2019
October
21
Monday

Welcome to your Daily. Today we have the Kurdish view from Syria, the latest on Brexit in plain British, the equestrian statue repurposed, and paired items on a time of cultural revival in Mexico.

First, a court drama with national implications. Two Cleveland-area counties reached a last-minute settlement in a case against the nation’s leading pharmaceutical distributors, alleging illegal promotion of opioids by the companies.

For these two counties, both heavily affected by opioid abuse, the $260 million settlement means they will get much-needed money to help treat addiction and prevent further deaths. “It’s about rehabilitation and getting people straight,” said Michael C. O’Malley, Cuyahoga County prosecutor.

For the United States, this outcome postpones a larger reckoning. Some 2,600 lawsuits are pending by counties, cities, states, and tribes against corporations whose marketing and distribution of these pain-relief drugs may have played a significant role in a nationwide crisis. In the lead-up to this Ohio trial, for a time it looked possible that it could become the venue for a sweeping $48 billion settlement encompassing that legion of lawsuits. 

That possibility now awaits another case. By some measures even $48 billion would be a drop in the bucket. In a report this year, White House economists said the opioid crisis cost the U.S. economy $504 billion in 2015 alone. So, at stake is relief for people in more struggling communities like Cleveland. But as the Monitor highlighted this spring, it’s also about accountability: Many plaintiffs say courtroom trials could give a full airing to alleged illegal promotion efforts that put profits above responsibility with addictive drugs.

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1. For Kurds, betrayal and a lost dream of home

Outgunned by Turkey and feeling betrayed by President Trump, where do Syria’s Kurds go from here? It’s a sad question, and an employee of the Kurdish autonomous administration has a telling answer: Iraq.

Mark

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After meeting last week with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Vice President Mike Pence said he had negotiated a “cease-fire” agreement for northern Syria. Turkey presented it instead as a “pause in operations” so that Kurdish fighters could withdraw from the strip of Syrian territory that Turkey was invading to create a long-sought buffer zone.

But the Kurds, America’s former allies in the fight against the Islamic State, see the U.S. withdrawal, which opened the door to Turkey’s assault, as a betrayal. The truce made no difference.

Before the U.S. pullout ordered by President Donald Trump, the Kurds controlled nearly a third of inhabited Syria. There they enjoyed an unprecedented degree of self-governance and the unique opportunity to exercise cultural rights long denied by the Syrian regime. Those dreams seem lost.

“The cease-fire deal is betrayal in legal attire,” says Hamid Khalaf, whose sister, a Syrian Kurdish politician, was murdered by Turkish-backed militias. “America stabbed the Kurdish people in the back, the Kurdish people who lost 11,000 fighters on the front lines against the Islamic State in defense of democracy, freedom, equality, and humanity – in defense of all the people of the world.”

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For Kurds, betrayal and a lost dream of home

Hamid Khalaf knows all too well that his sister, a Kurdish politician in northern Syria, was killed in cold blood.

The video footage taken just moments before she was executed by Turkish-backed militiamen has been widely circulated. Thirteen seconds into the video, you hear the voice of Hafrin Khalaf identifying herself as a political party leader.

A medical report captures the brutality of what ensued: She was shot multiple times and dragged violently by the hair.

For the agony that his sister experienced, Mr. Khalaf, a resident of Switzerland for a dozen years, blames the president of the United States and his abrupt decision to pull out of Syria.

“The United States is responsible for what is happening in northeast Syria,” he says, sitting in the living room of his apartment in Bern. “America is specifically responsible for the death of my sister because the decision to withdraw U.S. troops cleared the path for Turkey to strike Syria. ... The betrayal came from Trump.”

Mr. Khalaf, whose sense of stinging betrayal is widely shared among Syrian Kurds, was referring to the fateful Oct. 6 phone call between President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Three days later, Turkey attacked the very Kurdish fighters that the United States and its allies had relied on to defeat the Islamic State militarily on the ground in northern Syria. Turkey’s so-called “Operation Peace Spring” – preparations for which had begun months earlier – aims to clear northern Syria of Kurdish fighters that Ankara sees as inextricably linked to its own Kurdish insurgency.

Abandoned by the United States and outgunned by Turkey, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) agreed to hand over key border towns to Syrian forces loyal to the government in Damascus, finding common cause in fending off Turkish aggression.

The deal was brokered by Russia, a consistent military and diplomatic backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has managed to outlast a cataclysmic civil war. In a flash, the map of war-torn Syria was redrawn and reimagined by all of the conflict’s parties, leaving the Kurds in limbo.

“There isn’t a deal with Damascus but an understanding based on the need of border protection and fight against Turkish invasion,” Mazloum Abdi, the commander in chief of the SDF, said in a statement Wednesday. “This is solely a military move.”

‘Betrayal in legal attire’

Facing blowback at home and abroad amid reports of war crimes – including the killing of Ms. Khalaf – and prison breaks by ISIS, the White House slapped economic sanctions on Turkey.

Then, on Oct. 17, Vice President Mike Pence negotiated what he called a “cease-fire” agreement. Ankara presented it instead as a “pause in operations” so that Kurdish fighters could withdraw from an area more than 250 miles long and some 20 miles deep.

Before the U.S. pullout, Kurdish forces considered terrorists by Turkey controlled nearly a third of inhabited Syria. There the Kurds enjoyed an unprecedented degree of self-governance and the unique opportunity to exercise cultural rights long denied by the Assad regime.

These Kurdish-held territories were relatively safe, a base for Western soldiers and hundreds of international humanitarian workers, and an entry point for foreign journalists. Kurds were also the gatekeepers of prisons holdings Iraqi, Syrian, and foreign fighters linked to ISIS.

“The cease-fire deal is betrayal in legal attire,” says Mr. Khalaf, who maintains the high-rise in which he lives. “America stabbed the Kurdish people in the back, the Kurdish people who lost 11,000 fighters on the front lines against the Islamic State in defense of democracy, freedom, equality, and humanity – in defense of all the people of the world.

“The Kurds were stabbed by the hand of Trump,” he adds amid tears for his slain sister. “Turkey was the dagger.”

Dominique Soguel
Hamid Khalaf, at his apartment in Bern, Switzerland, grieves his sister, Hafrin Khalaf, a prominent Kurdish politician who was executed in northern Syria by Turkey-backed militiamen. She was ambushed and shot dead with her driver on Oct. 12.

At a cabinet meeting Monday, Mr. Trump again defended his withdrawal decision. “We helped the Kurds,” he said. “And we never gave the Kurds a commitment that we’d stay for the next 400 years and protect them.”

