2019
April
22
Monday

As Sri Lankans take stock of the weekend terrorist attacks on Catholic churches and popular hotels, they are starting to remember those killed: the celebrity chef, the Indian and American executives, the Japanese volunteer, the three children of a well-known Dane.

As questions swirl around the domestic jihadist group the government blames as well as intelligence failures, Monitor reporter Simon Montlake, who covered Sri Lanka’s civil war and its aftermath, will be following developments.

The attacks, coming on a weekend of deep significance for Jews and Christians, point to the global need to more actively confront a slew of violence targeting not only synagogues and churches, but mosques as well, most recently in Christchurch, New Zealand. But the weekend also evoked the strength repeatedly displayed by faith communities under intense pressure.

Marnie Fienberg, whose mother-in-law was killed in an attack on a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, synagogue last October, started “2 for Seder” to battle anti-Semitism. More than 730 families in 41 states and Canada invited non-Jewish guests to share a Passover meal. “That’s how education works ... how good ideas spread,” she said.

In Opelousas, Louisiana, the Greater Union Baptist Church has been meeting in temporary quarters since its 100-year-old edifice, along with two other black churches, was torched in alleged hate crimes. No one can overlook the ugly history of black church burnings. But donations have recently poured in.

On Easter Sunday, the Rev. Harry Richard honored members for not being consumed by anger, and encouraged prayers for the suspect: “I don’t care what the world might do to you. You never give up on love.”

Now to our five stories, which address gender issues in politics, persistence, and giving credit where credit is due.

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1. A record six women are running for president. The focus is on the men.

Much has been made of the surge of women candidates. But media coverage – and entrenched assumptions about what makes a strong candidate – may not have caught up with the dramatic shift. 

Amelia
Gerald Herbert/AP
Sen. Kamala Harris of California speaks at the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority South Central Regional Conference in New Orleans April 19. Though a leading fundraiser, media coverage of Senator Harris’s campaign lags behind that of her male competitors.

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Just a few months after the “Year of the Woman” brought female representation in Congress to a record high, the glass ceiling of presidential elections is looking harder to shatter.

As the 2020 Democratic field expands to 20 this week, with the expected entrance of former Vice President Joe Biden, it’s a quartet of white men – Mr. Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, and Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana – who are attracting the most media attention and the most positive news coverage. And with the exception of California Sen. Kamala Harris, the record six women running for president are also generally lagging behind the men in polling and fundraising.

Of course, there are many factors that can determine success in politics, such as timing and novelty, and those can affect men as well. But some are beginning to wonder if gender bias is playing a role in depriving the half-dozen women candidates of the spotlight – which can in turn influence their polling and fundraising numbers. “It’s skewing the way we’re talking about these candidates very early on, when the media has an outsized potential to shape primaries,” says Lauren Leader, CEO of All In Together.

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A record six women are running for president. The focus is on the men.

As the 2020 Democratic field expands to 20 candidates this week, with the expected entrance of former Vice President Joe Biden, a glaring discrepancy looms over the race: It’s a quartet of white men – Mr. Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg – who are attracting the most media attention. And with the exception of California Sen. Kamala Harris, the record six women running for president are generally lagging behind the men in polling and fundraising.

This is particularly frustrating to supporters of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a janitor’s daughter turned Harvard law professor who has dedicated her life to fighting income inequality in the United States.

I Can’t Believe Elizabeth Warren Is Losing to These Guys,” trumpets a headline in Jacobin. “Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton and the sexist hypocrisy of the ‘likability’ media narrative. Here we go again,” offers an NBC piece. And from WBUR in Senator Warren’s home state of Massachusetts: “Elizabeth Warren Doesn’t Have a DNA Problem. She Has A Sexism Problem.” (All three pieces were written by men.)

Just a few months after the “Year of the Woman” brought female representation in Congress to a record high, the glass ceiling of presidential elections is looking harder to shatter. Some suggest gender bias may be depriving the half-dozen women candidates of the media coverage they deserve, which at this stage in the race can dramatically influence their polling and fundraising numbers.

“It’s skewing the way we’re talking about these candidates very early on, when the media has an outsized potential to shape primaries,” says Lauren Leader, CEO of All In Together whose op-ed for The Hill last week, “We seem to be ignoring the women running for president,” got 50,000 shares in two days.

By many measurements, women have a better chance than ever before of reaching the White House. Voter resistance to female candidates (based on responses to the question “are men better suited emotionally for politics than most women?”) has dropped to a record low of 13 percent. That’s about a 25% improvement since 2016, when Hillary Clinton got nearly 3 million more votes than Donald Trump.  

“[The candidates] have just got to stay the course and not get sucked into feeling that they need to out-shout the men, or out-thump their chests, but look for every opportunity to reach out to voters,” says Christine Todd Whitman, who overcame a 21% polling gap to become the first female governor of New Jersey in 1993. “Women do that well. ... They listen sometimes in a way that their male counterparts don’t.”

Yet when it comes to the main indicators of how much traction candidates are getting – media coverage, fundraising, and polling – the women are conspicuously lagging, with none doing well in all three categories.

Rick Bowmer/AP
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., visits Big Cottonwood Canyon on April 17, east of Salt Lake City. Senator Warren has proposed restoring broader public lands protections for two of the state's high-profile national monuments if elected president.

By the numbers

Senator Warren and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand are doing about equally badly in all three categories, but Senator Harris and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota are getting substantially less media coverage than their fundraising and polling numbers would suggest.

Senator Harris is running third in the latest Morning Consult poll and has raised more money than any Democratic contender except Senator Sanders. However, she’s been mentioned only about half as many times as Mayor Buttigieg on major cable news channels recently – though that was during a time period leading up to the formal announcement of his candidacy. Similarly, Senator Klobuchar came in sixth in fundraising for the first quarter but ranks 10th in recent media mentions.

“All most men have to do is be mayor of a small town, turn 37, and say I’m running for office,” says Nichole Bauer, who teaches political communication at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Professor Bauer has run studies giving respondents the exact same information about hypothetical candidates and found they more often prefer the male version. “So I know it’s not just Hillary hate,” she says.

Of course, there are many factors that can determine media coverage, such as timing and novelty, and those can affect men as well. In 2016, for example, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush outraised all 16 other candidates in the 2016 GOP primary race yet struggled to attract the spotlight. Indeed, Donald Trump’s ability to dominate the news cycle was a consistent source of frustration to all of his opponents. 

