2019
January
07
Monday

Major election nights are often a multiscreen event: TV on, computer deployed for searches, smartphone alive with messaging and alerts.

Imagine if those screens went dark – and stayed that way.

That happened last week in the Democratic Republic of Congo, just after its long-promised election after 18 years under President Joseph Kabila. A Kabila adviser cited public order in explaining why the internet would remain down until Jan. 6, when results would be announced. It remains down, with results still pending.

Such blunt censorship is growing. Access Now, which tracks digital access globally, says last year saw 188 internet shutdowns, the majority in Asia and Africa. That compares with 108 in 2017 and 75 in 2016. 

Freedom House recently reported that reductions in internet freedom frequently crop up in relation to elections. It urges vigilance regarding China, which increasingly provides telecommunications infrastructure abroad and trains foreign officials in censorship and surveillance.

Freedom House notes the threat rising “digital authoritarianism” poses – and the antidote greater freedom provides. While many people have been soured by abuse of their privacy online, the internet’s reach has also spurred positive political change – just see Armenia’s remarkable Velvet Revolution. The stakes are high; when it comes to bolstering that reach, Freedom House argues, “The health of the world’s democracies depends on it.”

Now to stories that show, in three countries, an array of political dynamics: trust, coercion, and the choice to participate despite opposition.

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1. With no deal in sight, shutdown reveals depth of ‘trust deficit’

We all know a lack of trust can hinder any negotiation. But it’s especially harmful in politics, where deals can be made if both sides give some ground.

Amelia

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With the partial government shutdown at Day 17 and counting, Congress and the White House are at an impasse. President Trump refuses to put his name on any spending bill that doesn’t have $5.7 billion for his border wall. Democrats won’t support any funding for the wall – and their new House majority gives them the leverage to hold out. Hanging like a cloud over the negotiations is the question of trust. The political center in Washington has narrowed, leaders have bowed to their bases, and the idea of giving the other side what it wants has taken on the stink of surrender. Compounding it is Mr. Trump’s unpredictability. Lawmakers from both parties have grown leery of his habit of shifting his demands – and it’s much harder for them to go out on a political limb when they don’t know whether the president will be with them. “There’ll be less risk taken by both sides under conditions of mistrust,” says Frances Lee, a professor of government at the University of Maryland. “Any concessions Democrats make are likely to be denounced by their base of voters, and the same is true for Trump.”

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1. With no deal in sight, shutdown reveals depth of ‘trust deficit’

In December 2013, when lead House and Senate negotiators struck a bipartisan budget deal to avert a government shutdown, relations between the parties were in a deep freeze.

Earlier that fall, Republicans forced a shutdown over the Affordable Care Act. Weeks later, Democrats exercised the “nuclear option” to muscle through confirmation of President Barack Obama’s federal judges.

Nevertheless, Sen. Patty Murray (D) of Washington and then-Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin were able to get past all that to a two-year budget deal. They set clear ground rules: The big disagreements would be put aside so they could focus on finding common ground. There would be no public airing of their differences in the negotiating room. It helped, too, that they had come to know each other as people, sharing similar family experiences and a love of football.

“Our trust level was the most important thing about us getting to a deal,” says Senator Murray, reflecting on her experiences with her conservative counterpart, “and that’s what I fear about this current situation.”

With the partial government shutdown at Day 17 and counting, the question of trust hangs like a cloud over negotiations. Relations between congressional Republicans and Democrats have grown only more strained in the years since Murray and Mr. Ryan struck their deal. The political center has narrowed even more, leaders have bowed to their bases, and members have had fewer opportunities, or reasons, to cross the aisle. The idea of giving the other side what they want has taken on the stink of surrender, leading members to double down on their positions instead of looking for compromise – even on issues as basic as passing a budget.

Carlos Barria/Reuters
President Trump confers with Vice President Mike Pence and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R) of Louisiana in the Rose Garden after the president met with congressional leaders at the White House on Jan. 4, 2019, to try to negotiate an end to the government shutdown.

Compounding it all is President Trump’s unpredictability. Lawmakers from both parties have grown leery of his habit of shifting his demands – and it’s much harder for them to go out on a political limb when they don’t know whether the president will be with them.

Now Congress and the White House are at an impasse: The GOP-led Senate won’t pass anything that Mr. Trump won’t sign, and the president says he refuses to put his name on any spending bill that doesn’t have $5.7 billion for a border wall or steel barrier. Democrats have countered that they won’t support any funding for the wall – and their new majority in the House gives them the leverage to hold out. No one wants to be seen as giving ground.

“There’ll be less risk taken by both sides under conditions of mistrust,” says Frances Lee, a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland. “Any concessions Democrats make are likely to be denounced by their base of voters, and the same is true for Trump.”

So close and yet so far

A deal that could have averted this shutdown seemed close in the week leading up to the deadline, after the White House signaled Trump was willing to sign a measure that included $1.6 billion for border security to keep the government funded.

But then conservative commentators like Ann Coulter and members of the Freedom Caucus called the president out for failing to fulfill his campaign pledge. Trump turned around and said he would not sign any bill with less than $5 billion for the wall.

It was in some ways a rerun of a year ago. Senators from both parties had sequestered themselves in the corner office of Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine to try to end a shutdown over immigration. Sustained by Girl Scout cookies and popcorn, they came up with a short-term spending agreement and a commitment to bring immigration legislation to the floor for a vote.

Out of that came a bipartisan bill pairing $25 billion for border security (including for physical barriers) with a path to citizenship for “Dreamers,” or children of undocumented immigrants. Sen. Mike Rounds (R) of South Dakota, who coauthored the bill with Sen. Angus King (I) of Maine, thought it had the backing of the White House.

Until, suddenly, it didn’t.

The day before the vote, Senator Rounds was informed the president was not going to support the bill. “That was a surprise to me,” says Rounds.

Now some Republicans are suggesting a slimmed-down version of that bill as a possible way out of today’s shutdown.

“The only way it’s going to happen, because there is a lack of trust, is if Speaker Pelosi and Senator Schumer and the president all come out and say publicly that they support a deal – so that they’re all held accountable,” Rounds says.

A stick-with-your-base approach

The breakdown in trust isn’t confined to relations between Congress and the White House. Within Capitol Hill, a hyperpartisan environment and media landscape incentivize a stick-with-your-base approach that has sped up institutional decline.

Legislative action in both chambers has flagged, and fewer and fewer amendments – a signal of deliberation, especially with rank-and-file members – have been introduced, according to a joint analysis of congressional data and documents by The Washington Post and ProPublica. Members are spending fewer days in Washington than ever, meaning less time for votes and discussion, much less building relationships.

