suggest he has little chance of winning.

Moreover, Poroshenko’s declaration – along with other immediate, outsized consequences triggered by the Kerch Strait skirmish – emphasize just how fundamental Russia’s differences with Ukraine and the West are over the 2014 annexation of Crimea. And it has intensified uncertainty – and could aggravate tensions – within Ukraine itself, a country that remains deeply divided between its more nationalist, Ukrainian-speaking and West-leaning western regions and its more Russified and Moscow-leaning south and east.

Limited martial law

Despite years of a proxy war that has killed more than 10,000 people in Ukraine’s east, Poroshenko only moved now to get martial law powers. That may explain the decision of the Rada, Ukraine’s unicameral parliament, to scale back his request from 60 to just 30 days and only permitted the emergency powers to take hold in 10 of the country’s 27 regions. It will affect mostly regions that border Russia, including those where anti-Kiev sentiment, as well as pro-Russian sympathies, endure.

“Poroshenko will have vast powers as commander-in-chief to cancel freedom of speech [and] assembly, and to curtail the media on these territories. How he will use them is another issue, and it’s possible that nothing will happen,” says Mikhail Pogrebinsky, director of the independent Center of Conflict and Political Studies in Kiev. “But it’s unlikely to benefit him in the popular mind. Nobody thinks martial law is a good idea. Polls show that up to 80 percent of the population are distrustful of both the president and the parliament. That will not improve because of martial law.”

Indeed, in some of the Russia-adjacent regions where the new measures will be implemented, there is a risk of antagonizing local populations who voted overwhelmingly for pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, who was deposed in the 2014 Maidan Revolution, and have never fully accepted the authority of the new Kiev government.

“What happens when people in those regions that voted for Yanukovych see military patrols with armored vehicles and dogs out in their streets again?” says Oleksiy Kolomiyets, president of the independent Center of European and Transatlantic Studies in Kiev. “Their level of hatred toward central authorities will only grow. What is the good of this?”

Irreconcilable differences?

At the nub of the current crisis is fundamentally irreconcilable differences between Russia and the West over the status of Crimea.

Russia regards the annexation of the mostly Russian-populated territory as a settled matter, and cites historical reasons plus the clear support of most of the local population as sufficient justification. Ukraine and the West, citing international law and a 2003 treaty between Russia and Ukraine, refuse to accept Crimea’s absorption into Russia, and say the surrounding waters – including the narrow Kerch Strait that connects the Black Sea to the Azov Sea – must be jointly shared between Russia and Ukraine. [Editor's note: The original version misstated the date of the Russia-Ukraine treaty on the Kerch Strait.]

Russia, which has constructed a bridge to link Crimea with the Russian mainland, insists that shipping to and from two major Ukrainian ports on the Azov Sea, Mariupol and Berdiansk, must queue to pass through the narrow strait, accept a Russian pilot, and submit to inspection. For the past four years, Ukrainian shipping has been following those rules – no small matter, since 25 percent of Ukraine's steel exports and 10 percent of grain exports pass through those waters. The Russians claim the three Ukrainian naval boats that were detained following a brief battle had declined to accept the Russian rules of transit, though Ukrainian warships have previously done so.

Ukraine, backed by the West and international law, argue that whether they followed Russian rules or not is irrelevant; those vessels had every right to access the Kerch Strait and the Russian attack on them was an unacceptable act of international piracy.

The two scripts can likely never be reconciled.

“Russia’s agreement with Ukraine on the joint use of the Kerch Strait was signed ... when one shore belonged to Ukraine, the other to Russia,” says Vladimir Zharikhin, deputy director of the Kremlin-funded Institute of the Commonwealth of Independent States in Moscow. “Now there is a legal vacuum, and this Ukrainian provocation took place in waters that Russia now considers its own. Ukraine believes it belongs to them, though they have previously accepted the real state of things and abided by the terms of Russian control over the strait.”