“The 16 men who ran for the nomination for the Republicans would say the same thing – I’m jumping up and down here, why don’t you find me interesting?” says Kathleen Dolan, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. “You had people who had all kinds of experience who couldn’t break through or crack through. So why do we expect a woman who is a senator from Minnesota … to be breaking through?”

A question of tone

But it’s not just the amount of coverage that matters; tone plays a big role as well. Many have seized on a recent media review from Northeastern University in Boston, which concluded that coverage of the female 2020 candidates has been more negative than that of their male counterparts. The unique words used to describe the women often had to do with controversies – such as Senator Warren’s Native American claims or Senator Klobuchar’s use of a comb to eat her salad after staffers failed to get her utensils before a flight – rather than substantive policy ideas or positive traits.

The study’s authors noted that their initial findings were based on a very limited sample of selected articles from the top five most-read publications.

“I was surprised at how quick people were to use it as evidence for this kind of sexism in media coverage or the campaign, when we were trying to be very clear up top that this is only 130 articles, this is not a truly random set of news publications, it’s just a starting point,” says Aleszu Bajak, who teaches courses on digital journalism, data reporting, and new media at Northeastern. “It’s a continuing research project.”

Wilfredo Lee/AP
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar (center right) speaks during a roundtable discussion on health care April 16 in Miami. Senator Klobuchar met with local medical professionals and advocates to talk about the cost of prescription drugs.

Professor Bajak says he and student Alexander Frandsen have since nearly doubled the data set to about 300 articles and are bringing in other colleagues to help with the growing project.

“We’ve added Buttigieg, who now seems to be blowing everyone out of the water in terms of positivity,” he says – but the women are still at the bottom.

Many scholars who study women in politics, most of whom are women themselves, say this is partially the result of political journalists being mostly male. According to the Women’s Media Center, men author nearly three-quarters of articles about U.S. elections on eight news websites, including The Washington Post and The New York Times online, CNN, Vox, and Fox. In the 14 print publications surveyed, the disparity is less glaring but still evident, with men writing 61% of articles.

To some, this imbalance in the gender makeup of the press corps makes media coverage prone to framing articles from a male perspective. For example, in evaluating a female candidate’s qualifications, they look for someone who is strong, rational, composed, and a fighter, says Meredith Conroy, a political scientist at California State University, San Bernardino.

“Women can try to contort themselves into this mold, but it’s harder,” says Professor Conroy, author of “Masculinity, Media, and the American Presidency.” “Men are inherently more congruent with this vision of the presidency, so their male behaviors are less likely to be questioned by the press.” 

Take the issue of how a candidate treats his or her staff – a point on which Senator Klobuchar has been hammered hard.

“If it had been reported that Bernie had mistreated his staff, it would align with perceptions that he’s just an old grumpy man and that’s how he does business – that he’s gruff or curmudgeonly,” says Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Still, just because gender bias may exist, that doesn’t mean it is the primary factor determining a candidate’s relative success or failure. Professor Dolan of the University of Wisconsin, for one, has become frustrated with how gender bias is being discussed relative to the presidential race.

“People can’t hold two things in their mind. Once they say there is gender bias at work, then the narrative becomes that everything about their candidacy” has to do with gender bias, she says.

She and others point out that the current crop of women candidates may well be suffering from a range of issues, from perceived charisma deficits to serious political missteps, that have thwarted plenty of men in previous primary seasons.

When it comes to Senator Warren, her struggles can be traced to how her campaign handled the Native American controversy on the eve of announcing her candidacy, says Alex Conant, a Republican strategist who helped Sen. Joni Ernst become the first woman to represent Iowa in Congress.

“You have one chance to introduce yourself to the electorate, and she really screwed that up,” he says. “If someone is claiming that Elizabeth Warren is not breaking through because of chronic sexism, that is making an excuse for an underperforming campaign.”

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2. How ‘power grab’ in Egypt aligns with new US vision for Arab world

President Donald Trump’s embrace of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi – even as the U.S. ally slides further into authoritarianism – symbolizes a shift in U.S. policy across the Arab world, away from supporting democracy and toward stability.

Amelia

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In a three-day referendum concluding Monday, Egyptians are voting on constitutional changes that could extend President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s term until 2030. The referendum, which Human Rights Watch has said was being conducted in a “grossly unfree, rights-abusive environment,” would also strengthen Mr. Sisi’s control over the judiciary and enhance the military’s power.

Yet in a recent visit to Washington, the Egyptian strongman was hailed by President Donald Trump as a “great president” who is doing “a great job.” It’s just one of a growing number of signs of the Trump administration’s disenchantment with policies of democracy promotion and increasing preference for authoritarian rule for stabilizing a volatile Middle East.

Moreover, the shift is a break with the longtime U.S. practice of putting its values front and center in its international policies, says Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “Incorporating an American values proposition has been consistently an element of our approach to international affairs since the Cold War, when we argued we were advancing the forces of freedom,” he says. “You could argue,” he adds, “this is the resurgence of realists.”

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How ‘power grab’ in Egypt aligns with new US vision for Arab world

When Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi visited the White House this month, he was given the treatment generally reserved for America’s closest allies.

Mr. Sisi stayed at Blair House, the guest house across from the White House and a perk reserved for most-honored guests.

In the Oval Office, President Donald Trump praised him unequivocally as a “great president” despite withering criticisms from human rights groups, democracy advocates, and some members of Congress that the Egyptian leader is overseeing a steep erosion of civil liberties and consolidating power in the image of other emerging authoritarian leaders.

And when asked specifically how he views the effort engineered by Mr. Sisi to reverse many of the democratic gains won in Egypt’s Arab Spring revolution eight years ago – an effort culminating today, the final day in a three-day referendum that is all but certain to confirm the return of strongman rule to Egypt – Mr. Trump said he didn’t know about it.

What he did know, he added, is that Mr. Sisi is “doing a great job.”

In the referendum, which Human Rights Watch has said was being conducted in a “grossly unfree, rights-abusive environment,” Egyptians are voting on constitutional changes that would extend Mr. Sisi’s current term until 2024, allow him to run for another six-year term after that, strengthen his control over the judiciary, and enhance the military’s power.

Mr. Trump’s embrace of Mr. Sisi in the midst of what many analysts are calling a “power grab” is just one of a growing number of signs of the Trump administration’s disenchantment with policies of democracy promotion and increasing preference for authoritarian rule for stabilizing a volatile Middle East.

The shift from pro-democracy policies that reached their zenith under President George W. Bush – when removing Saddam Hussein from power in Baghdad in 2003 was envisioned as the spark that would ignite democracy’s spread across the region – has been on display in various forms in recent weeks.