Social media supercharges it all. Though voters have always been part of the calculus in policy debates – they are what distinguishes a business deal from a political one – never before have those debates been so subject to the winds and whims of public opinion. Sarah Binder, a political scientist at the Brookings Institution and professor at George Washington University, says publicly airing policy discussions in real time instead of holding closed-door conferences makes it difficult for lawmakers to explore all the routes to compromise. The negotiations turn into grandstanding contests. 

“If life was just zero-sum games, where there are six pieces of a pie and the minority always gets two pieces, then maybe closing the door wouldn’t be that important,” she says. “But if the point is to reach a position where both sides get a win, then opening the negotiations to the public will only get the base riled up.”

Some worry this shutdown will cast a shadow over negotiations between this Congress and the president for the next two years, from the budget to issues like infrastructure where the president and Democrats say they want to cooperate. Democratic priorities such as universal background checks for gun purchases, which House Democrats will tackle on Tuesday, and climate change seem destined to become 2020 messaging points. 

“If we don’t get over this, if this goes on for months and months … then that might be a preview of coming attractions,” says Sen. Richard Shelby (R) of Alabama, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Others, like John Fortier at the Bipartisan Policy Center, say that once this shutdown is over – and it has to end sometime – there might be a chance to push for smaller bipartisan deals. “People are right to talk about infrastructure and prescription drug prices,” he says. “Sometimes there’s a moment for these things, and I’m hopeful there’s a window.”

“I really don’t think what happened yesterday affects how [Trump] evaluates what’s going on today or tomorrow,” adds Rep. Eric Swalwell (D) of California, a close ally of Pelosi. “So I just assume that once we’re past this, there’s going to be a new opportunity to collaborate.”

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2. Behind Xinjiang oppression, a militant attempt to erase and replace identity

‘Social harmony’ has been prized by Chinese leaders for millennia. To achieve that vision, they’ve experimented with reengineering people’s behaviors and beliefs – often forcefully.

Amelia
Ann Scott Tyson
Uyghur students in their mandatory camouflage uniforms walk past a statue of Mao Zedong shaking hands with Uyghur villager Qurban Tulum. The statue towers over Unity Square in Hotan, Xinjiang, China, and is used by the government to symbolize solidarity among ethnic groups.

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Hotan is closer to Kabul than Beijing – an oasis town in the Uyghur heartland of southern Xinjiang, the vast, resource-rich region in China’s far west. But as the school day begins, Beijing’s long reach is clear. As students gather for a flag-raising ceremony, a teacher calls for “heartfelt gratitude for the party.” Raising a fist in the air, she exclaims, “As long as we have one breath, let us struggle forward together!” Most townspeople are Muslim Uyghurs – the minority group targeted in an aggressive crackdown in Xinjiang. Authorities have incarcerated as many as 1 million people in political reeducation camps, claiming drastic steps are needed to combat separatism, religious extremism, and terrorism. But the broader context is Beijing’s attempt to engineer the thoughts and behavior of an entire people, transforming Uyghurs’ beliefs and identity into faith in the Communist Party. Schoolchildren are forbidden from using the Uyghur language or receiving religious education; thousands of mosques have been torn down, while others display propaganda posters and surveillance cameras. “This is a deeply cynical strategy,” says Gardner Bovingdon, a professor at Indiana University. “If they think demoralizing up to a million people … will work, I think they are setting themselves up for widespread trauma, deepened hostility, and violence.”

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Behind Xinjiang oppression, a militant attempt to erase and replace identity

The sky is pitch black in this town in China’s far western region of Xinjiang. Streets are quiet and empty apart from police vans flashing red and blue lights – part of a mazelike security grid of patrols, stations, and checkpoints. Suddenly, the predawn stillness is shattered as “Ode to the Motherland,” a classic Communist propaganda song, blasts from loudspeakers, issuing a shrill wake-up call for miles around.

It is only 5:40 am local time in Hotan, an oasis town that was once a junction along the historic Silk Road and is closer to Kabul than Beijing. The barrage of patriotic music is a jarring reminder to townspeople – mostly Muslim, Turkic-speaking ethnic Uyghurs – that their clocks, and marching orders, are set two time zones away in China’s capital.

Beijing has worked since the 1949 Communist takeover to consolidate control over Xinjiang, a vast borderland of desert and mountains that occupies about one-sixth of China’s territory and contains large deposits of coal, oil, and natural gas. “In the Karamay wilderness, you can see the oil rolling to the sea,” the singers belt out in Mandarin, referring to Xinjiang’s Karamay oil reserves flowing to China proper – a source of Uyghur resentment.

Ann Scott Tyson
A mosque flies the Chinese flag in the ancient Tuyoq Valley outside the city of Turfan, Xinjiang, China. Police stationed outside said the mosque was closed. A turquoise-domed mazar, or Islamic tomb, on the hillside behind it is an important pilgrimage site but is also closed amid a crackdown in Xinjiang.

Today, the blaring anthems – replacing long-silenced calls to prayer from local mosques – epitomize the Communist Party’s chilling new campaign to “standardize” ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. According to human rights groups, authorities have incarcerated as many as 1 million of the region’s 11 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in political reeducation camps in recent years, claiming drastic steps are needed to combat the “three evils” of ethnic separatism, religious extremism, and terrorism. The broader context of the brutal crackdown is Beijing’s aggressive attempt to engineer the thoughts and behavior of an entire people and to transform Uyghurs’ Muslim beliefs and cultural identity into faith in the party and loyalty to the Chinese nation.

“On its face, it’s a campaign to force the Uyghurs after decades of clinging to their culture to give it up after one cataclysmic period and get with the Chinese program,” says Gardner Bovingdon, an expert in Xinjiang politics and associate professor at Indiana University in Bloomington.

Driving the campaign is the Communist Party’s growing preoccupation with stability and control nationwide under the leadership of President Xi Jinping. Party authorities argue that human behavior can be standardized and stability manufactured to achieve social harmony, a goal of China’s rulers for millennia.

The party’s powerful United Front Work Department (UFWD) has taken charge of state organs responsible for ethnic and religious affairs, as Beijing has largely abandoned the emphasis on ethnic diversity and autonomy that marked China’s early reform era of the 1980s and 1990s, says James Leibold, an expert in China’s ethnic policy at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. The UFWD has set up a new office for Xinjiang headed by Hu Lianhe, an official who has long advocated strengthening “national identity” and “standardizing human behavior” for the sake of stability.

Xinjiang authorities are now essentially force-feeding Chinese language, culture, and political ideology to Muslim ethnic minorities while also intensifying efforts to “Sinicize” Islam – defined as making the religion “more Chinese” and “compatible with socialist society.” Religious repression is growing across China, affecting Christianity, Buddhism, and other faiths, but has been most draconian in the border regions of Xinjiang and Tibet.