An ongoing standoff

Without an internationally backed settlement of the basic issue, Crimea, incidents like the current Kerch crisis will continue to happen, experts say.

Though it seems unlikely that the West will help Ukraine to militarily regain Crimea, it will continue to provide strong political and diplomatic support – including perhaps yet another barrage of anti-Russia sanctions – says Oleksiy Melnyk, an expert with the Razumkov Centre in Kiev.

“From the beginning of this Russian hybrid attack on us, we have maintained that this is not an internal struggle in Ukraine, nor is it a bilateral one between Russia and Ukraine. It is directly part of a geopolitical struggle between Russia and the West,” he says. “The most important thing for us is the political support of the West for our position, and we have seen that clearly in recent days. The civilized world is with us.”

For its part, the Kremlin also appears unlikely to seek a military solution, and seems to believe that time and basic economic dynamics are on its side in the battle for Ukraine’s soul.

What average Ukrainians think after almost five years of agonizing standoff may be harder to pin down.

“As news of this new crisis comes out, the popular mood is mostly one of panic,” says Vadim Karasyov, director of the independent Institute of Global Strategies in Kiev. “Everyone remembers five years of war and hardship, and probably the thought in many peoples’ minds was to rush out and stock up on matches and salt. Here we go again.”

Karen Norris/Staff
shadow

3. Art lessons: Why France is giving countries back their cultural treasures

“It belongs in a museum,” as Indiana Jones once said of an artifact. But which museum? From Easter Island to Greece, countries are asking for their cultural treasures back – and, in a sign the tide may be shifting, a leader of a colonial power has said yes.

Mark
Michel Euler/AP
Wooden statues from Benin are displayed at the Musée du quai Branly in Paris. On Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron lent his backing to a report calling for the repatriation of such African artifacts from French collections.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 5 Min. )

Nearly half a million items, an estimated 90 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s cultural heritage, are held – mostly in museum cellars – outside the continent. A debate over what to do with all of these artifacts has been gathering pace in recent years, as former colonial powers reconsider their history. French President Emmanuel Macron has broken with decades of tradition and ordered the immediate return of ancient royal items to Benin and challenged museums to give back items taken without countries’ consent. The global rise of identity politics and nationalism has fed the argument, says Tom Flynn, an art historian. On one side, he sees “those who make a cultural, national claim to items that are part of their deep identity,” such as tribal masks in Nigeria or the marble sculptures taken from the Parthenon in Athens, now on show in the British Museum. On the other side are major national museums whose collections “are bound up with national identity,” Mr. Flynn says. “To diminish them” by returning items “is seen as diminishing the national past.” Mr. Macron has taken a different approach, breaking with decades of traditional policy. “African cultural heritage can no longer remain a prisoner of European museums,” he tweeted.

Collapse

Art lessons: Why France is giving countries back their cultural treasures

In the face of a swelling chorus of demands from Africa and elsewhere, French President Emmanuel Macron has challenged museums around the world to return cultural treasures to the places from which they were taken without consent in colonial times.

Last Friday he lent his backing to an expert report calling for the repatriation of such African artifacts from French collections, and ordered the immediate return of 26 ancient royal items that Benin has requested. His move has shaken up an international debate about what museums should do today with items acquired in dubious circumstances more than 100 years ago – even as some high-profile repatriations by institutions such as New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art indicate slowly shifting thinking on the matter.

“A national leader like Macron breaking new ground gives new impetus” to campaigns being waged by peoples around the world for the restitution of their cultural heritage, says Tristram Besterman, a former head of the UK Museums Association Ethics Committee.

Last week the governor of Easter Island visited London to ask the British Museum to return one of the Pacific island’s totemic statues, plundered in 1868 by a British naval vessel. “We are just the body. You, the England people, have our soul,” said Tarita Alarcón Rapu, fighting back tears.

Museum authorities made no offer to return, or loan, the statue.

