2020
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Monitor Daily Podcast

June 17, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

Who will take note of World Refugee Week?

What would you grab if you had to flee your home?

Amid World Refugee Week, it’s worth pondering. By 2018, more than 70 million people had been forcibly displaced – a record, and a sharp increase from 43 million in 2009. About 41 million were displaced in their country, while nearly 26 million are refugees. Many leave with virtually nothing. And in 2020, they might pose another question: Have we been forgotten? 

Even before the pandemic, the refugee welcome mat was disappearing. (The top host countries in 2018 were Turkey, Pakistan, Uganda, Sudan, and Germany.) And amid a tumultuous 2020, focus has been only intermittent on the needs of those for whom perilous paths into the unknown seemed the only answer to violence, war, and famine on their doorstep. 

But many people are working to show they do, in fact, remember.

From Amman, Jordan, where brothers Mogtaba and Ahmed Fadol learned to sew so they could give 1,000 face masks to refugees in Egypt, to Cambridge, England, individuals and groups are helping and donating. Refugees are paying it forward: In Turkey, Afghans are producing face masks and soap for hospitals, while refugees in the United Kingdom are frontline pandemic workers.

Ivoirian artist O'Plérou Grebet, profiled last year in the Monitor, is joining in with an emoji of a heart formed by two hands that appears alongside refugee hashtags. “Refugees are people just like us,” he says. “I try to showcase diversity so we can better understand each other and achieve greater solidarity.”

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Why U.S. diplomats are breaking silence on race, repression at home

Are there occasions when proudly nonpartisan diplomats can – or should – speak out? For some, the moment arrived when events in the U.S. mirrored those they were criticizing in foreign countries. 

Amelia

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It is highly unusual for American diplomats to speak out about events at home, particularly in a critical or opinionated way. But the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and the ensuing wave of protests and clashes with police have created an exception. More than 600 retired foreign service officers and civilian national security officials have signed an open letter criticizing the Trump administration’s response to the protests as repressive.

In particular, the diplomats express dismay over the use of the military to disperse peaceful protesters in Washington as exactly the kind of repressive actions many witnessed while posted abroad and were called on to condemn as undemocratic and unacceptable.

“All these expressions of concern reflect a deep frustration that the rhetoric and abuses and policies we’ve seen from this administration over recent weeks have diminished how we are seen around the world,” says Barbara Bodine, a former ambassador to Yemen.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a former career diplomat, was the highest-ranking African American woman at the State Department when she retired in 2017. “For African American diplomats especially, it’s been important to speak out on this particularly horrific killing after we’ve watched these awful killings for too long,” she says.

Why U.S. diplomats are breaking silence on race, repression at home

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Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP/File
The U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe, Brian Nichols (left), poses with Zimbabwean President-elect Emmerson Mnangagwa in Harare, Zimbabwe, in August 2018. In an unusual move for a high-ranking American diplomat, Ambassador Nichols posted on social media his thoughts on the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

Brian Nichols recently posted on social media how the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police touched him personally. He was reminded that, as a young Black man in America, he knew that many considered him a lesser human being.

“As an African-American, for as long as I can remember I have known that my rights and my body were not fully my own,” wrote Mr. Nichols, who grew up in Rhode Island. “In a long unbroken line of black men and women, George Floyd gave the last full measure of devotion to point us toward a new birth in freedom.”

In and of itself, Mr. Nichols’ post was not extraordinary. Social media in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s killing is full of similar comments, while the protests that have drawn millions to America’s streets shouting “Black Lives Matter!” spring from the same sentiments.

What does make Mr. Nichols’ “letter” stand out is that he is the U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe, and his honest and personal commentary was posted on the Harare embassy’s Facebook page.

It is highly unusual for a high-ranking American diplomat to speak out about events at home, particularly in a critical or opinionated way.

But as it turns out, Ambassador Nichols is far from a lone voice among foreign service officers, both serving and retired, in commenting publicly on the Floyd killing and the ensuing social tumult over institutional racism, police brutality, and threats to America’s democratic values.

“I can’t speak for Brian, but I would guess he was thinking that these are issues that we’ve been addressing with the government of Zimbabwe, so I need to be honest and frank about my perspective on this if I’m going to be effective,” says Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a former career diplomat. When she retired in 2017, she was the assistant secretary for the Bureau of African Affairs and the highest-ranking African American woman at the State Department.

“For African American diplomats especially,” she adds, “it’s been important to speak out on this particularly horrific killing after we’ve watched these awful killings for too long.”

Retired diplomats’ letter

Other U.S. embassy websites – particularly in Africa – have posted statements on the Floyd killing and nationwide protests. The embassy in Seoul, South Korea, unfurled a large banner declaring “Black Lives Matter” on its facade, until State Department management ordered it taken down.

Moreover at home, more than 600 retired foreign service officers and civilian national security officials have signed on to an open letter criticizing the Trump administration’s response to the American protests as repressive, both rhetorically and in its actions.

In particular, the diplomats express dismay over the use of the military to disperse peaceful protesters in Washington – outside the White House and at the Lincoln Memorial. They deplore those events as exactly the kind of repressive actions many witnessed while posted abroad and were called on to condemn as undemocratic and unacceptable to their host governments.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
At sunrise, a soldier keeps watch at the Lincoln Memorial June 4, 2020, after a night of protests in Washington over the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.

