2019
April
04
Thursday

Waste not, meet others’ wants.

That’s the message behind two stories of people taking things that would have been thrown out and giving them to those in need.

In Elkhart, Indiana, children get breakfast and lunch at school. But weekends can be tough for certain families. Elkhart Community Schools has teamed up with a nonprofit to cover Saturdays and Sundays.

“At Elkhart Community Schools, we were wasting a lot of food,” a student services person told TV station WSBT. “So they came to the school three times a week and rescued the food.”

The nonprofit, Cultivate, takes food the cafeteria has not served and turns it into frozen meals. For the rest of the year, 20 students are taking home backpacks stocked with eight meals so they won’t go hungry until the bell rings again. Elkhart hopes to expand the program to other schools.

In Kansas, Addy Tritt went on a shopping spree: She bought all the shoes a Payless, which is closing, had left and donated them to people hit by Nebraska’s floods. Ms. Tritt gets bonus points for haggling: She bought 204 pairs of shoes for $100.

The recent college grad seemed a little baffled by the attention – she makes a practice of buying and donating backpacks, clothes, and baby supplies, she told CNN.

“If you can help someone, you can’t put a price on it,” Ms. Tritt said. “It is the best feeling in the world.”

Monitor staff writer Laurent Belsie and photographer Melanie Stetson Freeman have been in Nebraska, talking to survivors of what the governor has called “the most widespread destruction we have ever seen in our state’s history.” We’ll have their first story tomorrow, about how the town of Lynch (pop. 230) rallied to save itself.

Now, for our five stories of the day.

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1. Surviving ISIS: Young Yazidi conscripts begin long path to healing

In Syria and Iraq, our reporter met with Yazidi boys who somehow survived the horrors of forced service with ISIS. Their long journeys “home” speak to both the resilience and vulnerability of youth.

Yvonne
Dominique Soguel
Mazen, a Yazidi conscript into ISIS who survived the final siege in Al-Baghouz, Syria, after years of harsh training and limited food, tries to keep warm in a tent in a displaced persons camp in Iraq in March. The 15-year-old is haunted by the ISIS massacres of Yazidis in Sinjar. “Everywhere we went there was destruction, but Sinjar stayed on our minds,” he says. “The pain is stuck in our head.”

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The Islamic State’s so-called caliphate may have come to an end. But the terror ISIS inflicted on Iraq’s Yazidi community is forever seared into the minds of young boys conscripted into the jihadists’ ranks. They’re part of a generation whose fathers were executed, mothers and sisters enslaved, and who themselves were relentlessly and brutally indoctrinated.

“It took us just two days to learn how to use a rifle, but the Quran took forever,” one boy says. “They beat us if we didn’t learn the religion quickly enough.”

As the conscripts make their way back to what’s left of their community, the healing process promises to be long. Help is scant. In northern Syria, Ziad Avdalo runs the Yazidi House, which shelters survivors until they can cross back to Iraq. The trauma and indoctrination of these boys, he says, renders caring for them a delicate task.

He slams the international community for failing to support the survivors, and opposes the Yazidi exodus for asylum in the West. Yazidi families – or what is left of them in Iraq – are the best-equipped to nurse the boys back to health, he says. “It is better they stay in their land, among their people,” says Mr. Avdalo. “We have a lot of experience now when it comes to healing.”

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Surviving ISIS: Young Yazidi conscripts begin long path to healing

Confronted with a nephew who curls up into a ball and cries non-stop, Jihad does what many parents would do: loads him in the car, sits him on his lap, and allows him to “drive” down the roads of a dusty camp in northern Iraq in the pursuit of a fleeting moment of joy.

The internally displaced persons (IDP) camp became home to Jihad and his relatives after Islamic State militants attacked the Yazidi religious minority in the Sinjar mountain range in August 2014 – in what the embattled community remembers as its 74th genocide.

The boy crying unconsolably is Dilber. He reached what is left of his family in mid-March after fleeing Al-Baghouz, a speck of land on the banks of the Euphrates in Syria where ISIS suffered defeat at the hands of a U.S.-backed coalition of Kurdish and Arab forces.

“When he is in a good mood, he is a fun boy, you’d never believe he was held by ISIS,” explains Jihad, a day laborer who was away from Sinjar when ISIS attacked.

ISIS’s so-called caliphate may have come to an end, but the terror these jihadists inflicted on the Yazidi community is forever seared into the minds of boys like 10-year-old Dilber and his older brother Dildar, 15. The siblings each look a good three years younger than their age, except for their eyes.

They form part of a generation of Yazidis whose fathers were executed, mothers and sisters enslaved, and who themselves were so relentlessly indoctrinated and beaten that some ended their lives, taking part in suicide attacks. The journey of healing promises to be long, and help is scant.

Dilber and Dildar spent the final days of the caliphate in March sleeping in ditches, drinking leftover wash-water, and begging civilian families for one daily portion of rank soup. Both struggle to speak Kurdish after years of being commanded in Arabic.

“It took us just two days to learn how to use a rifle, but the Quran took forever,” says Dildar. “They beat us if we didn’t learn the religion quickly enough. I have memorized about a quarter of the Quran. The ones who failed to memorize the Quran would be beaten with sticks and water hoses.”

His cousin, Hani, is in better shape physically but is likewise familiar with the toll that life under ISIS can take psychologically. Hani spent more than a year in captivity before being rescued through smugglers along with his mother.

“It takes a long time to learn your language and get rid of their ideology,” says Hani. “Sometimes ISIS ideas pop into your head: Memorize the Quran! Forget your infidel family!”

Dominique Soguel
Dildar (l), a former Yazidi conscript into ISIS, and his cousin Hani, who spent less time in ISIS captivity before being rescued, at an IDP camp in northern Iraq in March. “They beat us if we didn’t learn the religion quickly enough,” says Dildar, 15, who spent his final days in the caliphate sleeping in ditches. “I have memorized about a quarter of the Quran.”

As the cousins – dressed in matching Juventus outfits – compare notes, a steady stream of well-wishers pour into the white small caravan where they live to celebrate their arrival. Others inquire about still-missing relatives.

