2019
April
08
Monday

Last week, we at the Monitor got fresh perspective on world news when 25 journalists from around the globe dropped by our offices. We all face vastly different demands – and some of the same ones, too. As we all talked, what rose to the top was a shared yearning for journalism that reaches deeper than most of what we see out there in the United States and elsewhere.

The journalists were here as part of a State Department program and hailed from countries in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and Latin America. Broadcast journalism and new technology were a focus. But what engaged them most, whether they were from Paraguay or Libya or Singapore, was the discussion around the kind of journalism we value: the kind that aims to present various points of view fairly, that embraces the whole world and its humanity, that covers stories others neglect, that surfaces solutions and cares about justice. One woman asked correspondent Dominique Soguel, who joined the meeting by video and had just returned from reporting challenging stories in war-torn Syria, about how to handle personal and emotional involvement in a story. Others noted the long-term commitment to this kind of journalism: “You’ve been doing this for more than 100 years. How?”

Journalists are an individualistic bunch. But in a room filled with so many different datelines, there was so much common ground. It was reassuring to know of journalists around the world committed to traveling on this road – one we hope you’ll keep walking with all of us.

Now to our five stories, which delve into the importance of fresh thinking about entrenched problems, integrity in politics, and avoiding stereotypes in how you portray the world.

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1. In Israeli election, a stark ballot choice: whether to keep door open to peace

What happens when democratic leaders dabble with extreme solutions? Ploy or not, Benjamin Netanyahu’s election eve pledge to annex parts of the West Bank likely will have serious consequences for him and Israel.

Amelia
Ammar Awad/Reuters
Laborers hang an election campaign banner depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his Likud party candidates in Jerusalem March 28.

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As Israeli voters head to the polls Tuesday, they are faced with more than just a referendum on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as this election had been portrayed. More clearly than ever before, they are choosing between keeping alive the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or bidding it farewell by declaring Israeli sovereignty over some or all of the West Bank.

That could some day put Israel in charge of some 2.7 million Palestinians, which brings its own fateful choice: grant them full political rights, and Israel ultimately loses its Jewish character; or deny them rights, and Israel ceases to be a democracy.

Many dismiss Mr. Netanyahu’s unprecedented annexation pledge as a ploy. But their warnings are grave. “For the Palestinians, any sign of annexation will be the end of the Oslo agreements and especially the end of security coordination with Israel,” says Shaul Arieli, a retired colonel who served two prime ministers. He and other experts predict the Palestinian Authority would collapse soon after any kind of annexation. And he adds, “It will be the end of the Zionist vision of a democratic and Jewish state.”

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In Israeli election, a stark ballot choice: whether to keep door open to peace

Israelis are used to seeing their prime minister of the past decade, Benjamin Netanyahu, pull rabbits out of a seemingly bottomless hat to keep himself and his Likud party in power.

Four years ago, to mobilize his base, he warned that Arab voters were swamping the polls, later apologizing for playing what critics decried as the race card.

But this year, trailing in the polls to a new centrist alliance, facing indictments for fraud, bribery, and breach of trust, and pressed from rivals on the far right, his election eve vow to annex portions of the West Bank has crossed a new line.

If pursued, it would effectively bury prospects for peace with the Palestinians and lead to an Israel that many analysts say could no longer be considered democratic.

As Israeli voters head to the polls Tuesday they are now faced with more than just a referendum on the hard-line Mr. Netanyahu, as this election had already been portrayed. More clearly than ever before, they are being presented with a choice between keeping alive the possibility of a two-state solution to solve the centurylong Israeli-Palestinian conflict or bidding it farewell by granting Israel eventual control over some or all of the West Bank.

That could some day put the Jewish state in charge of some 2.7 million Palestinians, which brings its own fateful choice: grant them full rights, and Israel ultimately loses its Jewish character; deny them rights, and Israel ceases to be a democracy.

Consequences

Many analysts, voters, and politicians dismiss Mr. Netanyahu’s unprecedented annexation pledge as a ploy. But their warnings are grave.

“For the Palestinians, any sign of annexation will be the end of the Oslo agreements and especially the end of security coordination with Israel,” says Shaul Arieli, a retired colonel who took part in negotiations under former Labor prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak. He and other experts predict the Palestinian Authority would collapse soon after any kind of annexation.

The Palestinians have long argued it would be impossible to establish a contiguous state if it is formed around swaths and patches of Jewish settlements on what they and the international community say is occupied land.

“It will be the end of the Zionist vision of a democratic and Jewish state,” Dr. Arieli says. “We don’t know how many years it will take, but it’s like a domino effect. You start with annexation of Maale Adumim [a sprawling settlement near Jerusalem], which is part of the Israeli consensus, and at the end of the process there will be one state, and it will be an Arab state or apartheid.”

Tomer Appelbaum/Reuters
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, visit a market in Tel Aviv, April 2, 2019.

According to polls, most Israelis value the Jewish and democratic nature of Israel and oppose annexation. But after years of political deadlock, calls for full or partial annexation to include what's called "Area C" (under the Oslo Accord) have been gaining traction on the right. That area is home to most of the large Jewish settlement blocs plus as many as 300,000 Palestinians in a hodgepodge of enclaves within it.

Such a step, however, could trigger serious violence that could stretch for years, experts warn.

Kobi Michael, a former deputy director general and head of the Palestinian desk at the Ministry for Strategic Affairs, calls Mr. Netanyahu a “political magician” but says “he will do anything to ensure he will continue to be prime minister. He does not stop at the red lights.”

Annexing Area C “could increase the chance for something like a third intifada, something that is very serious,” adds Dr. Michael, now a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies, an Israeli think tank.

Neither the specter of international condemnation, security warnings, or even his own usually cautious approach to stoking potential unrest deterred Mr. Netanyahu from breaking with his previous aversion to unilateral moves like annexation.

Pressed in an interview Saturday night with an Israeli television station, Mr. Netanyahu said that if the Likud won, Israel would annex part of the West Bank. He was vague – experts say purposefully so – but he was very clear on one point: No Jewish settlements would be left behind, from the large blocs that abut large Israeli cities to the small and isolated ones.

The Trump factor

The consensus in Israel seems to be annexation is not necessarily something Netanyahu plans to truly carry out or even could carry out if he wants to. But political realities have been shifting, especially with regard to the United States.

Under any previous president, the notion of annexation would have been a non-starter. Past U.S. administrations sought to fashion themselves as “fair brokers” negotiating the fragile Israeli-Palestinian relationship in coordination with both sides.