“Misuse of the military for political purposes would weaken the fabric of our democracy, denigrate those who serve in uniform to protect and defend the Constitution, and undermine our nation’s strength abroad,” the letter states. Serving across the globe, “We called out violations of human rights and the authoritarian regimes that deployed their military against their own citizens,” they add. “Our values define us as a nation and as a global leader.”

For seasoned and proudly nonpartisan foreign service officers and civilian national security officials, sounding an alarm on domestic affairs does not come easily.

Moral authority under attack

But for many who signed the letter, it was the trampling of rights and principles guaranteed in the Constitution – first among them that the military will not be used at home against American citizens – that compelled them, they say. It was the sense that the values and principles of governance they spent their careers promoting overseas were under attack at home that emboldened them to take unprecedented steps.

“It was a confluence of events that brought to the surface very deep concerns about a straying from the Constitution and from American values of democracy and freedom of expression that prompted such a large number of diplomats and civilian national security officials to speak out so forcefully,” says Earl Anthony Wayne, a retired career ambassador who signed the letter.

“I can’t say if the number [612 signatories by Wednesday] is unprecedented, but it is certainly extraordinary and reflects the degree of concern particularly across a wide spectrum of very senior diplomats and nonpartisan professionals.”

A strong sense that the moral authority that had girded them as American representatives overseas was under attack at home, for all the world to see, prompted many to speak out.

“Many of us have a firm belief that our leadership in the world is based not on a strong military, not even on the economy, but on the values and principles that constitute the core identification of the United States,” says Barbara Bodine, a former ambassador to Yemen.

“But there is a recognition that what happens here doesn’t stay here ... but is picked up in the rest of the world with tremendous interest,” she says. “All these expressions of concern reflect a deep frustration that the rhetoric and abuses and policies we’ve seen from this administration over recent weeks have diminished how we are seen around the world.”

Ambassador Bodine points to the Arab Spring as an example of a movement that flourished as publics sought to advance the principles embodied by America.

“One reason the Arab Spring was able to get as far as it did is that the police in Tunisia refused to go against the protesters as [President Zine El Abidine Ben] Ali ordered them to, and the police in Egypt refused to go against the protesters in support of [President Hosni] Mubarak,” says Ambassador Bodine, now director of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University.

“Comfort to the autocrats”

She and others say they were particularly motivated to speak out by the rhetoric used by President Donald Trump – that governors and other officials needed to use armed security forces to “dominate” the demonstrations, and dismissing the protesters as “thugs” to be repressed.

“That kind of language gives comfort to the autocrats around the world whose impulse is to use violence against their own publics,” she says, “and is not the sign of the moral leader of the world.”

The former diplomats who are speaking out underscore the importance they place on their comments being seen as nonpartisan, and they stress that almost all of them served administrations of both parties. They are not criticizing America, they say, but sounding the alarm about shortcomings that diminish its moral authority abroad.

“This is not a condemnation of our country,” Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield says. “It’s a condemnation of the racism that exists in our country and that we know must be rooted out for the good of all of us.”

She recalls walking into her State Department office the day after Minnesotan Philando Castile was killed by police during a routine traffic stop in 2016.

“I told my staff, ‘Today I’m not the assistant secretary; today I’m an angry Black mother. That could have been my son.’”

Out of that discussion grew a “conversation on race” that was extended to other bureaus and agencies of the State Department, and even out to the field.

Need for recruitment

But Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield says that despite the encouragement she feels from all the “speaking out” across her profession, she knows there is tremendous work to be done for America to fully embody the values it promotes.

She notes, for example, that when she joined the foreign service in 1982, the State Department was facing two class-action suits over employment, one from women and one from African Americans.

“And yet the numbers for African Americans are worse today than they were all those years ago when they won that suit,” she says. “As for ambassadors, today we have only three African American ambassadors – imagine, three!”

Still, Ms. Thomas-Greenfield says she’s optimistic. She notes that the nonpartisan American Academy of Diplomacy responded to the Floyd killing by demanding the recruitment of a foreign service corps that “looks like America” and pledging to work with the State Department to help make that happen.

The House Oversight subcommittee held a hearing Wednesday on a Government Accountability Office report published in January that finds a significant lack of diversity at the State Department and recommends steps to address the problem.

“What all of us are calling for right now is for our country to strive to embody the values and principles we worked to promote and strengthen overseas,” says Ms. Thomas-Greenfield. “We have to deal with these ways we’ve fallen short, but we know the strength is there to do it.”

Can Richmond imagine a future without Robert E. Lee?

Monuments reflect the society in which they’re made, a professor says of the symbols of the Confederacy being taken down across the country. It says something to keep them up; it says something to take them down.

Amelia
Kristen Zeis/The Virginian-Pilot/AP
Frustrated by a city council decision to put off moving a Confederate monument in Portsmouth, Virginia, protesters beheaded and then pulled down four statues that were part of the monument, June 10, 2020.

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On June 4, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced plans to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee that has towered over Richmond for 130 years. Soon after, the city committed to removing four other Confederate statues from Monument Avenue. 