Ann Scott Tyson
Chinese language workbooks and other books in Chinese fill most of the shelves in this bookstore in Kashgar, in China's far-western region of Xinjiang. The government is pushing an aggressive campaign to force Turkic-speaking ethnic groups such as the Uyghurs to learn Mandarin Chinese.

During a visit to Hotan and other parts of Xinjiang in October, You Quan, head of the UFWD, stressed that Sinicizing religion was necessary to promote ethnic solidarity and harmony, according to the state-run Xinhua news service.

Critics say such party policies amount to a new form of ethnic cleansing – one that attempts to erase the identities of Uyghurs and other ethnic groups instead of moving them out of a geographic region.

“The traditional idea of ethnic cleansing is removing an ethnic group entirely from its territory,” says Sean Roberts, an anthropologist and expert on Uyghurs at George Washington University. Chinese authorities in Xinjiang, in contrast, “are trying to cleanse members of the ethnic group and alter their consciousness and culture and make them into a minority that the state approves of,” says Dr. Roberts. “It’s unprecedented.”

One-language policy 

In the Uyghur heartland of southern Xinjiang, constraints on Uyghur culture, language, and Islam are widespread. 

In population centers such as Hotan and Kashgar, language books and teaching manuals in Mandarin Chinese – the language of China’s majority Han ethnic group – crowd bookstore shelves. But employees at several bookstores said they had no Uyghur language instruction materials for students. Plainclothes police intervened repeatedly to stop shopkeepers at a bookstore and newsstand in Kashgar from selling any Uyghur-language publications to a foreign reporter.

“Uyghur language is highly targeted now, so people are not publishing or writing in that language anymore,” says Darren Byler, an expert in Uyghur society and a lecturer in anthropology at the University of Washington. “Many of the leading cultural figures in Uyghur society have been disappeared,” he says. “The best of the poets, writers, musicians, and academics have all been taken.”

Some of most intrusive efforts at repressing Uyghur culture target those most vulnerable to political indoctrination: ethnic youths.

As the sun rises in Hotan, loud shouting fills the air. Two platoons of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers in dark-green fatigues sound off as they jog in formation through Hotan’s streets, ending up at a school in the center of the town.

Meanwhile, Uyghur secondary school students, also wearing mandatory camouflage fatigues with red kerchiefs tied around their necks, arrive at school.

Before, during, and after the school day, the military personnel and students exercise and drill together on the same track and field – with some soldiers toting automatic rifles – as part of a regionwide militarization of school life. Even kindergarten students are taught military-style boxing by PLA soldiers, as posters outside the nearby kindergarten show. 

Inside the classroom, students no longer learn in their native Uyghur language. The government has banned its use in schools in one of the potentially most far-reaching efforts to suppress ethnic culture. Instead, they are instructed in Mandarin Chinese. Parents of students in Hotan confirmed reports of a government directive issuing the ban last year. “A year ago, they stopped teaching Uyghur language in schools. There’s only Han language now,” said the father of an elementary student. “They are making the Uyghur language useless.”

Students are bombarded with Chinese-language patriotic messages from dawn to dusk. At one school in Hotan, students walk to lunch as loudspeakers blare “Without the Communist Party, there would be no New China.”

On Monday morning, students and teachers gather on an outdoor track for a flag-raising ceremony. Giving a speech of loyalty, referred to as liangjian, or literally “flashing the sword,” the teacher calls for “heartfelt gratitude for the party.” Raising a fist in the air, she exclaims, “As long as we have one breath, let us struggle forward together!” 

To ensure teachers toe the party line, the Hotan Communist Party committee in September announced it will investigate, expose, and punish any hint of resistance or lack of resolve among education workers. Attacking “two-faced people” – anyone who subverts, or does not enthusiastically promote, the party’s policies – it encourages people to turn in family members, friends, and colleagues. A large red poster on a main Hotan street lists dozens of offenses that must be immediately reported to authorities, including “misrepresenting” Xinjiang’s history; refusing to listen to public television broadcasts; or praying, fasting, or going on religious pilgrimages “in violation of regulations.”

Jacob Turcotte/Staff, photo and translation by Ann Scott Tyson

Borrowing rhetoric from a 1950s Maoist movement to “eliminate hidden counterrevolutionaries,” the campaign in Hotan is a microcosm of the purges under way throughout Xinjiang’s society – all of which make clear that the party views unfettered Islamic faith as one of the most subversive dangers of all.

Change ‘under the barrel of a gun’ 

Chinese officials for years have argued that radical Islam poses a major terrorist threat to the country, citing several deadly bomb and knife attacks carried out by Uyghurs.

“In southern Xinjiang we have a religion problem. … Some people have extreme views,” says one Hotan Communist Party cadre who has worked in the town for eight years. In the past, “you couldn’t go out at night; it wasn’t safe,” says the cadre, a Han Chinese, reflecting some Hans’ fear of Uyghurs. “But the county government has controlled it fairly well.”

Ann Scott Tyson
A Uyghur shopkeeper sells traditional hats next to rubble from what residents say is a torn-down mosque on the outskirts of Hotan, Xinjiang, China, on Oct. 28, 2018. Authorities have reportedly demolished thousands of mosques in Xinjiang amid a campaign against what the government calls religious extremism.

Yet the current “de-extremification” campaign has cast a nearly all-encompassing net over daily religious expression and activities. 

Xinjiang authorities have banned long beards, veils, clothing bearing Islamic symbols, and certain names drawn from the Quran. Dozens of rules limit lawful religious activity to narrow confines approved by the state, making it illegal, for example, for a person to listen to an overseas religious radio broadcast. Adults are forbidden from allowing young people under 18 to receive religious education.

Although practicing Islam within government strictures is not technically banned, the widespread detentions of Muslims for minor expressions of faith mean that no one dares to worship publicly.

SOURCE: Weidmann, Nils B., Jan Ketil Rød and Lars-Erik Cederman (2010). "Representing Ethnic Groups in Space: A New Dataset." Journal of Peace Research
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

 

One Uyghur Muslim resident of Hotan said that he was not allowed to go to the mosque. Another said she couldn’t find a mosque even if she dared to go, exclaiming “They’ve all been torn down!”

Authorities, it is estimated, have demolished thousands of mosques in southern Xinjiang, including several in Hotan. In one village on the outskirts of the city, a Communist Party committee office has been built where a mosque once stood. In another village, all that remains of a once-large mosque destroyed in 2017 is a pile of bricks and an empty lot.

Famous mosques protected as heritage sites still stand but are required to fly Chinese national flags and hang propaganda banners and pro-party messages on the walls. All are installed with surveillance cameras.