Rescuing the boys

Ziad Avdalo is a member of a team that has been rescuing Yazidi boys from ISIS for over three years. On the outskirts of Amuda in northern Syria, he runs the Yazidi House, which shelters survivors until they can cross back to Iraq.

The trauma and indoctrination of these boys, he says, renders caring for them a delicate task. “We have boys who have arrived here more fundamentalist than ISIS,” says Mr. Avdalo. “Those who are very dogmatic we deal with very lightly and simply; until their memories come back.”

Some survivors are housed among Yazidi villagers in Syria until they can make the journey home. For many it was tough to establish where that is.

“One six-year-old boy didn’t even know his own name, so we nicknamed him Judi,” says Mr. Avdalo. “Another didn’t know the name of his father.”

Mr. Avdalo, himself a Yazidi, slams the international community for failing to support the survivors, but firmly believes that Yazidi families – or what is left of them in Iraq – are the best-equipped to nurse them back to health. “If anyone cared about the Yazidi community this never would have happened,” he says flatly.

The Autonomous Administration, a proto-government operating in northeast Syria, grants the Yazidi House about $1,000 per month, but that barely covers costs. The Kurdish Red Crescent helps by providing basic medical treatment.

But with Syria already confronting waves of displacement since 2011, there was no targeted response focused on the Yazidis freed by the fall of Baghouz, humanitarian workers in northeast Syria say.

In northern Iraq, home to dozens of camps for displaced people, resources are limited. Dohuk has only a handful of psychologists who initially focused on helping Yazidi women but now provide help to boys as well. Their interventions are irregular, complicated by the fact that victims are widely scattered.

Many Yazidis have left Iraq, finding asylum in Australia, the United States, and Germany, among other nations. It is an exodus opposed by many community leaders.

“Once they are gone, they are [spiritually] annihilated,” says Mr. Avdalo. “It is better they stay in their land, among their people. We have a lot of experience now when it comes to healing.”

The remnants of Kocho

At the IDP camp in Iraq, photographs of the missing – especially women and children who had a better shot at survival – adorn the walls of every caravan. The camp is home to several natives of Kocho, one of the Yazidi villages ISIS attacked in the Sinjar mountains.

Kocho, a disputed territory claimed both by the Kurdish Regional Government and authorities in Baghdad, had a population of nearly 2,000 people before the rise of ISIS. Its exact size today is unknown.

A series of massacres unfolded there Aug. 15, 2014, after village leader Ahmed Jasso refused to succumb to the jihadists’ pressure to convert to Islam en masse. He was the first to be shot behind a school where ISIS had rounded up the Yazidis.

Hundreds of men were executed in quick succession – just one reason why so many of the boys who survived five years under ISIS are coming back to highly traumatized and broken homes, where women significantly outnumber the men.

Among them is 15-year-old Bassim, who found shelter in the Yazidi House before rejoining relatives in Iraq last month. Like other boys who underwent military and religious training under ISIS, he recalled being beaten with sticks and berated on a daily basis.

“We didn’t say a word about it, but through it all we thought of our families,” he says. “There are some who fought and some who blew themselves up. I always had hope I would get out. And every defeat that ISIS suffered raised these hopes higher.”

Bassim’s father, Qassim, is likewise a survivor. He survived the Kocho massacre – only one of 19 men to do so when ISIS took Sinjar. The fate of Bassim’s mother and older brother remains unknown – although there are reasons to be hopeful because Bassim spotted him in Baghouz.

“Many Yazidi children are mixed in with foreign ISIS families or even Syrian and Iraqi families, but nobody cares to check where they are,” says Qassim. “They’re scattered in IDP camps in Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. Some may have even ended up in the Gulf.”

It's a plausible scenario, says Mr. Avdalo. “The number of missing is in the thousands,” he estimates.

Dominique Soguel
Saadu, a native of Sinjar City who is staying now with relatives in Dohuk, Iraq, was only 10 when ISIS captured him and his mother. Her fate remains unknown. “It was non-stop training,” he says of life under the jihadists. “Weapons training and Sharia. They called us infidels but we told ourselves that they were the infidels. We had never heard of someone being beheaded for his beliefs.”

Cubs of the caliphate

At the Iraqi camp and Yazidi House in Syria, Yazidi teenage boys recount being forced to renounce their religion and assume a new identity as “Cubs of the Caliphate.” The staccato testimonies, glazed eyes, and malnourished bodies of those who left Baghouz in recent weeks hint at the depth of their trauma.

The massacres in Sinjar were followed by years of abuse and indoctrination. The pain of separation from their families was compounded by the hardships of war – many survived the sieges of ISIS strongholds Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq.

Stunted growth tells the tale of years of hunger.

A lean boy with spiky black hair, Saadu, recalls fighting in 2017 on the front lines of Raqqa, the caliphate’s capital. Two of his peers – siblings from Tel Kasab – carried out suicide attacks defending Mosul that very same year. They were hailed as heroes in ISIS propaganda material.

“They showed us these videos and told us, ‘These are real Muslims, they are going to heaven,’ ” recalls Saadu, who lost a thumb to shrapnel. A more painful example of the group’s successful indoctrination hit closer to home: his sister. She snitched on him when he wanted to escape. He spent 10 days detained in a cell so small he could not lie down.

“Her ideology shifted,” explains Saadu, who channels part of his anger into online war games and believes ISIS is anything but over. “They have lost control of the ground, but they and their convictions remain.”

Saadu has the fortune of being with relatives in a comfortable apartment in Dohuk. Most of the returnees are living in basic caravans and tents in Iraq with impoverished families that struggle to cope.

Mazen looks no more than 10, but has already turned 15. With melancholy eyes and a soft voice he describes how hunger has been a constant companion –  the heavy physical routine of military training under ISIS was coupled with the most spartan and sporadic of meals.

In Baghouz, he slept in a ditch under a thin tent along with another Yazidi boy in the hope of dodging air strikes. “I wish it had been a tent like this,” he says, sitting next to heater in a wet wool tent, unable to shake off the cold. “The rain poured in and you could not see anything.”