Around the world there has been a wave of renewed scrutiny over symbols that many say preserve a legacy of racism. From Birmingham, Alabama, to Bristol, England, statues of former Confederate generals and slaveholders are coming down. Meanwhile, American institutions from NASCAR to the Navy have banned displays of the Confederate battle flag.

For some experts familiar with past campaigns to remove such monuments, the past few weeks mark a turning point.

“The cliché is that history is written by the winners, and these were not the winners,” says Gabriel Reich, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. “The Confederates lost the war and lost the dream of an independent slave republic. But they won the peace.”

Righting what many see as a historical wrong is a sign that things have changed, says James “J.J.” Minor, president of the Richmond branch of the NAACP.

“Richmond is now getting it,” he says. “We’re moving in the right direction, plain and simple. What was will never exist again.”

Can Richmond imagine a future without Robert E. Lee?

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James “J.J.” Minor works in Shockoe Bottom, an upscale restaurant district in Richmond, Virginia, and once a center of America’s slave trade. Driving across town from his office at Main Street Station he could pass a former slave jail, Confederate iron works, the White House of the Confederacy, and titanic statues to Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, J.E.B. Stuart, and Jefferson Davis – marching in a line down Monument Avenue.

It’s a simple seven-mile loop. He could drive it in less than a lunch break. 

As a Richmond native, Mr. Minor knows his Virginia history. As president of Richmond’s branch of the NAACP, he also knows how painful that history can be. So watching the city’s leaders commit to removing symbols that memorialize racism, in his opinion, is a sign of long-overdue progress.

“It’s a new beginning,” he says. “I think it’s a long time coming, as the old folks used to say. Removing those Confederate monuments – it means a lot.

On June 4, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced plans to remove the statue of Lee that has towered over Richmond for 130 years. Soon after, the city government committed to removing the other four Confederate statues from Monument Avenue. 

Elsewhere in the South and around the world, there has been a wave of renewed scrutiny over symbols that many say preserve a legacy of racism. From Birmingham, Alabama, to Bristol, England, people have removed – or announced plans to remove – statues of former Confederate generals and slaveholders. Meanwhile, American institutions from NASCAR to the Navy have banned displays of the Confederate battle flag. Last week, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to amend the annual National Defense Authorization Act to create a commission tasked with renaming military installations named after Confederate figures. The full Senate still needs to vote on the bill, which President Donald Trump has said he will veto.

For some experts familiar with past campaigns to remove such monuments, the past few weeks mark a turning point. Just three years ago, white nationalists marched en masse when the city of Charlottesville attempted to take down a statue of Lee. Though Governor Northam’s order is being challenged in court, resistance today has abated.

Julia Rendleman/Reuters
Crews add concrete barriers around the monument to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in the early morning hours in Richmond, Virginia, June 17, 2020.

Lecia Brooks, chief workplace transformation officer at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), attributes that shift to a major change in public opinion, similar to that seen with Black Lives Matter

“In each successive moment people have been saying the same things: that this is representative of anti-Black racism or white supremacy or systemic racism. But people seem to get it now,” she says. “Those kinds of huge societal shifts say a lot and really do a lot to begin to dismantle these racist structures that we’ve lived with and we just go along with because they’ve just always been.”

“These were not the winners”

The SPLC first began to study Confederate monuments following the mass shooting at the Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church by a white supremacist in Charleston, South Carolina, five years ago today. Since then, says Ms. Brooks, they have documented more than 1,800 “active monuments” to the Confederacy – such as school names, statues, and memorials. 

According to lore, she says, these monuments rose up soon after the Civil War to commemorate those who fought for the “Lost Cause” of the Confederacy. The reality, says Benjamin Forest, a professor at McGill University in Quebec, is that most were constructed in two waves: from 1890 to 1910 and from 1950 to 1970.

The first period, he says, came along with Jim Crow in the South and the second was a response to the civil rights era. In both, says Professor Forest, Southerners used Confederate monuments to rewrite the history of the Civil War and assert power over African Americans. 

“The cliché is that history is written by the winners, and these were not the winners,” says Gabriel Reich, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. “The Confederates lost the war and lost the dream of an independent slave republic. But they won the peace.” 

Winning the peace, says Professor Reich, meant maintaining racial subjugation after the war ended and successfully reframing the Civil War around states rights and honor. Confederate monuments, he says, were crucial to both aims – embodying a mythic Confederate heritage into the future.

Rob Carr/AP/File
A Confederate flag flies in the infield as cars come out of Turn 1 during a NASCAR auto race at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama, Oct. 7, 2007. NASCAR banned the Confederate battle flag from its races and venues June 10, 2020.

In turn, those displays marginalized the heritage of most African Americans, for whom the Antebellum South is synonymous with slavery and oppression, says Ms. Brooks. If anything, she says, they’re a sign of how little things have changed.

“The continued existence of the monuments continue the political statement that the people who insist these remain up still call the shots,” says Professor Reich. 

“People seem to get it now”

This time may be different.

When Richmond’s Lee statue went up in 1890, around 150,000 people flocked to watch the ceremony, says Professor Reich. Former Confederate soldiers addressed the crowd. The now-famous Confederate battle flag was everywhere. 

