2020
March
02
Monday

Monitor Daily Podcast

March 02, 2020
Loading the player...

TODAY’S INTRO

Afghanistan, since the day the Taliban fell

The deal signed this weekend between the United States and the Taliban prompted me to ask the Monitor’s Scott Peterson about a moment he remembers well: the day the Taliban fell after 9/11. He was among the first Americans to get into Kabul, driving south from the Panjshir Valley. And what he witnessed that day framed the forces he’s seen at work since. 

“First thing, we came across a big crowd that was attacking a member of Al Qaeda,” Scott recalls. “It was a level of brutalized violence we certainly have seen in the years since. But that same day, we came across a wedding. Women who had not been able to be out in public were dancing in the street, and the level of joy was profound. It showed me how capable Afghans were of resurrecting themselves after all that time of darkness.”

Now, says Scott, who is in the country, people feel deep uncertainty, asking why the U.S. is legitimizing the group that caused them such misery.

But the clock has not just been turned back 19 years. “Women’s liberation, civil society groups, speaking freely – all that has been taken as far as it ever has been in Kabul,” Scott says, though “we’re still at prologue, with colossal hurdles to go.” Still, as his Friday story reported, many Taliban have changed as well. “We are kind of done with war,” they told him.

Containing coronavirus: Where democracy struggles – and thrives

In a public health crisis, the top value on everyone’s minds is safety. But should it come at the cost of personal freedoms? In some ways, experts note, it’s a false dichotomy: Democratic values can aid the fight against coronavirus, too.

Amelia

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 7 Min. )

With six reported deaths attributed to the new coronavirus, the United States is getting a firsthand look at life amid a global outbreak.

Hand sanitizer, paper towels, and soap are “flying off the shelves,” says Tom Pharo, a manager at a local grocery chain in Seattle.

In some ways, it’s a scene that mirrors others around the globe, from Wuhan to Milan, as authorities try to handle the rapidly growing epidemic. But the differences are also stark. While China imposed a draconian quarantine of Wuhan’s 11 million people to curb the spread of the virus, officials in Italy, South Korea, and the United States face more hurdles to rapid mobilization.

At the same time, the relative transparency, openness, and respect for individual liberties prized by democracies can also be a major advantage, analysts say, in keeping the public informed about risks and prevention, reducing panic, and maintaining crucial trust in government actions.

“Generally, in open societies, I’m more confident in the ability for a virus to be contained,” says Devi Sridhar, director of the global health governance program at Edinburgh University. “Because it’s transparent, and that’s what you want to have: free information flowing and good governance.”

Collapse

1. Containing coronavirus: Where democracy struggles – and thrives

As Washington state grapples with coronavirus, Americans are getting their first up-close look at life amid an outbreak – and how the country might balance public health safety with personal liberties.

Six people in the state have died, the first coronavirus-linked deaths in the United States; 18 more cases have been confirmed, and the governor has declared a state of emergency. After revelations that the virus may have been spreading undetected in greater Seattle for six weeks, limited quarantines are now in place, with two teams from the Centers for Disease Control assisting. The local government is renting RVs and modular housing units, and buying a motel to isolate people who can’t stay at home; some schools are temporarily closing.       

“This is a complex and unprecedented challenge” Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Seattle and King County, said Monday at a press conference. The current confirmed cases are “the tip of the iceberg,” he said, and testing could expand to as many as thousands a day. But officials gave no indication of a broader quarantine, and instead said they expect eventually to stop tracking individual cases and handle the virus as they do influenza. “We are still trying to contain, but we are pivoting to a community-based approach,” he said.

Meanwhile, Seattle director of public health Dr. Patty Hayes urged residents to “stop the run on masks” needed by “front-line workers.” Still, many people are stocking up on key supplies and preparing to hunker down.   

Hand sanitizer, paper towels, and soap are “flying off the shelves,” says Tom Pharo, a manager at a local grocery chain, rushing to wipe-down check-out counters on Sunday in a store that is short-staffed. “Getting people to come in [to work] is tricky, too,” he says, because of mounting virus worries.

In some ways, it’s a scene that mirrors others around the globe, from Wuhan to Milan, as authorities try to handle the rapidly growing epidemic. But the differences are also stark – shedding light on the unique questions democracies must wrestle with, compared to China and other authoritarian states, as they seek to protect both public health and individual freedoms. 

“Epidemics ... reveal what really matters to a population, what is at stake, and especially whom and what these societies value,” says David Jones, a professor of global public health and the history of medicine at Harvard University.

Unlike China, where the COVID-19 virus originated, officials in Italy, South Korea, and the United States face more hurdles to rapid mobilization. Yet democracies’ relative transparency, openness, and respect for individual liberties is also a major advantage, analysts say, in keeping the public informed about risks and prevention, reducing panic, and maintaining crucial trust in government actions. “We are trying to engage in radical transparency with the American public,” U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters last week.

“A strength of the democratic system is we should be hearing about cases from health care facilities,” says Amanda Glassman, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development. ”We don’t have any ban on talking about people who have disease or hospitals that are overwhelmed.”

China’s authorities, in contrast, suppressed initial reports of the virus in December for weeks as the contagion went unchecked – silencing whistleblowers, including a Wuhan doctor who later died from the illness.

The cover up caused “an almost unprecedented online rebellion ... [with] average Chinese people being very angry at the government,” says Diana Fu, associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto, who researches civil society in China. The authoritarian government had broken “the basic social contract” to provide people with safety and security, she says.

Once China’s leaders moved to act, however, they orchestrated a rapid, efficient, and huge mobilization of resources in a “people’s war” against the virus. Beijing was credited with swiftly identifying and sharing the genetic sequence of the virus. Meanwhile, it imposed a draconian quarantine of Wuhan’s 11 million people that “may have bought the world time, for which we should all be grateful,” Professor Jones says.

“There’s no question that China’s bold approach to the rapid spread of this new respiratory pathogen has changed the course of what was a rapidly escalating and continues to be a deadly epidemic,” Bruce Aylward, a Canadian doctor who led a WHO delegation to China, said at a press conference last week.

Other governments’ anti-virus campaigns seem at times disjointed and slow, in comparison to China’s top-down approach, with new hospitals constructed overnight and big cities quarantined. Moreover, a slow distribution of testing kits and overly narrow criteria for testing may have missed numerous cases that are only now being detected. On Sunday, the administration announced a “radical expansion” of testing.  

“We’re well behind the ball in figuring out what is going on,” Ms. Glassman says.