The five-day truce, meanwhile, has not been perfect. The terms of the agreement – which includes the lifting of sanctions – are widely seen among Kurds as a U.S. capitulation to Turkey. Mr. Trump celebrated it as the “deal of the century,” although it includes no lasting concessions from Ankara.

Ethnic cleansing?

Central to the agreement was the establishment of a demilitarized area along the Syrian border with Turkey. Such a safe zone would meet a long-running Turkish strategic goal and include areas where the Kurds had established self-rule.

It would also give Turkey an area to resettle up to 2 million Syrian refugees and alter demographic dynamics in the region. There are at least 12 divided cities along the border between Turkey and Syria, including Kobane, where Kurds bravely fought off an ISIS onslaught with the help of U.S. air power. The battle five years ago proved to be a turning point in halting the expansion of ISIS territory across northern Iraq and Syria.

Over the past two weeks, some 300,000 people have been displaced, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“Encouraging the ongoing genocide campaign is by far the greatest insult to our people so far,” said Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the SDF, in a Twitter message tagging Mr. Trump. “With all due respect, Mr. President, what makes you think you have the right to drive millions of Kurds out of their homes and resettle them elsewhere? Isn’t this ethnic cleansing?”

Kurdish forces pulled out of the flashpoint border town of Ras al-Ayn on Sunday, the first withdrawal since the so-called cease-fire. Civilians fled alongside these forces, reportedly fearful of what Turkish-backed militias – which are notorious for the inclusion of former ISIS, Al Qaeda, and criminal elements – would do.

Gruesome execution videos have been linked to advancing Islamist militias backed by Turkey. The Turkish-led takeover of Afrin, a Kurdish enclave, was marred by looting and killing last year.

Mr. Erdoğan vowed Saturday to crush “Kurdish fighters” if the 13-point deal is not fully implemented. Both sides have traded blame for violations. A Turkish soldier was killed Sunday. More than 200 civilians, including 18 children, have been killed since the start of the offensive, according to Kurdish health authorities.

Lost dream of Rojava

“The United States betrayed the blood of my son and his fellow martyrs,” says Aisha Hussein, a native of Hassakeh interviewed in Qamishli, whose son died fighting ISIS. “They promised them protection and left them to their fate.

“Rojava is now in existential danger,” she says, using the Kurds’ name for their ancestral territories in Syria, which Arabs also claim. “The Turks and their loyalists may come to slay us. ... They will destroy Rojava over us if they can. The [Syrian] regime doesn’t want to grant us any rights, but we are forced to ally with it to protect ourselves.”

The Syrian flag already flies in parts of the city of Qamishli – including in Christian pockets, the Syrian-army controlled “security square,” the court, and the airport. Residents say more flags have gone up in recent days but that checkpoints remain in the hands of the Syrian Democratic Forces. Arabs and Kurds, both for and against the regime, have made the city home. Tensions are high.

In public, people curse the United States. They know that the days of Rojava are all but over.

“I will stay in Rojava,” says Ali Saadu, a middle-aged trader. “The only way out for me is the grave. This is our land, and I will not leave it for anyone to take.”

Hoshank Hadi, a student at Rojava University, clings to the hope that all the sacrifices have not been in vain. “I do not think the Kurds will face the same oppression and injustice they did before 2011 [when protests against Assad started],” he says. “They [the regime] will be open to the Kurdish language, give us more rights. Siding with Russia and the regime will end the possibility of war and we will make some gains, although maybe not in the way that we want or the way that we have now.”

Ahmed, an employee with Syria’s Kurdish autonomous administration in Qamishli who declined to give his last name for security reasons, says he prefers the Syrian regime to Turkey but won’t be taking any chances. He will go to northern Iraq, where Kurds have a stronger grip over their autonomous region.

“I would like to stay, but I am afraid that I will be conscripted into the Syrian army and have to participate in wars that I do not believe in,” he says.

Hints that Mr. Trump could backpedal yet again and leave special forces in northeast Syria reassure no one. The key question now is what will come of Mr. Erdoğan’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi Tuesday.

“We were wrong when we trusted America,” says Ahmed. “Its history is full of betrayal. They deceived us, and we will never trust them again.”

Alan Hasan contributed from Qamishli, Syria.

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Brexit debate

2. Boris pushes toward a deal, and we try to explain it all

Brexit is once again nearing a critical stage, and Boris Johnson has agreed to a deal with the European Union. But getting that deal across the finish line seems just as muddled a process as ever.

Mark
Staff

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Two Brits and one curious American talk Brexit in a group chat.

Simon Montlake (Brexit reporter, Brit): Hello from cloudy London where I’ve just had a long lunch. 

Peter Ford (senior global correspondent, Brit): Lovely day in Paris. Is the U.K. already suffering from Brexit?

Rebecca Asoulin (engagement editor, American): Ah – well I am secretly obsessed with British food (and overdone meat, apparently) – so I am envious of the lunch! Shall we pivot to the meat of the issue? Oct. 31 is inching closer and Britain is still set to leave the European Union on that date – deal or no deal. Half a year ago now (which is, what, like 10 in Brexit years?) we chatted and you two made some predictions about where we’d be by now. Did you get it right?

Click “Deep Read” (above) to dive into our conversation.

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Boris pushes toward a deal, and we try to explain it all

Two Brits and one curious American talk Brexit in a group chat.

Simon Montlake (Brexit reporter, Brit): Hello from cloudy London where I’ve just had a long lunch. 

Peter Ford (senior global correspondent, Brit): Lovely day in Paris. Is the U.K. already suffering from Brexit?

Rebecca Asoulin (engagement editor, American): Ah – well I am secretly obsessed with British food (and overdone meat apparently) – so I am envious of the lunch! Shall we pivot to the meat of the issue? Oct. 31 is inching closer and Britain is still set to leave the European Union on that date – deal or no deal. Half a year ago now (which is, what, like 10 in Brexit years?) we chatted and you two made some predictions about where we’d be by now. Did you get it right?

Peter: I’ll fess up first. I said I thought there would be an election and there hasn’t been one, so I was wrong. But it is uncanny how similar the situation today is to the situation when we last talked seven months ago. Then we were 10 days away from a deadline that got pushed back. Same today. Then I set out the four possible futures:

1) Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal passes 

2) A second referendum in which the people vote on Brexit again

3) A national election for Members of Parliament

4) A no-deal Brexit

Substitute ‘Boris Johnson’s deal’ for ‘Ms. May’s deal’ and those are the same four options we are still looking at seven months on... 