Now the statues on Monument Avenue have become a rallying point for the recent protests in Richmond. Mr. Minor, president of Richmond’s branch of the NAACP, has joined thousands of others who gathered around the statue of Lee to decry police brutality and systemic racism. 

“It was like an ecumenical movement – a spiritual movement,” he says of a protest he attended on Monument Avenue. “Folks were walking hand in hand talking, shaking, hugging, loving, laughing – both Black and white, rich and poor and the in-between, all coming together to say enough is enough.”

The change in public opinion surrounding the monuments, says Ms. Brooks, comes in part from the momentum of past movements. It’s also, she says, a product of increased public awareness of white supremacy – spurred in large part by the 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville. 

“People are beginning to understand – or begin to more fully understand – what it means when we say a white supremacist culture or anti-Black racism,” she says. “So understanding or embracing those concepts more deeply has allowed them to make the connection between these symbols of the Confederacy and some of the ways that society upholds systemic racism.”

“People seem to get it now,” she says. 

Notwithstanding, not everyone in America is ready to pull down the statues, as shown by court challenges and threats of presidential veto. An early June poll from Morning Consult found more support for keeping the monuments up than taking them down, though that number has eroded since Charlottesville. Some 44% of Americans support keeping them in place, down from 52% in 2017.

How important are symbols?

Such pushback doesn’t surprise Mr. Minor. After so many years, he’s adjusted to the challenges that often accompany being Black in the South, he says. One time, he says, a police officer pulled a gun on him on the side of the road. Another time, he was strip-searched near public housing. He didn’t know why either time.

“It’s tough being a Black man in America,” says Mr. Minor. 

Even if all the Confederate monuments in Richmond and beyond are taken down, he says, more work will remain. After all, they’re only symbols.

But symbols can matter, says Professor Forest. Monuments, in his opinion, reflect the society in which they’re made. It says something to keep them up; it says something to take them down.

It will mean something to Mr. Minor if these statues are moved. He doesn’t think America has a “balance of history,” and he thinks the country needs it. Righting what many see as a historical wrong is a sign that things have changed, he says.

“Richmond is now getting it,” he says. “We’re moving in the right direction, plain and simple. What was will never exist again.”

As coronavirus lingers, home births surge. How midwives are adapting.

More women are considering home births amid the coronavirus. The trend has changed how midwives operate – and how some expectant moms view midwifery. 

Amelia
Courtesy of Katrina McHugh
Katrina and James McHugh of South Royalton, Vermont, stand with their children, Cathan (far left) and Tully, who was born at home on March 25, 2020, with the help of midwives. Home births are rising due to COVID-19.

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Katrina McHugh was planning to have her baby in the hospital, but then the pandemic hit.

At her 36-week checkup, her doctor recommended a home birth due to Ms. McHugh’s concerns about safety. She gave her the phone number for Katie Bramhall, a local midwife with more than 30 years of experience. When contractions came, Ms. Bramhall joined Ms. McHugh at her home, located up a remote dirt road in South Royalton, Vermont. Hours later, they heard the beautiful sound of baby boy Tully cry for the first time.

Throughout the country, midwives have seen an increase in requests for home births, as hospitals continue to grapple with COVID-19 cases and more families choose to have pregnancies and deliveries outside traditional hospital settings.

As a result, midwives have had to adapt rapidly, while maintaining the core principles of safety and trust. Ms. Bramhall’s practice now uses videoconferencing for remote appointments, and she asks clients to purchase their own doppler, blood pressure cuff, and weight scale for assessments. Rapid-response COVID-19 tests are administered before births.  

“We’re doing our best to balance our personal safety and the safety of our families, with keeping this life-changing event as magical and joyous as we can,” says Ms. Bramhall. 

As coronavirus lingers, home births surge. How midwives are adapting.

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Katrina McHugh was planning to have her baby in the hospital, but then the pandemic hit. 

At her 36-week checkup, her doctor recommended a home birth due to Ms. McHugh’s concerns about safety. She gave her the phone number for Katie Bramhall, a local midwife with over 30 years of experience.

“I called Katie, and she was just wonderful,” Ms. McHugh says. 

But because the COVID-19 crisis was unfolding so quickly, that first appointment ended up being done by phone. Contractions came a week later, and Ms. Bramhall joined Ms. McHugh at her home, located up a remote dirt road in South Royalton, Vermont. This wasn’t Ms. McHugh’s original plan, but she was comforted by how Ms. Bramhall and her colleague Meghan Sperry communicated with her “as a person, not as a patient” throughout her labor and the beautiful moment when she heard her baby boy Tully cry for the first time. 

“They spoke to me like they had known me for years, even though they had just met me,” she says, adding the comfort of home was reassuring even in the toughest moments. “They just made me feel very calm and comfortable.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Throughout the country, midwives say they have seen an increase in requests for home births, as hospitals continue to grapple with COVID-19 cases and more families choose to have pregnancies and deliveries outside traditional hospital settings.

Fear of COVID-19 infection is a common reason for this increasing interest in home birth as well as a desire to ensure partners can attend the birth, which some hospitals restricted at the height of the pandemic.

