2021
May
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Monitor Daily Podcast

May 14, 2021
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TODAY’S INTRO

Capitol riot: Could a commission bring clarity on a divisive moment?

The final report of the 9/11 Commission was an investigative and literary triumph. It painted a detailed and sweeping picture of the events surrounding the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, so lucidly written that it was a finalist for the National Book Awards in 2004.

Could a Jan. 6 commission to probe the attack on the U.S. Capitol produce a similarly high-quality result?

It now looks as if such a commission could happen. On May 14 Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Homeland Security Committee announced they’d struck a deal to create a bipartisan panel composed of 10 people with relevant expertise. 

Each party would get to name half of the group’s members. Democrats would appoint the chair, and Republicans the vice chair. The commission would have subpoena power.

This isn’t a done deal yet. The Homeland Security Committee’s bill establishing the commission would need to pass Congress. Republican leaders say they want the investigation to focus on events beyond Jan. 6 – which Democrats strongly oppose. 

But an independent body investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection is badly needed, writes Kate Brannen, editorial director at the national security and law blog Just Security.

A May 12 congressional hearing on the insurrection shows why. Both sides just postured and grandstanded, with Democrats berating witnesses, and Republicans repeating disinformation about the Jan. 6 events, according to Ms. Brannen. 

“On Capitol Hill, the forces that unleashed the violence that day are still working to hide the truth,” she writes.

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In Israel, Arabs and Jews alike recoil from mob violence

The never-seen-before internecine mob violence in Israel is prompting horrified Arabs and Jews to ask: How much hard-won progress will be undone? Will it be possible to heal?

Peter

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Arab-Jewish relations have, in recent years, seen a mix of setbacks and progress in Israel. Discriminatory laws have been passed and anti-Arab rhetoric employed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing allies. But there’s also been an unparalleled surge of Arab integration in universities, in the workforce, even in politics.

Yet in an instant, the progress seems potentially undone by synagogues burned, Muslim cemeteries desecrated, lynching-style attacks, and ugly street fights that erupted in response to a new round of intense Israeli-Palestinian strife that spread like wildfire from East Jerusalem to Gaza and now, Israel’s heartland.

In Israel’s 73-year history, images of this kind of hands-on combat between Arab and Jewish citizens have never been seen.

Mohammad Darawshe, a veteran activist who has sought to foster Arab-Jewish relations, sees what’s happening as an existential threat. The violence this week kept him from traveling through a Jewish town to pay a Ramadan visit to his sister.

“It’s frustrating because you feel a lifetime project is under threat,” he says. “The whole concept of ‘Shared Society’ based on the principle that Jews and Arabs can figure out a proper mechanism of living with each other. All of that is … under attack.”

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In Israel, Arabs and Jews alike recoil from mob violence

Heidi Levine/AP
Jacob Simona stands by his burning car during clashes with Israeli Arabs and police in the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Lod, Israel, May 11, 2021.

Sitting on his parked motor scooter, a young man with a reddish beard, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, shares screen shots of text messages posted by Jewish extremists. Their texts call for others to join them against their Arab neighbors in the unprecedented internecine clashes ripping through the country.

One calls for burning mosques; another declares war on the young man’s mixed Arab and Jewish hometown of Jaffa, an ancient port that is now joined with Tel Aviv.

“We’re coming today with knives to search for Arabs, be a man and come with your family, I want to see Arab blood spilled on the street,” reads one of the messages, read aloud by N., who asks to be identified only by his first initial.

He looks down and says, “It feels like we are seeing the dismantling of Israeli society. … It’s as if we are tribes that have divided and are headed toward civil war.”

Next to him a group of his friends are gathered. They are talking about the violence the night before: an Arab taxi driver wrenched from his car and kicked and beaten by a Jewish mob just a few miles from where they sit; and to the north, a Jewish teacher in Akko, another ancient port that had been a mostly peaceful mixed city, beaten by an Arab mob so badly he’s in critical condition.

They wonder what the coming night might bring. They voice hope the riots will eventually calm down, if someone could tamp down on the extremists fueling them. 