But as Mr. Netanyahu returned home from a meeting with President Donald Trump two weeks ago, there were hints from within his entourage that he may have received a green light from the White House to pursue some form of annexation. A senior source on the plane said Mr. Trump’s formal U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights – itself seen as another pro-Netanyahu election “goodie” to persuade voters – was a precedent for recognizing other captured territory.

“I think everyone understands it’s part of Netanyahu’s propaganda and not more than that,” says Dr. Arieli, “But still, the outcome will depend on the results of the election.”

If the Likud wins and Mr. Netanyahu as its leader forms a coalition with the far-right parties, they will demand that he fulfills this commitment.

“This is about internal political games, not about geopolitics, but he is inviting pressure on to himself along with the chances of sparking unrest and international condemnation,” says Dr. Michael.

Among the possible diplomatic casualties of such an approach would be Israel’s improving ties with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states. And Israel’s ties with American Jews, many of them long-standing champions of the two-state solution, would no doubt be further compromised, especially amid withering criticism of Israel from progressive Democrats.

Public opinion

According to Zipi Israeli, a research fellow who heads the public opinion department of the Institute for National Security Studies, for the past 30 years Israelis have consistently been in favor of some form of separation from the Palestinians, with recent polls indicating 55% of Jewish Israelis support a two-state solution.

What has also remained consistent, she says, is that the majority of Jewish Israelis fear the kind of binational state that annexation of the West Bank, or parts of it, could bring because one of their primary concerns is maintaining a Jewish majority in Israel.

A civics teacher who wanted to be identified as only Daniel and plans to vote for Meretz, a small left-wing party, says the two-state solution “is almost impossible right now, but it is the only valid option for the long run.”

In some ways he sees Mr. Netanyahu coming out in favor of annexation as a relief. “It takes down the ‘mask’ that ‘We are for peace; we will negotiate with the Palestinians,’” he says. “It’s always better to know the true thoughts and beliefs of our leaders. Now Netanyahu can no longer ‘sell’ that he is for the two-state solution.”

Yaara O., who works in the high-tech field in Tel Aviv, grew up in Alfei Menashe, a West Bank settlement that is part of a large settlement bloc. She does not believe there is currently a partner for peace in the Palestinian Authority leadership and welcomes the idea of annexing the major settlement blocs but not the smaller, more remote ones that are scattered throughout the West Bank.

“My view is that we do need to be more aggressive,” she says, “but I also want to see a Palestinian state one day.”

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2. Why is Brexit so messy? The tension of party vs. country

The choice of picking country over party is a common one among world leaders. But it can pose a real dilemma, as Brexit is demonstrating.

Amelia

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Whatever side of the Brexit debate one is on, there is no disagreement that it is a confusing, messy process. Some of that is rooted in the philosophy of Brexit itself: whether it is better for the United Kingdom to remain within the European Union or not. But another major factor is a common political issue: the tension between party and country.

Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May and her opposition rival, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, have struggled to unite their fractious parties around Brexit positions that don’t sink them politically, now or in the future. Both leaders are wary of any compromise that delivers Brexit but cleaves their respective parties into “remain” and “leave” factions.

Polls show a majority of Conservative supporters prefer to see the U.K. walk away without an agreement on April 12, something Ms. May opposes. Meanwhile, Mr. Corbyn’s own views of EU membership are at odds with his followers. He voted against the U.K. joining in 1975 and was a lackluster campaigner for "remain" in 2016. But a poll by a pro-Labour trade union projected a loss of 45 seats in a snap election if the party fails to oppose Brexit.

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Why is Brexit so messy? The tension of party vs. country

When Prime Minister Theresa May reached across the aisle last week for help in delivering Brexit, her eleventh-hour pivot had an air of inevitability. Her own Conservative Party had failed to back her withdrawal agreement with the European Union on three separate votes in Parliament, humiliating Ms. May and forcing her to extend the United Kingdom’s March 29 deadline for departure.

Without a majority on her own benches, Ms. May has held talks with the opposition Labour Party in a bid to pass the withdrawal agreement on time. On Sunday, she made a pitch to the public in a presidential-style video from a sofa in a wood-paneled office.

“It’ll mean compromise on both sides, but I believe delivering Brexit is the most important thing for us. I think that people voted to leave the EU. We have a duty as a Parliament to deliver this,” she said.

Outside observers might wonder what took her so long.

The reason lies in the tension between party interests and national interests – something familiar to leaders everywhere. While the demands of party invariably come into play, politicians usually look for ways to square them with what they perceive to be best for their country.

Ms. May and her opposition rival, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, have struggled to unite their fractious parties around Brexit positions that don’t sink them politically, now or in the future. Both leaders are wary of any compromise that delivers Brexit but cleaves their respective parties into “remain” and “leave” factions.

Divided parties

Ms. May has “very clearly been putting the interest of party unity first,” says Amanda Sloat, a senior fellow in the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution. But she has failed to win over her own pro-Brexit members of Parliament who demand that the EU makes more concessions, particularly on intra-Ireland trade, says Ms. Sloat. Now “the only alternative is to pivot in the other direction and try to get some support from Labour MPs.”

Some Labour MPs would be happy to oblige: Their constituencies voted to leave and look dimly on Parliament’s foot-dragging. “You do have a majority of MPs across the house who would be supportive of some kind of softer Brexit,” says Thom Brooks, the dean of Durham Law School in Durham, England, and a professor of politics.

In the nomenclature of Brexit, “soft” means keeping the U.K. in a tighter future embrace. Mr. Corbyn has called for a customs agreement to duplicate the current arrangements that provide frictionless trade for U.K. companies across Europe, as well as EU-adopted protection for workers’ rights and alignment with other EU regulations.

Matt Dunham/AP
A pro-Brexit, leave the European Union supporter holds up placards outside the Houses of Parliament in London on April 3.

But the idea of a soft Brexit, or any Brexit at all, is anathema to the majority of Labour members who voted to remain in the 2016 referendum. A recent petition calling for the revocation of Britain’s departure got over 6 million signatures within a week, a record response. Many came from Labour-voting seats that are more youthful and pro-European and support holding a second referendum on Brexit as a condition of Labour cutting any deal with Ms. May.

Yet the same petition reveals a fault line within Labour that parallels Ms. May’s dilemma. Some of the constituencies with the fewest signatures were also Labour seats, mostly in working-class districts away from the affluent southeast. These seats could be crucial to any future electoral victory for Mr. Corbyn, whose surge in 2017 cost Ms. May her parliamentary majority.