Support for Libya’s Haftar

The United States has shown little interest in and offered little public encouragement for the massive and largely youth-led demonstrations that over recent weeks have driven longtime autocratic rulers from power in Algeria and Sudan.

More pointedly, Mr. Trump displayed his preference for authoritarian rule as the answer for Arab countries when he issued a statement Friday endorsing the military campaign of Libyan militia leader and would-be strongman Khalifa Haftar in his efforts to defeat the country’s embattled United Nations-supported government.

Mr. Trump’s move not only shocked members of the international community working to help stabilize Libya and shore up its government, but it appeared to reverse U.S. policy that just days earlier had been to condemn the Haftar militia’s offensive, as laid out in a statement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“What we’re seeing from this administration is a harsh repudiation of the Bush 43 strategy [which was] really the apex of believing in the innate desire for democracy among broad populations and the idea that democracy’s spread would help fight extremism across the Middle East,” says Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and a former State Department Middle East policy planner.

Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters
Protesters attend a demonstration to demand an end to Khalifa Haftar's offensive against Tripoli, Libya, in Martyrs' Square in central Tripoli April 19.

Moreover, the shift is a break with the longtime U.S. practice of putting its values front and center in its international policies, he adds.

“Incorporating an American values proposition has been consistently an element of our approach to international affairs since the Cold War, when we argued we were advancing the forces of freedom, and inconsistently since as far back as Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points 100 years ago,” Mr. Alterman says. “So now turning away sharply from an American values proposition is a strong departure from the way the U.S. has operated in the world for many many years. You could argue,” he adds, “this is the resurgence of realists.”

Limited influence

Indeed, “realism” is a big part of what some regional experts see in the shifting U.S. outlook on Egypt, a key Middle East ally the U.S. has turned to (and supported with billions of dollars in annual aid) to further regional stability.

“There is now a much more realistic appreciation of the limits of American and Western influence in sponsoring change across the region,” says James Phillips, a senior research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

And recent U.S. experience with Egypt, he adds, has only confirmed how well-meaning but misguided policy does not produce the ends sought, such as democratic rule.

“The Obama administration’s push for a rapid democratic transition in Egypt empowered the Muslim Brotherhood, which quickly subverted democracy,” Mr. Phillips says. “Pushing for elections in places where there is a lack of economic freedom, press freedom, an independent judiciary, adequate protection for property rights, and respect for the rule of law does not result in stable democracies.”

If anything, “the overly optimistic initial reactions to the 2011 ‘Arab Spring’ protests led to the NATO intervention in Libya, which produced only temporary stability,” he says. “Elsewhere, the ‘Arab Spring’ devolved into an ‘Islamist winter’ and triggered civil wars that still rage on in Syria and Yemen.”

Mr. Alterman sees a direct line between the “disgust with how Iraq has turned out” in the aftermath of US-engineered regime change and the lack of any protest from the current administration “with how Egypt has returned to authoritarian rule.”

It’s a perspective with which Mr. Phillips largely agrees. “After the overly ambitious U.S. nation-building efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq,” he says, “the Trump administration has scaled back U.S. goals in the volatile Middle East region and reduced the U.S. military footprint.”

Taking a back seat

The U.S. pullback from Middle East engagement and shift away from values-led policies have opened the way to what Nicholas Heras of Washington’s Center for a New American Security (CNAS) calls a “new Middle East cold war” in which the U.S. takes a back seat to regional blocs.

“The U.S. and Western powers have learned often the hard way of the limited ability they have to impact change in the region,” says Mr. Heras, a fellow in CNAS’s Middle East Security Program. “And so there is a shift to an approach that will allow regional actors to sort out their region.”

Essentially two major blocs of countries are now battling in this “cold war” to reshape the region in their image, he says, with one bloc comprised mainly of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt and the other led by Turkey and Qatar. In addition, he says, Iran is involved as a third powerful actor outside the two main blocs.

In this scenario, Mr. Heras says, a U.S. discouraged by failed idealistic interventions and unending military engagements is motivated instead by stability in a key region for the global economy – and stability it now sees as best-served by authoritarian (and non-Islamist) rulers.

Instead of a dominant power intervening militarily and otherwise to change governments and enhance individual rights, the U.S. is likely to continue playing a more peripheral role that “recognizes the region will be shaped by the cold-war competition between regional blocs,” he says.

It’s not a recipe for significant change in the region.

The social and economic factors such as joblessness and stymied social mobility that led to the Arab Spring or that had a hand in the more recent upheavals in Sudan and Algeria may be as present today as ever. But for Mr. Heras, the regional dynamics and the new U.S. and Western approach to them “does not tend to bolster the agency of people in the region to shape the kind of society they will live in.”

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A deeper look

3. Long shot lawyer: Defending immigrants in toughest court in US

Few lawyers choose to represent migrants at Stewart Detention Center, which rejects more than 90% of applicants. Marty Rosenbluth has made defending those who may have a right to stay his lifework. 

Amelia
Alfredo Sosa/Staff
Immigration attorney Marty Rosenbluth Skypes with a client at the Stewart Detention Center from his home office on March 5 in Lumpkin, Georgia. Though the detention center is only one mile down the road, sometimes Skype is the easiest way to meet his clients.

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Lawyers are scarce at Stewart Immigration Court in Lumpkin, Georgia, one of 64 federal courts tasked with deciding the fate of migrants. Among immigration courts, this may be the toughest of all. That deters many from taking cases here. But not Marty Rosenbluth. He moved to Lumpkin two years ago to defend people who may have a legal right to stay in the U.S. His clients include recent migrants as well as men who have lived in the country for years or decades, fathering children and putting down roots. 

When he first visited the center in 2010, Mr. Rosenbluth says he was “scared witless because it’s so intimidating.” He lost virtually all his cases at Stewart the next six years while traveling back and forth from North Carolina. But he persisted and is now the only private attorney in Lumpkin.

Even with a strong case and the right judge, he knows that his client is likely to be deported, triggering a nagging moral question: Is he stopping systemic injustices or just greasing the wheels of the deportation industry? It’s an uphill battle, but he takes solace in making a difference where he can. “Here I make a difference on a daily basis, and I can see it.” 

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Long shot lawyer: Defending immigrants in toughest court in US

A hazy sun rises over pine-covered hills as Marty Rosenbluth pulls out of his driveway and hangs a left on Main Street. Outside town the two-lane road dips, then climbs before Mr. Rosenbluth slows to take the right-hand turnoff to Stewart Detention Center, a privately run prison for men who face deportation from the United States. 