Nearly half a million items, an estimated 90 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s cultural heritage, are currently held – mostly in museum cellars – outside the continent. A debate over what to do with all of these artifacts has been gathering pace in recent years, as former colonial powers reconsider their history.

“I belong to a generation of French people for whom the crimes of European colonization are incontestable,”  Mr. Macron told an audience of students in Burkina Faso last year.

At the same time, the global rise of identity politics and nationalism has fed the argument, says Tom Flynn, an art historian who writes on cultural heritage issues. On one side, he sees “those who make a cultural, national claim to items that are part of their deep identity,” such as tribal masks in Nigeria or the marble sculptures taken from the Parthenon in Athens, now on show in the British Museum.

On the other side are major national museums whose collections “are bound up with national identity,” Mr. Flynn says. “To diminish them” by returning items “is seen as diminishing the national past.”

In Britain, where 40 percent of citizens are proud of Britain’s colonial history, according to a 2016 YouGov poll, that argument carries weight.

Macron has taken a different approach, breaking with decades of traditional policy. In his Burkina Faso speech, he declared that he wanted “to see the conditions put in place so as to allow for the temporary or definitive restitution of African cultural heritage to Africa.”

“African cultural heritage can no longer remain a prisoner of European museums,” he tweeted.

The two experts he commissioned to report on the issue presented their conclusions on Friday. They called for the “restitution in a swift and thorough manner ... of any objects taken by force or presumed to be acquired through inequitable conditions” from Africa.

Macron clearly hopes other former colonial powers will take note. “The idea is to encourage other countries to explore how they might contribute to this dynamic,” says presidential spokeswoman Selen Daver. Macron announced he will convene a conference of European and African countries early next year “to build a new relationship and policy of exchange together.”

Items have been returned in the past: Italy handed back an obelisk taken from Ethiopia in the 1930s, and France returned to South Korea 300 manuscripts stolen from a royal library by marauding French troops in 1866, for example.

But often such restitutions have occurred only after “painful struggles,” the new French report points out. And in many museums, officials are still deeply reluctant to accept the arguments of source communities, for fear of losing star items from their display cases.

Even the British law allowing the return of Nazi-looted artworks to their owners’ descendants “passed only in the teeth of opposition from the national museums,” recalls Mr. Besterman.

“One of the prerequisites of being named director of a big UK museum is that you won’t start giving things back,” says Flynn.

Recently, though, there have been signs of movement, however hesitant. “The debate about how to treat this important aspect of the colonial heritage is as challenging as it is overdue,” said Hartmut Dorgerloh, head of the Humboldt Forum in Berlin, responding to the French report.

“Looted art must always be returned,” he added.

The United States has returned more than 8,000 stolen artifacts – from paintings to fossils – to 30 countries since 2007, according to data from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. One high-profile example of repatriation came in 2017, when the Hobby Lobby chain store returned 5,500 illegally smuggled artifacts, including ancient cuneiform clay tablets, to Iraq.

At the Royal Museum for Central Africa outside Brussels, due to reopen next month, director Guido Gryseels, who has in his care hundreds of thousands of items stolen from the Belgian Congo, acknowledged in a recent interview with Le Monde newspaper that “Africa is a continent that was pillaged, emptied. We cannot ignore this subject and we have to find solutions.”

Among the solutions that the French government is promoting as well as outright restitution, which will require changes to French law, are traveling exhibitions, exchanges, and loans.

Earlier this year the director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London raised the prospect of a long-term loan to Ethiopia of royal treasures looted by British soldiers from Maqdala, an Abyssinian imperial stronghold, in 1868, though nothing has yet come of that idea.

And last month, major European museums agreed to lend contested artifacts, including some famous bronzes, to a new museum in Nigeria that they will help to build.

But loans, however extended, do not fulfill the deeper needs of the communities who want their cultural artifacts back so that they can tell their own historical stories in their own way, says Besterman, the former museum ethicist.