But younger voters could turn against Mr. Corbyn if he’s seen as abetting a Conservative-led Brexit, says Steven Fielding, a professor of political history at the University of Nottingham. “Young people didn’t vote Labour in order to support Brexit,” he says.

A poll by a pro-Labour trade union projected a loss of 45 seats in a snap election if the party fails to oppose Brexit, the Guardian reported in February. More immediately, Mr. Corbyn has to keep onside critics in his shadow cabinet who have campaigned for a second referendum and prevent more defections in Parliament to a new independent caucus.

Mr. Corbyn’s own views of EU membership are at odds with his followers. A lifelong socialist, he voted against the U.K. joining in 1975 and was a lackluster campaigner for remain in 2016. His left-wing allies oppose EU rules that restrict state spending on national industries.

Helping Ms. May to deliver Brexit would allow him to return to his attack lines on the economy, says Mr. Fielding, who is writing a history of the modern Labour Party. “Brexit is a complication for him. ... His basic path to victory is to get Brexit out of the way with as little damage as possible.”

‘What an astonishing achievement’

For Ms. May that isn’t an option; she has already agreed to step down if and when Brexit happens. But her right flank is livid at her pivot to Mr. Corbyn, a left-winger they despise. A letter published last week in the pro-Conservative Telegraph pithily described this anger: “SIR – Mrs May is despised by much of the Labour Party simply for being a Tory. She is now despised by much of the Tory party for not being a Tory. What an astonishing achievement.”

Polls show a majority of Conservative supporters, though not MPs, prefer to see the U.K. walk away without an agreement as an EU-imposed deadline looms on April 12. Ms. May is attending an emergency EU summit on Wednesday to seek a longer extension.

Even if Ms. May and Mr. Corbyn can eventually agree on a Brexit strategy to put to Parliament, its approval would not end the drama, given the tensions within both parties, warns Ms. Sloat. MPs still need to legislate in support of Brexit and rebellions may prove hard to contain.

“Theresa May needs a parliamentary coalition not only to pass the deal but also to pass implementing legislation. It’s not enough to just get this agreement and then see Parliament collapse,” she says.

In Britain, the historical parallel for Ms. May’s dilemma is the 1846 repeal of the pro-landowner Corn Laws, which split the Victorian-era Conservative Party and cast it out of government for three decades. The repeal was in the national interest, but not in the interest of the ruling party.

The irony for today’s Conservatives is that the 2016 referendum was supposed to settle a perennial intraparty war over Europe. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron called the referendum believing that he could win and thereby modernize a party that was “banging on about Europe,” not voters’ daily concerns. Instead he set the U.K. on a path that has made EU relations more polarizing than ever – and destabilized his own party.

“This is a crisis entirely formed by an existential problem of the Conservatives,” says Mr. Brooks.

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3. ‘It’s a constant hustle.’ 2020 brings renewed attention to US child care woes.

It’s a struggle working moms know well: finding affordable, quality child care, and with it, work-life balance. Now a shift in leadership and thought may offer fresh thinking on America’s child care woes. 

Amelia

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The difficulty of arranging quality child care is one reason that female participation in the U.S. workforce has stalled at around 57%. That puts the US slightly below the average for Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries.

Now relief may be on its way, as what has been called America’s child care crisis is getting the most attention it has gotten in decades. Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren has made a federally funded network of affordable child care and early education for all a major policy plank. And some American cities, including Pittsburgh, are making a push for universal pre-K.

It’s an opportune moment for a great rebalancing of American families: The push for more equitable child care is being led by women in leadership who know the challenge personally. “I saw firsthand how important an early childhood education was,” says Leanne Krueger, a Democratic member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives who was elected to office when her son was 3 and in pre-K. “Fundamentally we just haven’t had moms at the table in Pennsylvania fighting for these issues.” 

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‘It’s a constant hustle.’ 2020 brings renewed attention to US child care woes.

Dana Hunter helps her 3-year-old out of his car seat. It’s midmorning, but the working mother knows he needs to get out of the house at least once a day. So she “clocks out” from her job in social media and missions for an evangelical church in Pittsburgh, and heads to a coffee shop that she loves.

She’s thankful for the flexibility. Her husband, who works for a packaging company, doesn’t enjoy such leeway. Ms. Hunter works in her office two days per week, utilizing child care services that are offered onsite one day a week and her mother the other. The remaining three, she makes it work by herself – keeping track of when she’s on and off as she manages a full-time job and primary childrearing.

Recently she found a new time slot to get some work done: on her phone while she is lying down with her 6-year-old daughter at bedtime. 

“Margin,” Ms. Hunter answers, when asked what she most wants to improve her life. “Just, like, margin in my life.” 

Now relief may be on its way, as what has been called America’s child care crisis is getting the most attention it has gotten in decades. Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren has made a federally-funded network of affordable child care and early education for all a major policy plank, while others, like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, are co-sponsors of the Child Care for Working Families Act. And it’s a discussion well underway in many American cities, including Ms. Hunter’s. The city of Pittsburgh is making a push for universal pre-K, joining others in the state and across the country, including in Washington, D.C.; New York City, and the state of Oklahoma.

Much of the growing support for pre-K owes to research showing the benefits of early education, while the focus on child care often centers around the economic boon of getting mothers back into the labor market. But it’s an opportune moment for a great rebalancing of American families: the push for more equitable child care is being led by women in leadership, who know how off-kilter the work-life balance is for most mothers.

“It’s a constant hustle,” says Cara Ciminillo, the executive director of Trying Together, a Pittsburgh nonprofit that advocates for early childhood care and education. “It’s a constant piecing together and juggling of demands and priorities.”

‘I have to do everything’ 

With affordable, quality child care out of reach for many families, women often shoulder the bulk of domestic management – coordinating child care; packing meals; tracking dietary restrictions, field trips, and parent meetings – even as men’s participation in family life has increased. According to Pew Research Center figures, fathers in 2016 spent an average of about eight hours a week on child care, triple the numbers they reported in 1965; that compares to 14 hours a week for mothers. 

And the hustle that implies is one of the reasons that female participation in the U.S. workforce has stalled – and is now slightly below the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development average, according to their figures. In 1990, among women 57.5% were participating in the workforce; nearly 30 years later, in 2017, it was 57%. 

The American child care landscape, so individualistic and inaccessible compared to the government-subsidized programs in much of Europe, traces back to the founding of the United States, says Amy Westervelt, who wrote “Forget Having It All: How America Messed Up Motherhood – and How to Fix It.” 

The Puritans brought their religious and cultural ideas around families being responsible for themselves. In many ways, she says, that sense of “going it alone” remains the ethos.