The boy has no knowledge of what became of his father – although other relatives presume him to be dead. “All I know is that Sinjar was attacked by ISIS and is now uninhabitable,” he says. “What happened to the Yazidis, I want to happen to them. I don’t want trials for them. When they slaughtered Yazidis, they did not offer them a trial. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”

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2. Why Central American aid cuts could mean more migration, not less

International aid can seem like a gift, or even a 'reward.' But it's also a key tool for long-term development to benefit the donor country, complicating decisions about when and why to cut assistance.

Yvonne

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The U.S. immigration system is at a “breaking point,” the head of Customs and Border Protection said last month. But how do you stem the flow of migration from Central America?

Last week, President Donald Trump announced a dramatic new approach: cutting $450 million in aid to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, the home countries of tens of thousands of migrants and asylum-seekers. The region’s governments should pull their weight in slowing the outflow of citizens, the White House announcement suggests – and if not, why “reward” them with aid? But can international development aid be used as an incentive – or punishment – for governments to comply with donor interests?

To many Latin America observers, the cuts seemed likely to miss the mark. The majority would affect NGOs, charities, and churches addressing the root causes of migration, like economic opportunity and security, not government funding itself. Considering how weak many public institutions in the region are, those kinds of civil society-run programs are all the more important, some point out.

“We can work with governments to change conditions on the ground,” says Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute. “But that requires development aid” – and time.

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Why Central American aid cuts could mean more migration, not less

Can you stop migration by stopping aid?

That’s a central question following President Donald Trump’s announcement last week that he would cut $450 million in aid to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras – the home countries of tens of thousands of migrants and asylum-seekers arriving at the U.S. southern border.

It’s a dramatic move meant to hold governments responsible for the growing tally of families, unaccompanied minors, and others leaving the Northern Triangle, as this part of Central America is known. Central American governments should pull their weight in slowing the outflow of citizens, the White House announcement suggests – and if not, why “reward” them with aid? “They haven’t done a thing for us,” Mr. Trump said Friday. 

Development assistance is hardly a perfect system, analysts say. But the cuts are expected to mostly affect nongovernmental organizations, charities, and churches addressing some of the root causes of migration – not the governments themselves. That raises the question of whether reducing assistance successfully can pressure governments to halt migration, or lead to more.

The U.S. system is at a “breaking point,” as migrants and asylum-seekers arrive in large groups at the southern border, the head of Customs and Border Protection said last month. Between October and February, 136,150 people traveling in families were arrested by U.S. border agents. That exceeds the total for the entire fiscal year that ended in September 2018, which was 107,212. Many believe Central Americans see Trump’s “zero tolerance” migration policies as a “now or never” moment to ask for asylum in the United States before the doors are shut entirely. 

“It’s a bit Orwellian to ask governments to stop people from leaving,” says Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute. “With the ‘stick,’ it’s hard to see what exactly the Central American governments can do that would be legal that would help them turn around the number of people exiting their countries.”

“We can work with governments to change conditions on the ground,” he adds, “but that requires development aid” – and time.

It’s a lesson learned, in part, right at the southern border. For decades, the bulk of migrants attempting to cross into the U.S. there were Mexican. But starting in the late aughts, the number of Mexicans crossing without documentation fell dramatically, reaching a point of “net-zero” migration in 2012.

A number of factors played a role, from the end of Mexico’s single-party rule in 2000, to both countries’ shifting economies. But the U.S. did contribute to the decrease by incentivizing Mexico’s economic development, observers say. The North American Free Trade Agreement, implemented in 1994, was sold by consecutive U.S. administrations as a program to halt Mexican migration by way of creating more formal employment at home and plugging Mexico into the global economy.

But NAFTA was a piece “of the larger puzzle of Mexico’s development,” says Mr. Selee. “What Bush and Clinton didn’t mention was that it was going to take almost 15 years” for the agreement to create the kinds of opportunities that “give migrants hope to remain at home.” 

Subbing in for the state

Congress has given overwhelming bipartisan support to development aid in the Northern Triangle over the past several years, and is expected to contest Trump’s cuts.

The biggest portion of aid in the region has gone toward violence prevention and improving security and justice systems, according to the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a human rights organization that has tracked U.S. aid since 2016.

The packages contain almost no direct aid to governments, according to Adriana Beltrán, director of citizen security at WOLA. The closest they come to government hands is in security assistance for police forces, for example, or helping a finance ministry improve its budget management system.

“Since 2016, you’ve had bipartisan consensus that you need to address the factors that are driving irregular migration from the region,” says Ms. Beltrán. “This decision [to cut aid] is going to undermine all those efforts and worsen the situation.” She says she’s never seen development aid used to punish or pressure regional governments.

The Northern Triangle is plagued with violence, insecurity, and poverty. A 2015 investigation by Honduras’s La Prensa newspaper found that Salvadorans, Hondurans, and Guatemalans pay roughly $390 million, $200 million, and $61 million, respectively, in yearly “fees” to organized crime groups in order to do anything from walk to school, take a certain bus route, or operate a small business. All three countries regularly rank as some of the most dangerous in the world not at war.

The kinds of civil society-run programs funded by U.S. development aid essentially do the work of the Northern Triangle’s weak public institutions, says Ursula Roldán, director of a migration research institute at Rafael Landívar University in Guatemala City.

“We’ve seen a complete deterioration of government institutions,” Dr. Roldan says, and that directly affects citizens. “Take agriculture. If you lose one harvest, you essentially have to leave. There’s no government support.”

But she still hasn’t seen aid packages deliver the dramatic changes that would offer more Guatemalans opportunities to remain at home.

“American aid to Central America has a lot of problems,” write regional experts and Haverford College professors Anita Isaacs and Anne Preston in a New York Times opinion piece this week. “Its total amounts are paltry, and it is mostly distributed inefficiently in large blocks by foreign contractors.” But it has shown results in places like El Salvador, they note, where violence-prevention programming has been credited with helping lower the homicide rate. Salvadoran migration to the U.S. more than halved between 2016 and 2018, according to U.S. statistics on border apprehensions.

“The moment to get tough is not because people are leaving, but because democracy [in the region] is backsliding,” says Mr. Selee, citing the Guatemalan and Honduran governments’ pushback against corruption-monitoring commissions. The Guatemalan government has repeatedly attempted, most recently in January, to remove CICIG, an internationally-backed body investigating top-level politicians, business people, and security officials.