“What you are really talking about is repatriating authority and dignity and the ability of a source community to make its voice heard,” he says. “For too long, big museums have had their fingers in their ears.”

But that cannot last, predicts Mnyaka Susuru Mboro, a Berlin-based activist from Tanzania. Around Europe, he says, museums “are just waiting to see where France is headed, whether they start giving things back.

“They’ll have to react,” he says. “They’ll have to take some action.”

shadow

4. On college campuses, planning for a post-Millennial future

The United States of tomorrow looks a lot more diverse than its colleges. But one university has made a commitment to get to that future faster and make diversity a virtue. This is what it looks like.

Mark

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 5 Min. )

Colleges and universities often acknowledge the value of diversity, but few prioritize it as a central mission. Now, new data shows that the “post-Millennial” generation, currently between the ages of 6 and 22, is the most racially diverse and the most likely to enroll in college. Freshman classes will likely see growing numbers of students from traditionally underrepresented groups, and helping that cohort succeed will require a fundamental shift. “Everything that we do at the center of the institution needs to be rethought,” says Adrianna Kezar, professor of higher education at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. “If the new demographics of the students are wholly different … how do we relook at the primary functions that we have so that they have support?” The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, has earned national praise for its success in graduating students of color and students from low-income backgrounds – and it could serve as a model for colleges across the US going forward.

Collapse

On college campuses, planning for a post-Millennial future

School pride is strong on the suburban campus of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County – and not just because of a history-making basketball upset last year.

UMBC, and its president, Freeman Hrabowski, have earned national recognition for their commitment to racial diversity and the high number of masters and doctoral graduates of color here. The school produces more black graduates with a combined MD-PhD than anywhere else in the country.

UMBC is one of a few campuses that have prioritized student diversity as a core value, says Adrianna Kezar, professor of higher education at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. And that distinction may carry more weight as racial diversity rises in the United States.

A new report from Pew Research Center shows that the “post-Millennial” generation, currently between the ages of 6 and 22, is the most racially diverse ever. Its oldest members are also enrolling in college at the highest rates in history. The shift spotlights the changing values of a college degree across diverse communities in the US – and raises pressing questions for how colleges can accommodate their transforming student bodies.

“Everything that we do at the center of the institution needs to be rethought,” says Professor Kezar. “If the new demographics of the students are wholly different and the majority of our students are not like those we've had in the past, how do we relook at the primary functions that we have so that they have support?”

This new cohort of students looks a lot less white because of rising enrollment rates especially among Black and Latino communities, says Richard Fry, a senior researcher at Pew Research Center. One key contributor: A bigger proportion of Latino students were born in the US, a fact that correlates with higher academic performances in grade school.

Building support

Sylvia Anokam is a fourth-year student at UMBC. Her parents immigrated from Nigeria and both are college educated. They expect the same for her. That trend is growing among her peers – post-Millennials are more likely to live with a college-educated parent than older generations, according to the research from Pew. Ms. Anokam doesn’t identify strongly with any generational group, but she feels optimistic about rising diversity and college enrollment for people her age.  

“The more students of diverse backgrounds are entering the school the more work [to make college accessible] is just going to be coming through because ... now there’s more people that we need to advocate for, there’s more people who we need to look out for,” she says.

UMBC’s minority enrollment is 48.6 percent, which matches the proportion of nonwhite post-Millennials overall, according to Pew. For Millennials in 2002, the nonwhite figure was about 39 percent, and for members of Generation X in 1986, it was about 30 percent. The upward trend is similar for college enrollment: About 59 percent of 18- to 20-year-olds who are out of high school are now in college, compared with 53 percent in 2002 and 44 percent in 1986.

Jason Ashe, a black PhD student in psychology, says the diversity at UMBC today has helped him feel “intellectually safe.” The university has a long list of initiatives aimed at empowering students from underrepresented backgrounds, including the federally funded Upward Bound and McNair Scholars programs, which deliver targeted resources for first generation and low-income students pursuing bachelors and doctoral degrees, respectively.