Child care options have morphed as society has needed or wanted women’s labor, whether during the Industrial Revolution or during World War II, when the country needed women in factories while men fought overseas. The government created a federally subsidized child care system for working mothers in 1941. As soon as victory was declared, the funding was withdrawn and women were encouraged to serve the nation by staying home to rear their children.

Each time women’s rights have been won, says Ms. Westervelt, notions of the responsibilities of motherhood have intensified. America’s first foray into a child care system, for example, gave way to the ideals of the 1950s housewife and mother.  

“Right now I think a lot of the reason that we’re seeing this sort of intense pressure (on mothers) is that the economy wants both things from women,” says Ms. Westervelt. “Late-stage capitalism wants the most labor out of everyone all the time. And then we’re hearing constantly about the declining birth rate. There’s this real push on both those roles at the same time, which I think is really playing into women feeling like, ‘I have to do everything.’ ” 

Push for pre-K

Now Pittsburgh might ease the pressure on mothers like Ms. Hunter. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto has pushed for universal pre-K since his election in 2014, says Tiffini Simoneaux, the early childhood manager with the city.

She says pre-K has increasingly gained bipartisan support in Pennsylvania. A poll commissioned by the statewide group Pre-K for PA backs that up. In 2013, 63% of likely voters said they favored increased funding to ensure access to pre-K for all in 2013; in 2018, 75% did. 

Sara Miller Llana/The Christian Science Monitor
Lauren Bethea once enrolled her daughter in a pre-school that she could afford but where she never felt comfortable. She’s advocating for Pennsylvania to improve the quality of its childcare facilities statewide.

Support for such policy has grown as a historic number of women have recently been elected into office, many working mothers themselves, intimately familiar with the gaps in the current system. In Senator Warren’s pitch for universal child care and early education, she tells the story of her own struggle juggling a job and raising kids – eventually relying on her 78-year-old Aunt Bee in Oklahoma.

Leanne Krueger, a Democratic member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, says she was elected into office when her son was 3, and in pre-K. “I saw firsthand how important an early childhood education was,” says Representative Krueger, an advocate of the Pre-K for PA initiative. “Fundamentally we just haven’t had moms at the table in Pennsylvania fighting for these issues.” 

Support for pre-K in Pennsylvania is more about education for kids than women’s rights, says Ms. Simoneaux. “There’s some buy-in about pre-K being important and people realize that this is getting kids ready for kindergarten,” Ms. Simoneaux says.

Earlier care is a harder sell. Pennsylvania launched the “Start Strong PA” initiative this winter, advocating for improving quality in daycare facilities. Pittsburgh also just unveiled a $2 million fund to improve quality across its child care centers. Still, Ms. Simoneaux says, attitudes about childrearing persist.

“Specifically with infant and toddler care, people think they’re better off at home,” she says. 

Yet the reality today is that many women have to leave the house to work – and child care amounts to one of their biggest expenses and stressors. Married couples pay 11 percent of their income toward child care, according to a 2018 report. Single parents pay 37 percent of their income.

Lauren Bethea, a single mother in Pittsburgh who is part of the “Start Strong PA” initiative, chose her daughter’s first daycare because it was the one she could afford. But it never felt right. “Every day I was stressed out. I’d think, ‘What am I going to hear, what am I going to see?’ ” says Ms. Bethea, who has since secured a spot in a top daycare center where she works, and tears up in relief.

No mother should have to make such tough choices, says Ms. Ciminillo. “We’ve got to reshape the way in which we pay our workers across the board and in every sector so that families have the choice as to whether they want to use child care or want one of the parents to stay home,” she says, “or we’ve got to invest in our care infrastructure.”

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4. Northern composure: Could a scandal tip Canada into populist anger?

While right-wing and anti-globalist populism plagues the West, it remains rarer in Canada. Canadian politics have taken a different path thanks to geography, to wars past, and to political decisions made centuries ago.

Peter
Laura Cluthé/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Workers at the General Motors assembly plant in Oshawa, Ontario, head home after a shift. In the 1980s, some 23,000 people worked at the plant. The remaining 2,900 will be laid off when the plant closes at year’s end.

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Anger over diversifying populations and influxes of people from other countries is fueling populist movements around the world. But even with a scandal shaking Ottawa right now, the mood in Canada is not nearly as angry or explosive.

Many see acceptance rooted in the way the country was founded. After the British prevailed over New France in the Seven Years’ War, British officials signed the Quebec Act of 1774. It guaranteed French-speakers the right to maintain their religion and civil laws, laying the groundwork for what’s often called Canada’s “culture of accommodation.”

Multiculturalism has also been encouraged by geography. A cold mass of land bordered by two oceans and the most powerful country in the world across its entire southern flank, Canada has had to invite people to live here. Those it does invite are the “best and brightest” – one reason diversity, multiculturalism, and views toward immigrants rank so high in opinion surveys.

“Canada is way more of an idea than it is an ethnic identity or even a collection of myths,” says author Stephen Marche. “Multiculturalism really does have that power as a binding agent.”

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Northern composure: Could a scandal tip Canada into populist anger?

Accusations of fraud and corporate favors, secret tapes, and political rivals expunged: For two months, the nation has been gripped by a scandal at the highest tiers of government. This week, after two prominent members were expelled from the ruling political party, one newspaper dubbed it the “Tuesday night massacre,” a reference harking back to the Watergate scandal.

No, this is not the United States, nor does it have anything to do with the Mueller investigation. This is Canada, under the leadership of Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose “sunny ways” have been symbolizing all that is right about Canada – and all that seems to be going so very wrong in the rest of the world.

Now Mr. Trudeau’s office faces allegations that it pressured former Attorney General and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to drop bribery and fraud charges against a Quebec engineering firm over its dealings in Libya. The scandal, which broke in February, has always been about far more than the charges at hand.

It started after a newspaper alleged that Ms. Wilson-Raybould, the first indigenous woman to hold that office, was reassigned for refusing to bend to the will of those at the top who wanted to shield the company, SNC-Lavalin, from prosecution. It has since turned into a he-said, she-said. And the optics couldn’t be worse for Mr. Trudeau, a self-defined feminist leader, and his narrative of a new way of governance: It looks like white male power punishing the new player for not doing politics as usual.

“Sunny ways” have definitely clouded over. In a recent poll by Ipsos, Mr. Trudeau’s approval rating fell to 40%, lower than President Donald Trump’s 43% approval rating.