“It was a missed opportunity [to intervene] and now we’re dealing with the symptoms,” he says.

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3. In SPLC’s crisis, a broader lesson for how to combat hate?

Amid turmoil at a civil rights group, our reporter looks at a deeper question: When does a hate-watch effort help expose and diminish hate, and when might it instead harden America's stiff divides?

Yvonne

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The Southern Poverty Law Center, a group known for combating white supremacy, has recently seen criticism turn inward. Several of its leaders have departed under allegations of racist or misogynist behavior in the workplace. Beyond that, concerns have risen that its efforts to root out extremism are, in some part, based on “selling the idea of Southern intolerance to a do-gooder Yankee donor base,” as a former SPLC staffer wrote.

Critics say that, as the group watches the “gray areas” between free speech and violence-inspiring hatred, it has sometimes skated onto thin ice in labeling individuals as extremists. The organization understands that “there is a danger labeling groups as hate groups when we’re in such a fragmented, polarized, and nuanced sociopolitical climate,” says Brian Levin, a former SPLC worker.

“If [the SPLC] needs to clean house, good, because their work is absolutely essential,” says extremism expert Catherine McNicol Stock. “But this is also a reminder that people on the left have to be careful not to equate the ideas of conservatism [with extremism].”

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In SPLC’s crisis, a broader lesson for how to combat hate?

Once a Democrat living in rural Kansas, Evan Mulch sought to wrench wisdom out of his daily life by reading and debating a full array of moral philosophies.

But one day, he stopped looking. “You can only go down so many rabbit holes,” he says.

He found his philosophical home at the archconservative John Birch Society, which is undergoing a renaissance in the Trump era.

To many progressives in the United States, Mr. Mulch is less a believer in small government than a patriot-movement extremist.

That view has been spread via the Southern Poverty Law Center and its influential Hatewatch project. In 2013, the SPLC’s Hatewatch blog called the Society a group of “conspiracy theory-loving, U.N.-hating, federal government-despising, Ron Paul-supporting, environmentalist-bashing ... true believers.” 

That elicits barely a shrug from Mr. Mulch.

“Nearly everyone I run into says that the SPLC is a hate group itself,” he says. “So when a hate group is calling other groups hate groups, it may have lost all credibility.”

Even as the SPLC, based in Montgomery, Alabama, has become a heavy-hitting counterweight against rising white nationalism in the U.S., it is in the midst of its own reckoning.

In the past month, three key leaders have either been fired or resigned amid allegations of racism and misogyny in the workplace – an irony for an organization founded to fight those impulses.

But for a lot of Americans, the scandal is much bigger than a tale of workplace hypocrisy. It is about how to police debate in an era when tribalism and name-calling seems to dominate the public square.

“If [the SPLC] needs to clean house, good, because their work is absolutely essential,” says Catherine McNicol Stock, author of “Rural Radicals: Righteous Rage in the American Grain.” “But this is also a reminder that people on the left have to be careful not to equate the ideas of conservatism [with extremism].”

Hints of a moral crisis in an organization founded to uphold civil rights may extend beyond the office. Critics have raised concerns that its efforts to root out extremism are, in some part, based on “selling the idea of Southern intolerance to a do-gooder Yankee donor base” that supports a $741 million trust fund, as a former SPLC staffer wrote in The New Yorker magazine.

Out of a modernist six-story edifice set against Montgomery’s modest skyline, the SPLC manages a platoon of lawyers to litigate civil rights complaints. A smaller group is its outward face: the Intelligence Project, widely quoted publisher of Hatewatch, which tracks extremism throughout the U.S. 

SPLC’s bankrupting of the Ku Klux Klan has been widely reported, and the group gained still more prominence as it tracked racists and bigots from the Clinton through Obama eras. 

But with the Trump election, it took on fresh stature. Last year, it helped force several conservative commentators – including conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who is currently being sued by parents of slain Sandy Hook children for spreading conspiracy theories that their children’s murders were all a hoax – off mainstream social media platforms. It routinely assists law enforcement, including the FBI, in tracking hate groups, and has been ringing alarm bells about a rising tide of white nationalist violence. In its most recent report, the Intelligence Project also noted a rise in violent black nationalism. 

The broader profile has come with bigger stumbles.

In recent years, the Intelligence Project has apologized to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson for listing him on an extremist watch. It also paid out millions in a libel settlement to a man it misidentified as an anti-Muslim extremist.

And critics have blamed the SPLC’s labeling as extremists mainstream figures like author Charles Murray – who posited in the “Bell Curve” the widely debunked theory that there may be genetic differences between the races – as contributing to hostility toward free speech on college campuses.

And then two weeks ago, a bombshell: The center suddenly announced the firing of co-founder Morris Dees. Late last month, president Richard Cohen and several other principals resigned. The center has been relatively mum about the details, but the shake-up came after a prominent black female attorney resigned, causing employees to write a letter saying that “allegations of mistreatment, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and racism threaten the moral authority of this organization and our integrity along with it.”

Last week, the center hired Tina Tchen, Michelle Obama’s former chief of staff, to help overhaul its workplace culture. On Wednesday, it announced that an SPLC board member, former juvenile court judge Karen Baynes-Dunning, is taking over as interim CEO.

“It’s clear that our mission and our work combating hate and extremism are as needed as ever, so the vital work of the Intelligence Project goes on,” an SPLC spokesperson writes in an email. “Like all parts of the SPLC, we’re eager to see Tina Tchen’s review process continue and look forward to making any changes needed to ensure we have a workplace that reflects our highest values.”

The news led to eye-opening shellackings from news organizations that routinely use the SPLC’s findings to fuel stories. The Los Angeles Times and The New Yorker were among those that published tough critiques.

But a gentler charge, says Professor Stock, who teaches American studies at Connecticut College in New London, is that the SPLC applies what moral philosophers call a “hero standard” to group membership – the idea, for example, that those not actively trying to rescue Jews during the Holocaust were bad people. That high bar of virtue means that the SPLC’s brush sometimes splatters non-extremist Americans. 

The organization understands that “there is a danger labeling groups as hate groups when we’re in such a fragmented, polarized, and nuanced sociopolitical climate,” said Brian Levin, former associate director for legal affairs of the SPLC’s Klanwatch/Militia Task Force, in a conversation before the shake-up.