Evidence of the trend so far appears anecdotal. The level of demand varies based on where the midwife is located, says Sarita Bennett, president of the Midwives Alliance of North America. “Those who live in New York City are impacted a little differently than those in the Midwest,” she says. “All of them though are seeing more interest in out-of-hospital births at home and at birth centers.”

That trend is reflected in Ms. Bramhall’s practice, Gentle Landing Midwifery, based in Lebanon, New Hampshire. She usually sees three to four births per month, and that has nearly doubled through July. Ms. Bramhall had to double her staff in early April to accommodate the increase.

She says she expects this trend to continue; her practice’s new birth center, set to open in September, is almost at full capacity for January.

Courtesy of Katrina McHugh
Midwife Katie Bramhall holds Tully McHugh, who was born on March 25, 2020, in South Royalton, Vermont.

Ms. Bramhall, who is also president of the Vermont Midwives Association, says midwifery is centered on relationships built over a period of months, and with COVID-19 they’ve had to adjust to maintain that foundational element of trust.

“A very well-established and well-oiled practice had to be rebuilt from ground up,” Ms. Bramhall says. “It’s imperative that people stay connected to me and me to them. I have to know them the same way, to make accurate decisions.”

Among the adjustments was adding health privacy law-compliant videoconferencing into their system for remote appointments. 

“We’ve had to require our clients to purchase a doppler, blood pressure cuff, and personal weight scale, so they can do their assessments themselves over video chat ... so we get accurate data,” Ms. Bramhall says.

The top priority is safety, which is why Ms. Bramhall purchased 10-minute rapid-response antibody tests for COVID-19. 

“At a birth when we arrive, everybody is masked up, we do a rapid-response test on everybody and ourselves, and if everybody comes back negative, we can unmask and have a birth,” she says. “We’re doing our best to balance our personal safety and the safety of our families, with keeping this life-changing event as magical and joyous as we can.”

Empowering mothers

Midwives provide women with individualized care during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. Those who offer home-birth care are trained and equipped to provide the same standard of care as a hospital setting, with ultrasounds, labs, and all the necessary tests. That said, it is not right for every case. 

“The only people who are good candidates for out-of-hospital birth are people who are full-term and healthy,” Ms. Bramhall notes.

Certified Nurse Midwives can practice in all 50 states. Certified Professional Midwives, like Ms. Bramhall, are specially trained for out-of-hospital births. While they currently can only practice in 35 states, efforts are underway to expand their reach, says Dr. Bennett.

Michelle Ingram-Sanders, a midwife in Bedford, Indiana, just south of Bloomington, owns Mother Nurtured Midwifery and has practiced for 10 years. She usually has four to six clients per month, and that has grown to eight during the pandemic. Her main focus has been staying healthy, she says, so she can still serve her clients.

“We’re keeping an open mind and doing everything we can to protect ourselves,” says Mrs. Ingram-Sanders, also president of the Indiana Midwives Association.

She has worked remote appointments into her practice, though some are in person when the mother is at term. She is allowing more time between visits to sanitize equipment. “If the visit goes a little long, I still have time for cleaning and prep,” she says.

Allaying the mother’s fear as much as possible has always been important in midwifery, and the coronavirus has only underscored that, says Ms. Bramhall. 

“Pregnancy and birth and making a family is such a huge transformation for everybody involved; add the fear of a public pandemic, and that makes that transformation even more imperative in people’s hearts and minds,” she says. “Fear on top of labor in a pregnancy can change an outcome, because fear will change any outcome in life if that’s the driving force.”

Ms. Bramhall says the way to alleviate that fear is to empower the mother, by helping her find strength she didn’t know she had, especially when the pain is so great, she doesn’t think she can proceed.

“You look in her eyes, and you make her see, that you see, that ‘yes she can.’ And you hold that, until you get to that point where, ‘yes she did,’” Ms. Bramhall says. “And that’s where her empowerment comes in.” 

Amid the heightened demand, midwives emphasize the importance of maintaining safety and strong relationships.

“We refuse to go beyond our capacity, because safety is the only game in town,” Ms. Bramhall says, adding that the midwife must have time to build the trust that is so crucial. “We will not compromise relationships.”

Ms. McHugh has enjoyed that continued relationship after her second son’s birth. 

“[Ms. Bramhall] has been very much a part of my aftercare and Tully’s aftercare,” she says. “She made sure that all of us as a family are doing OK, emotionally, spiritually, everything. She’s just been very wholesome in her approach.” 

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Difference-maker

Why a Muslim woman safeguards Jewish history for all Moroccans

If history shapes identity, then shared history is a cherished resource in today’s world. For Zhor Rehihil, Muslim curator of the Museum of Moroccan Judaism, the shared past provides a path to a better future.

Amelia
Taylor Luck
Zhor Rehihil, curator of the Museum of Moroccan Judaism, stands in the main gallery of the Arab world’s only Jewish museum – a project that has become her life’s work in reviving Morocco’s interfaith coexistence – in Casablanca, Morocco, Oct. 18, 2019.