Simon: There’s one more option: a Brexit reversal. Give it up as a bad idea. The Liberal Democrat party has adopted this as their platform for the next election. However, the Liberal Democrat party won’t have a majority. Plus it would be incredibly controversial to backtrack on the 2016 referendum result. 

Rebecca: So it’s not quite groundhog day for this chat – because of the main difference to the options Peter laid out. It’s not Ms. May’s deal anymore that’s an option, right?

Simon: No, step forward Boris Johnson, prime minister!

Rebecca: Tell me more about him and how he changed the Brexit equation. Is he really the U.K.’s Donald Trump? 

Simon: Let me go first... Boris Johnson has been auditioning for the job for many years. He’s finally made it, having helped defeat Theresa May’s attempt to deliver Brexit. The Trump comparison holds true for his political persona and his malleability, but there are big differences too. Boris plays up the goofball image when it suits him. But I have to give him credit for pivoting to a serious negotiation with the EU that has produced a compromise deal. Some believed he was just posturing and wanted the U.K. to crash out of the EU without a deal. Instead we are within striking distance of a Brexit deal, at least the first stage. 

Peter: Boris can carry all the Brexiters, including those who were skeptical about Ms. May’s deal, because he has been the Brexit standard bearer since the referendum campaign began. If he says it’s a good Brexit deal, hardly anybody on the Brexit side will dare argue with him.

Rebecca: And that new deal he struck was supposed to be voted on Saturday. Simon – you were reporting for the Monitor in the House of Commons over the weekend. What happened?

Simon: Super Saturday! Was more of a souffle Saturday, if we extend the culinary metaphors. It rose up and fell back to Earth.

Peter: Sounds like my efforts in the kitchen...

Simon: It was quite a day. There was a huge march to Parliament Square by supporters of a second referendum, essentially a pro-EU crowd. Inside Parliament, the MPs crowded in for a debate and a vote, which was highly unusual. The last time Parliament sat on a weekend was 1982 and Britain was on the verge of war with Argentina over the Falklands Islands. 

This time it was Boris seeking approval for his freshly minted U.K.-EU withdrawal agreement. And he didn’t quite get what he wanted. What happened was parliamentary chicanery of the highest order: an amendment to the motion. And it passed by a slim majority, which basically meant the postponement of MPs having to vote up/down on the withdrawal agreement.

Rebecca: Wait, so they didn’t vote on the deal itself, they voted on an amendment to the motion on the deal?

Simon: Yes, they amended the motion, all in the name of preventing any chance of a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31, which is still the official deadline for the U.K. to leave. What the amended motion did was insist that Parliament passes all the necessary laws to effect an orderly Brexit. And that’s where we are this week. The big question is whether Parliament can legislate before Oct. 31, or if another hurdle will arise to prevent Johnson’s deal going ahead.

Peter: There are a number of spanners [i.e. wrenches] that could be put in the works of Parliament this week. One option as the government tries to get approval for its deal is that somebody might amend the motion to tack on a condition: OK, we approve this deal, but only if it is also approved by a confirmatory referendum.

Rebecca: In other words, only if people vote again to leave the EU with this deal. 

Peter: Right. Very controversial, as Simon said earlier. And although the country seems split down the middle on Brexit, with an apparent slight tilt towards ‘Remain,’ it is hard to see Parliament voting for that. But someone else could also introduce amendments that would make Brexit much ‘softer’ than the hard break with the EU that Mr. Johnson wants, and maintain close economic ties. That idea might attract majority support, but the prime minister would not stand for that. So that’s another possible route to a new election. (I will be right on this in the end...)

Simon: The key to Brexit predictions: Eventually, you could be right. An election is coming!

Rebecca: I think I’ll keep being right for a while. The only thing I kept predicting was Brexit would drag on with extension after extension!

Simon: It’s time to talk extensions – and extension letters. 

Peter: Or non-letters. Since Parliament withheld its approval of Johnson’s deal on Saturday, the prime minister was obliged (by a law passed earlier designed to forestall no-deal) to ask the EU for another extension till Jan. 31, 2020. Johnson had said he would ‘rather be dead in a ditch’ than do that, but the law is the law. So he did ask for an extension, but only by sending Brussels a photocopy of the legislation spelling out what he had to ask for, and not signing it.

Then he sent another letter – signed, sealed, and delivered – telling the EU to ignore what he had just sent them and not to give the U.K. any extra time. Diplomatic legerdemain (i.e. sleight of hand, Peter’s been in Paris too long!) or a silly schoolboy prank? Observers are divided....

Simon: Of course, the EU must decide on the extension request. But I don’t see them rejecting it if the result is a no-deal Brexit that causes chaos and disruption on all sides, which means that we could be looking at a January 2020 Brexit deadline.

Peter: You are absolutely right, Simon. The EU’s top priority is to avoid a disorderly Brexit. But at the same time EU leaders are fed up to the back teeth with what is going on in Britain, and increasingly worried about what another few months of uncertainty would do to business confidence across the continent. If they don’t give an extension, the thinking goes, the pressure on Parliament to approve the deal on the table will be intense because the alternative would be no deal. But these are high stakes to play for.

Rebecca: What comes next if the deal does pass?

Peter: Aha! You thought you could sit back and relax, didn’t you? No such luck. If the deal passes, we all move on to a year – or possibly three years – of negotiations between London and Brussels about the exact nature of the U.K.’s new relationship with the EU, on trade and all sorts of other things. These talks will keep you on the edge of your seat, guaranteed...

Simon: I think Johnson will go for an election. He will campaign as the Man Who Delivered Brexit – but, the problem is that elections are unpredictable and the electorate has grown very fickle. It’s not a two-party system any longer, if it ever was, and we don’t know how much Brexit will be yesterday’s news, so what will be the pitch to voters?

Rebecca: Do you think the British people will ever feel like Brexit is yesterday’s news? How do you think they will react to a deal passing? 

Simon: I think people are desperate to move on and talk about something else. If Johnson’s deal does pass I think it will be due to fatigue on all sides. Fatigue and momentum go together, in a curiously British way. One sign I saw at Saturday’s rally: “Down With This Sort Of Thing.”

Peter: That’s right. Brexit has been such a terribly divisive question and has sucked all the oxygen out of British political life for so long, I think that a deal – any deal – would probably be greeted with a huge sigh of relief on all sides. But in fact economists are unusually unanimous in predicting that Brexit of any flavor will be bad for the British economy and make the country’s citizens poorer than they would have been inside the EU. That has got lost in the wash. 

Simon: We made it this far without mentioning Northern Ireland or the cast-off backstop. Back to the backstop? No forward to the front stop.