At Kashgar’s yellow-tiled Id Kah mosque, the largest in Xinjiang, Quranic scriptures have been removed, replaced with a red-lettered digital propaganda ticker praising “Xi Jinping thought” and long lists of rules, including the “26 illegal religious activities.” 

Above the entrance to the main prayer hall hangs a huge photo of Mr. Xi along with a call to “develop patriotic religious persons.” 

Visitors to the mosque undergo a search by police and a metal detector and pay an entrance fee. Women are forbidden from wearing headscarves inside. The mosque is empty but for a few tourists. Asked when prayers take place, a worker wearing a white doppa skullcap responded evasively. “Although I work here, I don’t know about religious activities,” he said. “You have to understand it is secret.”

In Yarkand, a Uyghur town east of Kashgar where unrest erupted in 2014, the doors of the central mosque are locked, and a huge banner hanging on the front reads “Love the Party, Love the Country.” 

Many Islamic holy sites that not long ago attracted thousands of pilgrims have been closed. In Tuyoq village outside Turfan, an arid town in eastern Xinjiang surrounded by red-earthed mountains and grape orchards, a hillside tomb or mazar is believed to be the resting site for the first Uyghur convert to Islam in Xinjiang. Any Uyghur hoping to make the pilgrimage to Mecca is supposed to come here first. Today, though, pilgrims and visitors are no longer allowed at the tomb, and the Chinese character for mazar has been scratched off all the surrounding signposts.

Xinjiang authorities claim their policies are bringing stability by changing residents’ thinking. “Some ethnic minorities have reflected on major issues and achieved religious desensitization,” writes Niu Changzhen, an official at the Communist Party General Office in Xinjiang, in an October op-ed in Global Times.

Yet foreign scholars with years of experience in Xinjiang believe the party’s real agenda is to scare the population into submission through the mass detentions. “This is a deeply cynical strategy,” Bovingdon says, doubting that “anyone in the party believes it is possible to force … Uyghurs to change their beliefs under the barrel of a gun.” By “demoralizing up to a million people,” he warns, “they are setting themselves up for widespread trauma, deepened hostility, and violence.”

SOURCE: Weidmann, Nils B., Jan Ketil Rød and Lars-Erik Cederman (2010). "Representing Ethnic Groups in Space: A New Dataset." Journal of Peace Research
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff
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3. Arab-Israeli ‘pragmatist’ was a hit. But elections loom as daunting Act II.

‘Uniting in the face of adversity.’ ‘Reaching across divides.’ The value of these political goals seems almost self-evident. But in the rough and tumble of Israeli politics, the animosities and challenges are real.

Amelia

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In 2015 Ayman Odeh led a newly minted bloc of Arab-Israeli parties – a mash-up of communists, feminists, Islamists, and Palestinian nationalists – to the strongest Arab electoral showing in Israeli history. Their union was an act of political survival in the face of a right-wing attempt to limit Arab representation in Israel’s parliament. But it also met with the political values of Mr. Odeh, a secular Muslim who espouses the politics of cooperation, including between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel. But the atmosphere in the halls of the Knesset in Jerusalem has often been hostile to Odeh’s Joint List coalition. And the controversial nation-state law, which Odeh denounced bitterly, is demoralizing his electoral base. Mohammed Dawarshe, at the Center for Shared Society in Israel, is concerned by the “tough environment” Odeh faces. “Either because he is young or because he is lacking national political experience, it’s hard for him to deal with the sharks.” But Odeh says he is not deterred. “We can despair and go away, or we can say ‘I want a binational identity for this country and say I will wave the flag for both nationalities together.’ ”

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Arab-Israeli ‘pragmatist’ was a hit. But elections loom as daunting Act II.

In his trademark dark suit and no tie, Ayman Odeh enters a cafe here in his hometown, on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean.

A pair of young men rise instantly to shake the Arab parliamentarian’s hand and embrace him. Soon after, a father approaches, hands Mr. Odeh his infant daughter, and takes their picture.

When Odeh eventually gets up to leave the cafe, which serves both apple strudel and kanafeh, traditionally Jewish and Arab desserts, he is swarmed by smiling well-wishers, most of them Arab, but some Jewish.

This is Haifa, where he seems most at ease. It’s not just his home turf, where he came of age politically, and was elected to the city council two decades ago when he was just 23. It’s also a city where Jews and Arabs live relatively integrated lives. It’s Haifa’s example that has shaped him and his brand of pragmatic politics.

A world away in Jerusalem, 100 miles to the south, the reception in the hallways of the Knesset has often felt decidedly less warm. There Odeh has spent the last four years heading the third-largest faction in Israel’s parliament.

The Joint List is a political alliance composed of the country’s four established Arab parties. They’re not an obvious ideological fit: a mash-up of communists, feminists, Islamists, and Palestinian nationalists. In 2015 Odeh led this newly minted bloc of “Arab” parties – so-called because their deputies and constituencies are mostly Palestinian citizens of Israel – to the strongest Arab electoral showing in Israeli history.

To be sure, the Joint List was borne of self-preservation. In a move apparently targeting Arab parties, a right-wing Jewish party had pushed through a measure raising the threshold for gaining a seat in the Knesset. Uniting was the parties’ way to survive.

Now, facing a challenge to his own political survival, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called snap elections for April. For Odeh, the vote will be his first real test of staying power.

Different kind of politician

When Odeh, a secular Muslim with a wide smile and accessible demeanor, emerged on the national stage ahead of the 2015 elections, he brought with him a new sensibility, one that espoused the politics of cooperation, of Jewish and Arab citizens of this country working together.

That image is a departure from the image among many Jewish Israelis of Arab lawmakers as confrontational advocates of the Palestinian agenda at best, and fifth columnists at worst.

“We have to fight to have a democratic atmosphere in Israel. There are Jews and Arabs here who are against the path of Benjamin Netanyahu,” Odeh, a critic of many of the prime minister’s policies, says in an interview. “The struggle has to be a shared Arab-Jewish struggle.”

Odeh, who lists both Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela as having inspired him, calls this common cause between Arabs and Jews an “alliance of the disadvantaged,” and says he wants to tap into the frustration over the vast and growing economic gaps in Israel.

For Jewish Israelis on the center and left, his appeal has also come from his vocal support for a two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Odeh emphasizes the rights of both peoples to self-determination. But he also warns that not making any moves toward a resolution has only one end: a single state where an Israeli minority rules over a Palestinian majority without voting rights.

In the Arab sector, where the effects of systemic discrimination run deep, Odeh campaigned on economic equality, promising to bring more women into the workforce, secure public transportation for Arab towns, and advocate for often impoverished Bedouin communities.