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It is unusual to have a Jewish museum in the Arab world. But perhaps even more unusual for visitors to the Museum of Moroccan Judaism in Casablanca: Its curator and co-founder is a Muslim woman. Yet, declares Zhor Rehihil: “This is not surprising. This is natural.”

Here in Morocco, which has seen its Jewish population dwindle almost to the point of being forgotten, Ms. Rehihil has been at the vanguard of safeguarding the community’s history and its place in society – tirelessly teaching Moroccans about the importance of their shared past.

“You simply cannot fully know the Moroccan Jewish community, or why Morocco is such an exception in the region, without Zhor,” says one Western diplomat.

The museum itself has become a leading tourist destination, allowing her to engage with visitors from across the Arab world who are “astonished” that a Jewish museum could even exist on Arab soil. “Always visitors to the museum are walking away saying, ‘Oh, they are just like us.’” Ms. Rehihil claps her hands. “Yes! That is the goal! They are Moroccan like you and me!” she shouts. “That is how it has always been, and that is our way forward.”

Why a Muslim woman safeguards Jewish history for all Moroccans

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Zhor Rehihil walks past a green-cloth-wrapped ancient Torah, ornamental brass lamps, and prayer books she has watched over for more than two decades.

Such artifacts are at home in museums or synagogues in Israel, America, or Europe. Many people are surprised to find them here in Morocco.

“This is not just Jewish history,” says Ms. Rehihil. She traces her finger against a glass-encased, century-old, Judeo-Moroccan script, the Hebrew engraved onto a silver plaque with North African geometric designs. “This is all our history.”

It is unusual to have a Jewish museum in the Arab world. But perhaps even more unusual for visitors: Its curator and co-founder is a Muslim woman.

Yet Ms. Rehihil declares: “This is not surprising. This is natural.”

Here in Morocco, which has seen its Jewish population dwindle almost to the point of being forgotten, Ms. Rehihil has been at the vanguard of safeguarding the community’s history and its place in society – tirelessly teaching Moroccans about a shared past she believes will pave the way for a better future.

Bursting with energy and information, Ms. Rehihil, a leading expert on Arab Jewish culture in the region, is at times the main attraction.

Her high-octane persona is legendary among diplomats in Morocco and researchers worldwide – from America to Israel and across the Arab world – who know her on a first-name basis.

“You simply cannot fully know the Moroccan Jewish community, or why Morocco is such an exception in the region, without Zhor,” says one Western diplomat.

“Zhor is a pioneer,” says Habib Kazdaghli, dean at the University of Tunis-Manouba and an expert in Tunisia’s Jewish minority.  

“There are only a few researchers documenting Arab Jewish traditions and heritage, and she is preserving this for the entire world.”

Moroccan heritage

Today at the Museum of Moroccan Judaism, the “Moroccan” clearly stands out.

As carefully designed by Ms. Rehihil, the displays at this disused orphanage from the 1950s not only showcase North African Jews’ heritage, but highlight the fact that they share the same heritage as other Moroccans.

Taylor Luck
Traditional women’s caftan dresses, as worn by both Muslim and Jewish Moroccans, are on display at the Museum of Moroccan Judaism in Casablanca, Oct. 18, 2019.

Gliding through the sun-drenched rooms, Ms. Rehihil enthusiastically points out wooden prayer beads that could be at home in a synagogue or a mosque, engraved silver pendants worn by Moroccan women for centuries, and thick gold-thread embroidered green caftan dresses that are a staple for weddings across Morocco. 

Surrounded by items that could be found in their parents’ or grandparents’ homes, many Muslim Moroccans ask: Have we been wearing Jewish jewelry and clothes all this time?

“I tell them dresses and jewelry have no religion; they are inanimate objects,” Ms. Rehihil says. “But they do have a culture, and that culture is Moroccan.”

The displays’ goal is to stir memories.

Within minutes of touring the museum or speaking with Ms. Rehihil, many Moroccans recall: My grandfather’s neighbor was Jewish, my father had a Jewish friend, or my mom learned embroidery from her Jewish neighbor.

“Our fathers or grandfathers knew the Moroccan Jewish community very well because they studied in the same schools, they lived together in the same apartment buildings, they visited each other on holidays, they bought from each other and traded,” Ms. Rehihil says.

“Today, everywhere you go there are physical memories from the Jewish community. We Moroccans have a living Jewish memory; it just needs to be reawakened.”

Knowledge gap

Ms. Rehihil’s unlikely career was launched by her own search for a society whose physical memories surrounded her growing up in Casablanca: synagogues, schools, and Jewish quarters.

She, like most Moroccans born in the 1970s onward, knew little of the 1,000-year-old mixed-faith society in which Moroccan Muslims and Jews lived and worked.

Although Morocco did not witness the intercommunal strife or expulsion of Jewish communities that occurred in other Arab states following the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the draw of better economic opportunities in Europe and Israel sparked a steady exodus of Morocco’s Jews in the 1950s and ’60s.

Morocco’s Jewish community dwindled from 450,000 to a few thousand. As of the 1980s, entire generations of Moroccans were growing up knowing little about their fellow Jewish citizens.

“The only thing these generations know of Jews in general is the Arab-Israeli conflict, the occupation of Palestine, war and killing,” she says. Her voice suddenly becomes urgent. “These new generations are why we are here – why I am here.”