Rebecca: What’s the short version of how Boris’ deal deals with Northern Ireland?

Peter: Northern Ireland will be both in the EU and out of it. In law (de jure) it will be part of the U.K. In fact (de facto) it will be in the EU customs union and single market for most goods. And subject to the European Court of Justice. When the EU proposed such an idea two years ago Mr. Johnson called it a constitutional outrage. But it was his only way out so he took it.

Simon: The idea is to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Which this deal does, by treating Northern Ireland differently. The irony is that Northern Ireland gets a special status that allows it access to EU markets for goods. Which the rest of the U.K. won’t have, not under Johnson’s vision of future trade. But the Unionists in Northern Ireland are set against any special status that pushes them closer to Ireland, and over time weakens their ties to the rest of the U.K., aka Great Britain. Alas, no way to keep everyone happy. That is Brexit.

Ah and speaking of no one being happy, the House of Commons speaker just blocked Parliament from voting on Johnson’s deal today. (at 3:30 p.m. GMT Oct. 21) – as expected. 

Rebecca: I’m watching his statement right now as we chat. Do members of Parliament laugh and make so much noise all the time during sessions?

Peter: Yes. It’s a bear pit.

Simon: As a reporter who sits in the press gallery, looking down on the bear pit, I can assure you that it’s the best theater seat in town.

Rebecca: So the short version of what just happened is Parliament won’t vote on the deal again today because they already voted on it Saturday. And there is a rule (dating back to the early 1600s, apparently!) that Parliament won’t debate the same issue twice in the same session. 

Simon: It often feels like Britain has been debating Brexit since 1600. 

Rebecca: It does feel like Brexit moves both too slow and too fast at once. 

Peter: And goes round in circles sometimes.

Rebecca: Well we will see if Halloween proves to be the end of the beginning or just more of the beginning of this process. 

Simon: One more sign from Saturday’s rally that made me laugh: ‘Make Halloween Unbrexity Again.’ I predict the U.K. will not leave on Oct. 31. But I will stick my neck out and say that Brexit will happen before Christmas, followed by a spring election.

Peter: I will leave Simon’s neck on the block. And my Halloween resolution is to make no more Brexit predictions.

Rebecca: Fair! Thank you both for chatting!

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and length. 

Jacob Turcotte and Peter Ford/Staff; Photos: Associated Press
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3. A Confederate statue ... in a hoodie?

A famous artist is turning the debate about Confederate statues on its head. By appropriating and reimagining the classic wartime statue, Kehinde Wiley wants to glorify the freedom and dignity that slavery tried to stamp out.

Mark
Bebeto Matthews/AP
Visual artist Kehinde Wiley, best known for his portrayals of contemporary African Americans, unveiled his first monumental public sculpture, "Rumors of War," an equestrian portraiture of warfare and heroism, Sept. 27, 2019, in New York's Times Square. The work will be exhibited through Dec. 1.

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The statue evokes the spirit of Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia – America’s grandest and most famous homage to the Confederacy. The rider on horseback wistfully turns on his mount. The 27-foot bronze sculpture is monumental.

Except the rider is a young black man with braided hair, Nike shoes, and a hoodie. This is “Rumors of War,” the statue by President Barack Obama’s official portraitist that will move to Richmond in December. For the moment, it is in New York and giving a new twist to the national conversation about Confederate statuary.

The statue is expressly ironic, but there is no tongue-in-cheek in its call to viewers to reconsider what is heroic and what is worth fighting for. Its title speaks to changing times and the qualities needed to persevere. And its placement speaks to how deeply change is taking root.

This statue in the heart of the former Confederacy, says a University of Richmond professor, “is speaking back and saying, ‘The terror that you represent is now being re-reimagined as the possibility of the founding of a new nation.’”

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A Confederate statue ... in a hoodie?

When Kehinde Wiley walked down Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia, a few years ago, the towering statues of Confederate generals, memorialized on horseback in heroic battle pose, made a deep impression.

On one hand, the monuments filled him with “a sense of dread and fear,” celebrating a regime that fought to uphold slavery.

As an artist, however, Mr. Wiley also marveled. The epic monumentality, the romanticism, the power of images of the human body in action – these heroic forms of equestrian sculpture were something he could “say yes” to. And that sparked an idea.

“We come from a beautiful, fractured, sometimes terrible past,” Mr. Wiley said in September during the unveiling of his own towering equestrian statue, “Rumors of War,” now on display in Times Square in New York City. “But I think the job of artists is to take all of those myriad pieces, to be able to imagine them coming back together, to be able to look at yourself. ... Whoever you happen to be, [you] should be able to see yourself in this place we call America.”

It’s an optimistic, transformative vision that informs the work of Mr. Wiley, who painted the official portrait of President Barack Obama for the National Portrait Gallery in Washington. Now he is applying that worldview to America’s conversation about Confederate statuary.

“Rumors of War” is an ironic homage to the famous Monument Avenue statue of Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, almost to the point of parody. It depicts a young black man wearing Nike sneakers and a hoodie, his hair braided and tied into a top-springing plume, and looking over his shoulder as he sits astride his own high-stepping horse in a battlelike pose.

Bebeto Matthews/AP
The bronze "Rumors of War" sculpture by artist Kehinde Wiley appears in Times Square at an unveiling in New York, Sept. 27, 2019.

Commissioned by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, “Rumors of War” will take up its permanent place a few blocks south of the Confederate monuments in December, offering a countervision of both American heroism and the kinds of historical figures memorialized in the past.

“There’re these kinds of legible ways through which we understand identity, like these conventional equestrian statues that celebrate the heroic warrior,” says Tiffany Barber, professor of Africana studies at the University of Delaware in Newark. “Part of Wiley’s larger project has been to insert black subjects into that canon, appropriate those forms of picturing the self, and elevating the black figure to be either on par or even surpass the kinds of conventions of portraiture that we’ve been living with.”

It “signals to today’s youth that, much like their freedom-fighting ancestors, they too are up to the task,” adds Daniel Fountain, professor of history at Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina.

But the 27-foot bronze statue goes further. “Rumors of War” is a direct reference to Jesus’ warnings in the Gospel of Matthew about the coming of God’s judgment. 

“It refers to a changing of times,” Mr. Wiley said during the September unveiling. “I’m not particularly religious, but I love the metaphor of changing stuff. The idea is that, in the change times, there are going to be wars, and rumors of wars. ... You have to recognize that the nature of human beings is to have this type of strife, to be in moments politically, socially where we are right now.”