Yet for Canadians, this is more than a story of the political fate of Mr. Trudeau or his Liberal party. It sits at the heart of how Canadians view themselves, and how the world views Canada – long touted as an exception in the era of the right-wing populist. An opinion piece this week in The Globe and Mail, which broke the original story, worried whether Mr. Trudeau has “channeled Trump.” It hints at the question many Canadians are asking themselves: Have we become what they are?

History suggests the answer is no.

Canadian politics have taken a different path than in the United States and many Western democracies, where anti-immigrant and anti-globalization sentiment has grown – and it’s not just because of Mr. Trudeau. There’s a much longer history that owes to geography, to wars past, and to political decisions made centuries ago.

That’s not to say there is no anxiety. This is an election year, and many political observers are worried about the populism creeping into public discourse in this normally restrained nation. Yet even the humblest Canadian will admit that the cleavages don’t run nearly as deep as they do elsewhere – the mood not nearly as angry or explosive.

Laura Cluthé/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
‘People are probably a little more gentle [in Canada]. ... I think that we’re used to not rattling people up; it’s just not our nature.’ – Mike Gray, owner of a sewing shop in Oshawa, Ontario

Mike Gray sits in his Singer sewing shop in early January in downtown Oshawa, which was rocked by economic news in late November when General Motors announced a five-plant closure across North America, including its last assembly line here. He says he believes Canada won’t be torn apart and politics won’t turn mean-spirited as it has south of the border. “I think it’s just the way we were brought up,” he says. “People are probably a little more gentle. ... I think that we’re used to not rattling people up; it’s just not our nature.”

Loyalists and rebels

It’s become almost a parlor game: Canadians and Americans comparing the differences in national character. Americans are the brash and boastful (at least according to the view up here) while Canadians are the polite and pleasant. The election of Mr. Trump in 2016 after a boisterous campaign, compared with the election of Mr. Trudeau in 2015 after a more muted national plebiscite, did nothing to dispel these views.

But the differences in character, caricatured or not, show up in other measures as well. One recent Canadian study compared 40 million tweets among Canadians and Americans. The idea was to explore what language choices reveal about stereotypes of national temperament. The researchers found that Canadians tend to use words that are positive, such as “great,” “amazing,” “awesome,” “thanks,” and “beautiful,” while Americans’ tweets skew more negative, with words such as “hate,” “tired,” or “bored.”

“What may be coming out here, if this is a reflection of Canadian culture and our choices, may be that Canadians are more invested in a sort of friendly and accepting identity,” says Bryor Snefjella, one of the study’s researchers from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

The differences in national persona, in some ways, extend all the way back to the Revolutionary War. The rebellious members of the 13 Colonies fought to carve out their own identity and country, while those who wished to stay the subject of the British crown fled north. “Loyalists,” essentially anti-revolutionaries, shaped the foundation of English-speaking Canada, with the values of “peace, order, and good government” dominating the early political culture, while those in a fledgling America infused their guiding charter with words such as “unalienable Rights” and “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Laura Cluthé/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
David Paterson, vice president of corporate affairs for General Motors Canada, stands outside the GM corporate headquarters for Canada in Oshawa, Ontario.

To this day, Americans seem more comfortable engaging in a fiery populism. Stephen Marche, a Canadian author, wrote an essay called “Canadian Exceptionalism.” In it he argues that one of the key differences behind the divergent paths of Canada, compared with the U.S. under Mr. Trump, lies in the conservative parties of each nation. Although Canadian Conservatives have taken up wedge issues, especially around immigration, in their quest to regain power, he says it is nothing like what he hears from some far-right elements of the U.S. Republican Party, in which “there really is a sense of wrecking the whole thing,” he contends.

Anger over diversifying populations and influxes of people from other countries is fueling populist movements around the world. In Europe, it’s helped push Britain into unknown territory as it stumbles out of the European Union. From Hungary, to Turkey, to the Philippines, authoritarian leaders have risen to office, greatly expanding their powers, in part over concern about controlling borders and a backlash to the “others” in society.

Those voices exist in Canada, too – and in an election year are reverberating more loudly than ever – but the country has a longer history in tolerance-building, forming a multicultural ethos that views immigration as a pragmatic response to an aging population and declining fertility. When the Canadian government announced plans to attract 1 million newcomers in the next three years this winter, it was to very little opposition. New figures show Canada surpassing the U.S. in the number of refugees it resettled in 2018 for the first time in 72 years.

One of those newcomers arrived on a rainy night in December.

‘Accommodation and compromise’

The usual crowd has congregated outside customs at Toronto Pearson International Airport. They are there to greet passengers of Turkish Airlines Flight 17 from Istanbul.

Among those waiting are Lana Delmaestro, her husband, and their young son. The youth holds a homemade poster with a maple leaf drawn in red marker and the name “Alaa.” They intently watch the sliding doors for a Syrian refugee they’ve never met, but whom the family sponsored with a group of other Canadians.

Sara Miller Llana/The Christian Science Monitor
Lana Delmaestro (l.) and Paul Zurbrigg (holding the sign) welcome Alaa (c.), a Syrian refugee they are sponsoring, at the Toronto airport.

By now, these airport scenes – of Canadians holding their flags and “welcome” signs as they meet refugees they’ve helped bring to Canada through the country’s private sponsorship model – are commonplace. In fact, the Delmaestros are one of three groups of people waiting for Syrian refugees on this flight alone.

Ms. Delmaestro hugs Alaa when she walks through the main arrival area, dressed in a black sweatshirt and maroon headscarf after a long journey from Jordan. She hands the young Syrian an Ikea bag with a winter coat and boots. Then Ms. Delmaestro turns to her son, still holding his sign, and repeats something she’s told him over and over since they decided to sponsor a refugee family, legally committing to a year of supporting her financially and emotionally: “This is the most important thing our family will ever do.”

Many see this acceptance rooted in the way the country was founded. After the British prevailed over New France in the Seven Years’ War, British officials signed the Quebec Act of 1774. It guaranteed French-speakers the right to maintain their religion and civil laws, laying the groundwork for what’s often called Canada’s “culture of accommodation.”

Peter Russell, author of the 2017 book “Canada’s Odyssey,” argues that the “incomplete conquest” of French-speaking Canada as well as its indigenous peoples created a series of “nations” within the country that formed the foundation of a high level of tolerance for diversity today.

Bicultural tensions between English and French, the “endemic fault line of Canadian politics,” adds author Erna Paris, has required compromise at every facet of Canada’s political life. As Quebecois identity strengthened in the 1960s, then-Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau (Justin Trudeau’s father) set to quell tensions with an official policy on multiculturalism in 1971. It codified in essence that no one religion or ethnicity was more important than another. “Accommodation and compromise have been the modus vivendi of nationbuilding in this country,” says Ms. Paris.