“We don’t have a top-down command and control system,” she adds. “Civil liberties and individual beliefs play a huge role in people’s health-care seeking and their willingness to be led by government or to do what government advises.”

A global question

In South Korea, for example, officials have sued a religious group for obstructing the surveillance work of health authorities in the city of Daegu, contributing to a mushrooming of coronavirus cases from dozens to more than 4,300 in only two weeks. Meanwhile, South Korean President Moon Jae-in faces public outrage – including a petition for his impeachment signed by 1.4 million citizens – for his handling of the crisis. Mr. Moon is blamed in particular for only belatedly imposing an entry ban on foreigners arriving from China’s Hubei Province, while allowing other Chinese travelers to enter South Korea.

In Italy, where cases spiked to more than 1,800 as of Monday, towns throughout the northern industrial heartland have been quarantined as officials attempt containment. But the aggressive reaction by authorities has raised concerns over restrictions on freedom of movement and basic human rights.

Francisco Seco/AP
A gondolier looks at his smartphone as he waits for clients in Venice, Italy, Feb. 28, 2020. Authorities in Italy decided to re-open schools and museums in some areas less hard-hit by the coronavirus outbreak in the country, which has the most cases outside of Asia.

Raffaele Maresca is an instructor at a free fall wind tunnel in Milan. His job is usually frenetic, with between 200 and 400 clients showing up for indoor skydiving simulation daily. But now all appointments have been postponed. “There’s a lot of paranoia. It feels like it’s being blown out of proportion,” he says, wondering if he’ll still be able to go to movies, or even the gym. “I feel it affects my freedom, and I don’t like it.” 

Countries’ responses must be vigorous, but not at the risk of violating human rights, says Steven Hoffman, director of the Global Strategy Lab at York University in Toronto, which advises countries on law and policy in the face of transnational health threats.

“When it comes to pandemics, following human rights principles actually align with scientific principles,” he says. “If we are trapped in a city that’s being presented as a high risk to the rest of the world, it’s a natural human tendency to try to leave that city ... which then makes it even harder for public health to identify those folks who might get sick and isolate them.”

As cases have increased in Europe, freedom of movement, one of the foundational pillars of the European Union, has become a central issue. Austria temporarily halted trains from Italy, while many far-right politicians have used the coronavirus to renew their calls, begun in the wake of terrorism threats by ISIS and migration across the Mediterranean, to end passport-free travel between Schengen countries.

But some experts caution against the effectiveness of such bans, and say they also fuel fear of people perceived as “foreign,” or “other.” Incidents of racism, from Canada to the U.S. and across Europe, have spiked toward Chinese populations, and the Asian diaspora more generally. 

In Italy, the far-right has gained space to rail against open borders in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, says Cecilia Emma Sottilotta, a professor of political science at the American University of Rome. “It is clearly perfect for political leaders like [Matteo] Salvini [of Italy] or Marine Le Pen [in France] or the [Alternative for Germany party] who have been arguing about the control of borders and people,” she says. “They are literally jumping on this.”

Rather than cut off connections, democratic communities must work with each other to overcome the virus, says Devi Sridhar, director of the global health governance program at Edinburgh University. “Citizens have to feel the government has their best interest at heart. And if they do come forward and want to report, they will get the best medical care and not forcibly be put into conditions that are against their will.”

Democracies’ free-flow of information is also central to their response, a key lesson that Canada learned in 2003. During the outbreak of SARS, it became one of the worst-hit countries outside of Asia, especially in Toronto, which was slapped with a WHO travel advisory. The country counted 438 suspected cases and 44 deaths.

The government drew up a commission that looked at weaknesses in the response, like a lack of preparedness and of information-sharing between local hospitals, provinces, the federal government, and the rest of the globe. Afterward, Canada created a public health agency that is now leading the coronavirus containment effort.

“Generally, in open societies, I’m more confident in the ability for a virus to be contained,” says Professor Sridhar. “Because it’s transparent, and that’s what you want to have, free information flowing and good governance.”

Correspondent Catarina Fernandes Martins contributed reporting from Naples, Italy.

SOURCE: Carbon Brief analysis of data from WIND
|
Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Navigating uncertainty

The search for global bearings

Beijing is challenging global rules. But some are pushing back.

When we say that the post-war order is in flux, what are we really talking about? Sometimes, it boils down to one word: China. But the questions Beijing’s rise has posed for people from Taipei to Washington are far more complex. Second in our global series “Navigating Uncertainty.”

Amelia
Chiang Ying-yin/AP/File
A supporter of Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen cheers for her on Jan. 11, 2020, the day she was reelected, in Taipei, Taiwan. Ms. Tsai opposes reunification with mainland China.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 9 Min. )

When the Chinese government embarked on free-market economic reforms 40 years ago, it was widely believed that sooner or later Beijing would also make political changes that would bring China into line with Western norms. But President Xi Jinping has made it clear he wants to do more than strengthen the Communist Party’s autocratic control over his homeland; he would like to see the Chinese way of doing things spread around the world.

Beijing has the development aid money and the trade clout to back up its ambitions. But China’s neighbors and others are pushing back against what they see as undue interference. In the South China Sea, Indonesia and Vietnam are resisting Chinese territorial claims, and the United States is backing them up.

Many governments have welcomed Beijing's help as a development partner. Yet some are also questioning the fairness of deals that China has struck as part of its Belt and Road Initiative to build roads, ports, and railway lines to connect Asia and Europe. Malaysia has renegotiated its part in that project.

Behind these doubts are fears of China’s authoritarian style of government. In Hong Kong, demonstrators have staged massive protests for months to defend their democratic freedoms against Beijing’s encroachment. Says one prominent lawyer there, “Today’s Hong Kong may be your tomorrow.”

Collapse

2. Beijing is challenging global rules. But some are pushing back.

Liu Taiguang often walks along Taiwan’s windswept southernmost cape to the gleaming white Eluanbi Lighthouse, its beacon flashing from a fortified, cast-iron tower across the turquoise waters of the Bashi Channel. 

A fourth-generation Taiwan native, Mr. Liu is as steadfast as this lighthouse near his home in supporting Taiwan’s independence. He is defiant in the face of Beijing’s insistence on uniting it with the mainland – by force if necessary. And he is jubilant that Taiwanese voters delivered a landslide reelection to pro-independence President Tsai Ing-wen in January, despite Beijing’s interference.

“Look at this election!” the wiry taxi driver says with a laugh. “Taiwan people won’t do whatever the mainland says.”