When Ms. Rehihil decided to study Jewish heritage and sites as a student at the National Institute of Heritage and Archaeology in Rabat in 1993, she became among the first Muslims researching Moroccan Judaism in the country.

“In the field of anthropology, you want to learn about others,” she says from behind her desk at her office. “And by learning about others, you learn about yourself and your society.”

Taylor Luck
Donated Moroccan Jewish artifacts are on display at the Museum of Moroccan Judaism in Casablanca, Oct. 18, 2019.

Ms. Rehihil faced an uphill climb reaching out to a minority community that had become more withdrawn and more guarded as its numbers dwindled; doors were closed, phone calls unanswered, synagogues remained shuttered.

The Moroccan Jews she approached were skeptical. Why would a Moroccan Muslim be interested in studying their community? Why would she even care?

The reaction from friends and family was similar. “Why are you interested in this research?” she says they asked. “This isn’t your community.”

A professor’s suggestion would save her research and change her career: Contact Simon Levy, a professor of Spanish language at nearby Mohammed V University.

A Jewish Moroccan intellectual who cofounded the Moroccan Communist Party, Professor Levy was a leading figure in Morocco’s independence movement who was jailed by French colonial authorities and was widely respected by Moroccans.

Professor Levy took Ms. Rehihil under his wing, helping her complete research on the Jewish saints of Casablanca.

In 1996, Mr. Levy had a proposal for her: Design and run the first Jewish museum in the Arab world.

“It was an offer I couldn’t refuse,” she says.

Heart of the community

Once an outsider, Ms. Rehihil now radiates energy and projects as a beating heart at the center of the Moroccan Jewish community.

One of her most impactful initiatives is hosting an annual Mimouna, the traditional Moroccan Jewish holiday held at the end of Passover, inviting diplomats and Moroccans of all faiths to observe the uniquely Moroccan celebration, helping it become mainstream in the kingdom.

Ms. Rehihil now hosts a weekly radio show featuring Moroccan Jewish artists, musicians, and students discussing their lives and traditions growing up in Moroccan towns and villages, all in the colloquial Moroccan dialect, darija.

Working under the Foundation of Jewish Moroccan Cultural Heritage set up by Mr. Levy and community leader Serge Berdugo, Ms. Rehihil has helped research and identify tens of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues across the country, paving the way for a preservation and renovation project that got royal backing from King Mohammed VI in 2018.

On a typical tour, Ms. Rehihil likes to keep visitors guessing about her personal background, impishly slipping in asides to throw off people’s assumptions about her faith, such as reading perfect Hebrew from a Torah scroll, and immediately uttering an Arabic saying predominately used by Muslims. She constantly uses “we” and “us” when discussing Moroccans of either faith.

As the tour winds to its conclusion, she playfully asks visitors to guess her background.

When prompted to answer, the vast majority of guests – be they Moroccan, American, Israeli, or Saudi – conclude that she must be Jewish.

“I tell them I am a Moroccan first, a woman second, and third I come from the Muslim community,” Ms. Rehihil says.

“They are always surprised,” she shakes her head. “And I am surprised by their surprise.”

But change is happening. Each year Ms. Rehihil receives 40-50 Moroccan university students and researchers pursuing Moroccan Jewish studies, the vast majority of whom are Muslim.

The museum itself has become a leading tourist destination in Casablanca, allowing her to engage with visitors from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar who are “astonished” that a Jewish museum could even exist on Arab soil.

“Always visitors to the museum are walking away saying, ‘Oh, they are just like us.’” Ms. Rehihil claps her hands and waves them in the air.

“Yes! That is the goal! They are Moroccan like you and me!” she shouts. “That is how it has always been, and that is our way forward.”

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A leadership example for the US – from Iraq

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When a nation is ruptured by great social divisions, it needs a great reconciler. The United States, for example, currently has no elected leader bringing Americans together over issues of racism raised by the police killings of Black people. In an odd reversal of roles, Iraq now seems to have such a leader for its divisions – 17 years after the U.S. set that country on a path to democracy with the ouster of a dictator.

He is Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who became prime minister last month and who once created a foundation dedicated to reconciliation in Iraq. After only a few weeks of making reforms, he has earned the trust of nearly two-thirds of Iraqis.

Mr. Kadhimi’s abilities to bring people together were on full display June 10 during a visit to Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city. In a visit to a Christian area, for example, he said Iraqis must defend the right of everyone to belong and coexist. “Without tolerance we cannot live together and our diversity must be a source of strength for us.”

A leadership example for the US – from Iraq

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Reuters
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, center, arrives in Kirkuk, June 2.

When a nation is ruptured by great social divisions, it needs a great reconciler. The United States, for example, currently has no elected leader bringing Americans together over issues of racism raised by the police killings of Black people. In an odd reversal of roles, Iraq now seems to have such a leader for its divisions – 17 years after the U.S. set that country on a path to democracy with the ouster of a dictator.

He is Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who became prime minister last month and who once created a foundation dedicated to reconciliation in Iraq and the promotion of equality and diversity. After only a few weeks of making reforms, he has earned the trust of nearly two-thirds of Iraqis, according to a recent poll.