Multiculturalism has also been encouraged by geography. A cold mass of land, bordered by two oceans and the most powerful country in the world across its entire southern flank, Canada has had to invite people to live here. Unlike the uncontrolled immigration from Mexico and Central America to the U.S. or from Northern Africa to Europe – which fuels perceptions of chaos and crisis – Canada relies on a highly-controlled points system based on language ability, age, and skills. Its immigrants are the “best and brightest” – the most educated immigrants among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries – which is one reason diversity, multiculturalism, and views toward immigrants rank so high in opinion surveys.

“Increasingly I feel [Canada] has its own momentum, and it’s just going off on its own route. It’s not just not-London, not-New York, which is what it always was,” says Mr. Marche. “Canada is way more of an idea than it is an ethnic identity or even a collection of myths. Multiculturalism really does have that power as a binding agent.”

Mr. Russell argued in his book that modern Canada “might be more like a civilization than a nation-state.” “As an example of how diverse peoples can live together in freedom and peace,” he writes, “this loose never settled alliance of peoples called Canada could replace empire and nation-state as the most attractive model in the twenty-first century.”

A different kind of populism

That does not mean populism doesn’t exist here.

In fact, the Reform Party, a right-wing populist movement founded in the late 1980s, predates America’s tea party movement. Today Canadians will immediately point to Doug Ford, the premier of Ontario, who won on a decidedly populist platform last spring. Or to Quebec, where Premier François Legault ran as an outsider in the fall. He promised language tests for new immigrants and has proposed secular restrictions on religious symbols for some public-sector employees, both interpreted largely as anti-Muslim policies. To the extent that Canada gets “illegal immigration,” most of it flows through the border Quebec shares with the U.S., giving space to new populist faces.

Far-right groups are here too. Hate crimes have also increased in recent years, according to federal statistics. Before the New Zealand mosque shootings, Canada suffered its own shooting at a Quebec City mosque that killed six in 2017. And the shame of the federal government’s policies toward Canada’s indigenous peoples, and what many see as a halfhearted attempt at reconciliation, hangs heavy – made worse by the ouster of Ms. Wilson-Raybould from the Liberal Party.

Charles Krupa/AP/File
A Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer (l.) tells migrants they’re about to be arrested for crossing illegally from Champlain, New York, into Quebec, Canada. Illegal entries have been rising in Canada.

Trump admirers exist here as well. Ken Montgomery, a truck driver in Oshawa, is one. He says he hates Mr. Trudeau because Mr. Trudeau hates Canada. He wishes a Trump-like figure would emerge on the national scene. “We need it,” he says.

This doesn’t surprise Frank Graves, the president of Ekos Research, who says that it’s denial to think that Canada is immune from the nativist forces kicking up elsewhere. He measures attitudes between “open” versus “ordered” – ordered implying those with pessimistic economic outlooks or anti-elite sentiment, or the kind of worldview that fueled a political backlash in the U.S. – and counts 30% of the population holding such attitudes. He says the SNC-Lavalin affair could intensify resentments, leaving Canadians with the impression that the justice system is two-tiered.

Still, far-right populism in Canada is different than in the U.S. Mr. Graves calls it a “northern populism.” Its key distinction – apart from not being as well-developed, nor as widely embraced as it is in the U.S. or Europe – is that it is not racially charged.

“Unlike the United States, where populism is bounded by race and typically the attraction to [it] is restricted largely to white Americans, in Canada we don’t see that particular boundary. The boundaries are more rooted in social class,” he says. Mr. Ford, for example, does not invoke race or ethnicity in his campaigns and in fact drew heavy support from nonwhite neighborhoods that ring Toronto.

Mr. Graves sees reasons for concern, though. Even though Canada has been held up as a success story on immigration – and polls show Canadians becoming more accepting of foreigners – a vocal minority who oppose the influx of outsiders is growing louder. And politicians are listening.

Better protections for workers

Maybe so, but Dan Carter isn’t one of them. Lean and silver-haired, he is the new mayor of Oshawa, sworn in just days after GM announced its plant closure, what he says is the No. 1 issue at city hall.

The assembly plant has been in Ottawa since 1953 – a sprawling icon of Canadian manufacturing. The American carmaker itself has been operating in this town, east of Toronto, for more than 100 years. In the 1980s some 23,000 people had company jobs. Now there are only 2,600 unionized jobs left at the plant. And all of those will be gone by the end of this year.

Laura Cluthé/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
‘I understand the anger, and I understand the frustration. ... [But] this moment is calling for the best of us.’ – Dan Carter, mayor of Oshawa, Ontario, on the closing of a GM plant

Resistance to the shutdown exists, with protests and social media campaigns like #SaveOshawaGM. But the anger is not an outright backlash against mainstream politicians or even globalization – the kind that flipped many Rust Belt states to Mr. Trump in 2016. Instead it remains narrowly focused on the U.S. company itself. “Greedy Motors,” read one sign at a protest in January.

In fact, anger might not even be the right word. Donna Lindsay is waiting in the parking lot for her daughter to get off work. Ms. Lindsay worked at the plant for 35 years, until she retired in an earlier round of downsizing. Yet when asked who she is upset with, it’s not immigrants or refugees who could be competing with Canadians for jobs. It’s not politicians either, local or federal. “It’s not their fault. It’s GM’s fault,” she says. Then she qualifies her feelings even more: “I’m not angry. I’m sad and hurt.”

Steven High, a history professor at Concordia University in Montreal, has interviewed workers in former industrial regions on both sides of the border and notes some key differences in the way workers react to economic disruptions.

The first centers around blame. When closures happened in previous decades, Canadian unions would rail against the U.S.

“A lot of the Canadian unions would wrap themselves in the Canadian flag with a discourse around American bosses and Canadian workers,” he says. After decades of free trade and globalization, that kind of rhetoric doesn’t bring a response from the government the way it once did, though the culprit – in this case a U.S. company – remains the same.

Rebecca Cook/Reuters
Jerry Dias, national president of Unifor, the union that represents General Motors workers in Canada, addresses people protesting GM’s plan to close its assembly plant in Oshawa at a rally in Windsor, Ontario.

Canadian workers are also better protected, which helps quiet some of the vitriol over layoffs. Rates of unionization, which were similar in both countries in the 1960s, are about three times as high in Canada today as in the U.S., giving members a progressive working-class voice to represent them. Canadians have a stronger safety net, too – with universal health care and more affordable education – which further softens the blow of losing a job.