Only 80 miles from the mainland, Taiwan has long been on the front lines of Chinese intimidation. Today, Taipei’s alarm – and readiness to push back – is shared in Washington and many other capitals, as China increasingly asserts itself as an autocratic economic, technological and military power following its own rules.

Ann Scott Tyson/The Christian Science Monitor
Liu Taiguang, a native of Pingtung County, Taiwan, whose family migrated to the island generations ago, is rooted in his Taiwanese identity and Taiwan's status as a sovereign state. He's jubilant over President Tsai Ing-wen's landslide reelection in January despite opposition from China, which claims Taiwan as a province.

When China unleashed market reforms in 1979, Western leaders believed political liberalization would follow, bringing China into the fold of the international order that had held since World War II. But those expectations have unraveled since Chinese leader Xi Jinping took power in 2012, tightening the ruling Communist Party’s control and launching an ambitious program of “national rejuvenation” to achieve the “Chinese dream.” 

Mr. Xi envisions China strengthening its sovereignty at home, projecting influence across Asia and beyond, advancing an authoritarian alternative to liberal democracy, and regaining a central place on the world stage – at a time when faith in democratic norms is shaky in many parts of the world. Beijing’s spending on foreign aid and development projects has soared, transforming the country into one of the world’s top lenders.

China is “fully confident in offering a China solution to humanity’s search for better social systems,” Mr. Xi proclaimed in 2016. In 2018, he said one of China’s priorities is “leading the reform of the global governance system,” which Beijing argues enshrines U.S. hegemonism and unfair trade and financial arrangements. 

“What the Chinese government wants is to survive … to make a world safe for autocracy,” says Jessica Chen Weiss, an associate professor of government at Cornell University. “It’s in areas where the Chinese government has felt the most threatened by global norms, such as on human rights, that it has been the most determined to rewrite the rules to favor its interests.”

And Beijing is in a stronger position to do so at a time when the traditional institutions of global governance have atrophied, says William C. McCahill Jr., senior resident fellow at the National Bureau of Asian Research in Seattle. China is “working the [existing international] system for what it’s worth to them, and at the same time slowly building this kind of parallel universe,” he says.

Beijing stresses “win-win” diplomacy. But many governments are concerned that China often wields its wealth and power – including the world’s third strongest military – in zero-sum fashion, or out of sync with international norms.

The United States now casts China as a strategic rival, and President Donald Trump’s administration “has been enormously influential in shaping how the rest of the world now views China,” says Elizabeth Economy, Asia director at the Council on Foreign Relations. 

In Asia, China is encountering resistance to its sweeping claims in the South China Sea. And some countries are reevaluating Mr. Xi’s signature foreign policy, a massive infrastructure plan called the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Closer to home, “every element of Xi Jinping’s reunification narrative is being challenged, and that is at the heart of his ‘Chinese dream’,” says Dr. Economy. “China has come under enormous criticism for its human rights abuses in Xinjiang. In Hong Kong, there is really massive societal unrest … a rejection of the Chinese political model, and in Taiwan you had the reelection of Tsai Ing-wen.”

Taiwan’s defiance is extraordinary given the intense pressure Beijing exerts on the de facto independent island of 23 million people. Since President Tsai was first elected in 2016, China has cut off official dialogue, imposed economic sanctions, stepped up military actions, and bombarded the island with disinformation aimed at manipulating elections. Taiwan endures about 30 million cyberattacks a month, mainly from China.

Digital Minister Audrey Tang says Taiwan’s “white hat hackers don’t have to do … drills, because they are facing real battles every day.” “Our democracy,” she says, “is battle-tested.” 

Near the lighthouse, shops have lost business since China restricted mainland tourism to Taiwan. Mr. Wu, purveyor of fresh coconut milk, sells only half what he used to. “Taiwan is too small. We shouldn’t fight with the mainland,” he argues.

Overall, though, Beijing’s bullying seems to have backfired. Only one in ten Taiwanese today backs unification with China, and support for independence has more than doubled since 1995. 

“China’s economy is huge and can allow us to make a lot of money, but democracy is more valuable,” says Mr. Liu, voicing a widespread sentiment. “You make so much money but you are not free? It’s very agonizing.”

As Mr. Liu visits the lighthouse one late January day, Chinese military jets conducting a drill roar over the Bashi Channel in a show of force designed to intimidate Taiwan. Mr. Liu is unfazed. “We are a free and democratic country,” he says. “We can’t tolerate a one party-rule, dictatorial country.”

Ann Scott Tyson/The Christian Science Monitor
Audrey Tang, digital minister of Taiwan, has brought her expertise as a civil hacker and free software programmer into government, where she has focused on strengthening Taiwan's ability to counter disinformation from mainland China.

Coercion at sea

Taiwan and many Asian states are feeling the heat from China’s burgeoning military, fueled by a defense budget larger than those of Japan, India, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations combined.

Chinese fishing boats, coast guard vessels, and maritime militia are pushing ever deeper into the resource-rich and strategic waters of the South China Sea, regularly encroaching on the legal economic zones of the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Beijing’s claim to virtually the entire sea was dismissed by an independent international tribunal in 2016.

In January, a telling standoff near the Natuna Islands, which belong to Indonesia, highlighted how China’s seaward expansion is galvanizing a nationalist backlash.

A Chinese fishing fleet 1,000 miles from home, escorted by coast guard vessels, sailed into Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone and fished for days without permission, ignoring a formal protest by Jakarta. The provocative move underscored China’s ability to conduct longer missions by resupplying vessels at bases it has constructed on artificial islands in the South China Sea –  in violation of Mr. Xi’s 2015 pledge that China would not militarize the area.

But Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo pushed back. He dispatched fighter jets and warships to the Natunas, deployed hundreds of troops, and then landed there himself, saying Indonesia’s “sovereign rights” must be enforced. 

The bold move worked. Soon afterward, the Chinese flotilla departed.

“China’s ultimate aim in the South China Sea is to have a veto over any activity,” so Indonesia’s rebuff was significant, says Brian Harding, deputy director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).     

SOURCE: BBC, United Nations
|
Jacob Turcotte/Staff

As Indonesia, Vietnam, and other countries resist China’s encroachment, the United States is stepping up support with its “free and open” Indo-Pacific strategy. The U.S. Navy, still the most powerful in the region, staged a record number of “freedom-of-navigation patrols” in 2019 – aimed at keeping vital sea lanes open – defying Chinese navy warnings to stay out of waters it claims. 