This is where Mr. Rosenbluth, a lawyer, can be found most days, either visiting clients inside the country’s largest immigration detention center or representing them before a judge in an adjacent courtroom. It’s a mile outside Lumpkin, a forlorn county seat that most days has fewer inhabitants than the prison, which has 2,000 beds.

Mr. Rosenbluth parks his red Toyota Prius in the lot and walks to the entrance. He waits at the first of two sliding doors set in 12-foot-high fences topped with coils of razor wire. The first time he came, the grind and clang of the metal doors unnerved him. Now he doesn’t notice, like the office worker who tunes out the elevator’s ping. 

Alfredo Sosa/Staff
The Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, has beds for 2,000 migrants.

Passing the gates, Mr. Rosenbluth enters the court annex and stoops to remove his black shoes for the metal detector. He shows Alondra Torres, his young Puerto Rican assistant who’s on her first day of work, where to sign in and introduces her to the uniformed security guard standing by the detector. 

Mr. Rosenbluth, who has a shaved head, black-framed glasses, and a two-inch gray goatee, smiles and spreads his hands. “I’ve never had a paralegal before,” he proudly tells the guard. 

Lawyers are in short supply on the ground at Stewart Immigration Court, one of 64 federal courts tasked with deciding the fate of migrants who the U.S. government seeks to send home. The prison is more than two hours from Atlanta, and lawyers often wait hours to see clients and are allowed to bring only notebooks and pens into visitation rooms. 

Lawyers who work with these handicaps face longer odds. On average, detained migrants are far less likely to win asylum than those on the outside, in part because it’s much harder to prepare and fight a case from behind bars. Still, of all immigration courts, this may be the toughest of all. “The reputation of Stewart among attorneys is that you will lose,” says Mr. Rosenbluth. 

That deters many from taking cases here. But not Mr. Rosenbluth. He moved to Lumpkin two years ago in order to defend people who may have a legal right to stay in the U.S. His clients include recent migrants from the U.S.-Mexico border, whose continued arrival has become a lightning rod for critics of U.S. asylum law and border security. But the majority of his cases involve men who have lived in the country for years or decades, fathering children and putting down roots. 

Alfredo Sosa/Staff
Lawyer Marty Rosenbluth works with paralegal Alondra Torres on immigration cases in his home office.

For detainees, having an attorney in immigration court makes a big difference. A 2015 study found that detained immigrants who had legal counsel prevailed in 21% of cases. For those who represented themselves, the success rate was just 2%. Unlike criminal defendants, immigrants have no right to a public defender. 

Mr. Rosenbluth, who works for a law firm in Durham, North Carolina, is the only private attorney in Lumpkin. He’s never advertised his services, but word gets around; detainees will pass him notes during prison meetings. Then he consults with his boss on whether to pursue a case. 

“If a case has no chance of winning, we just don’t take it,” he says.

But it’s not just about the strength of an individual’s asylum case or bond request. It’s also about who will hear it: Will it be a judge who has denied scores of other similar motions? Or will it be a judge who might, just might, set a bond that a family can afford so their father or son can go home? 

“Your judge is your destiny,” says Monica Whatley, a lawyer with the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Even when Mr. Rosenbluth thinks he has a strong case and the right judge, he knows that his client is more likely than not to be deported – and that an immigration judge in New York or Los Angeles may well have ruled in his favor. It’s usually then that he circles back to a nagging moral question: Is he stopping systemic injustices or just greasing the wheels of the deportation industry? 

Alfredo Sosa/Staff
Lawyer Marty Rosenbluth, the only private immigration lawyer in town, stands in his home office.

Human rights crusader 

Mr. Rosenbluth’s route to becoming a champion of immigrants’ rights was circuitous. In 1979 he dropped out of college to become a union organizer. A few years later, in 1985, he moved to the West Bank to work with Palestinian trade unions on conditions in Israel. His original plan was to stay three months, then go back to the United Auto Workers. He ended up staying seven years. 

Back in the U.S., he worked for Amnesty International on Israeli and Palestinian issues as a researcher and spokesman. The job required Mr. Rosenbluth, who is soft spoken and a natural introvert, to speak publicly about one of the world’s most exhaustively debated conflicts. But he learned how to talk to a crowd and to prepare for tough questions. 

Having worked for decades on labor issues and international human rights, law school seemed a good fit. By then Mr. Rosenbluth was in his late 40s. He had moved to North Carolina, which was emerging as a testing ground for stricter enforcement of immigration law and deportation procedures. 

“I’m still working on human rights, just from a different angle,” he says. “And these are human rights violations that my government is committing right here at home.” 

Counties in North Carolina were early adopters of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program that trained local law enforcement officers to locate and turn over unauthorized immigrants. The program predated President Barack Obama, but his administration supported its expansion as a way to target criminals for deportation. 

Alfredo Sosa/Staff
Marty Rosenbluth talks to Nicaraguan Rodney Montoya Calero, a detainee at the Stewart Detention Center. Mr. Rosenbluth often Skypes with clients.

After graduation, Mr. Rosenbluth found work as an immigration lawyer for nonprofits in North Carolina that were inundated with calls from families seeking the release of detained members. Most had no convictions for felonies or violent crimes. Still, the Obama administration insisted that it was deporting criminals and ensuring public safety. 

It was maddening, but it could also be useful: Lawyers would challenge deportations in court as contrary to the administration’s policy of going after only serious criminals. “We could use their own propaganda against them to try to get our clients released,” says Mr. Rosenbluth. 

He started hearing about Stewart, a remote facility in Georgia that was housing detainees from across the region. Built as a private prison but never used, it reopened in 2006 as a detention center contracted to ICE. Judges in Atlanta ruled on deportations via video link before the Department of Justice opened a court inside the prison complex in 2010. 

That same year Mr. Rosenbluth made his first trip to Stewart. “I was scared witless because it’s so intimidating,” he says. It wasn’t just the metal gates, prison garb, and taciturn guards. He couldn’t confer with his client before the hearing; even a handshake wasn’t allowed. 

Mr. Rosenbluth lost his first case. He would lose virtually all his cases at Stewart the next six years while traveling back and forth from North Carolina and staying in the nearest hotel, 36 miles away. He hit on the idea of opening a nonprofit law firm in Lumpkin to provide free counsel to as many detainees as possible. He even had an acronym: GUTS, for gum up the system.