A major success: the almost $4 billion five-year plan to upgrade housing, public transportation, and education in Arab villages and towns.

Ron Gurlitz, co-director of Sikkuy, an organization that promotes equal rights for Arab citizens, says Odeh spent hours in negotiations that helped ensure the plan’s passage.

“Ayman sees the world as full of opportunities and acts accordingly,” Mr. Gurlitz says. “Many times he succeeds … through these meetings with senior Israeli bureaucrats and ministers. This is part of what makes him a leader.”

Yet Odeh has also had to do his share of arm-twisting – and compromising – to keep the Joint List together, and things are looking shaky for the upcoming election: four members of the list’s 13 have announced they will not run again.

“You have to be a magician to be head of a list that faces so many problems internally and externally,” says Eran Singer, Arab Affairs Editor for Israeli Public Broadcasting.

Feeling unwanted

“Many Arabs feel they don’t have the same rights as Jews, and this is part of the challenge Ayman Odeh faces,” Mr. Singer says. “He is the head of a list of mainly Arab members of Knesset who feel the Israeli establishment does not want them as part of the government or even part of the country.”

It has not been an easy ride, acknowledges Odeh. Hostility from some of their right-wing Jewish counterparts in the Knesset – catcalls of “traitors,” derision for speaking Arabic, and more – is familiar territory for Odeh and his fellow Arab lawmakers.

Israel’s Palestinian citizens, as many now prefer to define themselves, are made up of those Palestinians who stayed in Israel after the 1948 war that led to the Jewish state’s independence. The majority fled or were pushed out during the fighting. Today they make up 20 percent of Israel’s 8.2 million people.

In the hours before the polls closed for the 2015 elections, fearing that his voters were not coming to the polls to secure his victory over a Labor party alliance, Netanyahu made an on-camera get-out-the-vote plea, warning that “droves of Arabs” were casting ballots. While the 11th-hour election ploy has been roundly denounced by the left as racist, Netanyahu’s remarks still sting.

Odeh acknowledges that some Palestinian citizens, particularly the younger generation, have been turned off by politics under Netanyahu. They see an assault on their identity and culture both in political rhetoric and in the actual passage of nationalist bills aimed at diminishing their status. This has reinforced their sense that they are not wanted by their fellow citizens.

Odeh and his fellow Joint List members ripped up copies of the controversial nation-state law when it was still a bill on the Knesset floor while shouting the word “apartheid.” Odeh himself said in a statement at the time of its passage that Israel had just approved “a law of Jewish supremacy and told us that we will always be second-class citizens.”

Wavering support

Eid Jebele, a high school teacher in Haifa, political activist, and commentator in the Arab media, had been an ardent Odeh supporter in the last election. He likes him personally and says he has been a stellar speaker who articulates the needs of the community.

But he has been disappointed by what he describes as capitulations to the more Palestinian nationalist elements in the party, including a decision not to join forces with Meretz, a progressive party, as a voting bloc because they are a Zionist party. Another was Odeh’s decision not to attend the funeral of Shimon Peres, the former president and longtime Labor party leader. Decisions like these have hurt him with many in the community, he claims, as has infighting within his home communist party of Hadash.

“So the hopes people had in him have begun to vanish,” Mr. Jebele says. He says he won’t be voting for the Joint List in the next election, but instead will vote for Meretz.

Mohammed Dawarshe, director of Planning, Equality, and Shared Society at Givat Haviva, the Center for Shared Society in Israel, is concerned by the double challenges Odeh faces – both within the list and from the Knesset at large.

Mr. Dawarshe says he is grateful for Odeh’s championing of shared society, but speculates he could have been more effective in the Knesset.

“He is a good man with good intentions working in a very tough environment,” he says. “Either because he is young or because he is lacking national political experience, it’s hard for him to deal with the sharks.”

But despite the setbacks to his vision of binational Arab-Jewish cooperation, Odeh clings to this answer, saying, “We can despair and go away, or we can say ‘I want a binational identity for this country and say I will wave the flag for both nationalities together.’

“I am confident in my identity and I want to influence the state. It’s not going away and I’m okay with that. I don’t want to play on the Arab playing field alone,” he says. “I call on our public to join in, we are not a small minority. But I say alone we cannot succeed.”

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4. In Jamaica, ‘security zones’ reduce murders – but carry a cost

Jamaica's creation of Zones of Special Operations to deal with deadly gang violence has shown results. But there have been accusations of police violence and a clampdown on civil liberties. Is the trade-off worth it?

Amelia

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Ann Marie Robinson is still nursing an injury from a surprise police visit last fall. The police were looking for her son – she still doesn’t know why – but she blames their aggression on the fact that her neighborhood is part of a government-mandated “special zone,” where civil liberties are repressed in hopes of curtailing high murder rates. In part, the zones are working: Murder rates are down 21 percent across the country since the first zone was implemented last October. But many are questioning whether the approach will have the desired long-term effects if residents are feeling unfairly targeted by the police and arbitrary detentions are targeting mostly young, poor men. “The prime minister is not living up to his ... promise not to violate human rights,” says Horace Levy, from the Peace Management Initiative, an NGO that conducts conflict resolution in troubled communities. As the special zones expand to more neighborhoods in the new year, others say the trade-off of rights for security is worth it: “I completely respect the principles of human rights, but I have to look at ‘have we saved lives?’ ” says Jamaica’s former deputy police commissioner, Mark Shields.

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In Jamaica, ‘security zones’ reduce murders – but carry a cost

Early on the morning of Sept. 23, police barged into Ann Marie Robinson’s cramped apartment, looking for her son. With their badge numbers covered, they confronted her. When her son entered the room, the situation escalated. 

“They hold me by the neck, push me down on the ground,” Ms. Robinson recalls, one knee still swollen months later. Her son was detained for nearly 24 hours without being given a reason. “I don’t trust the police, I don’t have no confidence in them,” she says.

Robinson lives in one of several communities that the government placed under a state of emergency, following the passage of the country’s Zone of Special Operation (ZOSO) legislation in July 2017. The ZOSO legislation suspends some constitutional rights, like searching a person or home without a warrant and imposing curfews, in certain neighborhoods in order to crack down on violent crime. The ZOSOs are also meant to include increased investment in social programming, like job training.

In some ways, the legislation appears to be working. Jamaica had the highest murder rate in the world in 2009, and by 2017 there were more than 1,600 murders annually. Since the first ZOSO was implemented in Montego Bay in October 2017, the murder rate there plunged by 69 percent. It’s fallen 21 percent nationally over the past year.

But, from widespread crackdowns on human rights, to the perception that the policy is more of a band-aid solution to deep-seated gang activity and violence, there’s a growing chorus of voices questioning the legality and long-term viability of the ZOSO approach.