Mr. Wiley said the passage is not necessarily apocalyptic. Such things must happen, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 

“There’s people like me ... who have devoted their lives to creating war calls, a call to arms, a call that says, I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore,” he said. “This is my America, too.”

In combining scripture with Confederate imagery, Mr. Wiley is challenging viewers to rethink what is holy and heroic.   

“Within Wiley’s statue there really is this idea of the divine warrior who comes in to make matters right, to make things straight,” says Corey Walker, a visiting professor at the University of Richmond.

“These monuments really stage an anxiety that’s at the heart of American society and Western civilization,” Dr. Walker adds. “And that anxiety is really the very terror of modernity, and that is, the emerging freedom of these black bodies to reimagine and recreate a whole new world.”

That is a powerful statement, he says.

“Imagine, we will soon have a 27-foot statue speaking to Monument Avenue in the heart of the former capital of the Confederacy,” says Dr. Walker, who is also a senior fellow at the Freedom Forum Institute in Washington. “A statue that’s speaking back and saying, ‘The terror that you represent is now being re-reimagined as the possibility of the founding of a new nation.’”

Editor note: This story has been updated to correct the month of the sculpture's unveiling. It was in September.

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A deeper look

4. Why more Mexicans wrap themselves in the flag

What does it mean to be Mexican? Five hundred years after the Spanish conquest, and now with a populist president, the answer is complex – but also proud.

Mark
Alfredo Sosa/Staff
Father and son, dressed in traditional costumes, show their national pride Sept. 15, 2019, as they prepare for the Independence Day "El Grito" reenactment in the Zocalo, Mexico City's main square.

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On the eve of Mexico’s Independence Day, people rest on benches outside a church in the capital, snacking on tacos and tepache – a fermented, pre-Hispanic beverage made from pineapple peel, raw sugar, and spices. Few know that inside the church lie the remains of Hernán Cortés, who conquered the Aztec empire for Spain. Fewer still know that this year marks the 500th anniversary of his arrival on Mexican soil.

Today, Mexico’s struggle is no longer in opposition to European conquerors. The new foes are globalization, neoliberalism, and U.S. President Donald Trump, who has portrayed his country’s southern neighbor as a crime-ridden nation pushing unauthorized migrants north. But those challenges and humiliations have sparked a renewed sense of Mexican patriotism and nationalism – just as Mexicans have elected their most populist, leftist president in decades. 

“Viva México” has always implied a search for identity in a country that defines itself as mestizo, or mixed blood, but hasn’t always been at ease with that reality. Now, Mexico is experiencing a resurgence of interest in precolonial art and sport. And fans of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador are rooting for his promises of transformation. But as he nears one year in office, it’s unclear whether the bold promise will succeed – or even what it really means.

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Why more Mexicans wrap themselves in the flag

The mood is festive, buoyant. Tens of thousands of Mexicans jam the Zócalo, the sprawling public square in front of Mexico’s National Palace. They don oversized sombreros and mustaches in a raucous nod to the revolutionaries who founded Mexico, starting with the call from priest Miguel Hidalgo in Dolores to rise up against colonial Spain on the morning of Sept. 16, 1810.

“Viva México! Viva México! Viva México!” thunders the country’s leftist president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as AMLO, from a dais at the National Palace.

“Viva!” returns the crowd in a sonorous, synchronized chant.

The heroes of Mexican independence celebrations – which kick off with El Grito, or the cry of Dolores, each Sept. 15 – are always clear. But they are never as absolute as the rituals might suggest – and that’s never been truer than this year, 500 years after Hernán Cortés arrived at the coast of Veracruz and waged the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire.

“Viva México,” the cry of independence that marks Mexico’s struggle against imperial Spain, has always implied a search for identity in a country that defines itself as mestizo, or mixed blood, but hasn’t always been at ease with that reality.

Octavio Paz, the late Mexican poet and Nobel Prize winner, wrote in “The Labyrinth of Solitude,” an essay on Mexican identity, that the cry, when used in the context of an expletive, carries with it the subtext of a ravaged nation that is both a challenge and an affirmation. “When we shout this cry on the 15th of September, the anniversary of our independence, we affirm ourselves in front, against, and in spite of the ‘others.’”

Today the country’s struggle is no longer in opposition to European conquerors. The new foes are globalization, neoliberalism, and the United States under President Donald Trump – who many Mexicans believe has humiliated their country, sparking a renewed sense of patriotism and nationalism. It comes as Mexico, not coincidentally, has elected its most nationalist, populist leader in decades.

Indeed, for many in the square here, the “Viva México” exhortations are a battle cry for a new Mexican nation, or the Fourth Transformation, that AMLO has promised will mark his presidency. The 4T, as it’s called, would follow independence in 1821, the reform movement of the 1850s, and finally the Mexican Revolution from 1910 to 1920. 

Alfredo Sosa/Staff
Mexicans in traditional military dress parade through the city to celebrate the anniversary of independence.

Alejandro Moreno, who conducts public opinion polls, says enthusiasm for AMLO’s government comes with a surge in what it means to be Mexican. In polling around Independence Day for the newspaper El Financiero, national pride stood at an average of 91% for all 32 Mexican states.

On the edge of the main square here, Edgar Tena, an accountant and lawyer, is dressed in a velvet hat with red, white, and green stripes, the colors of the Mexican flag. His wife and college-age sons are wearing equally over-the-top headgear. This he calls their patriotism – and it’s the first time they’ve opted to display it at an independence celebration since his sons were born. But he says his nationalism runs much deeper, and he strikes a more somber note.

“We cannot accept it, so many things have built up, and this is why we shout,” he says. “We want to be free. This is a call of hope, and the hope that the 4T represents. Viva México!”

A gulf has always existed between Mexico and American perceptions of the country: At worst, people north of the border view Mexico as a backward or crime-ridden nation that pushes unauthorized immigrants to the U.S., at best a place for a beach vacation. In fact, with thousands of years of indigenous history woven into the fabric of modern life, Mexico is “the most authentically mestizo of all the Latin American countries and has achieved a greater degree of cultural synthesis,” says Ronald Wright, author of “Stolen Continents,” a book about the survival of indigenous cultures after the conquest.

But the country’s rich and diverse history is hard to appreciate in the U.S., experts here say, when the rhetoric coming from the north is often so harsh. In the 2016 election, Mr. Trump referred to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “criminals.” He made a border wall the centerpiece of his campaign and promised it would be the Mexicans who would pay for it. His administration has pushed Mexico to do more to stop Central American migrants – causing some anti-migrant sentiment to flare in Mexico, which in turn has offended people’s pride in the country as a haven for war refugees and political exiles.