When he pitched the idea to national liberal donors, they blanched. It wasn’t the right time to gum up the system, he was told. Mr. Obama was working on comprehensive immigration reform. The president needed to hang tough on removals of
unauthorized immigrants. There were “Dreamers” to protect. 

Yeah, thought Mr. Rosenbluth. And their parents are being locked up and deported every day. 

Courtroom coups

It’s 8 in the morning when the court rises for Judge Randall Duncan. As he settles into his black wingback chair, three rows of Latino men in prison jumpsuits stare back from wooden benches. One of them is Hugo Gordillo Mendez, a Mexican living in Goldsboro, North Carolina, who was detained in January after neighbors called the police to report an incident at his house. His wife, Diana Gordillo, a U.S. citizen, sits next to Mr. Rosenbluth. The previous day she drove nine hours to attend today’s bail hearing, and she’s hoping Mr. Rosenbluth can persuade the judge to release Mr. Gordillo on a bond.  

Ms. Gordillo locks eyes for a minute with her husband. He stares at his feet. 

Getting out on bail or a bond is a big deal. Lawyers advise clients to do everything possible to secure their release, preferably with a U.S. citizen and family member as sponsor, so they can go back to their community and fight their deportation there instead of at Stewart. “When people get out of Stewart, they get as far away from there as they can,” says Sarah Owings, an immigration lawyer in Atlanta. 

Alfredo Sosa/Staff

Moving to another jurisdiction is no guarantee of success, of course. But the chances improve significantly. Between 2013 and 2018, some 58% of asylum claims in U.S. immigration courts were denied, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. Over the same period, the denial rate at Lumpkin was 94%. Take Judge Duncan: Of 207 asylum cases that he heard in those five years, only 12 were granted. (Others may have won on appeal.) Denials of bond requests are high at Lumpkin too. 

Mr. Gordillo’s case begins with an ICE lawyer citing the immigrant’s status and his arrest for assault as reasons not to release him. “The respondent has not shown that he’s not a danger,” he says. 

Mr. Rosenbluth points out that the assault charge was dismissed and that Mr. Gordillo supports his wife and two U.S.-born children, one of whom has a severe medical condition. “His wife, Diana, is in court today,” he says, gesturing at her. She suffers anxiety and has bipolar disorder, he adds. And she will be filing a petition for Mr. Gordillo to become a legal U.S. resident. 

“I think that we have a very strong, very viable” case against deportation, he says. “We ask that a reasonable bond be set.” 

Judge Duncan takes a few minutes to decide, but as he sums up the family’s medical hardship, he’s already scribbling on a document. “Bond is set at $5,000,” he says. 

Mr. Rosenbluth ushers Ms. Gordillo out of the courtroom and explains how she can pay the bond; she has already raised $4,300, and her father will loan her the rest. “He’ll be out today,” Mr. Rosenbluth says, his lawyerly demeanor giving way to giddiness.  

Had he lost, Mr. Gordillo could have appealed the ruling and contested his removal to Mexico. But that might take months, and the longer his clients are locked up, the more likely they are to accept deportation as a way out. 

“There’s no question that ICE uses incarceration as a litigation strategy. They know people will give up,” he says. 

 Judges under pressure

While immigration judges are civil servants who are supposed to apply federal law, studies have found wide variations among judges and between courts in how they handle cases. Being assigned to a judge in Lumpkin or Los Angeles is a distinction with a difference – and for defendants who fear persecution in their home country, it’s a distinction with life-threatening consequences. 

Some experts blame the Department of Justice for failing to adequately train and equip judges to handle complex immigration cases. “I think it’s a question of resources,” says Jaya Ramji-Nogales, an assistant professor of law at Temple University and co-author of a study of asylum adjudication called “Refugee Roulette.” “The political will is about building border walls.” 

As the backlog of immigration cases has grown, so has pressure on judges to speed through dockets. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions drew criticism last year for faulting judges who failed to clear 700 cases in a year. Judge Dana Leigh Marks, president emeritus of the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ), has called the push to have understaffed courts investigate complex claims the equivalent of “doing death penalty cases in a traffic court setting.”  

Ms. Ramji-Nogales found wide variations in asylum claim rulings filed in different courts. Women judges were on average more likely than men to grant asylum, and judges who joined the bench after careers as federal immigration prosecutors were more likely to deny claims. 

Judges who see only detainees in their courtrooms develop a thick skin, says Paul Schmidt, a retired judge. “If all you’re doing is detained [cases], you get the preconception that all these cases are losers,” he says. “If you get in a denial mode, it gets harder for judges to see the other side.” 

Mr. Schmidt, a former chairman of the Board of Immigration Appeals, spent 13 years as an immigration judge in Arlington, Virginia. He says the judges who go to work in these courts “probably assume that it’ll be mostly denials, and that’s fine with them.” This also serves the political agenda in Washington, says Mr. Schmidt. “People who are known for moving lots of cases for final removal are classified as productive. And there’s a lot of pressure for moving cases.” 

Ashley Tabaddor, an immigration judge in Los Angeles and current president of NAIJ, agrees that courts need more resources. But she pushes back against comparisons of harsh versus lenient judges and says there is no “right number” of denials. “Each case is decided on its merits,” she says.

For most of the men in Judge Duncan’s court this morning, this is their first appearance. After he hears another bond motion – “denied” – he asks the 13 remaining detainees to rise and raise their right hands to affirm they understand their legal status. “Sí,” the men mutter. Speaking via a Spanish interpreter, Judge Duncan explains that they have the right to contest their deportation and to appeal any rulings.

Respondents also have the right to hire an attorney, Judge Duncan says. “How many of you have an attorney?” he asks. Two men raise their hands and are given more time to prepare. The others are called up to the bench. The judge rules all will be deported. 

Alfredo Sosa/Staff
Empty storefronts and struggling businesses line the center of Lumpkin, a town of 1,100 people in southwestern Georgia. The Stewart Detention Center is the main employer in the area.

Lumpkin’s lone lawyer

After Mr. Rosenbluth took the job here, he bought a house in town for $20,000. He invites visiting lawyers to rent out his second bedroom and share his home office so they can represent clients at Stewart. But a trickle of defenders has not become a flood. Some days Mr. Rosenbluth is the only lawyer in court. 

Attorneys who travel to Stewart grow weary of prison lockdowns, talking to clients through plexiglass windows, and dealing with pettifogging guards. “It’s meant to grind you down,” says Ms. Owings, who has defended several detainees at Stewart.   

To save time, most lawyers skip client visits and phone into court hearings in Lumpkin. Mr. Rosenbluth never does this. “I consider it to be borderline malpractice,” he says. 