But it’s the “gray areas” between free speech and violence-inspiring hatred where extremism can flourish – and where hate-watch groups can skate onto thin ice, says extremism expert J.M. Berger.

Last year, the Intelligence Project listed a man named Vince Buckles as a leader of the secessionist and increasingly militant League of the South in Louisiana. Mr. Buckles was at one point a cast member on the “Sons of Guns” reality TV show.

At the time, Hatewatch editor Heidi Beirich told the Monitor’s Christa Case Bryant that it stood by its reporting. She said Mr. Buckles “downplayed his role” because “this guy had a lot to lose by the disclosure of this. I know he was at some league events.” 

Reached last year by the Monitor at his gun shop in Louisiana, Mr. Buckles acknowledged that he had been at a league event in New Orleans. But he says all he did was pay a membership fee to the League of the South.

He denies being a racist, claiming his gun shop is one of only a few in his parts of Louisiana that actively caters to a black clientele. For Mr. Buckles, at least, it’s like he woke up one day to find his reputation at stake for simply holding what he sees as traditional American views.

“The growing rise of left-wing politics means that stuff that used to be center of the road is now right-wing,” says Mr. Buckles. “Bill Clinton’s policies are not that different from Trump, but Trump is a Nazi and Clinton was a Democrat hero. It’s a very, very left shift. We thought this was healed, but now we have seen that it is not healed.”

Painting Americans like Mr. Buckles and Mr. Mulch as nationalist revolutionaries underscores the lack of a hard definition of extremism, complicated by the difficulty of a majority-white nation to address a surge of white nationalism, argues Mr. Berger, author of “Jihad Joe,” in an email.

In many ways, he says, the Supreme Court’s definition of pornography – “I know it when I see it” – has become the mainstream standard for extremism. “And it’s not a healthy one.” In his view, the extremism label should only be applied to groups that base their existence on the promotion of hostile action against another group.

“If ‘extremist’ is just a label for someone you disagree with, then it’s a pretty useless label,” says Mr. Berger.

“The Founders feared tyranny of the majority – that over time certain views would become so prevalent that [Americans] would exclude from discussion ... ideas that some people considered beyond the pale of acceptability,” says Gene Policinski, president of the Freedom Forum Institute in Washington. “The very reason [for the First Amendment] is for the protection of extreme ideas. Justice Jackson said that sometimes we need to hear that which is vile and repugnant only if to be better prepared to argue against it.”

Perhaps more fundamentally, both Mr. Buckles and Mr. Mulch say they have been undeterred by the SPLC’s negative attention. “Heck,” said Mr. Buckles. “it’s a badge of honor.” 

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4. As China cracks down on Uyghurs, some keep their culture alive in US

Uyghur New Year celebrations are unlikely in China, where a government crackdown attempts to erase Uyghur identity. In a show of peaceful perseverance, some in the U.S. are sustaining their culture.

Yvonne
Sarah Matusek/The Christian Science Monitor
An Uyghur woman wears a traditional doppa skullcap at a Nowruz celebration in Medway, Massachusetts, on March 23. More than 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities have been reportedly detained in mass internment camps in China's Xinjiang region.

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China’s crackdown on Uyghurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic group in China’s Xinjiang region, has devastated Uyghurs abroad. Many believe their loved ones are among the 1 million or more detained in what China calls “vocational training centers.” Survivors allege political indoctrination and torture. China has also shuttered Uyghur language schools and demolished mosques in attempts to force allegiance to the Communist Party.

But in a show of determination, some members of the Uyghur diaspora are attempting to sustain their culture abroad. Some yearn to teach their children the native tongue or attend mosque. For others, it’s simply celebrating holidays like Nowruz – the start of spring and the Uyghur New Year, a cultural tradition marked with family, traditional food, and performances.

At a recent Nowruz party for Uyghurs in Medway, Massachusetts, guest Abuduwaresi Abulimiti was happy to hear children speaking the Uyghur language. Mr. Abulimiti, an activist in Boston, lost contact with his parents and brother, a popular Uyghur singer, two years ago. Recent reports suggest all three have been detained in mass internment camps. “This is the first time I’m a little bit happy in two years,” he says at the event. “I’m happy today because I saw my people celebrating.” 

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As China cracks down on Uyghurs, some keep their culture alive in US

As the six-hour party rollicked toward midnight, guests grew bolder on the dance floor. The women’s moves started in the wrist, snaked up through the arms, and unfurled in coy smiles. Men swooped low as if harvesting a field. Their children, meanwhile, chased stray balloons.

On a recent Saturday in Medway, Massachusetts, this annual rite of spring revived familiar rhythms for the 60 or so guests. Many doubted they could gather this way in their homeland.

The guests were Uyghurs – a mostly Muslim ethnic group concentrated in China’s Xinjiang region. Reports of China’s systematic surveillance and abuse of Uyghurs in Xinjiang have devastated Uyghurs abroad. Many believe their loved ones are among the 1 million or more detained in what China calls “vocational training centers.” Survivors allege political indoctrination and torture.

Aynur, a guest at the Medway event, says celebrating Nowruz, the Uyghur New Year, was a break from isolation.

“It’s just good to get together. Especially for me – I came here without my family,” she says, gazing at the dancers. “I feel like they’re my family.”

Aynur left Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in 2015 to complete a master’s degree in finance in the U.S. Seven relatives scraped together her tuition. Two years later, her dad went missing for a month. Three months. Then a year.

Her family was told he was at “political study” and that he’d return. When he didn’t, Aynur realized her dad must be in an internment camp, where China claims to “reeducate” so-called extremists.

“My father would be the last person to have an extreme thought,” Aynur says.

After her dad’s disappearance, Aynur’s mom cut off all communication with her for safety. A sibling told Aynur that their mother must attend “political study” classes in town every morning, where she sings songs praising the Communist Party.

As China cracks down on Uyghurs in Xinjiang, some members of the diaspora are attempting to sustain their culture abroad. Some yearn to teach their children the native tongue or attend mosque. For others, it’s simply celebrating holidays like Nowruz – the start of spring and the Uyghur New Year.