For many Mexicans, the deadly attack Aug. 3 at a Walmart in El Paso by a gunman railing against the “Hispanic invasion” of Texas represents the apotheosis of anti-Mexican sentiment in the U.S. Its roots trace as far back as Protestant colonizers in a fledgling America whose antipathy toward Catholic Spaniards remains to this day in the form of anti-Hispanic sentiment, says Mexican historian Silvestre Villegas Revueltas from the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City.

Alfredo Sosa/Staff
Storefronts that specialize in textiles line part of the historical district of Mexico City.

But animosity toward the U.S. also runs deep in Mexico. Anti-Americanism predates the Mexican-American War, in which Mexico lost half its territory to the U.S. in 1848 while the U.S. became a regional and later a global superpower. From the second half of the 19th century on, Mexican foreign policy was shaped around the idea of differentiating itself, as much as economically and politically possible, from imperial Yanquis.

The antipathy was finally tempered during negotiations for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in the 1990s. The accord’s promise of a partnership drew the two nations together and old misgivings were buried, at least for a time. It would be wrong to say that widespread anti-Americanism has flared anew in Mexico; the deep distrust today is focused mainly on the Trump administration.

But Andrés Rozental, Mexico’s deputy foreign minister during the NAFTA negotiations, says that if Mr. Trump continues his attacks on Mexico, it could despoil three decades of building a bilateral relationship.

“Obviously if the Mexico bashing ... and everything that we have on the bilateral agenda continue to be dealt with by the U.S. president and his government on the basis of Mexico being the ‘them’ against the ‘us,’ then I am convinced that there will be eventually a resurgence of what is a fairly latent anti-Americanism in Mexico.” 

And yet Mexico has had to deal with foreign powers on its soil since way before its clash with America. When Cortés arrived on the Gulf coast, he aligned himself with indigenous groups against the Aztecs and felled the mighty empire in central Mexico within just two years.

Five hundred years later, as the main square here fills out for independence celebrations, people stream past the Church of Jesus of Nazareth in Mexico City, many blowing whistles without looking up. It is here that the bones of Cortés have been laid to rest – after being moved around and their location kept secret for decades. Even today his resting place is hardly acknowledged: There’s just a plaque, well above eye level, that reads: “In this temple rest the remains of the conquistador Cortés, who died in 1547.”

Alfredo Sosa/Staff
The archaeological site of the Templo Mayor, the former main temple of the Aztec empire, sits in the historical center of Mexico City, surrounded by colonial-era buildings.

The people who have congregated on the benches that surround the nondescript church are using it for a place to rest or eat – tacos and tepache, a fermented pre-Hispanic beverage made from pineapple peel, raw sugar, and spices. Few know that Cortés’ remains lie here, and fewer still that it’s the quincentenary of his arrival in Mexico. Those who are willing to share their thoughts – and most look confused about why they are even being asked – say his place in Mexican history is unclear.

Just as an older generation of Mexicans was taught in school about evil American imperialists, it was also given a black-and-white picture of Cortés. Officially, he was the villainous intruder who plundered Mexico and stole Tenochtitlán for Spain. Diego Rivera’s early 20th-century murals in the National Palace depict Cortés as weak and sickly. The historic figure La Malinche, who served as his ally and interpreter and gave birth to his child – and thus the mestizo nation – is reviled. To be a malinchista in Mexico means to be a traitor to one’s culture – part of the identity struggle that Paz wrote about.

But distance has given way to a more nuanced view. Blocks from Cortés’ tomb lie the ruins of the Templo Mayor, one of the most sacred sites for the Aztecs. It is believed to be the spot where the Aztecs witnessed the eagle with a snake in its mouth upon a cactus – the symbol on the country’s coat of arms. The stones of the Templo pyramid were used to build the imposing Metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico – the backdrop for Independence Day celebrations.

“We are not pure Aztecs, nor are we pure Spaniards,” says archaeologist Martin Robles Luengas, who works as an official guide at the Templo Mayor. “Today as a Mexican you cannot complain of the Spaniards, because part of you is a Spaniard.”

Alfredo Sosa/Staff
“We are not pure Aztecs, nor are we pure Spaniards. Today as a Mexican you cannot complain of the Spaniards, because part of you is a Spaniard.” – Martin Robles Luengas, an archaeologist who gives tours of the Templo Mayor, the former main temple of the Aztecs, in Mexico City

Yet questions of identity are far from settled. This year AMLO used the 500th anniversary of Cortés’ arrival to write a letter to the Spanish king demanding an apology for the conquest. “It wasn’t just about the encounter of two cultures,” he said of his request. “It was an invasion. Thousands of people were murdered during that period. One culture, one civilization, was imposed upon another to the point that the temples – the Catholic churches – were built on top of the ancient pre-Hispanic temples.” 

Some members of Morena, AMLO’s political movement, went even further. One senator urged Mexicans to give up carnitas, or roasted pork tacos, since pigs were introduced to Mexico by the Spaniards. “You should realize that every time you eat roast pork tacos, you are celebrating the fall of Tenochtitlán,” she said.

Spain dismissed AMLO’s letter, and Mexicans have largely ridiculed conquest politics, not least the call to forgo pork. Many say Mexico would be better off dealing with modern discrimination against indigenous people than a centuries-old war. And yet the issue is symbolic of deeper sensitivities.

“Mexican identity is very much founded on the basis of defending our honor, from being trampled on by foreign forces,” says Jorge Guajardo, a former Mexican ambassador. “So we were humiliated by the Spaniards who conquered the Aztec empire, we were humiliated by the United States who stole half of our territory, we were humiliated by the French. It’s a long story of humiliation.”

That story connects to a renewed sense of nationalism that is surfacing in Mexico – and it is showing up in areas other than politics and whether to eat pork. It has also led to a revival of precolonial art and sport.

On an early evening in northern Mexico City, the skies, beholden to the rainy season, threaten to open. But 20- and 30-somethings continue to arrive, heading to a stone-walled court in the back of a community center, FARO Azcapotzalco Xochikalli. The young people suit up – binding cloth around their hips, waist, and groin areas – and start passing a ball back and forth to warm up.

This is no soccer game, however. They are about to play ulama, a ballgame that dates back thousands of years and was once a high-stakes ritual in Mesoamerica. The modern iteration no longer entails human sacrifice, but it is still fierce: At more than 6 pounds, the rubber ball resembles – and feels – like a bowling ball. To move it, the players can only hit it with their hips, either bumping it in midair or lying on the concrete floor and sweeping it down the court with a pelvic thrust. 