For Blake Hipsley, a senior and McNair Scholar who is white, the program covered half the cost of his GRE test fees. That made a huge difference, the first-generation student says, because, “I don't have my mom tapping my shoulder, paying it for me. I have to pay out of pocket on my own.”

About 25 percent of the university’s enrollment is first generation, says Corris Davis, director of the Upward Bound and McNair Scholars programs.

UMBC also hosts several university-specific efforts to promote diversity, including a soon-to-be-launched program called Transfer Engagement and Achievement Mentoring, or TEAM. The initiative came out of a conversation between a faculty member and Lisa Gray, the school's associate director of diversity and inclusion, after they noticed troublingly low retention rates for black male transfer students.

“It is not okay for us to let any group of students struggle here. We know that if they could get in here they deserve to be here. So it’s on us to make sure we can support them,” Ms. Gray says.

Making diversity the ‘main dish’

Greater integration of faculty, students, and staff is important to the future of college success, says Kezar. UMBC was founded in 1966 – at the height of the civil rights movement – and President Hrabowski's leadership has continued to fuel its social justice mission. As student demographics change, Kezar says colleges will have to make a concerted effort to track how underrepresented students fare – and what interventions can support them.

“Diversity has been treated like a side dish for kind of its entire history in higher education,” she says. “It goes back to your primary function of the leadership team of any effort.”

The same might be true for the workforce once post-Millennials begin to graduate. Plenty of companies want a diverse roster of employees, says Kezar, but so far few seem keen on taking the steps to achieve it.

Racial representation also doesn’t necessarily translate to inclusion. Mr. Ashe, the psychology student, points out that even though he sees substantial diversity at UMBC, he is still on track to be only the third African-American man to graduate with a PhD from his department.

Ashe and Gray both note that more work is needed to propel underrepresented students forward. But while no institution is perfect, they say the efforts by their school could serve as a model for colleges across the US.

“I like to say we have a very beautiful international airport experience for students at UMBC where everybody's coming at you from all different destinations,” Gray says. “But our work now is to create space for them to have some layover time.”

Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect that Jason Ashe's comments about graduates refer to the number of PhD students in his department, and to add Blake Hipsley's race. 

shadow

5. At a dinner party play in Quebec, politics is the main course

During times of intense political polarization, conversations can get tough. In Canada, a theatrical “dinner party” offers a radical idea: an opportunity to transcend differences by simply listening. 

Mark
Courtesy of Maxime Côté/Porte Parole
‘L’Assemblée’ is a play based on the real-life dinner party dialogue of four French-speaking Quebecers from different political and cultural backgrounds. It’s also an effort to get citizens to ‘stay at the table’ despite their differences, says the theater group Porte Parole.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 5 Min. )

Politics is forbidden at many dinner tables, but at a dinner party production in Quebec, it is the very point. The play “L’Assemblée” is the verbatim dialogue of four French-speaking Quebecers from wildly different political and cultural backgrounds during a “dinner party.” The team behind the production came up with the idea of inviting four strangers to the table after witnessing the polarization in the 2016 US presidential race. The conversation that unfolded among the four – spanning issues including Muslim immigration, the veil, integration, and identity – is edited and acted as the central production. The play, which manages to infuse humor within the discomfort of clashing views, is intended as a snapshot of the current political moment – not to sway people to other views but to get them to literally “stay at the table,” says playwright and Porte Parole artistic director Annabel Soutar. “ ‘The Assembly’ is an attempt to rebuild one part of democratic institutions, which is the spaces where we gather face to face to talk about politics....”

Collapse

At a dinner party play in Quebec, politics is the main course

The character named Riham, a Quebec resident of Egyptian descent, has spent the better part of the evening around the dinner table defending her choices, particularly around her veil and what it means to her as a practicing Muslim.