At first guards in Lumpkin would stop Mr. Rosenbluth from shaking his clients’ hands or patting their shoulders. Not in here, they’d scold him; it’s not allowed. Mr. Rosenbluth, who is Jewish, persisted, politely, in a way that was more rabbinical than righteous. Eventually he wore down the guards one by one, and now he embraces his clients, a human touch denied in prison. 

When he loses his cases, as he often does, Mr. Rosenbluth comforts the detainee, walks out of the prison, and drives his Prius the mile back home. “Then I’ll scream at the walls,” he says. 

As a one-man act, Mr. Rosenbluth can juggle only a dozen or so individual cases at Stewart at a time, knowing that most will end in deportation. Far from gumming up the system, he admits he may be just helping put a veneer of due process on mass expulsions.

Still, he takes solace in making a difference where he can. “You bang your head against a wall” trying to stop Israel from torturing Palestinian suspects, and nothing changes, he says. “Here I make a difference on a daily basis, and I can see it.” 

That difference could be amplified as his firm, Polanco Law, is looking to add two more lawyers in Lumpkin this year. Mr. Rosenbluth has begun scoping out empty storefronts for an office. A nearby house has also opened its doors to provide free accommodations for family members visiting detainees. 

Having a shingle in town would expand Mr. Rosenbluth’s practice – and perhaps send a message that detainees have a shot at success.

‘This is the best’ 

Mr. Rosenbluth is making coffee when he gets the call. Abdallh Khadra, a Syrian imam whose political asylum was granted a week ago, is getting out after five months inside. The lawyer jumps in his car and heads to Stewart, a broad smile splitting his beard. He always makes sure to be at the prison gate when his clients are released. “It never gets old,” he says. “This is the best.”

Simon Montlake/The Christian Science Monitor
Marty Rosenbluth (r.) poses with Abdallh Khadra, a Syrian national just released from Stewart Detention Center. Mr. Rosenbluth likes to greet his clients when they are let out, a moment he calls ‘the best.’

On the drive his phone rings again, and this time it’s Mr. Khadra himself. “We’re coming to get you now,” Mr. Rosenbluth tells him. He’s brought Mr. Khadra’s driver’s license and credit card so that he can drive himself back to Cary, North Carolina.

But the head of Mr. Khadra’s mosque calls Mr. Rosenbluth, insisting that he take a bus to Atlanta so that he can be picked up from there. Mr. Rosenbluth shrugs. “I will do what my client wants,” he says after he hangs up.  

Most men discharged from Stewart don’t get choices. Those without family or friends waiting outside are shunted into a white van and dumped at a bus station in Columbus, usually at night after the last bus to Atlanta has already left. Local volunteers provide backpacks and blankets and a bed for the night. 

Mr. Khadra is more fortunate: The sun is still high when the prison’s side gates grind open and he walks out wearing a gray tunic and black pants, carrying two plastic bags. Mr. Rosenbluth is waiting by a picnic table. 

He strides forward to greet his client. The two men, Muslim and Jew, hug and exchange Arabic greetings. “God is merciful. May God bless you.” 

Then Mr. Khadra steps forward and falls to his knees on a concrete utility cover. He drops his head and begins to pray. 

As he drives home afterward, Mr. Rosenbluth cues up a song on his iPhone that he plays after every release. It’s “Freedom” by Richie Havens. 

A long

Way

From my home, yeah.

From my home, yeah.

Yeah.

Sing.

Fr-e-e-dom.

Fr-e-e-dom. 

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4. In new Ikea line, African designers are more than ‘inspiration’

Appreciation, or appropriation? Too often, artists and activists say, Western brands’ use of African designs is the latter. A new collection aims to get real collaboration right.

Amelia

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There is a long history of Western brands taking African design ideas to add a bit of “exotic” flair to their collections. So Swedish furniture giant Ikea's announcement of a collection in collaboration with 10 African designers generated both excitement and skepticism.

But from the start, to many of the designers, including some of the continent’s most celebrated, this project felt different. In early conversations, the team quickly decided they didn’t want to put out a “curio version” of Africa, says Sindiso Khumalo, a South African designer who created textiles for the collection. “As a designer,” Ms. Khumalo says, “I get this all the time: people saying ‘You can design a print for us’ and then coming back to me and saying ‘Well, it isn’t African enough.’ This was different.” 

Among the line’s items are a basket created to look like braided hair, blankets inspired by Johannesburg’s modernist architecture, and a woven rocking chair created as an homage to the designer’s childhood days sitting in his mother’s garden in Dakar. But for African fans, there’s one enduring disappointment: There are no Ikea stores on the continent.

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In new Ikea line, African designers are more than ‘inspiration’

When Swedish do-it-yourself furniture giant Ikea announced this year that it was releasing a line of housewares in collaboration with 10 African designers, many approached the news with both excitement and skepticism.

On the one hand, the designers selected were some of the continent’s most celebrated: from Senegal’s Selly Raby Kane, best known in the West for outfitting Beyoncé in a funky kimono, to Ivorian architect and designer Issa Diabaté. And the idea that their designs would soon be on display inside angular Ikea showrooms around the world was, well, pretty cool.

On the other, there is a long history of Western brands taking African design ideas to add a bit of “exotic” flair to their collections. Think Louis Vuitton’s blue and red checked menswear collection of 2012, an obvious nod to the traditional clothing of the Maasai people of East Africa (which the company paired with khaki safariwear).

Sometimes, designers allege, it goes beyond inspiration from traditional motifs. The baguette bag that appeared in Yves Saint Laurent’s Paris Fashion Week show in 2017 was an echo, to many observers, of a bag released by a young Senegalese designer named Sarah Diouf under her label Tongoro the year before. Then there’s South African menswear creator Laduma Ngxokolo, who is participating in the Ikea project, known for work inspired by the bold geometry of Xhosa beadwork. When fast-fashion brand Zara produced diamond-patterned socks with a striking resemblance to one of his iconic designs last year, he sought legal action, and the brand quickly pulled socks from its shelves.

Daniel Wester/Courtesy of IKEA
A quilt from South African designers Renee Rossouw and Sindiso Khumalo from the Overallt collection. The designers drew on the modernist architecture of Johannesburg for inspiration for their textiles for the Ikea line.

 

“Brands do this because they feel that they can get away with it,” says Nana Spio-Garbrah, the founder of Blueprint Africa, an interior design consultancy with offices in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. “And they know that often even if they have to pay damages in the end, they can afford it, so it won’t be a big deal.”