Not all Uyghurs consider joyful gatherings appropriate in light of grim news. Fear pervades life in the diaspora, stoked by the suspicion of informants. China punishes Uyghurs in Xinjiang for the actions of family members abroad, including criticism of the Communist Party and speaking to media. Aynur’s real name has been changed, along with all other sources who appear only by first name.

Rites of spring

Celebrated by millions of people in many cultures worldwide on the vernal equinox, Nowruz, also known as the Persian New Year, is a cultural tradition that Uyghurs mark with family, food, and performances. The Nowruz event in Massachusetts was the first of its kind organized by the greater Boston community. Another Nowruz gathering occurred near Washington, home to the largest concentration of the estimated 5,000 Uyghurs scattered across the U.S.

A Uyghur woman named Laura and her husband arrived at the Medway venue in matching embroidered tunics. It was the first time she’d worn a traditional kanway since moving to the U.S. 17 years ago.

“There was something kind of burning inside,” Laura says about her decision to come. She dreamed of a disappeared friend back in Xinjiang the night before.

“The positive, good side is we’re waking up, saying ‘We are Uyghur....’ We need to keep our traditions.”

Raised by parents shaped by China’s Cultural Revolution, a decade of violent repression under Mao Zedong launched in 1966, Laura says few Nowruz traditions were passed down to her as a child. At the Medway event, Laura especially relished the taste of Nowruz stew. The boiled blend of grains is a New Year's staple, where neighbors chip in ingredients.

“Now I’m going to learn how to make it,” Laura says, returning with a second bowl.

Though it’s difficult to determine specifics, Beijing began tightening restrictions on many cultural practices, religious activities, and Uyghur language in 2017, says Peter Irwin, referring to China’s latest crackdown in a campaign that’s been underway for years. 

“Along with the goals of breaking down the Uyghur identity inside, the camps serve a definite disciplinary function for those who remain on the outside,” Mr. Irwin, program manager at World Uyghur Congress, an international advocacy group in Munich, says via email.

Virginia-based Bahram Sintash, the CEO of fitness company Uyghur Muscle, remembers Nowruz in Xinjiang well. He designed sets for holiday musical performances on state-run TV.  

“We love to celebrate our Nowruz, but this year [in Xinjiang], Chinese New Year is the main agenda,” Mr. Sintash says. He referenced reports of Uyghurs from his homeland forced to participate in the Lunar New Year, which many Han Chinese typically celebrate in February. Internment camp detainees are sometimes forced to consume alcohol and pork, forbidden in Islam, according to The Washington Post.

“The prohibition on pork symbolizes something basic to Uyghur identity: it is a last element of native sovereignty,” writes Darren Byler, anthropology professor at University of Washington, in SupChina.

China has also shuttered Uyghur language schools and demolished mosques in attempts to force allegiance to the Communist Party. As a Monitor correspondent reported from the town of Hotan, practicing Islam may not be technically illegal, but harsh consequences for expressions of faith deter many from public worship.

Studying Arabic in secret

The first time police arrested Abla, he was in third grade. They found him secretly learning Arabic at a neighbor’s study group so he could read the Quran, he says. The armed officers entered by kicking in the door.

“They took our pictures like criminals,” Abla says.

Around 2007 in Hotan, his hometown, Abla struggled to keep up his five prayers a day as police began to flank the entrances to mosques. They forbade anyone under 18 from entry.

Living in Boston a decade later, he spends nearly every day at a mosque. Abla says practicing his religion in the U.S. feels like “freedom from the cage … one of the most precious freedoms I got from this country.” 

“And you’ll never ever see a police army asking for your ID,” he says. 

Regional experts say the mounting repression is the work of Chen Quanguo, Xinjiang’s party secretary. Prior to his Xinjiang placement in 2016, Mr. Chen held the same top post in Tibet, where he won official praise for quelling dissent.

In recent years, China has blamed what it calls Islamist extremists for violent attacks in the region. Rich in natural resources, Xinjiang is also critical territory for China’s Belt and Road Initiative – a trillion-dollar infrastructure project. China’s tightening grip in Xinjiang, a key conduit, is seen as a way to protect its investments and projects that involve several neighboring countries. 

‘First time I’m happy in two years’

Mr. Sintash aims to preserve Uyghur culture virtually. His website Uyghurism.com will upload copies of Xinjiang Civilization, a Communist Party-controlled Uyghur journal that his father used to edit. Mr. Sintash’s father has been detained along with other Uyghur intellectuals. He says it’s his duty as a son to speak up.

Sunday classes at Ana Care & Education, a Uyghur language school in Fairfax, Virginia, serve about 100 Uyghurs as young as 6. Activists in Boston hope to start a Uyghur language school and cultural center in Massachusetts.

Kids celebrating Nowruz in Medway were tested on their English-to-Uyghur translations. That was party guest Abuduwaresi Abulimiti’s favorite part of the party.

“I’m happy the children are speaking my own language,” Mr. Abulimiti says.

Mr. Abulimiti lost contact with his parents and brother, a popular Uyghur singer, two years ago. Radio Free Asia reported in December that all three had been detained in a mass internment camp. Mr. Abulimiti, now an activist in Boston, says he’s not afraid of Beijing.

“This is the first time I’m a little bit happy in two years,” he says. “I’m happy today because I saw my people celebrating.”

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5. From Einstein to Duchamp: the physics of modern art

Science and the humanities are often viewed as intrinsically separate. But when it comes to abstract physics, the arts have served as a tangible forum to explore scientists’ ever-shifting depictions of reality.

Yvonne
Courtesy of the Mead Art Museum
The ‘Dimensionism: Modern Art in the Age of Einstein,’ exhibit features 20th-century artists who drew inspiration from physics. Displayed works include Anton Prinner’s 1932 ‘Colonne’ (r.) part of the Mead Art Museum’s permanent collection, and Pablo Picasso’s 1917 ‘Young Girl in an Armchair’ (l.) on loan from the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky. (© 2018 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York).

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The gently rotating mobiles by Alexander Calder, spinning paper discs by Marcel Duchamp, and colorful depictions of microscopic life by Wassily Kandinsky on display at Amherst College’s Mead Art Museum are more than just works of art. They are evidence that the arts and the sciences can inform each other.