In a key step, the U.S. assured the Philippines last year that any armed attacks on its forces in the South China Sea would trigger their mutual defense treaty, although a bilateral spat is now threatening the alliance. A multiyear U.S. maritime security initiative is also underway to help Southeast Asian countries and Taiwan boost law enforcement and intelligence capabilities. 

“It’s not just about keeping waters safe for navies to sail through. [South China Sea] resources are incredibly important to these countries,” says Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at CSIS. “We have to incur more risk.”

“China continues to flout international law” by laying claim to territories that do not belong to it, she adds. “If the U.S. does not stand up for the rights of smaller countries, then those countries will probably over time increasingly accommodate China ... because China is the big elephant right near them and the United States is far away.” But if the U.S., Japan, Australia, and other powers actively oppose China’s infractions, she says, smaller nations can strike a better balance.

The ‘Road’ to win-win?                              

If China’s military muscle-flexing is unnerving the rest of Asia, its major economic overture, the Belt and Road Initiative, has met with cautious welcome. 

The initiative involves building an infrastructure network of roads, railways, pipelines and ports worth an estimated $400 billion to link China more closely to the rest of Asia and Europe. Its goals are to increase China’s access to energy and natural resources, open markets for Chinese goods, and secure China’s future growth.

But China’s failure to follow international norms in BRI projects has led to problems: Some borrowers – such as Sri Lanka – have found themselves with crippling debt burdens; BRI’s lax environmental standards threaten hundreds of species, activists warn; and opaque loan terms and project bidding procedures have fostered corruption. This has led some recipient countries to reevaluate their deals. 

“Belt and Road has moved from being something that was overwhelmingly welcomed by the international community, to something that is still of interest but equally of concern, based on the way China is doing business,” says Dr. Economy.

In 2018, Malaysia’s then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad suspended a multibillion-dollar, 400-mile BRI railroad project, citing exorbitant costs and unfair terms. Mr. Mahathir then renegotiated the project, lowering the cost by $5 billion to $11 billion, securing a guarantee of 40% local participation, and reducing environmental harm.

“China may seem powerful – it’s got all the finances, the technology, the corrupt networks – but in the end the small countries in Southeast Asia have significant leverage over the Chinese,” says David Lampton, a China expert at Stanford University. “This idea that China is an unstoppable juggernaut, to which everybody else has to genuflect, is a mistake.”

SOURCE: Reuters
|
Jacob Turcotte/Staff

The U.S., Japan, and India are stepping up funding, including through the new U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, launched in January with authority to lend $60 billion. 

But if China dominates development lending to Southeast Asian nations, Beijing will easily enjoy undisputed influence, says Dr. Lampton, co-author of the forthcoming book “Rivers of Iron: Railways and Chinese Power in Southeast Asia.” 

As China’s building spree races ahead, it will “change the face of Southeast Asia,” Dr. Lampton says. “The train has left the station. The question is, will we be on it?”

Today’s test case

In the heart of Hong Kong’s Central District, in a high-rise office suite lined with law books, Cambridge-trained Senior Counsel Alan Leong reflects on the pro-democracy protests that saw more than a million people flood the streets of the Asian financial center last summer.

“There has never been such an awakening of the Hong Kong people ... to the breaches of the Chinese Communist Party of Hong Kong law,” he says. The massive protests were sparked by a proposed extradition bill, later withdrawn, that would have allowed suspected criminals in Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China for trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party.

“Our personal safety was at stake,” Mr. Leong says. “We could feel for the first time the betrayal of trust. We had believed the Communist Party would honor the Basic Law,” he says, referring to the miniconstitution established to guarantee Hong Kong’s way of life and independent judiciary after the former British colony reverted to China’s sovereignty in 1997.

Hong Kong’s uncertain fate holds unique lessons for the democratic world, he says.

“We are a Chinese society on Chinese soil, flying the five-star red flag, but in every sense of the word, we are free,” says the bespectacled Mr. Leong, a former legislator and chairman of Hong Kong’s Civic Party. But Hong Kongers will have to go on fighting to preserve that, he adds.

Mr. Leong pauses, his look somber. “What I have been sharing with friends is: Today’s Hong Kong may be your tomorrow, and you have only yourselves to blame.”

Nearly 20 years ago the West made a mistake, he argues, by supporting China’s accession to the World Trade Organization, by believing China would adopt international legal norms, and by failing to police China’s compliance with those norms as it emerged as an economic giant. 

Now, he says, democracies must uphold the rules-based international order against China’s challenges, just as people in Hong Kong are standing up for their core values.

“You are not just helping Hong Kong,” he says. “You are helping yourselves.”

You can find other stories in the Navigating Uncertainty series here.

Reporters on the Job
Staff writer Ann Scott Tyson gives the inside scoop

On the Lunar New Year in late January, I was in Taiwan reporting for the Monitor when I found myself in a crowd outside the ancient Bao’an Temple. Clouds of smoke rose from a large, ornate metal incense burner at the temple gate, where people clustered, bowing while holding smoldering joss sticks. 

I came across a couple as they lined up to fill out prayer requests for each of their family members. This year, Ke Zhihong and his wife, Ling Suhui, were praying above all for peace. Anxious about China’s threatening statements and military patrols around the island, the couple expressed their deep desire to live their lives free of conflict and enjoy basic rights with a voice in their governance. 

“China is fierce and does whatever it wants to. ... They are always flying their planes over and around Taiwan. We need to find a peaceful way,” said Mr. Ke, father of two teenage girls.

This prayer for peace stayed with me, as did Mr. Ke’s parting thought. “I am optimistic,” he said. “Taiwan is blessed.”

SOURCE: BBC, United Nations
|
Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Twitter isn’t real life. But for Sanders fans, it’s a powerful tool.

According to a Monitor analysis, supporters of Bernie Sanders are the most active and aggressive in their responses to other campaigns on Twitter. Many say it’s all in the service of a greater good. 

Amelia

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 7 Min. )

Britin Foster, a musical booking agent who lives near Albany, New York, tweets and retweets hundreds of messages in support of Sen. Bernie Sanders each day. She also puts out hundreds of replies – mostly negative – to tweets made by his rivals.  

Ms. Foster is one of the top Twitter users responding directly to the five leading Democratic candidates over the past year, according to a Monitor analysis. Of those, pro-Sanders accounts far exceed the supporters of any other Democratic campaign.  