This dinner gathering is actually a play, a heated discussion between actors representing different political and cultural backgrounds. It ends with Riham’s frustrated question to another character who believes Muslim immigration is the threat to Canadian society. “My question is, what is it to be integrated? As a Canadian, as a Quebecer?” she pleads. “I’m bilingual. Most of my friends are not from my religion or my culture. What else can I do?”

It’s a tense moment for the crowd here in Montreal, for it’s as if Riham is speaking personally to each audience member at a time when the subjects of immigration, religious accommodation, identity, and feminism have found themselves around many a local dinner table recently. And in fact Riham is not just a character played by an actress on a stage but a real-life Quebecer – or immigrant in Quebec, depending on one’s point of view – wading through the controversial proposals by new provincial leader François Legault, including French language tests for immigrants and forgoing religious symbols for some civil servants.

The play, “L’Assemblée,” is the verbatim dialogue of four French-speaking Quebecers during a supper hosted by the documentary theater company Porte Parole. The group also invited four English-language speakers to a different dinner, producing “The Assembly, ” an entirely distinct production (more on that later).

The plays, which manage to infuse humor within the discomfort of clashing views, are intended as snapshots of the current political moment – not to sway people to other views but to get them to literally “stay at the table,” says playwright and Porte Parole artistic director Annabel Soutar. “ ‘The Assembly’ is an attempt to rebuild one part of democratic institutions, which is the spaces where we gather face-to-face to talk about politics, and which is in ruins right now,” she says. 

Courtesy of Maxime Côté/Porte Parole
Here the character named Riham, a Muslim, defends her choice to wear a veil to Josée, who is worried about immigration and its influence on French language and culture in Quebec.

If politics is forbidden at your table, say during Thanksgiving dinner, here it is the very point. Ms. Soutar, along with actors and co-playwrights Alex Ivanovici and Brett Watson, came up with the idea of inviting four strangers to the table after witnessing the polarization in the 2016 US presidential race. The conversation that unfolded among the four is edited and acted as the central production.

In the second part of the play, the actors leave the stage and the audience is invited onstage to mount their own “assembly.” They are welcome to fill the now vacant chairs and share their views on polarization or their individual experiences, and engage in debate with the others at the table. The discussion is left entirely up to the audience, without any guidance from the cast or crew, so it can take some time for the participants to get talking – but when they do, the cast has to come back and usher them off the stage to get them to stop.

An exercise in understanding 

For an outsider to both Quebec and Canada, the comparison between the two plays – English and French – is almost as fascinating as the plays themselves. While both revolve around tribalism and identity politics, with Muslim immigration at the crux of it, the English-language one is fixated southward. Canada is grappling with its own populism, but President Trump’s America is a main theme in the English-language play, and thus it feels easier to listen to, as if it’s someone else’s problem.

In the French version, it’s Muslim immigration, veiled women, and French language and culture that dominate the conversation. These are the issues that have split Quebec for decades. They have been exacerbated by recent flows of asylum seekers crossing into Canada from the US, adding fuel to the debate about how to preserve French-Canadian identity, which some feel is under new threat from recent tides of immigration. The French play feels more intimate, harder to bear.

The “L’Assemblée” cast is also all-female, a wink to the feminist founding of the theater, Espace Go. Soutar says the conversation in the French play amounted to more of a “slow boil,” while the English-speakers clashed right away, reflecting deep, cultural differences among Francophones and Anglophones in Quebec.

In “The Assembly,” a woman named Valerie, a Trump supporter who belongs to a group in Canada that sees Muslim immigration as the main threat to western society today, dominates the conversation. That was a problem for some. A theater review in the Globe and Mail panned the production for giving Valerie a platform and turning “extremism into entertainment.” 

And yet in the second section of each play, when the audience is asked to participate, many said they surprised themselves by empathizing with characters like Valerie, who hold views that they do not agree with. Which is the very point of the theatrical exercise – to understand the person behind a point of view. 