Visitors are encouraged to think more about that interconnectedness by a new exhibit, “Dimensionism: Modern Art in the Age of Einstein.” Each of the featured artists was a signatory to Hungarian poet Charles Sirató’s 1936 Dimensionist Manifesto, which called for text to transcend the line, for paintings to transcend the plane, and for sculptures to move. The collection, which also includes works by Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró, illustrates how 20th-century art mirrored 20th-century physics in revealing a world that defies our preconceptions.

“Both art and science challenge our idea of what we see as reality,” says Vanja Malloy, the Mead Museum’s curator of American art and the exhibition’s organizer. “And science is something that informs our worldview whether or not we like to admit it.”

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From Einstein to Duchamp: the physics of modern art

A free exhibition at the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College takes its inspiration from a figure not usually associated with the arts: Albert Einstein.

“Dimensionism: Modern Art in the Age of Einstein,” which opened at the Mead on March 28 and runs until July 28, includes about 70 works from an array of early 20th-century artists. These include gently rotating mobiles by the American sculptor Alexander Calder, spinning paper discs by the French avant-garde artist Marcel Duchamp, and colorful depictions of life on a microscopic slide by the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky.

At first blush, these artists seem to have little in common. But their names all appear, along with other famous artists, on the 1936 Dimensionist Manifesto, a call for writers, painters, and sculptors to transcend their static Newtonian framework and embrace a dynamic conception of the cosmos.

The exhibition challenges the narrative that Western culture is split into two cultures, science and the humanities, says Vanja Malloy, the Mead Museum’s curator of American art and the exhibition’s organizer.

“It shows us, at least on one side, that’s not true,” she says, gesturing to Kandinsky’s 1937 oil-on-canvas painting, “Capricious Forms.” “Here, you have artists with microscopes.”

Courtesy of the Mead Art Museum
Wassily Kandinsky’s 1937 oil on canvas painting ‘Capricious Forms’ is part of the permanent collection at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. (© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn)

Many of the artists were influenced by Einstein’s revolutionary ideas about space and time. Others were inspired by mathematical conceptions of a fourth spatial dimension, the hidden world revealed by X-rays, and the fuzzy and indeterminate reality proposed by quantum theory.

“Both art and science challenge our idea of what we see as reality,” says Dr. Malloy. “And science is something that informs our worldview whether or not we like to admit it.”

Drafted by the Hungarian poet Charles Sirató, the Dimensionist Manifesto states that “[w]e must  accept – contrary to the classical conception – that Space and Time are no longer separate categories ... and thus all the old limits and boundaries of the arts disappear.” 

The manifesto called all forms of art to explore the next dimension – for lines of text to become planes, for paintings to step into cubic space, and for three-dimensional sculptures to move. The exhibition, which opened at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive in November and traveled to Amherst last month, includes paintings, sculptures, mobiles, visual poetry, and three short films.

One of Dr. Malloy’s favorite works in the exhibition is titled “Study for Lobster Trap and Fish Tail,” an arthropodal mobile by Calder consisting of several plates of painted sheet iron that sway gently in response to people entering and leaving the room. Like subatomic particles in the quantum mechanical model, it seems impossible to observe Calder’s mobile without influencing it.

And yet, for all of his abstract renderings, Calder identified himself as a realist, notes Dr. Malloy. “The universe is real but you can’t see it,” said Calder in a 1962 interview. “You have to imagine it.”

Courtesy of the Mead Art Museum
Robert Delaunay’s 1934 ‘Rhythme sans fin’ (r.) is on loan from a private collection in Paris. Helen Lundeberg’s 1937 ‘Microcosm and Macrocosm’ is on loan from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles (© The Feitelson / Lundeberg Art Foundation. Digital Image © 2018 Museum Associates / LACMA. Licensed by Art Resource, NY.)

Linda Dalrymple Henderson, an art historian at The University of Texas at Austin, notes that the Dimensionist Manifesto drew together artists with very different ideas about what the fourth dimension actually was. The first group, whose artistic sensibilities formed before Einstein’s theories became widely known, thought of the fourth dimension as a spatial construct. This was a logical extension of the transition from two to three dimensions that was developed by mathematicians in the 19th century.

“The idea of a special fourth dimension is such a liberating one for artists,” says Professor Henderson. “It’s not surprising that styles like cubism developed, because all bets were off in terms of space and matter.”

Professor Henderson places Pablo Picasso, whose 1917 work “Young Girl in an Armchair” appears as part of the exhibition, in this first group, calling the widespread assertions that the artist was influenced by Einstein a “myth.”

But after 1919, when Einstein became a household name after data from an eclipse supported his theory of general relativity, the art world’s conception of a fourth dimension shifted.

“Truly the coming of Einstein in 1919 is a huge shock for any artist,” says Professor Henderson. “This notion that people’s basic ideas about space and time and measurement of distance are wrong, it’s pretty earth shaking. That has a huge impact on artists, who are like barometers. They just are so sensitive to the newest ideas.”

Under this newer conception, the fourth dimension is temporal: According to Einstein’s theories of relativity, the four dimensions together constitute spacetime, a single manifold that links “where” with “when.”

Courtesy of the Mead Art Museum
Sculptor Barbara Hepworth's 1959 'Project for Wood and Strings, Trezion II' is part of the Mead Art Museum's permanent collection, a gift of Richard S. Zeisler (© Bowness).

Artists in this camp tended to represent the fourth dimension as movement, such as Calder’s mobiles or Duchamp’s spinning discs. “That next younger generation,” she says, mentioning Calder, “is ready to just embrace notions of the fourth dimension primarily into time and explore them in kinetic art.”

“Charles Sirató was such a brilliant thinker,” says Professor Henderson, for his ability to identify an artistic community out of these two seemingly disparate camps.

But Sirató was hardly alone in recognizing the potential of 20th-century physics to revolutionize art. As Lynn Gamwell, a lecturer in the history of art, science, and mathematics at the School of Visual Arts in New York, points out, several other manifestos appeared in the years following Einstein’s 1919 rise to fame.

“The art world is full of science,” says Dr. Gamwell. “Art expresses how we understand reality, and we understand reality in a scientific worldview today.”