Now, the issue of clamping down on civil liberties is increasingly top of mind. Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced plans last month to implement 20 more Zones of Special Operation in 2019. NGOs, the business community, and citizens – like Robinson, affected by the policy – are starting to ask whether the cost of the ZOSOs is worth trading off the rights of the very citizens they are meant to protect. A report from the Office of the Public Defender last month cast a spotlight on abuses after it found that more than 10,000 people have been detained in states of emergency and ZOSOs over the past year, with fewer than three percent charged with a crime. It also found that children have been detained in unsanitary conditions, among other concerning details. 

Earlier this month, the ruling Jamaica Labor Party failed to achieve the two-thirds majority vote required to extend the current states of emergency implemented in ZOSOs. Parliament did, however, vote to continue the ZOSOs, including the restrictions on resident movement in two neighborhoods. And Mr. Holness still plans to roll out additional ZOSOs sometime next year, according to his director of communications. The ZOSOs are less restrictive than a standard state of emergency in that soldiers aren’t given the same powers as police officers, and people cannot be subject to mass and indefinite detentions.

Although many praise the elimination of states of emergency in conjunction with the ZOSOs, some say the government is still failing to protect citizen rights in its crackdown on crime. “The prime minister is not living up to his [mandate] and promise not to violate human rights,” says Horace Levy, a retired leader with the Peace Management Initiative, an NGO that conducts conflict resolution in troubled communities. He fears the situation could get worse as public security officials are only further emboldened by the ZOSOs.

‘Have we saved lives?’

Mark Shields, a British police officer who took over as Jamaica’s deputy police commissioner from 2005-08, sees only positive effects in the ZOSO approach. “The impact of two, three, or four hundred less murders per year is absolutely huge in terms of the stress caused to families and the cost to the state, and the additional cost of health care,” he says. Some 320 fewer homicides have occurred in Jamaica over the past year.  “I completely respect the principles of human rights, but I have to look at ‘have we saved lives?’ ” He warns that social interventions must continue, or Jamaica will continue in a cycle of violence.

Take Daquan Powell. He was rounded up with dozens of other young men on Sept. 23 in his neighborhood of Tivoli Gardens, the same neighborhood where Ms. Robinson lives. Mr. Powell says the police beat him and took him to a detention facility, where he was held for 31 days. He was never given a reason for his detention. “I feel upset. The sun affects my eyes now,” says Powell, in his early 20s. They don’t let you out.”  Like Robinson, he says he’s more skeptical of police and the government since the ZOSO began.

“A day incarcerated is like 200 years. To take a citizen who you suspect because they are not rich... [it’s] not working,” says Isat Buchanan, a lawyer who has represented several people detained in ZOSOs. He’s concerned about long-term negative effects, like turning the mostly young, poor men who are arrested against the state.

“You destroy their mental state and give them no way to progress. You are creating more criminals,” Mr. Buchanan says.

The public defender’s report found evidence of poor conditions in detention facilities where ZOSO detainees have been kept, including meals that consist of little more than bread and tea, as well as overcrowded, dirty cells, and widespread outbreaks of gastrointestinal illnesses.

‘Prisoners in their own home’

Most of the communities where the ZOSOs and the states of emergency have been implemented (roughly five over the past year), share traits like infrequent garbage collection and undependable water supplies. The majority of residents live below the poverty line and experience high rates of unemployment.

The ZOSOs are part of a five-pronged government plan to tackle crime. The second step of the plan is to provide social interventions, including registration for birth certificates (required to attend school or receive government services), job training, and parenting classes.

“We are moving in the right direction, but there is a lot to be done to ensure that this is sustainable,” says National Security Minister Horace Chang. “We have strong intervention programs in areas with strong urban decay.” But when it comes to human rights abuses, Mr. Chang says there have been few. “The only complaint we have had of significance is that businesses would like to open a little later,” he says. In ZOSO communities, people are under curfew, requiring them to be off the streets by a certain hour, typically 8:00 p.m. That’s hit small businesses like restaurants and shops hard.

The abuses have been a lot worse than that, says Lloyd D’Aguilar, an activist with Justice Now, an NGO focused on human rights here. As the ZOSOs expand in the new year, it’s critical to ensure “new, violent, unconstitutional methods” aren’t employed. Even with the vote eliminating the use of states of emergency to control crime, state repression is “becoming normalized as a crime-fighting tool,” Mr. D’Aguilar says. 

The human-rights abuse allegations need to be addressed, says Carla Gulotta, an activist who works with incarcerated youth. But there are plenty of citizens living in these neighborhoods who are enjoying the ZOSOs effects, she says.

"People were terrorized to send their children to school; to send them for milk” in many of these troubled neighborhoods, she says. "There were lots of people who felt like they were prisoners in their own home.”

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Difference-maker

Drivers of change

5. Gangstas to Growers uses hot sauce to get young people out of hot water

Combining food justice and social justice is a recipe being tested in many US cities. But Atlanta has thrown its backing behind one effort to use African-American culture to help former young felons find a new path.

Amelia
Patrik Jonsson/The Christian Science Monitor
Abiodun ‘Abbey’ Henderson founded Gangstas to Growers, which uses food production to help young Atlantans find direction.

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On a cold morning, Gangstas to Growers arrives riding in the back of a borrowed Ford Ranger. Frost shimmers on purple cabbages at the Collegetown Farm in Atlanta. After spending half the day in the fields, the group of formerly incarcerated teens assembles for classes on cooking, entrepreneurship, yoga, or boxing. The profit-making arm is making and bottling Sweet Sol hot sauce. “We are trying to do real-life things that will change the trajectory of our neighborhoods,” says Abbey Henderson, who founded the program. Derriontae Trent just got out of an 18-month prison term for drug and weapons charges. He says four of his friends have died in gang warfare since October. Gangstas to Growers has given him not just a practical boost – he gets paid $15 an hour – but a philosophical one. He jokes that his past drug dealing doesn’t count as sales experience “because there’s no selling involved when everybody wants what you got.” But his first sale of hot sauce “was the most incredible feeling that I’d ever had.” Nearby, Babatunde Jordan, a neighborhood elder, watches from a turnip bed. “Each plant is different just like each young person is different,” says Baba, as everyone knows him. “You have to put your hands on each one of them to help them achieve their potential.”

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Gangstas to Growers uses hot sauce to get young people out of hot water

As soon as the backpack appeared, Abiodun “Abbey” Henderson knew she had a problem.

In a room of formerly incarcerated youth at the Shrine of the Black Madonna Cultural Center, the first day of a pioneering criminal justice reform program called Gangstas to Growers had been marked not with greetings but aggression.