In the French-language play, a man from Algeria is the first to mount the stage, pointing to his veiled wife in the audience. He is asked by another participant onstage if he feels optimistic, given the state of debate over Muslim immigration. He says he does. After all, he explains, he is an Algerian immigrant at the table, sharing his views with a large Montreal audience. They let out a “bravo!”

At times, the audience-led portion of the play drags, as if it is a group therapy session or a series of monologues. But without it, the play wouldn't have served its purpose. It was a 13-year-old English-speaking girl who hit the nail on the head, making a case for openness and a willingness to hear others. “I don’t know,” she says, stumbling a bit for words. “It’s like we have to adapt our words to other people’s ears, if that makes sense.” 

Judging from the loud applause, it does.

shadow

The Monitor's View

The power in Ukraine that keeps Russia at bay

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 2 Min. )

While the Russian attack on Ukrainian security forces Nov. 25 – seizing three vessels in the Sea of Azov – clearly broke international norms, the widespread concern among Ukrainians was really more about whether their own president would exploit the incident to cancel the 2019 presidential election. Petro Poroshenko is highly unpopular and might lose the vote. So when he asked Parliament on Nov. 26 for far-reaching powers under martial law, he got plenty of pushback. Instead of circling the wagons against Russia, lawmakers rushed to defend their democracy. In the end, martial law was granted only in selected regions and only for 30 days. Mr. Poroshenko was forced to assert that constitutional freedoms would not be limited and that daily life would not be disrupted. The election would proceed. As the European Union tries to correct the budding autocrats among its member states, it should note the Ukraine legislature’s robust defense of democratic institutions. Martial law may be extended in Ukraine if Russia causes further trouble. But for all its faltering efforts to rebuild democracy and battle corruption, Ukraine’s hope of joining the EU just took a step forward.

Collapse

The power in Ukraine that keeps Russia at bay

After Russia openly used armed force against an independent Ukraine for the first time on Nov. 25 – seizing three Navy vessels in the Sea of Azov – one might think Ukrainians would direct their strongest ire at President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

Not so.

While the Russian attack and detention of Ukrainian security forces clearly break international norms, the widespread concern among Ukrainians was whether their own president, Petro Poroshenko, would exploit the incident to cancel the 2019 presidential election. He is highly unpopular and might lose the vote.

So when Mr. Poroshenko asked Parliament on Nov. 26 for far-reaching powers under martial law, he got plenty of push-back. Instead of circling the wagons against Russia, lawmakers rushed to defend their democracy.

In the end, martial law was granted only in selected regions bordering on Russia and only for 30 days. Poroshenko was forced to assert that constitutional freedoms would not be limited and that daily life, such as banking, would not be disrupted. And yes, the election would proceed.

To make sure, Parliament voted to hold the election on March 31. Cancellation of the election, wrote Populist Radical Party leader Oleh Lyashko on Facebook, would provoke street protests. “All of this may push Ukraine into chaos and anarchy, which will mean Moscow’s victory,” he said.

For would-be autocrats in other democracies, take note.

Ukraine, with its vibrant civil society, free media, and feisty legislators, stood up against an overreach for power and a potential erosion of civic norms. That’s because the country’s “soft armor” of democratic ideals is as important in preventing further Russian intrusion as are the country’s military forces. It is also one reason Western leaders backed Ukraine in the tense standoff. 

As the European Union tries to correct the budding autocrats among its member states, such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, it should note the Ukraine legislature’s robust defense of democratic institutions. Martial law may be extended in Ukraine if Russia causes further trouble. But for all its faltering efforts to rebuild democracy and battle corruption, Ukraine’s hope of joining the EU just took a step forward.

shadow

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.

Man up to real manhood

  • Quick Read
  • Read or Listen ( 3 Min. )

Today’s column explores how a spiritual concept of manhood – and womanhood – can help conquer the stereotypes that divide and demean.

Collapse

Man up to real manhood

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
Loading the player...