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The Monitor's View

Forbearance while playing Fortnite

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One of the world’s most popular video games, Fortnite: Battle Royale, is almost addictive, according to media reports. More than three million people are playing the multiplayer game at any given time. The new version offers more entertaining challenges and intriguing plots that entice participants to play on and on.

Cautionary tales are circulating about children dodging homework or becoming sullen, angry, or even violent if asked to stop playing. Last year, the World Health Organization placed “gaming disorder” caused by video games in general on its list of official afflictions. Yet plenty of children do not fall into this trap. Wise and caring parents who maintain good communication with their kids shouldn’t see the game as necessarily evil.

Playing it can develop helpful skills such as cooperation, team building, and self-confidence. And taking away access to a digital device altogether is not necessarily an answer. A child probably needs it for homework and other worthwhile activities. One route is to limit playing time. Parents can also express interest in the game, ask questions about it, and then guide a child’s interaction in the moment.

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Forbearance while playing Fortnite

Fortnite is fun. Really, really fun. For many children and adults who play it for long periods, however, the fun can turn into a spell.

The video game’s most popular form, called Fortnite: Battle Royale, is almost addictive, according to media reports. More than three million people are playing the multiplayer game at any given time. The new version offers more entertaining challenges and intriguing plots that entice participants to play on and on.

In Fortnite: Battle Royale, up to 100 competitors (or teams) race around an island finding weapons and defensive materials. They battle each other until a single winner remains. Though the game is free to download and play, more than two-thirds of players spend real-world money – an average of more than $80 each – to buy helpful or fun in-game items, including showy clothing or dance moves. Such purchases may compel a player to keep playing.

News of famous people such as pro baseball players becoming obsessed with the game are now common. Cautionary tales are circulating about children dodging homework or becoming sullen, angry, or even violent if asked to stop playing. Last year, the World Health Organization placed “gaming disorder” caused by video games in general on its list of official afflictions.

Yet plenty of children do not fall into this trap. Wise and caring parents who maintain good communication with their kids shouldn’t see the game as necessarily evil. Playing it can develop helpful skills such as cooperation, team building, and self-confidence. It can provide opportunities to feel successful and skillful in completing difficult challenges. Children may even make friends based on a common love for the game.

If parents do have concerns, what can they do? Taking away access to a digital device altogether is not necessarily the answer. A child probably needs it for homework and other worthwhile activities. One route is to limit playing time. Parents can also express interest in the game, ask questions about it, and then guide a child’s interaction in the moment.

Parents can also loop in a child or teen to the rule-making process. Children might be reminded well ahead of time that the absolute stopping time is coming. That can help them use their own planning abilities to bring a session to a satisfying conclusion.

Another route is to provide attractive alternatives to video-gaming. Getting outside to play or explore the natural world, for example, has a pleasure all its own. Experiences in real life can be fun. Really, really fun.

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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.

Everyone is needed

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Today’s contributor explains how purpose and value are built into our very nature as God’s children and shares how a friend was saved from suicidal desires as she realized that.

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Everyone is needed

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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“What purpose does a sloth fill in the whole scheme of things?” I asked our naturalist guide. He had just finished telling us that sloths often don’t move from their stationary position in a tree for up to two weeks.

He grinned and said that sloths are very important to the rainforest for several reasons. For example, they eat new leaves just as the leaves emerge from branches and therefore serve as natural pruners. For each leaf eaten, two more grow, thus increasing the volume of the rainforest’s canopy.

How cool is that! I could see that sloths really are important; they do have a useful place in the universe.

It’s so easy to dismiss some things, and even people, as unimportant. Maybe their value isn’t obviously apparent, or they don’t seem to be making a contribution. But there’s a different perspective, which I’ve discovered through studying Christian Science and found to be such a helpful way to look at things: In God’s universe – the true, spiritual universe – every individuality is created by God and valuable.

In her seminal work, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” the discoverer of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, writes, “The divine Mind maintains all identities, from a blade of grass to a star, as distinct and eternal” (p. 70).

That idea has often comforted me. It has given me a conviction that the divine Mind, God, not only created and sustains all creation, but also maintains the value and individuality – the indispensability – of every idea. Nothing is insignificant.

What does this mean for those who believe they have no value, or who feel they have no contribution to make to the world? It can mean life is worth living. And we can help them by appreciating the wholeness of God’s creation – by affirming in our prayers that each individual plays a part and is therefore necessary.

I’m not referring to specific roles or tasks played out in nature or in society. I mean purpose as built into our nature as God’s offspring. God creates each of us with a purpose. But what determines our value isn’t simply based on our skill set, or what we’re trained to do. More profoundly, we are important and needed because we exist to express the qualities of our creator. Because like produces like, our true nature is God-caused. Each of us, therefore, inherently embodies harmony, love, intelligence, purposefulness, and more – all the qualities of our infinitely good creator.

Recognizing this has a healing effect. In fact, I know of a woman who was saved from the desire to take her own life by what she learned in Christian Science about her integral place in God’s creation. She’d had a difficult childhood and felt that her parents didn’t want her – that she shouldn’t even exist. As a young adult, she felt worthless and thought the world would be better without her.

So she was amazed to learn that she was both wanted and needed by God, her divine Parent. She realized that creation would be incomplete without her and everyone else.

The power of this spiritual fact pulled her out of the darkness. Now she expresses gratitude daily to have a purpose, which she has come to see is simply to express God. As a result she now lives a fulfilling life.

What this woman discovered is true for every one of us. Even if our value may not seem apparent, we can celebrate the underlying reality that spiritual qualities of infinite worth are still inherent in each of us. And then we’ll see and feel more of this God-inspired purpose expressed in our lives, not just because it is the reality, but because we’re more aware of it.

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Viewfinder

Sail mail

Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters
In Lehde, Germany, spring means the return of mail service by boat. From April through October, Deutsche Post DHL postwoman Andrea Bunar spends each day paddling through the village delivering mail. Lehde residents have been receiving their mail by boat for more than a century.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( April 5th, 2019 )

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow. Monitor staff reporter Henry Gass will be writing from El Paso, Texas, which has become ground zero for the border controversy.

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