Still, disillusionment among the working class may be rising. Deindustrialization has happened later in Canada, and Mr. High theorizes that means discontent could just be lagging. “We haven’t seen this rupture and the polarization like across both Eastern and Western Europe and the United States,” he says. “But I think we’re seeing that rupture starting to emerge.”

‘We are our brother’s keeper’

The closure of the plant in Oshawa does mark a milestone, but it doesn't have to become an anti-globalization narrative, says the mayor. “It doesn’t get us anywhere to say ‘they’re making it somewhere else in the world.’ That’s why we’re able to buy TVs for $400,” he says at city hall in early January.

While GM still maintains a footprint here, with its corporate headquarters for Canada and a research center for alternative-fuel cars and other technologies, the assembly plant was long vulnerable to closure, says David Paterson, vice president of corporate affairs at GM Canada. He says it was running at 30% below capacity.

The company says it will retrain workers who seek new employment, and has already been approached by firms looking to hire. The company is also partnering with community colleges to identify future jobs and the training required to fill them.

Mayor Carter says a diversified economy and strong employment can help buffer the blow. But residents also need a vision for their future. In some ways that’s an easier sell than it might be in the U.S., he says. “We in Canada look at things a little bit differently. We believe that we are our brother’s keeper,” he says.

Yes, the GM closure is bad, he acknowledges. “And I understand the anger, and I understand the frustration.”

“But we need to set the environment where people understand that we’re going to get through this storm ... that whatever we face we’ll still be able to succeed,” he says. “This moment is calling for the best of us.”

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5. Through an African lens, ‘a story for the world’

The work of Kenyan photojournalist Priya Ramrakha, who documented Africa's independence movements, is gaining new recognition. The reason? He depicted the fullness of life on the continent, avoiding stereotypes that often governed Western coverage.

Amelia
Priya Ramrakha/Courtesy of the Priya Ramrakha Foundation
Musicians and singers were photographed by Kenyan photographer Priya Ramrakha in 1966. Mr. Ramrakha's work, depicting a revolutionary Africa in the 1950s and ’60s, is gaining newfound recognition.

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One of the first African photographers for Time and Life magazines, Priya Ramrakha captured Africa’s headlong plunge into the independence era with the nuance of an insider and made a name for himself photographing the continent’s conflicts. But his photos also captured life at its most ordinary: a traffic jam of bicycles in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; a troupe of off-duty circus animals clomping down the streets of New York. 

For decades his career remained largely unknown. But a relative found what he was looking for in the basement of Ramrakha’s brother: thousands of negatives, brittle newsprint, and other relics of a prolific career. Those fragments led to more found photos and a documentary, exhibition, and book. 

Art historian Erin Haney says she was struck by how strongly many young activists connect with Ramrakha’s photographs of social movements across Africa. “What’s happening now is the aftermath of that era, so it does matter to people,” Ms. Haney says. “Priya’s story is a story for the world.”

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Through an African lens, ‘a story for the world’

As independence movements mushroomed across Africa in the 1950s and ’60s, Western reporters flocked to the continent, eager to capture a place on the precipice of history. Many came to see what one American news program on Congo called Africa’s “primitive politics and tribal warfare.” But Kenyan photographer Priya Ramrakha (1935-1968) had a different lens on Africa, quite literally. 

One of the first African photographers to be contracted by Time and Life magazines, he captured Africa’s headlong plunge into the independence era with the nuance of an insider and made a name for himself photographing the continent’s conflicts. During a stint studying in the United States, he photographed American civil rights luminaries like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. as well as the foot soldiers of an American civil rights movement that, in many ways, mirrored the struggles on his home continent. But his photos also captured life at its most ordinary: a traffic jam of bicycles in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; a troupe of off-duty circus animals clomping down the streets of Manhattan. “He was seldom at a distance. He liked to be where the action was,” wrote Ramrakha’s friend, the writer Paul Theroux, in the introduction of a recently published photo book on the photographer. “In many shots it’s clear that he had won acceptance, and was unthreatening enough to be allowed to get close to his subjects.”

And then he was gone. While covering a civil war in Biafra, Ramrakha was hit in the back by a stray bullet. For decades, his career remained largely unknown, with many assuming his archive was lost. But in the early 2000s, Shravan Vidyarthi, the son of one of Ramrakha’s cousins, found what he was looking for in the basement of Ramrakha’s brother: thousands of negatives, brittle newsprint, and other relics of a prolific career. 

Those fragments of Ramrakha’s career became the basis for a documentary, “African Lens: The Story of Priya Ramrakha,” which was released in 2007. And then, Mr. Vidyarthi says, things began to snowball. “More people started coming forward with photographs – old girlfriends, other relatives,” he says. What should he do with them? In 2017, he and American art historian Erin Haney curated an exhibition of Ramrakha’s photos at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa.

Priya Ramrakha/Courtesy of the Priya Ramrakha Foundation
Priya Ramrakha with soldiers in Biafra, Nigeria, in 1967.

The exhibit took place while student protests gripped the university. Ms. Haney said she was struck by how strongly many of the young activists connected with Ramrakha’s photographs of social movements across the continent. “It made us realize kids are still missing their own archive, their own history,” she says. “So we began to think how we could get this work into educational settings, to be used more widely.” They realized there was no way they could fund the project on their own, and few publishers would foot the bill for glossy coffee-table photo books. So they turned to Kickstarter. 

Within five weeks they had raised over $40,000 to help with the costs of design, scanning photographs, and printing. And in March the finished copies of “Priya Ramrakha: The Recovered Archive,” featuring the photographer’s own shots mingled with family photos, documents, and essays (including the one by Mr. Theroux), began arriving on doorsteps from Nairobi to New York. 

But for both Ms. Haney and Mr. Vidyarthi, the completion of the book felt more like a beginning than an ending. Having seen the response of students in Johannesburg and elsewhere, they say, they are eager to get Ramrakha’s photos into school curricula and to put his photos of the era of African independence in front of new and bigger audiences on the continent and elsewhere. “What’s happening now is the aftermath of that era, so it does matter to people,” Ms. Haney says. “Priya’s story is a story for the world.”

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The Monitor's View

A battle for equality in Libya

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Last Thursday, Libya’s strongest warlord, Khalifa Haftar, launched an attack on the capital, Tripoli, seat of a United Nations-backed regime led by Fayez al-Sarraj. The attack by the self-styled Libyan National Army was a sudden turn for Mr. Haftar, who had been participating in a U.N.-led peace process.

Next week, his faction was set to join more than 120 delegates at a national reconciliation conference aimed at writing a constitution and holding elections. Instead, millions of civilians in Tripoli are now under fire or fleeing. Why would a reconciliation conference be such a threat?