It’s become almost cliché to note that Twitter isn’t “real life.” But that doesn’t mean it has no impact. During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump proved Twitter’s power in agenda-setting, and he has continued to use it as an effective tool throughout his presidency. Among the thousands of tweets analyzed by the Monitor, only Mr. Trump’s supporters rival Mr. Sanders’ in the quantity and often vitriolic nature of their replies.

“Calling Bloomberg out, for example – we can do that on Twitter, and the media sees it, the pundits see it, the other politicians see it,” says Ms. Foster. “Our goal is to influence the national discourse ... and we don’t have another platform where we could reach those people so easily.” 

Collapse

3. Twitter isn’t real life. But for Sanders fans, it’s a powerful tool.

“The Democratic party is a progressive party,” Elizabeth Warren’s official account tweeted last week, “even if there are a lot of people on the #DemDebate stage who don’t want to say so.” It was a jab at all the other Democratic candidates except for Bernie Sanders. And it’s easy to imagine Senator Sanders’ supporters “liking” that message.

But that’s not what happened.

The first response came one minute later from an account called @AmazingBernie, and it featured a photoshopped image of Senator Warren’s head on the body of a snake. Soon dozens of replies from Sanders supporters piled on top. “You’re a pathological liar,” wrote someone named Paul. “Go away Republican,” tweeted Robin. “YOU ARE NOT A PROGRESSIVE!” thundered an account named “I’m 1 of the Squad.” 

Editor’s Note: Social media accounts operated by one of the people quoted in this story, who said his name was Alan Jeffs, have subsequently been shut down by Twitter and Facebook, after a Washington Post investigation raised questions about Mr. Jeffs’s identity. The account cited at the time had been verified as authentic. Mr. Jeffs’s phone has since been disconnected.

It’s a recurring pattern. A candidate from a rival campaign sends out a tweet, and within minutes it is swarmed by hundreds, or thousands, of responses that are either supportive of Mr. Sanders, scathing towards his rivals, or both. A Monitor analysis of several hundred Twitter accounts – those most frequently responding directly to the five leading Democratic candidates over the past year – using data provided by researchers at George Washington University, found that the number of pro-Sanders accounts far exceeds supporters of any other Democratic campaign.  

And while it’s become almost cliché to note that Twitter isn’t “real life,” that doesn’t mean it has no impact. During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump proved Twitter’s power in agenda-setting, and he has continued to use it as an effective tool throughout his presidency. Among the thousands of campaign-related tweets analyzed by the Monitor, only Mr. Trump’s supporters rival Mr. Sanders’ in the quantity and often vitriolic nature of their replies.

Indeed, in the Democratic primary race, Sanders supporters have dominated the Twitterverse in a way that data experts and political scientists say is unlike anything they’ve ever seen. 

“This may be a permanent change in politics,” says Frank Sesno, director of George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs. “Any candidate, when they are looking at what it takes to succeed, will come away seeing that now they have to appeal even more to the emotions, and the fears, of their followers – because that emotion drives response and engagement on social media.”

With Mr. Sanders racking up wins in two of the first four primaries, the behavior of his supporters has come under sharper scrutiny. Recently, the Bloomberg campaign launched an ad on Twitter featuring screenshots of online threats made by Sanders fans. At the Nevada debate, Pete Buttigieg asked Mr. Sanders directly why such behavior seems to be so prominent among his supporters.

“We do not want your support if you think that what our campaign is about is making ugly attacks on other candidates,” Mr. Sanders said last week, when pressed on the issue during a CNN town hall. “We don’t want you. You’re not part of us.”

Damian Dovarganes/Reuters
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and his wife, Jane, stand before supporters at a campaign event at the Los Angeles Convention Center on March 1, 2020.

The Vermont senator has also suggested that some of the online vitriol may actually be Russian efforts to once again interfere in a United States election. This claim was bolstered by news that Russia may be trying to help Senator Sanders win the Democratic nomination

But Twitter has denied this claim, saying it would identify and disclose such activity. And according to several social media experts, the most frequent pro-Sanders tweeters are likely real people. Since the 2016 election, Twitter has made it much more difficult and expensive to create fake accounts.

“I don’t think we can blame this on Russia,” says Trevor Davis, a research professor at George Washington University’s Institute for Data, Democracy and Politics. “A subset of Sanders supporters shares a deep distrust in the party,” he says. “Their attacks on other Democrats reflect a belief that the system is rigged.”

Of the 100 accounts that have most frequently responded to Mr. Buttigieg’s tweets, before he dropped out of the race over the weekend, at least 55 are identifiably pro-Sanders. Among Mr. Bloomberg’s top repliers, 51 are pro-Bernie.

And of Ms. Warren’s most frequent repliers, 25 are pro-Bernie – fewer than the others, but in some ways the most telling, since they are undermining the candidate who is ideologically closest to their own. None of Mr. Sanders’ top 100 repliers, on the other hand, are from identifiably pro-Warren accounts.  

“Our goal is to influence the discourse”

Britin Foster, a musical booking agent who lives near Albany, New York, tweets and retweets hundreds of pro-Bernie messages a day, in addition to making hundreds of replies to other candidates’ tweets. 

When informed that she’s one of the top 100 repliers to both Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Buttigieg, she says she’s honored by that distinction – particularly her frequent replies to Mr. Bloomberg, whom she regards as even worse than President Trump. One of the memes featured in the former mayor’s commercial about online threats made by Sanders supporters, says Ms. Foster proudly, was hers. 

She isn’t at all surprised that Sanders supporters’ Twitter activity dwarfs everyone else’s. That, after all, is the goal.

“Calling Bloomberg out, for example – we can do that on Twitter, and the media sees it, the pundits see it, the other politicians see it,” says Ms. Foster. “Our goal is to influence the national discourse ... and we don’t have another platform where we could reach those people so easily.” 

After MSNBC host Chris Matthews made comments on air comparing Sanders supporters to the Germans in World War II, Ms. Foster saw the outrage build on Twitter, with Sanders supporters producing memes and tweets that multiplied exponentially in no time. Last week, Mr. Matthews made a public apology for his comments.  

“If social media weren’t worthwhile, then why is Mike Bloomberg spending hundreds of millions to advertise on it?” says Alan Jeffs, a supporter of Mr. Sanders who has already made the list of Mr. Bloomberg’s top responders since starting his account @BernieOrElse a few weeks ago. “Twitter is the real world now, even more than it was four years ago.” 