As the tension rose, cellphones lit up. Suddenly other people, possibly gang members, arrived. A turf battle had come to the church basement. And Ms. Henderson – the 30-something former waitress responsible for bringing the group together – knew from experience that a backpack suddenly swinging from the back to the front suggested the potential presence of a firearm.

“It could have all started off very badly,” says Henderson, who founded the nonprofit for 18- to 24-year-olds in 2016.

Instead of panicking, Henderson addressed the largely teenage group directly and sternly. Shoulders relaxed at her tone. The uninvited visitors left.

Then the newly-anointed group of “gangsta growers” got down to some yoga.

“The thing is, nobody ever talks to these guys,” says Henderson. “Their life is getting yelled at. So when you do talk to them, it is disarming.”

In its second season, Gangstas to Growers is an offshoot of a summer farm camp that Henderson ran on Atlanta’s Westside – transformed into a small, struggling, but working nonprofit through an Innovation Lab fellowship aimed at solving America’s thorniest problems at the street level.

Even as Atlanta’s economy soars, black residents remain five times as likely as white residents to be jailed before they are in their 20s. In a city that pioneered affirmative-action policies that boosted black workers and entrepreneurs, the black unemployment rate remains more than twice that of the citywide average of 4 percent.

But the city is exploring the power of small-scale agriculture to shift such stubborn dynamics. Four years ago, the city of Atlanta hired its first agriculture director. The city now counts 11 urban farms, 49 orchards, and 189 communal gardens. It also created several “food forests,” where residents are free to gather nuts, berries, and mushrooms.

Pioneers include farms like Gilliam's Community Gardens where “Farmer P” Gilliam employs Gangstas to Growers every week to keep the operation running. 

Roosters holler and goats nibble on grass as Gangstas to Growers dig a ditch to beats blaring from a muddy speaker. In just a few years, Mr. Gilliam, who counts Cherokee farmers and Mississippi sharecroppers among his ancestors, has taken a plot in a rough neighborhood and built it into a working farm. He is building an outdoor test kitchen for seminars and events.

He acknowledges that agriculture, given the slave legacy, has a negative connotation for many African-Americans. But he sees it differently: as a return to ancestral skills – a way to turn the history of a Southern plantation state into power for his people.

“Most of these guys aren’t going to be farmers, but entrepreneurs,” says Gilliam. “But what they are learning is that there is real money in ag.”

As the trainees independently figure out the correct depth and pitch of the drainage ditch, Gilliam shouts his appreciation. “You’re real farmers now!”

Like Gilliam, Henderson talks about the deep pull of agriculture on black culture and history. The daughter of a Black Panther dad and a Liberian mom, she has witnessed the institutional racism she and many say still infiltrates American life. Having gone through a foreclosure, she understands the power of gentrification to marginalize – and even dissolve – entire neighborhoods. Her own Westside neighborhood experienced a 50 percent foreclosure rate at the height of the Great Recession, which opened the door to house flippers, skyrocketing property values.

But her project intends to use aspects of gentrification – including the farm-to-table craze – as empowerment.

“We start with food and then it’s small steps from there,” she says.

Since the 1970s, she says, African-American families have been torn away from the daily rituals and recipes that provided a common sense of culture. Those were replaced by “the convenience store food that these kids all grew up on.”

Patrik Jonsson/The Christian Science Monitor
Derriontae Trent, shown at Collegetown Farm in Atlanta, has lost four friends in gang-related violence since he became a Gangsta to Growers trainee in October. A father of three who was released last year from an 18-month prison term, he says his first sale of hot sauce ‘was the most incredible feeling that I’d ever had.’

After spending half the day in the fields, the group assembles for classes on vegan cooking, entrepreneurship strategies, yoga, and, occasionally, boxing. The profit-making arm is making and bottling Sweet Sol, a lavender-tinged hot sauce of Henderson’s creation that goes for $12 a bottle. Weekends are spent at farmers’ markets, hawking the sauce.

Henderson has plans to expand the program to 400 trainees by 2025. For now, the organization struggles to fund operations. A $10,000 emergency grant from a local charity was quickly used. The city of Atlanta has stepped in to pay the hourly wages through its WorkSource program.

Cicely Garrett, the city’s deputy chief resilience officer, has vowed to provide the program enough resources and funding to grow by 25 percent for at least the next three years: “If [trainees] don’t end up being growers, the skills they learn, you can’t take them away,” she told Politico Magazine.

“We are trying to do real-life things that will change the trajectory of our neighborhoods,” says Henderson. “And we are doing it with love, knowledge, and money. It’s hard, but we’re not going to quit.”

On a cold December morning, the collective arrives riding in the back of a borrowed and banged-up white Ford Ranger. Frost shimmers on purple cabbages in raised beds at the Collegetown Farm, in the shadow of Morehouse College.

Henderson, who has the time-worn patience of a den mother, leads the crew from spreading mulch to pouring bags of rotting vegetables onto a compost mound. There are howls of protest at the reek.

Derriontae Trent – a lanky dad of three – leads the way.

Mr. Trent says he was a chief antagonist of the first-day standoff at Black Madonna. He just got out of of an 18-month prison term for drug and weapons charges. He figures he attended about a third of middle school. He says his dad is serving a 99-year prison term. His grandfather – “my rock” – died when he was 8. “I turned inward from then,” he says. He says four of his friends have died in gang warfare since the program started in October.

Trent, who has been shot and stabbed, still returns to Mechanicsville, the Southside neighborhood known to police as the city’s gangster college. He says Gangstas to Growers has given him not just a practical boost – he gets paid $15 an hour – but a philosophical one.

He jokes that his past drug dealing doesn’t count as sales experience “because there’s no selling involved when everybody wants what you got.”

But his first sale of hot sauce “was the most incredible feeling that I’d ever had.” He is now a top sauce slinger.

“When I go back to my neighborhood, I go in circles,” says Trent, tracing circles with his finger. “Farming has put me on a straight line.”

After the shift at the Collegetown Farm is done, Amakiasu Howze, a local elder, walks over to thank the crew. She is met by smiles and handshakes.

Patrik Jonsson/The Christian Science Monitor
Erica Johnson, a single mom with a criminal record, says Gangstas to Growers ‘believes in us.’ She credits the organization with giving her not just a paycheck, but hope for the future.

According to trainee Erica Johnson, a teenage mom coming off a stint in jail, it isn’t just the work opportunity, but what happens out of the field – the organization testifying on their behalf in front of judges and, when needed, locating mental health providers. It all adds up to a single message, says Ms. Johnson: “They believe in us.”