The reason could be that U.N. diplomats, led by special envoy Ghassan Salamé, had consulted thousands of Libyans in 57 towns across the country last year, listening to their desires for peace and their views on restoring democracy. Among the monarchs and dictators of the Middle East, such grassroots consultation is seen as a sign of weakness and threatens notions of elite rule.

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A battle for equality in Libya

Of the five Arab nations currently in acute civil strife – Algeria, Libya, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen – it is easy to forget the initial yearning that led to the harsh reactions from authoritarian figures. In each country people simply had taken a peaceful stance for democratic rule. In Libya, that purity of purpose is often overlooked, especially now that the North African nation has descended into all-out war.

Last Thursday, Libya’s strongest warlord, Khalifa Haftar, launched an attack on the capital, Tripoli, seat of a United Nations-backed regime led by Fayez al-Sarraj. The attack by the self-styled Libyan National Army was a sudden turn for Mr. Haftar, who had been participating in a U.N.-led peace process. Next week, his faction was set to join more than 120 delegates at a national reconciliation conference aimed at writing a constitution and holding elections. Instead, millions of civilians in Tripoli are now under fire or fleeing.

Perhaps Mr. Haftar, who once worked for former dictator Muammar Qaddafi, believes Libyans are not ready for democracy and want a strongman. That would explain why Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and United Arab Emirates support him. Just before the attack, he visited Saudi Arabia’s king, who has revived his own crackdown on pro-democracy activists.

Why would a reconciliation conference be such a threat? The reason could be that U.N. diplomats, led by special envoy Ghassan Salamé, had consulted thousands of Libyans in 57 towns across the country last year, listening to their desires for peace and their views on restoring democracy. Among the monarchs and dictators of the Middle East, such grassroots consultation is seen as a sign of weakness and threatens notions of elite rule.

Despite Libya’s divisions along ethnic and tribal lines, the people seek a political equality that can be assured only in a democracy. “What makes Mr. Haftar a better candidate [to rule] than other Libyans?” asked interior minister Fathi Bashagha in an interview with Al Jazeera.

Foreign powers often intervene in Libya for narrow interests, whether to prevent democracy, gain access to oil, stop terrorists, or block migration to Europe. What they often neglect are the aspirations of Libyans for rights and freedoms. Those desires can eventually win out.

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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.

Finding balance: Look at the big picture

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Overwhelmed and exhausted by personal and professional responsibilities, this mother yearned for a solution and found that keeping one’s thought grounded in God helps maintain and restore order and balance.

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Finding balance: Look at the big picture

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There I was, sitting on the couch close to tears. “There has to be a better way. This just isn’t working,” I thought. While I love each of the components of my life – a loving family, fulfilling professional responsibilities, and membership in a church that feels like family – I was feeling more and more overwhelmed and flat-out exhausted.

I don’t think I’m the only one feeling this way. I’ve seen an increasing number of articles about the disproportionate way in which women (especially mothers) carry the household and emotional load for their families, in addition to their professional responsibilities. There is a desire for men and women to feel valued and supported – and to find an unshakable order and balance in day-to-day life.

I’ve found that lasting solutions come through prayer, so I had prayed about this problem in my own life. However, my prayers tended to be half praying and half telling God about the various things and people that needed to change.

Finally, frustrated by the feebleness of my ability to solve the problem, I changed my approach to my prayers: I opened my heart to listen. And an answer came when I least expected it.

I was walking one day and thought, “I just don’t know how to make all the pieces fit together, God. Show me how this all works.” No sooner had I thought this than an idea came to me so clearly that it was as if someone were walking next to me and talking: “You don’t put together a jigsaw puzzle by just looking at the pieces separately. You do a puzzle by keeping your eyes on the big picture.”

The answer was so clear to me. I had been spending my days staring at the pieces of my life as if they were disjointed puzzle pieces. No matter how many times I turned them around and tried to force them together, they didn’t fit. I realized that I needed to stop dwelling on the chaos and instead look at my life from a spiritual perspective.

Christ Jesus offers a perfect example of how to do this. He was certainly busy: He mentored his disciples; traveled all over, teaching and preaching; had an active healing ministry. The Bible tells of crowds following him and diverting him from his intended destination. Yet it doesn’t seem these demands rattled him. He had a clear sense of man’s spiritual nature and unbreakable relation to God. For instance, he said, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30).

Jesus understood that he didn’t have to personally generate order and balance. Rather, he was a transparency for God’s love, which God expresses in all of us. It must have been this understanding that allowed him to feel the presence of peace even in the midst of the most chaotic situations.

The task before me, then, was to gain a clearer understanding of the big picture – of God as my Father-Mother, and of myself as His, Her, loved child – and to refer back to this big-picture view throughout my day, regardless of what came up. While I haven’t yet demonstrated this to its fullest degree, one recent experience gave me a glimpse of how keeping one’s thought grounded in God, divine Spirit, helps maintain and restore order and balance.

One morning, I was up unusually early, practically giddy at feeling so alert and having so much focused time to pray before the day began. But just then, my son blearily stumbled into the room.

Familiar thoughts knocked at my mental door: “See, this is why I can’t ever get anything done!” Then I remembered the analogy of the puzzle pieces and the big picture – God’s infinite love, goodness, and harmony, which are reflected in His entire creation. The grumbling stopped instantly, and I felt a sense of calm just sweep over me. As I snuggled with my son, we began talking about God and praying together. The conversation was effortless and holy for both of us.

What had initially seemed to be a disruption was actually an opportunity to glimpse true balance: activity that is God-centered and God-inspired, with little to no trace of my own effort or willpower. It was no longer about one piece of my life fitting together (or not) with another piece. It was simply a beautiful unfoldment of God, divine Love, embracing my son and me completely and meeting our needs.

The balance that comes from feeling and living our oneness with God is a possibility for each one of us, in every moment.

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In memoriam

Jean Bizimana/Reuters
Candles are held during a commemoration ceremony at Amahoro Stadium in Kigali marking the 25th anniversary of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Rwandans will mourn for 100 days in remembrance of the at least 800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus who were killed by Hutu extremists. “In 1994, there was no hope, only darkness,” President Paul Kagame, who led a rebel force that helped end the slaughter, said at the Kigali Genocide Memorial. “Today, light radiates from this place. How did it happen? Rwanda became a family once again.”
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )
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Thanks for starting your week with us. Please join us again tomorrow for the start of our series “Looking Past Roe: How abortion shapes US politics.”

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