Asked about the vulgarity and outright hostility of many Sanders supporters online, both Ms. Foster and Mr. Jeffs justify it as in the service of a greater good. If it helps Mr. Sanders get elected, they say, it will be worth it. Sanders supporters aren’t locking children in cages, says Mr. Jeffs; they’re trying to ensure everyone has access to health care. Mr. Jeffs himself is currently unemployed, and says he quit his job as a graphic designer just to qualify for Medicaid, because the Affordable Care Act didn’t cover his prescribed treatments.

“It may feel like it’s bullying or like it’s blackmail, but the lower and working classes have been bullied by the establishment and elite for too long,” says Mr. Jeffs, adding that Mr. Sanders’ supporters are just “better at the internet” than other candidates’ supporters. 

Indeed, many Sanders supporters believe the news media is biased against the Vermont senator, and that it’s up to them to hold his more moderate rivals to account.

“Sometimes it does come out vehemently, because we see our friends, our family, our communities suffering,” says Ms. Foster. “We are upset with people who are trying to maintain the status quo, when the status quo has been shown to be enormously harmful.”

A challenge for party unity

Being “better” at Twitter doesn’t necessarily give Sanders supporters a direct line to the American electorate. A 2019 Pew Research survey found that just 22% of U.S. adults use Twitter – fewer than one-third of those on Facebook. And within this segment of the population, it’s an even smaller segment making the loudest noise, with the top 10% of tweeters – who are much more likely to be young Democratic women –  generating 80% of all tweets. 

“I’m skeptical that replies on Twitter are going to affect anybody’s vote,” says Nicco Mele, a lecturer with Harvard University’s Kennedy School who worked as webmaster on Howard Dean’s groundbreaking 2004 digital campaign. Twitter helped Mr. Trump win in 2016 because of how he himself used it – and still uses it – to inform the news cycle, says Mr. Mele, not because of what his supporters are tweeting. 

“It’s this simple: I don’t see on CNN, ‘Candidate Bernie just tweeted this’ or ‘Bernie supporters just tweeted that,’” says Mr. Mele. “Every day, Trump is using Twitter to drive the storyline and drive the media, and Bernie supporters aren’t doing that.”

Still, others warn that the vast pro-Sanders efforts directed against his Democratic rivals online may cause harm to the party’s ability to unify, the full extent of which may not become clear until November. 

“If the Democrats want to regain the White House, they will have to find a way to unite behind the nominee,” says Mr. Davis. “There are some very loud voices online that could make that difficult.”

Difference-maker

Drivers of change

When the friend who has your back is a horse

Trust and confidence can be elusive for many people. Dream Catchers, a therapeutic horseback riding center, helps those with disabilities make strides in expressing these qualities.

Amelia
Noah Robertson/The Christian Science Monitor
Mark Floyd rides Ranger at Dream Catchers, a therapeutic horseback riding center in Virginia’s James City County during a lesson Feb. 10, 2020. Advocates say horses provide a unique mixture of patience, honesty, and camaraderie to riders.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 5 Min. )

Nestled into the back roads of Virginia’s James City County, Dream Catchers offers respite for those seeking the mix of patience, honesty, and camaraderie that, some say, only a horse can provide. The ranch is one of a growing number of therapeutic riding centers and has served more than 800 participants since its founding in 1993.

In working with a participant, trainers can quickly adjust based on the rider’s needs – changing the speed, stance on the horse, or maneuvers. Progress isn’t always linear, says instructor and barn manager Samantha Bannock, but instructors can gradually push participants to build their confidence and trust.

“When you come to that animal with all of your junk, with all of your past issues, with who you are physically, that horse doesn’t care,” says Cher Smith, communications coordinator for the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International.

Karen Stokes says she sees a change in her daughter when they come to the ranch. Kristie, who has special needs, smiles more, talks more, and parades around her confidence. She has sessions with Melody, a 1,000-plus-pound draft horse.

“I’m happy when I see her,” says Kristie Stokes.

Collapse

4. When the friend who has your back is a horse

Kristie Stokes sits high and proud on the reins as she guides Melody, a 1,000-plus-pound draft horse, around the barn. In her pink helmet, pink sweatshirt, and pink boots, Ms. Stokes follows a course set by her instructor, who offers instructions, and often encouragement, in the center. Melody walks on. Ms. Stokes talks to Melody.

“She’s a sweetheart,” says Ms. Stokes. “And she listens to me.”

Ms. Stokes, who has special needs, sees Melody each week at Dream Catchers, a therapeutic horseback riding center in Virginia’s James City County. For the last three years, she’s visited the 22-acre ranch for the physical and mental benefits of horsemanship – structured around programs from speech therapy to psychotherapy. Those benefits, experts say, are borne out of a trust between horse and rider, a relationship like the one Ms. Stokes has with Melody. 

Nestled into back roads, Dream Catchers is one of a growing number of therapeutic riding centers across the country. Serving more than 800 participants since its founding in 1993, the center has been a respite for many seeking the mix of patience, honesty, and camaraderie that, advocates say, only a horse can provide. 

That relationship, says Cher Smith, communications coordinator for the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International, can empower, teach, build trust with, and help heal participants – even if their partner is a 1,000-pound animal.

“When you come to that animal with all of your junk, with all of your past issues, with who you are physically, that horse doesn’t care,” says Ms. Smith. “What he cares about is, can I trust you?” 

A beginning with nurses

Dream Catchers’ story begins at the Cumberland Children’s Hospital in neighboring New Kent County. A group of nurses who realized the therapeutic value of working with horses started the program. The Cori Sikich Therapeutic Riding Center became its home in 2004, after a family donated the land in memory of its daughter Cori, an avid horsewoman. 

Served by a full staff and small cavalry of almost 300 volunteers, the ranch is a collection of barns, fences, and pastures. Around 80 to 100 participants visit each week, says Executive Director Janet Mayberry. 

The program’s 15 horses – and two therapy dogs – all required careful selection, says Ms. Mayberry, for not every horse can be a therapy horse. It takes the right mix of personality and physicality – a blend of patience, sensitivity, and steadiness. There are no stallions on the ranch.

When Rhonda Hamlin, a mental health specialist, works with new clients, she says she first takes them to the pasture and lets them watch. Often, she says, a horse will come near, greeting a participant’s outreached hand near its nose – a “horse handshake.” Somehow, she says, horse and rider choose each other. 

Dream Catchers has breeds ranging from miniature horses to medium-sized Welsh ponies to large draft horses like Melody. A physical connection matters because a horse’s gait resembles a human’s, says Ms. Mayberry. That resemblance helps a participant build core strength and improve posture. 