In some variations, the object is to put the ball through stone hoops, 20 feet in the air, on either side of the court. But the team is so new that few people here have mastered the skill. Simply reaching the other team’s end line is the goal at this point.

Chantal Perez Urbina, a university student studying chemical engineering, says when she began playing ulama a year and a half ago, she had bruises and scrapes across her body. But she was compelled to keep returning to the court, despite the skepticism of her family, in a drive she talks about in almost spiritual terms. “These are our roots. This is our origin,” she says. “It’s an equilibrium between our energy, just like life and death, the energy moves between us in each blow. This is about rescuing my culture.”

It’s also about understanding themselves. Ulama was so integral to Aztec society that when the Spanish conquistadors arrived they immediately banned it, part of a long process of stamping out indigenous culture, from language to religion to architecture. “They took everything from us,” says Ms. Perez Urbina, “even the very stones of our pyramids to build their churches.” 

The community center offers a host of other workshops built around precolonial traditions, from dance to medicine to indigenous language. But the activity that’s received the most attention is ulama. “No one thought that this workshop was going to work [with] a sport that disappeared 500 years ago,” says Emmanuel Kakalotl, the coach, during the pickup game.

Mr. Kakalotl says about half of Mexico’s states now field teams that play each other in tournaments. Andrea Aviles Escoto, an ulama player who took up the sport just 10 days earlier, would like to see teams in every state. She sees the resurgence of ulama as part of AMLO’s Fourth Transformation. “This is the power of Mexico,” she says. “Our culture, our land, and traditions – our ancestral power.” 

As AMLO nears the anniversary of his first year in office Dec. 1, it’s still unclear whether he can deliver on the promises of 4T – and even what the initiative really is. In a country with deeply rooted issues that overlap – from corruption to drug violence to stark inequality – it would require a radical overhaul to address any one of them. So far analysts see little evidence that is happening beyond the rhetorical.

AMLO’s popularity remains high, with approval ratings of 60% to 70%. The first leftist president in modern history, he draws the bulk of his support from the working class and rural poor but also from the academic left and disillusioned voters from other political parties.

A lot of his appeal lies in an everyman style – he addresses the nation every day at 7 a.m. in press conferences – and eschewing the wealth and pomp associated with earlier presidencies. He slashed his salary and put the presidential jet up for sale, for example, moves that were symbolically resonant. 

Dr. Villegas Revueltas, the historian, says that the Fourth Transformation is right to try to complete the job of independence, reform, and revolution, to bring economic benefits to all segments of society. “We weren’t equal in 1521, nor in 2019,” he says.

But to get there, AMLO is casting himself as a ’70s-era revolutionary, Dr. Villegas Revueltas says – talking about energy, food, and economic independence. Implicit in AMLO’s message is a rejection of globalization. But if he were to actually act on his words, many believe the economic consequences would be dire.

“We have a man who talks about energy independence ... about food independence – those types of things that have already failed in the past,” Mr. Guajardo says. “And yet there is the temptation to go back.” 

In many ways, AMLO and Mr. Trump are similar figures, although from opposite sides of the political spectrum. They both use “us versus them” rhetoric to rally supporters. 

“They know exactly how to play to their base and what it is that fires their base up,” says Mr. Rozental. “In the case of Trump, it’s all of this stuff about anti-immigration and then ‘let’s drain the swamp.’ ... Here it’s the same thing. ‘Let’s get rid of everything that we had before because it was all bad, corrupt, rotten ... and we’re going to make a new transformation of Mexico.’”

The clash of personalities could lead to a clear rupture in the bilateral relationship if not played right. But so far AMLO has been handling Mr. Trump with restraint, agreeing to do more to stanch the flow of migrants under threat of tariffs, for example, and steering clear of confrontation.

Politically this stance has not damaged him at home, but if Mr. Trump’s anti-Mexico rhetoric heats up, as many analysts believe it will for the 2020 election, AMLO runs the risk of looking as if he’s doing the American president’s bidding.

The strongest stand AMLO’s government has taken thus far came in the days after the El Paso massacre, which the Spanish newspaper El País called the “greatest racist crime against Hispanics in modern United States history.”

Mexican Foreign Affairs Minister Marcelo Ebrard called the attack “an act of terrorism” and said that he would push to have the gunman extradited to Mexico. He is also organizing a summit of leaders from Spanish-speaking nations to address white supremacy.

Such moves have kept AMLO supporters believing that change is coming. For the first time in her adult life, Ximena Fernandez chose to go to the independence celebration this year so she could show her support for the Fourth Transformation. As regional dance exhibitions from each state dazzle the crowd on large-screen TVs, she says this year El Grito is about far more than patriotism, mariachi music, sombreros, or simply being proud of who you are.

“I think the meaning of the Grito is not only independence but sovereignty of the people,” she says.

“Today, in Mexico, we know what President Trump is doing. And we don’t like it because we are a country of migrants. ... We know as a people or a nation that we have this fight to come,” she says. “Not with anger but with, ‘Hey, look at us. We are doing something different. We are not only “narcos” or “criminals.” We are people like everyone in the world who work and just want peace.’”

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Watch

5. ‘The game of life and death’: An ancient sport revives in Mexico

Here’s a bonus tied to that same story on Mexican culture. Our director of photography grabbed his video camera to capture the reemergence of an ancient ballgame, and its resonance for national identity.

Mark

One evening in Mexico City, young people suit up on a stone-walled court and start passing a ball back and forth. But this is no soccer game.

The 20- and 30-somethings are about to play ulama, a ballgame that dates back thousands of years and was once a high-stakes ritual in Mesoamerica. The modern iteration no longer entails human sacrifice, but it is still fierce: Players can only hit the 6-pound ball with their hips.

Today, 500 years after the first conquistadors set foot in present-day Mexico, a renewed sense of nationalism is surfacing, including a revival of precolonial art and sport. For many players, learning ulama is about more than entertainment; it’s about understanding themselves.

The sport is “the game of life and death,” says coach Emmanuel Kakalotl, echoing back to its ancient roots. It’s especially important for young people to get involved, he adds, so they connect with that legacy.

“We want them to know that they are part of the universe,” he says. “That the great spirit in the universe resides in their hearts.” – Sara Miller Llana, video by Alfredo Sosa

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The Monitor's View

Lebanon awakes to fearmongering

Two ways to read the story

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  • Deep Read ( 2 Min. )

For the past five days, one of the most diverse nations in the Middle East, Lebanon, has been convulsed by nationwide protests. While the trigger was a proposed tax on WhatsApp, the protesters are demanding the resignation of top leaders and an end to a corrupt system that has caused mass hardship.