A shirtless model on a billboard. A bumbling loser in a sitcom. A callous businessman, or the suave guy who gets all the girls. If you ask the media, this is what manhood looks like in the 21st century: cool, powerful, and ruthless, or stupid, hapless, and helpless.

You might roll your eyes and say, “Yeah, but the media stereotypes women, too. What’s the big deal?” Well, the big deal is that stereotypes of any kind limit and undermine. And we’re seeing the effects of that: For instance, in the United States, young boys are more likely than girls to be prescribed “sit still!” medications such as Ritalin and Adderall. And the majority of suicides around the world are committed by men.

While I’m not blaming the media for these problems, these statistics have definitely made me take notice. I don’t want to stand by as anyone is forced into a certain box or made to feel unworthy.

So what’s a person to do? For me, the starting point – as with any challenge I face – is God. Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, defined God as Father-Mother – that is, as including and expressing both traditionally masculine and traditionally feminine qualities. Both types of qualities are worthy because they originate in God. And in spite of the popular joke that men and women are from different planets, the nature of God as Father-Mother unifies the masculine and feminine. Instead of the genders being at war, in God we find complete harmony between “male” qualities and “female” qualities, which belong to everyone’s true identity as a spiritual idea of God.

All that might sound a little “out there” given the things we see in our own offices or communities or on the news. But we have to start somewhere. In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Mrs. Eddy asked what we’re looking to as our “model”: “Is it imperfection, joy, sorrow, sin, suffering?… Do you not hear from all mankind of the imperfect model? The world is holding it before your gaze continually. The result is that you are liable to follow those lower patterns, limit your life-work, and adopt into your experience the angular outline and deformity of matter models” (p. 248).

Right now the model held before us is a pretty bleak picture of manhood. The good news is that change begins within each of us. What sense of manhood do we choose to embrace, no matter what the rest of the world is offering up? Science and Health puts forth this one: “The ideal man corresponds to creation, to intelligence, and to Truth” (p. 517).

As a guy, I love this definition – and not because I think it means that I have a corner on these qualities! What it tells me is that manhood cannot be obsolete or undervalued because it reflects God’s nature and therefore is everyone’s true nature as God’s spiritual offspring, or expression. And this definition of manhood sets a positive standard for masculinity that includes intelligence, creativity, productivity, and honesty.

Does this mean that only men are smart, creative, and honest, while women are not? Of course not! That passage in Science and Health is followed up with this: “The ideal woman corresponds to Life and to Love.” Does that mean that women are lively, energetic, social, caring, nurturing, and loving, but men are not? Again, no way! We each incorporate both sets of these qualities in our complete identity and nature. That’s the beauty of those qualities being united in God. Christian Science explains that man and woman are created not as two incomplete halves of a whole but rather as the full expression of divine goodness and Love, spiritual and complete and perfect.

So how do we conquer the stereotypes that threaten to divide and demean us? By being undivided within ourselves. Each of us has the ability to express our innate manhood and womanhood. And as we let our own light shine brighter, that naturally helps free those around us from anything that would inhibit their expression of strength and tenderness, joy and humility. That model of unified manhood and womanhood blesses men and women alike.

Adapted from an article published in the April 16, 2012, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

shadow

Viewfinder

A celebration that empowers

Ben Curtis/AP
Kenyan contestant Lucianah Nyawira (center) joins others during a rehearsal for a pageant organized by the Albinism Society of Kenya, in Nairobi, Kenya, Nov. 28. The event aims to promote social inclusion and raise the self-esteem of albinos, who frequently face stigma, discrimination, and even violence throughout the region.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
shadow

In Our Next Issue

( November 29th, 2018 )

Thank you for joining us today. We hope you'll come back tomorrow when staff writer Simon Montlake looks at the troubling nexus of Labour politics and anti-Semitism in Britain.

Monitor Daily Podcast

November 28, 2018
Loading the player...

More issues

2018
November
28
Wednesday

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

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.