But from the start, to many of those involved, the Ikea project – called Överallt, or “everywhere” – felt different. For one thing, it was launched on the African continent, at an annual showcase for African design called Design Indaba, held each year in Cape Town. Design Indaba and Ikea hatched the idea together and collaborated to select designers and decide how the collection would look, says Design Indaba founder Ravi Naidoo.

“[We were asked], what could we add to Ikea? What would be a unique African perspective? What is there about our way of life that could add value to people living across the world?” he says.

One thing that quickly emerged was that the designers didn’t want to put out the “curio version” of Africa, says Sindiso Khumalo, a South African designer. With fellow designer and architect Renée Rossouw, she created textiles for the collection that were, in part, inspired by Johannesburg’s distinctive modernist architecture. “As a designer, I get this all the time: people saying ‘You can design a print for us,’ and then coming back to me and saying ‘Well, it isn’t African enough.’ This was different.”

Iona Dutz/Courtesy of IKEA
South African designer Sindiso Khumalo created a quilt and other textiles for the Overallt collection for IKEA that drew on Johannesburg’s modernist architecture for inspiration.

 

Among the other items are a basket by Ms. Kane created to look like braided hair and a woven rocking chair that fellow Senegalese designer Bibi Seck created as an homage to days spent sitting in his mother’s garden in Dakar as a child.

Much of the collection is designed to evoke “a porousness between inside and outside,” says Mr. Naidoo of Design Indaba, a tribute to how much cultural life in many African countries takes place on porches, verandas, and other spaces poised between house and street. Issa Diabaté, for instance, designed a deceptively simple chair made from a single piece of plywood that can be used either inside or out.

But for African design fans, there’s at least one enduring disappointment about the collection: There are no Ikea stores anywhere on the continent, putting some of the most democratic versions of these often high-end designers’ work out of the reach of many of their most ardent fans.

“Many of us want to support this, but unless we’re already in London or Tokyo we won’t have the means to,” says Ms. Spio-Garbrah, the interior designer.

Ms. Khumalo too is disappointed about that, but she says she hopes that for the consumers her collection does reach, it will be meaningful.

“There’s so much fast fashion and fast furniture already out there,” she says. “We wanted to push back on that. We wanted to create pieces that could last and could even be passed on.”

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Books

5. April’s 10 best books to kick off spring

Our critics recommend an excellent history of the Apollo 11 mission, a history of baseball through the squinty eyes of a pitcher, and Alexander McCall Smith’s foray into the Scandinavian crime novel genre.

Amelia
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April’s 10 best books to kick off spring

Monitor reviewers were captivated this month by a raft of offerings, from memoirs and meditations to books about historic events and social issues. The April releases proved to be a boon for book lovers of all tastes. 

1 The Department of Sensitive Crimes, by Alexander McCall Smith

Detective Varg investigates crimes too odd or baffling for the police department in Malmö, Sweden. An imaginary boyfriend is reported missing. A man is stabbed – in the back of his knee. Varg is a quiet crusader for justice who doesn’t miss a detail. Chicanery is exposed; mercy is exacted. It’s hard to imagine a less dark Scandinavian police novel, or one that is more winning.

2 Lost and Wanted, by Nell Freudenberger

Physicist and mother Helen Clapp is a highly accomplished author and professor. When her best friend Charlotte (“Charlie”) dies, her world changes as she engages with Charlie’s family and friends. Timely and delightfully observant of relationships, this novel is deeply heartfelt, amazingly intellectual, and beautifully thought provoking.  

3 Charged, by Emily Bazelon

Journalist and lawyer Emily Bazelon shines light on the under-examined role of prosecutors in America’s crisis-level incarceration rates. This rigorous, compassionate, and vital book argues that district attorneys who focus more on mercy and less on simply locking people up have a pivotal role to play in fixing the criminal justice system. 

4 The League of Wives, by Heath Hardage Lee

When their husbands were taken captive in Vietnam, military wives were told to keep quiet until the U.S. government could bring them home. In this new lens on the Vietnam War, Heath Hardage Lee shows how the “reluctant sorority” of POW and MIA wives evolved slowly, and sometimes painfully, into warriors in their own right, confronting senators, ambassadors, and even the president in the effort to save their loved ones.

5 American Moonshot, by Douglas Brinkley

The 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969 has provoked a stream of books, and one of the best to appear in the early part of the year was written by popular historian Douglas Brinkley. His book makes the space program even more dramatic by matching it with the life story of President John F. Kennedy.

6 Falter, by Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, the first  organization to combat climate change, is done playing Mr. Nice Guy and has ramped up his efforts to save us from ourselves. “Falter” lays out in blunt terms how and why the human game went wrong, who and what was responsible, and how we, if we are determined enough, can fix it. There is no time to lose. “Falter” is a rallying cry for the environmental movement.

7 Possessed by Memory, by Harold Bloom

Harold Bloom, America’s preeminent literary critic, is lying awake at night reciting lines from poems. It’s not a way to count sheep; rather, he’s gleaning from the verses the “inward light” that will comfort him as he enters the “elegy season.” This audacious personal odyssey offers readers a cosmos of possibilities when contemplating what happens once we “shuffle off this mortal coil.”

8 Solid Seasons, by Jeffrey S. Cramer

As in all long friendships, Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson had their periods of revelations and frustrations. Jeffrey S. Cramer explores their relationship through their own words, demonstrating that Thoreau could not fully appreciate Emerson, and he lacked Emerson’s ability to love another person, warts and all.

9 Save Me the Plums, by Ruth Reichl

How we’ve missed sitting down to a virtual meal with Ruth Reichl. The latest memoir from the food writer covers her decade as the final editor of Gourmet magazine, bringing us into an elite world that mixes “Top Chef” with “The Devil Wears Prada.” Reichl is reflective, dishy, deeply personal – and even willing to share a few recipes. 

10 K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches, by Tyler Kepner

Baseball junkies will love this book. Even casual fans will get a kick out of it. The New York Times baseball writer Tyler Kepner examines America’s pastime through the squinty eyes of a pitcher. The author captures the glory and quirkiness of the sport he clearly loves, from the spitball to the “scroogie.”

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The Monitor's View

Reconciling Sri Lanka to its finer self

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On Tuesday, the tear-shaped island nation of Sri Lanka will hold a day of mourning for the victims of the suicide bombings on Easter Sunday. The government was wise to bring together a country of such diversity to remember the nearly 300 people killed. It shows Sri Lanka, which remains trapped in competing national identities, still seeks reconciliation a decade after the end of a violent civil war.