“They need guidance and protection, that is our role as elders,” says Ms. Howze, a principal at Collegetown Farm. “Gangstas to Growers is still in a fledgling state and there’s another plateau that has to be reached. But you can see on their faces.... You can see them thinking, ‘This is good for me.’ ”

Another neighborhood elder, Babatunde Jordan, watches from a turnip bed. The rhythms of farming “have healing powers,” at least for him. And the metamorphosis of seed to plant is cause for anticipation each morning.

“Each plant is different just like each young person is different,” says Baba, as everyone knows him. “You have to put your hands on each one of them to help them achieve their potential.”

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The Monitor's View

In immigration standoff, a little tenderness, please

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The politics of immigration has long been a contest over which groups could claim the greatest victimhood. In President Trump’s demand for stronger border barriers, he tries to highlight the victims of crime committed by a minority of those in the country illegally. Democrats focus on the Dreamers or the children abused after crossing the southern border. Now they also speak for idled and unpaid civil servants. This zero-sum battle over victimhood promotes the notion that only one narrative can win. Rarely does any group of victims acknowledge the suffering of the others. But because they play such a central role in the debate, victims can also be the solution. They, or rather the politicians who claim to represent them, must find a higher moral bearing by turning their demand for empathy into an empathetic moment for all. Middle-ground moments have occurred before. In coming days one may happen again in the Senate, the body best designed to replace national trauma with reconciliation. Then the federal employees can get back to work. And perhaps the politics of victimhood can end.

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In immigration standoff, a little tenderness, please

The shutdown of some of the federal government has added a new narrative to America’s debate over immigration. Now unpaid federal workers have become the latest victims, many of them unable to pay their bills.

They join a long list, such as citizens fearful of further waves of unlawful migration, adults brought to the United States illegally as children (“Dreamers”), or workers displaced by once-legal migrants who overstayed their visas. Even businesses that cannot survive without low-wage immigrants cry foul.

For years, the politics of immigration has been a contest over which of the various groups could claim the greatest victimhood. The idled federal employees are only the latest. In President Trump’s demand for stronger border barriers, he tries to highlight the victims of crime committed by a minority of those in the country illegally. Democrats focus on the Dreamers or the children abused after crossing the southern border. Now they also speak for unpaid civil servants.

Given the adversarial nature of democracy and a news media that thrives on controversy, one might imagine a new category of victims in the near future. And then the zero-sum battle over victimhood goes on. And with it, the notion that only one narrative can win.

Rarely does any group of victims acknowledge the shared suffering of the others. But because they play such a central role in the debate, victims can also be the solution. They, or rather the politicians who claim to represent them, must find a higher moral bearing by turning their demand for empathy into an empathetic moment for all. After all, they share a desire to end the mutual misery of a failed immigration policy.

Such a moment of bridge-building has happened in the past and in public. It occurs briefly when a small group of senators crosses party lines to cut a deal that addresses most, if not all, concerns.

As the crisis in Washington comes to a head, it is worth recalling such middle-ground moments. Last year, during the previous government shutdown, a group of senators calling itself the Common Sense Caucus offered a package of compromises on immigration. It took courage for them to see all sides even if the effort failed.

In 2013, a so-called Gang of Eight in the Senate put forth a very comprehensive package. Their humility and mutual respect was driven by an admission of the common suffering. “It’s tragic that a nation of immigrants remains divided on the issue of immigration,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida.

Another “gang” member, the late Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, summed up the mutual needs even better: “The status quo threatens our security, damages our economy, disregards the rule of law and neglects our humanitarian responsibilities. A problem of that magnitude that affects so many of our interests will never be easy to address but never more necessary to address either.”

When senators reach for such compromises, it is really an act of tenderness. A politician must first disarm in the battle and see the needs of others.

In coming days, such an event may happen again in the Senate, the body best designed to replace national trauma with reconciliation. Then the federal employees can get back to work, and perhaps the politics of victimhood can end.

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

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

Get acquainted with your real self

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Today’s contributor was healed of a hereditary affliction as he learned more about his (and everyone’s) true nature as the child of God.

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Get acquainted with your real self

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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I’ve always appreciated Ben Franklin’s amusing answer to the question, “What are the three hardest things in the world?” His answer: “Steel, diamond, and to know oneself!”

At first, that might even sound a little silly, yet there’s something profound underlying it. There’s more to us than meets the eye. In her book “Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, asks her readers: “Brother, sister, beloved in the Lord, knowest thou thyself, and art thou acquainted with God?” (p. 151).

That which is created represents the nature and essence of its creator. My study of Christian Science has shown me that “to know oneself” first requires a better acquaintance with the nature of God, the creator of us all. We each, as God’s offspring, show – in our own unique and quite wonderful ways – the breadth and wonder of the divine Life that is God.

There’s profound value in getting to know one’s true self, or genuine nature, as the expression of God. In Eddy’s book “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” is this healing counsel: “Know thyself, and God will supply the wisdom and the occasion for a victory over evil” (p. 571).

These ideas proved so helpful when I began to show signs of a hereditary affliction. Having seen before the healing power of prayer, I took that approach to address this issue.

As I prayed one day, I asked myself, “What if I am more than just the product of two mortals?” Jesus said, “Call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9). It dawned on me, Wouldn’t acknowledging God as my divine Parent help me understand more about what I am as the expression of His goodness?

That’s just what happened. I began to realize that what mattered most to me was beholding in prayer each day what God revealed to me about myself – my real, God-created self, His very offspring. This authentic self is not about matter or heredity at all. As the expression of God, divine Life, identity is entirely spiritual.

As I became more acquainted with my real selfhood in divine Life, an entrancement with selfhood in matter – mentally loitering on the symptoms – dissipated. From that point on there never again was any further indication or evidence of that hereditary syndrome, and that was decades ago.

Through prayer, each of us can be introduced to this real self that we have in God, which is perfectly safe, unchangeably whole, and reflects God’s overflowing abundance and goodness. Yes, it’s definitely worth it. Selfhood in God means an identity of tranquility, beauty, absolute spiritual perfection, and insightful intelligence. And as we come to feel, know, and wholeheartedly love this spiritual identity, we lose a distorted sense of a material self separate from God – and find healing.

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Viewfinder

Moving past the ‘killing fields’

Samrang Pring/Reuters
Cambodian children participate in an event Jan. 7 at the Olympic stadium in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to mark the 40th anniversary of the toppling of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime. The regime was responsible for the killing of between 1.7 million and 3 million people between 1975 and 1979. In November, a United Nations tribunal convicted two of the regime’s last surviving leaders of genocide.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( January 8th, 2019 )

Thanks for starting your week with us. Tomorrow, check back in for our story on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip to the Middle East. It looks like a bid to reassure regional allies that the US is not pulling out of region. Will it work?

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