Once a rider finds his or her horse, it’s all about growing their relationship. 

Noah Robertson/The Christian Science Monitor
With a team of volunteers, Mark Floyd leads Ranger, a 1,000-plus-pound draft horse, around the barn during a lesson, Feb. 10, 2020. The therapeutic riding center in James City County, Virginia, has 15 horses and two therapy dogs. Around 80 to 100 participants visit each week.

Courses with cones and poles

During a lesson in early February, Ms. Stokes takes Melody around the barn, weaving through cones and stepping over poles. A trainer guides the riders over a loudspeaker housed in the rafters, while volunteers walk with the riders for safety. Melody responds to Ms. Stokes’ commands of “walk on” or “whoa.” At one point, Ms. Stokes lets go of the reins and waves her arms from side to side above her head. 

The courses may look like a simple arrangement of cones and poles, says instructor and barn manager Samantha Bannock, but they’re more than a pony ride. Trainers can quickly adjust based on a rider’s needs – changing the speed, stance on the horse, or maneuvers. Progress isn’t always linear, she says, but instructors can gradually push participants to build their confidence and trust. 

“They [horses] can pick up or perceive a person’s feelings or emotions even before the person themselves kind of acknowledges [them],” says Ms. Hamlin. “So in a very rudimentary sense, I can use them as a barometer and know immediately what’s happening with a client just by watching what the horse does.”

Horses are prey animals, which means they’re extremely – even if imperceptibly – sensitive to their environment, she says. That enhanced perception also requires participants to be honest, says Ms. Hamlin. If a rider presents himself or herself one way but is feeling another, the horse will stay away.

In the present

Unlike a human, who may hold a grudge, horses remain in the present, says Ms. Hamlin. That quality allows riders to feel accepted more easily by horses than by humans, she says. Whenever participants make a mistake, she reminds them that the horses will always be willing to start over.

The same attitude is required of riders. Before Ms. Stokes came to Dream Catchers, her mother, Karen, says she rode at a different program closer to her home. Several years ago Kristie fell from a horse and had to have pins put in her knee, says Karen. But when she came to Dream Catchers, she didn’t hesitate to keep riding, her mother says.

“It’s not an easy thing to get up on that horse and ride. It can be terrifying,” says Ms. Mayberry. “So it requires trust in the people that you’re working with and strength of character.”

Karen Stokes says she sees the change in her daughter when they come to the ranch. Kristie smiles more, talks more, and parades around her confidence.

Kristie “engages with the horse. She talks to this horse. They have such a great relationship. She’s in control of the situation,” says Karen Stokes. 

But for Kristie, a visit to Dream Catchers is just a visit to Melody – or “Mel,” as she calls her. 

“I’m happy when I see her,” she says.

Book review

He raised his son to love wild places. Then his son disappeared.

American biologist Roman Dial nurtured a family ethos of independence and adventure. Years later, that choice forced agonizing soul-searching – an experience he shares in this memoir.

Amelia
Collapse

5. He raised his son to love wild places. Then his son disappeared.

In July of 2014, the son of renowned American biologist Roman Dial disappeared into Costa Rica’s lush Corcovado National Park. Cody Roman Dial had slipped into the jungle with a light backpack and a machete, but no tourist permit. This was not atypical. He was the sort of traveler who preferred off-the-grid excursions, a way of life he had learned from his father, whose exploits in both the tropics and the Arctic were well known in the tightknit world of American adventurers and explorers.

Indeed, for the better part of a year, the younger Dial had been traveling throughout Central America, hiking alone, off-trail, through some of Mexico’s and Guatemala’s most daunting landscapes. This time, he had written his father, he planned to spend four days in the wilderness and then take a day to walk out. “I’ll be bounded by a trail to the west and the coast everywhere else, so it should be difficult to get lost forever,” he emailed his father.

That was the last Dial ever heard from his son. 

What followed were years of searching and heartbreak, and ultimately the elder Dial’s reckoning with a family ethos of independence, exploration, and adventure. “The Adventurer’s Son” is Dial’s memoir of this quest – but also of a remarkable family, one that eschewed the “safe and boring” for something different; something intense, sparkling, and wild.

Within a familiar storytelling arc of mystery and man-versus-nature tension, Dial looks into the mirror and starts to ask whether an idealistic version of nature, and the explorer’s role within it, is not somehow problematic.

Dial and his wife, Peggy, raised their son and younger daughter in a way that reads like modern parental fantasy. Although based in Alaska, where Dial still works as a biology professor at Alaska Pacific University, the family lived for a time in Puerto Rico, where the children learned to catch lizards and explore coral reefs. The foursome took a monthlong, 1,500-mile road trip across Australia, and accompanied Dial as he traveled to Borneo for research. When Cody was only 6 years old, Dial took him on a dayslong trek across Alaska’s all-but-uninhabited Umnak Island – an explicit attempt to indoctrinate his son into a life of adventuring.

When, decades later, this urge for wilderness adventure leads to his son’s death, Dial struggles with his own culpability.

“Those experiences made up our family lore, our history: hearing gibbons whoop at dawn, handling a flying lizard, eating exotic fruits. I took my eight-year-old son to Borneo’s wilderness. Was that negligence? It hadn’t seemed so then, but now I felt a sharp stab of regret.”

It’s no surprise that Dial ends up doubling down on his chosen life of wilderness and nature. But the quandary he expresses, of whether to urge one’s children to experience the world, with all its beauty and danger, or to keep them safe, is familiar, even to those parents sitting at the sports complex rather than in a tropical treehouse.

Also familiar is the recognition that “pristine nature” is not always what it appears. The tropical paradise of Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula reveals itself to be what those familiar with the developing world’s wilderness areas might expect: a natural landscape inseparable from the human world. Dial’s growing disillusionment with the area – his increasing recognition of lies, violence, and political ineptitude – might be seen as a metaphor for the crumbling of the pristine nature myth. But he manages to avoid despair, or even negativity, while faced with the most heartrending of subjects.

“The Adventurer’s Son” is energized by spectacular descriptions of nature and by the narrative action of a father’s fight to find a beloved son. But it is its universality, this question of how to live and why, of how to understand nature, that gives it resonance and beauty.

Other headline stories we’re watching

(Get live updates throughout the day.)

The Monitor's View

Why Afghan women must negotiate with the Taliban

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 2 Min. )

Under a deal negotiated by the Trump administration, the Taliban and Afghan government are due to start direct peace talks March 10.