Four years ago, the South Asian nation’s path to reconciliation seemed off to a good start. Voters had elected a new president, Maithripala Sirisena, who promised to address abuses of a long war against a Tamil separatist group with a mix of truth, accountability, and forgiveness, all in the name of social healing. Most of that work remains unfulfilled.

The suicide bombings, which the government attributes to a local jihadist group, serve as a reminder that Sri Lanka cannot afford a slow pace toward reconciliation. Old grievances can be overcome by truth and forgiveness. The Easter bombings show why Sri Lanka must step back onto its recent path of reconciliation.

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Reconciling Sri Lanka to its finer self

On Tuesday, the tear-shaped island nation of Sri Lanka will hold a day of mourning for the victims of the suicide bombings on Easter Sunday. The government was wise to bring together a country of such diversity to remember the nearly 300 people killed in three churches and three hotels. It shows Sri Lanka, which remains trapped in competing national identities, still seeks reconciliation a decade after the end of a violent civil war.

Four years ago, the South Asian nation’s path to reconciliation seemed off to a good start. Voters had elected a new president, Maithripala Sirisena, who came out of the Buddhist majority yet did not seem to reflect its tendency toward supremacism over minorities, especially ethnic Tamils (who are mainly Hindu) as well as Muslims and Christians. He promised to address abuses of the 26-year-long war against a Tamil separatist group with a mix of truth, accountability, and forgiveness, all in the name of social healing. Most of that work remains unfulfilled.

The suicide bombings, which the government attributes to a local jihadist group, serve as a reminder that Sri Lanka cannot afford a slow pace toward reconciliation. The motives behind the attack are still unknown. And few had imagined violence by one minority on another. Yet the attacks reveal in a dramatic way the widespread fears and divisions that need to be addressed in the nation of 21 million people.

Last year Mr. Sirisena did set up a process for finding the truth about the thousands still missing during the war. He also set up an office for reparations, although the Buddhist elite opposes the idea of compensating Tamils. Yet he opposes a call by the United Nations for a hybrid court to deal with allegations of war crimes and human rights abuses.

Forging a common identity among Sri Lankans requires that the various groups deal with either the reality of past victimization, especially for Tamils, or the false narratives about becoming victims, especially among Sinhalese Buddhists. The country has a long history of ethnic and religious harmony to build on. It is also Asia’s oldest continuous democracy, which can play to either the forces of division or to those ready to restore social harmony.

Old grievances can be overcome by truth and forgiveness. The Easter bombings show why Sri Lanka must step back onto its recent path of reconciliation.

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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 safety in our true environment

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On this Earth Day, today’s contributor explores how discerning the spiritual nature of our environment can bring safety and healing.

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Finding safety in our true environment

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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What if we were able to experience a totally pure and safe environment – not just at some future time, but now?

I got a whiff of just that as a relatively new student of Christian Science, when my trust in God was tested by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear meltdown. In the period of intense fear following the tragedy, a relative called, wanting us to fly from London to New Zealand to flee the potential impact of the radioactive smoke and dust drifting out of Ukraine.

I paused before responding. On the one hand, I shared the dread of what might happen. On the other hand, I’d begun to learn that we are truly children of God, and that as God’s creation we “live, and move, and have our being” in God, Spirit, as the Bible says (Acts 17:28). I could see that the opposite belief that our existence is based in matter, not Spirit, was the foundation of the fear we were feeling.

So I opened my heart to God. As I did so, a spiritual clarity gently but firmly displaced the fear. I felt a consciousness of our coexistence with God, a sense of being safe in that pure environment of Spirit. In that moment, it became clear to me that it was right to stay in London. My relative also stayed put, and we’ve had no reason to regret that decision.

Gaining freedom from fear through such spiritual awareness won’t always lead to a sense that it’s OK to stay put. I’ve had several experiences where it has guided me out of harm’s way. It can also radically change the circumstances, as illustrated in many experiences recorded in the Bible.

For instance, in a storm so violent that his disciples felt sure they would perish, Christ Jesus “rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still.” The result: “The wind ceased, and there was a great calm” (Mark 4:39).

The spiritual understanding behind his words also rebuked the underlying belief that we are at the mercy of conditions beyond our control. Jesus constantly proved the opposite truth of God’s authority over all. He understood that everyone’s true identity as God’s child is safely ensconced in what the writings of Christian Science discoverer Mary Baker Eddy identify as “the abode of Spirit, the realm of the real” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 174).

We’re constantly faced with very different perceptions of our local and global surroundings. To the degree that we discern their spiritual nature, we can bring to light glimmers of Spirit’s pure and safe environment. The tendency to move in this spiritually enlightened direction, individually and collectively, can seem slow to develop. But we can have breakthrough moments of letting our thinking be changed in this way.

Such moments support progress out of present and predicted problems. For instance, mental elements such as fear, greed, and self-centered thoughtlessness are detrimental to the health of the environment because of the actions they produce. But grasping our spiritual nature helps counter and heal such attitudes and invariably results in good deeds as well as good thoughts.

Some good deeds are visible to others. But others remain unseen – such as studying and praying to deepen our understanding of existence until we truly become conscious of its entirely spiritual nature. Such unseen transformation of thought has been proved practical and healing by individuals facing all kinds of problems, including, for example, sickness caused by polluted floodwater (see Maria José Da Silva, “Symptoms of infection healed,” Christian Science Sentinel, Dec. 24, 2007).

We each have the inherent capacity to prove God’s protection when we face danger. Such safety comes through prayer that turns us from diagnosis and prognosis based on the evidence of physical discord or degradation to the apprehension and acceptance of God’s eternal reality and complete control. As Mrs. Eddy’s primary text on Christian Science says, “The realization that all inharmony is unreal brings objects and thoughts into human view in their true light, and presents them as beautiful and immortal” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 276).

As we more consistently yield in our thoughts to this true, spiritual view of our environment, we will bring more of its eternal beauty and immortality “into human view.”

Adapted from an editorial published in the April 22, 2019, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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Viewfinder

Practicing up for 2048

Al Drago/Reuters
A child poses in front of a miniature briefing room podium during the 2019 White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington April 22.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( April 23rd, 2019 )

Thanks for starting your week with us. Tomorrow, we’ll turn again to Sudan. Taylor Luck reports on how Gulf Arab states and Egypt are supporting the military in opposition to public demands for thorough regime change and greater democracy.

Monitor Daily Podcast

April 22, 2019
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