Mr. Kadhimi is the first prime minister who does not belong to a political party, a sign of the country’s desire to heal its religious and ethnic rifts. His political nonaffliation – he is a former journalist and spy chief – is something both freeing and difficult as Iraq deals with the pandemic and its worst economic crisis since 2003.

One reason he was tapped for the job is that youthful mass protests last October against a corrupt political system brought down a prime minister. Politicians were then forced to select a clean and neutral reformer.

Mr. Kadhimi’s abilities to bring people together were on full display June 10 during a visit to Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city. The city is still in tatters three years after Iraqi forces liberated it from Islamic State. At one point, ISIS controlled a third of Iraq and made Mosul the seat of its self-proclaimed caliphate.

To help revive Mosul, the prime minister met with Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, Christians, and others who are trying to piece together a torn society. In a visit to a Christian area, for example, he said Iraqis must defend the right of everyone to belong and coexist. “Without tolerance we cannot live together and our diversity must be a source of strength for us,” he said, according to The New York Times.

He also promises to release nonviolent protesters who were arrested in recent months. And he pledges to investigate the killing of more than 500 protesters.

Both the U.S. and neighboring Iran still have a strong hand in Iraq. Yet both support the new prime minister, perhaps because they, like most Iraqi politicians, realize young people want the country to end its sectarian-based politics and to get on with solving daily problems. If Mr. Kadhimi is to be a great reconciler, he already has the people on his side.

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.

Taking a stand for justice – without self-righteousness

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Sometimes we may find ourselves thinking that our perspective is the best or only legitimate viewpoint. But the idea that everyone has a God-given ability to feel and express qualities such as thoughtfulness, fairness, and peace can free us from self-righteousness that would hamper our own and humanity’s progress.

Taking a stand for justice – without self-righteousness

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Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

It was 1970, and protests were erupting on college campuses across the United States. The shooting of 13 students at Kent State University by the inexperienced Ohio National Guard was the match that lit the powder keg of widespread discontent with the Vietnam War.

I was a senior when this took place, and my bucolic college campus was ignited into action. Although I was aware of unrest on other campuses, I never thought my college would become involved. But my school gave students the option of forgoing exams so we could use that time to participate in antiwar efforts instead.

I prayed deeply about the choice I had to make. I had a conviction that anger and inharmony are eradicated by love, but it seemed to me that many of my classmates were motivated by anger and hatred, not love. I also felt that some were taking advantage of the situation – not committed to antiwar efforts, but happy to be relieved of the responsibility of taking their examinations.

Ultimately, I didn’t feel impelled to join the protests, so it seemed most right to me to prepare for and take my exams, which is what I did.

During this time, a rash developed on my legs. I also began to recognize that I felt self-righteous about my decision, was harboring resentment toward my classmates, and felt disappointed that graduation festivities had been greatly curtailed.

I have often found prayer to be an effective action, so I turned to God for healing of my legs as well as my unhelpful thinking. This allowed me to see that my anger and prideful attitude were the result of seeing the situation from my limited mortal perspective, rather than considering God’s reality, the spiritual reality for all of us. For instance, the true nature of everyone (not just me!) as God’s spiritual offspring, inherently able to feel and express Christlike qualities of love, thoughtfulness, fairness, and truthfulness.

Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, wrote, “The calm and exalted thought or spiritual apprehension is at peace” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 506). As I earnestly prayed to gain this “calm and exalted” spiritual perspective, not only did I feel a deeper love and forgiveness toward my fellow students, but the feelings of self-righteousness lifted and the rash was healed.

After graduation, a friend of mine from a different college recounted how she had thought through the protests on her campus. I knew her to be sincere and thoughtful – and she shared that her own prayers had led her to be involved in the protests. My eyes were opened. I could see that she, too, had been sincere and well-intentioned in her decision.

I think about this experience whenever I catch myself thinking that my perspective is the best or only legitimate viewpoint. We each have a unique and direct relation to God, who guides each of us to fulfill the mission and purpose He is unfolding within us. There are many, many needs in the world that require different talents and perspectives. And we can turn to God to nurture our unique talents and discover how best to utilize them in service to God, good, and to our fellow men and women.

Whether or not we participate in a physical gathering in support of a cause, we can all take a stand for the spiritual fact that God communicates directly to everyone, and that everyone has a God-given capacity to hear and follow God’s direction. Mrs. Eddy also wrote, “Protesting against error, you unite with all who believe in Truth” (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” p. 193). As we affirm in our prayers God’s ever-present love and see everyone as, ultimately, under God’s divine government of peace, justice, and fairness, we’re actively protesting against injustice, self-righteousness, and anger and for humanity’s God-directed progress.

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Giddyup!

Paul Childs/Reuters
Merlin Coles, age 3, watches horse racing from Royal Ascot on TV at his home, while sitting on his horse, Mr. Glitter Sparkles, with his dog, Mistress, in Bere Regis, Dorset, England, June 17, 2020.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

Thanks for joining us today. Tomorrow, we’ll look at how some school districts are ending contracts to have police officers in schools. Please join us for that and more.

If you are looking for more Monitor insights today, be sure to check out justice reporter Henry Gass’ Ask Me Anything on Reddit.

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