“We’re going to need every [Afghan] to join in,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Afghan people in announcing the deal Saturday. In Afghanistan, that means women.

Afghan women were highly suppressed under Taliban rule of the 1990s. This is still the case in areas now controlled by the Islamic radical group. Yet starting last year, as the United States pursued the talks in order to exit its longest war, women began to use hashtag campaigns, peace marches, and conferences to demand meaningful participation in any intra-Afghan talks.

Only Afghan women, sitting at a table across from the Taliban, could adequately protect the liberties, protections, and opportunities they have won since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. By bringing light to their rights, they can protect what they have won so far. The lasting promise of peace may well rest on how many women are at the table with the Taliban.

Collapse

Why Afghan women must negotiate with the Taliban

Under a deal negotiated by the Trump administration, the Taliban and Afghan government are due to start direct peace talks March 10 in hopes of ending 18 years of war. “This is your moment,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Afghan people in announcing the deal Saturday.

Then with emphasis, he added, “We’re going to need every [Afghan] to join in.”

If the world has learned anything from wars of the past century, it is that peace deals must be inclusive to stick. They cannot be top-down agreements that falter for lack of buy-in. This means those in society who suffered the most during a conflict must be at the negotiating table. They must be given their due in justice, equality, and reconciliation. In Afghanistan, that means women.

Afghan women were highly suppressed under Taliban rule of the 1990s. This is still the case in areas now controlled by the Islamic radical group. Yet starting last year, as the United States pursued the talks in order to exit its longest war, women began to use hashtag campaigns, peace marches, and conferences to demand meaningful participation in any intra-Afghan talks.

Only Afghan women, sitting at a table across from the Taliban, could adequately protect the liberties, protections, and opportunities they have won since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. Women negotiators could test the sincerity of the Taliban in its latest claims about allowing greater freedom for women. Or they could pin down details on women’s rights in a final agreement.

They might also enlighten the Taliban about the remarkable changes for female Afghans since 2001. Some 40% of girls now attend school. Nearly a third of parliament is women. Women are particularly active in a nationwide struggle against domestic violence.

In February, an Oscar was given for a documentary about Afghan girls learning to skateboard. Skateboards, said the film’s director, Carol Dysinger, teach girls to say, “I am here, I have something to say, and I’m going to take that ramp; don’t try to stop me.”

Up to now, President Ashraf Ghani has not committed to giving women a big role in the negotiations other than a token representation or as consultants beforehand. For its part, the U.S. plans to defend the rights of Afghan women, which would help stabilize Afghanistan and prevent it from becoming a source of terrorist attacks again.

Afghanistan ranks low in gender parity, but its women have learned their innate worth does not come from men or from the help of foreign powers. By bringing light to their rights, they are endeavoring to protect what they have won so far. The lasting promise of peace may well rest on how many women are at the table with the Taliban.

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.

Shielded from contagion during air travel

  • Quick Read
  • Read or Listen ( 3 Min. )

If we feel threatened by illness, we can open our hearts to healing, fear-dissolving inspiration from God.

Collapse

1. Shielded from contagion during air travel

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
Loading the player...

Ever since I was young, traveling on an airplane has represented a thrilling adventure. As a child, airports were my favorite place to be. But as an adult I’ve found that there have been times when feelings of fear and helplessness have emerged while traveling.

For instance, on a recent flight, a friend sitting next to me confessed that the rest of her family was at home with the flu and that now she felt she was coming down with the symptoms, too. As I listened to her fears, my first reaction was worry that I would catch the illness myself.

But I realized that rather than succumbing to fear, there was something more constructive and health-promoting that I could do while sitting there in my seat. It is an idea I read in a book written by Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this news organization. It says: “... keep your minds so filled with Truth and Love, that sin, disease, and death cannot enter them. ... Good thoughts are an impervious armor; clad therewith you are completely shielded from the attacks of error of every sort” (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” p. 210).

If we feel threatened by illness or any other sort of “error,” or discord, in our lives, we can open our hearts and minds to the healing power of God, divine Truth and Love. This idea may sound simplistic or naive to some, but there is sound wisdom behind this constructive practice. Fear often leads our thought away from God, good, to speculation and worry. But the Bible explains that God, our creator, made everything and everyone very good (see Genesis 1:31). Our true, spiritual identity therefore includes peace and well-being.

God communicates directly to each of us purposeful, powerful, and wise thoughts that help us recognize this spiritual reality. These thoughts are an antidote to fear of illness, shedding light on what is right and true about us all. They protect, help, and heal. The Bible tells us, “I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11, New King James Version).

Sometimes amid the cacophony of fearful, anxious thoughts, we ignore the thoughts of peace, health, and harmony that God is constantly sending our way. Instead, we can grab those health-promoting thoughts and hold on to them.

As I sat there next to my friend, I felt a quiet impulse from divine Love that dispelled my fears. I felt certain that this loving mother of three wasn’t susceptible to illness as an outcome of having cared for her family. No law of God would allow for such a thing. Illness is not inevitable, because God, the all-good creator of all that’s good and true, did not create it. The children of the all-perfect, all-powerful God – which included all of us on that plane – are spiritual, held in divine perfection.

These thoughts from God washed over me like an invisible shield. I felt safe and certain of my health and of the health of those around me. The spiritual reality of our wholeness is everyone’s to discern and experience, wherever we may be.

While my friend and I don’t often talk about God, I felt inspired to share some of these ideas with her. I suggested that we head into the weekend expecting it to be joyful and free from illness.

When we arrived at our destination, the symptoms my friend had been feeling subsided by the end of the first day. And no one in our group experienced any signs of illness during the trip.

Whether we’re on a plane or somewhere else, if fear of illness enters our thoughts, we can do something about it. We can put on the protective armor of the many, many good thoughts God sends us – which are more powerful than fear – and experience more God-given peace.

Viewfinder

Search for a haven

Marko Djurica/Reuters
Migrants sit in the forest near the border with Greece, near Edirne, Turkey, March 2, 2020. Turkey announced it could not cope with a new wave of refugees after an escalation of the Syrian conflict, marking the end to a 2016 agreement that kept migrants from reaching the EU.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Thanks for starting your week with us. And since we started this issue with Scott Peterson’s observations about Afghanistan, I want to point you to his piece in tomorrow’s Daily, which looks at Afghans’ eagerness for peace – and skepticism about the Taliban.

More issues

2020
March
02
Monday

Give us your feedback

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

 
of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.