Yet look deeper and it is easy to detect another goal: the end of fearmongering by politicians who pit different groups against each other to stay in power and divide up the nation’s wealth.

Identity politics is cooked into Lebanon’s government structure: The president must be Christian, the Parliament speaker a Shiite, and the prime minister a Sunni. During these largely leaderless protests, however, such distinctions melted away as Lebanese of all stripes rose up as citizens by the hundreds of thousands.

Instead of living in the manufactured fear of “the other” and being told how to vote, protesters rallied around shared ideals of good governance. In uniting Lebanon’s diverse population of 4.5 million people, they also embraced individual equality, a key concept for any democratic society.

“The people are one – Shia, Sunni, Christian, they’re all one here,” one protester told Al Jazeera.  

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Lebanon awakes to fearmongering

For the past five days, one of the most diverse nations in the Middle East, Lebanon, has been convulsed by nationwide protests. While the trigger was a proposed tax on WhatsApp and other popular internet call systems, the protesters are demanding the resignation of top leaders and an end to a corrupt system that has caused mass hardship.

Yet look deeper and it is easy to detect another goal, one that applies to many countries: the end of fearmongering by politicians who pit different groups against each other  to stay in power and divide up the nation’s wealth.

Identity politics is cooked into Lebanon’s government structure: The president must be Christian, the Parliament speaker a Shiite, and the prime minister a Sunni. During these largely leaderless protests, however, such distinctions melted away as Lebanese of all stripes rose up as citizens by the hundreds of thousands.

They united under the national flag, a sharp contrast to protests in 2015 that saw the use of flags by sects and parties. And within each religious group, protesters turned on their own leaders, accusing them of patronage and nepotism, a major reason for Lebanon’s economic dysfunction.

Instead of living in the manufactured fear of “the other” and being told how to vote, protesters rallied around shared ideals of good governance. In uniting Lebanon’s diverse population of 4.5 million people, they also embraced individual equality, a key concept for any democratic society.

One protester told The Guardian that politicians can no longer claim that a “hidden hand” is harming their particular group’s interests. “The hidden hand ... is actually just our dignity that woke up. We’ve been silent and sedated for so long, we’ve now awakened. They are not used to us, the people, having pride. But we’ll show them,” he said.

Despite its small size, Lebanon has now set a marker for the Middle East on how to escape the manipulated fear of sectarian identities. Passive acceptance of such politics has only led to lost jobs, broken highways, electricity blackouts, and a huge national debt.

“They [politicians] are not giving us anything, they took everything, and we don’t have anything here,” one protester told Al Jazeera. “The people are one – Shia, Sunni, Christian, they’re all one here.”

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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.

The road map to a life worth living

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  • Read or Listen ( 3 Min. )

Following Jesus’ example of a life that mirrors the power and love of God brings healing, fulfillment, and freedom from the limitations that would dampen our lives.

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The road map to a life worth living

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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When our family was in the middle of a move, I noticed my husband had written a little note on his map of our new city. It said, “Make a life worth living.” The juxtaposition of the note and the road map, to me, was striking. Though the map provided directions to many locations that we’d no doubt find useful, it couldn’t give us directions leading to a worthwhile life.

Don’t we all desire a life rich with meaning, purpose, and satisfaction? While there’s no shortage of well-meaning advice on the subject of finding personal fulfillment, much of it centers on human will. But when you’ve already expended your best efforts to find fulfillment without gaining the desired results, this advice can be discouraging. A different kind of map is needed.

Nearly 2,000 years ago, God gave us such a road map in His Son, Christ Jesus. In an age that was grappling with issues not unlike the ones we face today, Jesus showed the world that the way to a better life was through a spiritual life centered in God. Jesus revealed God, Love, as the all-powerful, ever-active, unshakable, benevolent source that grounds our lives. Through his own life, he mapped out the richness of a life that mirrors the power and love of God.

The pure love Jesus lived was not merely the human love we see in one person being kind and helpful to another. It was the manifestation of a far deeper spiritual love for humankind. He perceived the reality of God’s children as spiritual, pure, and whole. This spiritual discernment enabled him to prove the allness and substance of spiritual existence, which brings freedom from the limitations that would dampen our lives.

Through his understanding of the infinitude of divine Love, Jesus mapped out the way for us to prove that all existence is actually spiritual, unlimited, created and sustained by infinite Love. He didn’t say the life he mapped out would be easy, but he showed us the value and fulfillment of this spiritual way of living. When we follow Jesus’ example, and realize through our prayers the all-power and all-presence of Love, we too can find healing and the true worth of our lives.

Prior to her discovery of the divine Science behind Jesus’ healings, Mary Baker Eddy, like many of us, had a heartfelt desire to experience a life worth living. She followed Christ Jesus in the way he mapped out insofar as she loved God and loved her neighbors generously. Like many sufferers, though, Mrs. Eddy’s consistently poor health led her on a journey down a few material byways looking for a cure. None gave her permanent relief.

Finally, she discovered the purely spiritual method of healing Jesus practiced. At a time of desperate need following an accident, Mrs. Eddy turned to her Bible, which she had been a thorough student of since childhood. Then she read a familiar account of one of Jesus’ healings and caught a glimpse of the truth that life is in Spirit, God, not in matter (see Mary Baker Eddy, “Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 24). This new understanding of the spiritual nature of existence healed her of the life-threatening injuries from that accident. It was a turning point. Mrs. Eddy knew she had found the way that Jesus’ lifework revealed.

Going forward, she devoted herself to an in-depth study of the Bible to gain a clearer understanding of what she had discovered, then proved the power of this newfound Science in healing others, and gave an explanation of it to the world. Through practicing the divine Science of healing she had discovered, she lived an energetic and highly productive life that overflowed with blessings for humanity.

Jesus counseled his disciples, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). Through his own life he mapped out a way of living that is God-centered. And he promised that when we put spiritual considerations first, love God supremely, and love our neighbor as ourselves, our needs will be met.

This is the path that brings true fulfillment and satisfaction – and following it makes a life that is truly worth living.

Adapted from an editorial published in the Oct. 2019 issue of The Christian Science Journal.

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Viewfinder

The face of change

Omar Ibrahim/Reuters
A girl with her face painted with the colors of the Lebanese flag gestures during an anti-government protest in Tripoli, Lebanon, Oct. 21, 2019. Over the past five days, hundreds of thousands of citizens have risen up to protest corruption.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( October 22nd, 2019 )

That’s all for today. We’ll see you tomorrow, with stories including a look at the meaning of “quid pro quo.”

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