Recent years have seen a mix of setbacks and progress to Arab-Jewish relations in Israel. On the one hand, discriminatory laws have been passed and anti-Arab rhetoric employed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies. On the other, an unparalleled surge of Arab integration in universities, in the workforce, in politics, and a much-celebrated beating back of the common enemy of COVID-19 with the help of front-line Arab health care workers.

Now, in an instant, the progress seems potentially undone by synagogues burned, Muslim cemeteries desecrated, lynching-style attacks, a shooting death, and ugly street fights that erupted in response to a new round of intense Israeli-Palestinian strife that spread like wildfire from East Jerusalem to Gaza and now, Israel’s heartland.

In Israel’s 73-year history, images of this kind of hands-on combat – and at such a scale, no less – between Arab and Jewish citizens have never been seen. Nor has the response: Israel’s Border Police dispatched and patrolling mixed Arab-Jewish cities throughout Israel; a state of emergency declared in Lod, a mixed Arab-Jewish city east of here that has become the epicenter of the unrest.

Worse than the rockets

Both Jewish and Arab citizens appear shaken far more from this violence, what it might portend and the scars it might leave, than from the incoming barrage of Hamas rockets from Gaza that has sent millions in Israel – from its southern border all the way to its central metropolis of Tel Aviv – into bomb shelters and stairwells this past week. Scores have been killed, mostly in Gaza.

According to some reports, the Israeli army is preparing to try to end the fighting in Gaza citing, unusually, one startling threat: the possibility that the Jewish-Arab clashes could spread further than they have already, from Bedouin towns in the south, to central locations like Jaffa and Lod, and further north, including the Galilee.

Amir Tibon, a reporter for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, took to Twitter after a family member was injured so badly from stone throwing in Lod that he ended up in intensive care.

“No law, no police, no security,” he said. “This violence is a greater danger to the country than all of Hamas’ rocket arsenal – there is no Iron Dome against anarchy and civil war.”

Khalil Hamra/AP
Palestinians inspect their destroyed homes following overnight Israeli airstrikes in the town of Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip, May 14, 2021.

Among those calling for calm has been Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s president, an Arabic speaker who has been a leading voice for coexistence.

On Thursday, he wrote in Israel Hayom, Israel’s most widely read newspaper: “I call on all the rioters – stop and do not make things worse, we are one society, one country. You cannot say I am a citizen but against it, and you cannot say I am any more of a citizen.

“It’s time to calm the public. Religious leaders, local leaders, ministers, Knesset members – we all need to wake up to the same country, the same jobs. These things are getting worse, and God forbid, we could lose what we have created – the State of Israel.”

Existential threat?

Mohammad Darawshe, a veteran activist who has sought to foster Arab-Jewish relations, sees what’s happening in the streets of Israel as an existential threat. As of Thursday he had not left his home near Nazareth in 24 hours. Normally he would have visited his sister in a neighboring village for Ramadan, but it would mean traveling through a Jewish town to get there.

“I’m not willing to offer myself up as a victim by going through a Jewish town,” says Mr. Darawshe, director of Planning, Equality and Shared Society at Givat Haviva Educational Center and a recent candidate for parliament.

Among those leading the violence from the Jewish side have been a mix of extremist young men, some bused in from West Bank settlements, others connected to a racist group named Lehava and a network of racist soccer fans who call themselves La Familia. On the Arab side are mostly disaffected young men.

“It’s frustrating because you feel a lifetime project is under threat, the whole concept of ‘shared society’ based on the principle that Jews and Arabs can figure out a proper mechanism of living with each other,” Mr. Darawshe says. “All of that is … under attack.”

Activists coined the term “shared society” to replace “coexistence” after the last major internal Arab-Jewish crisis, which took years to climb down from, when Israeli police officers fired on Arab protesters, killing 13 in October 2000.

Those killed had been protesting in solidarity with their Palestinian counterparts in the West Bank and Gaza in the opening days of the Second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising. For some Israeli Jews, the rioting stoked fears that an internal rebellion against the state was brewing. 

The killings then were a wake-up call to Mr. Darawshe and others that more than “coexistence,” the goal should be fully integrated lives based on equality. And this week’s brutal violence is an alarm, he says, that much more is needed on behalf of shared society and against the idea, promoted by Mr. Netanyahu, that the economic integration of Israeli Arabs is enough.

“We need to change strategies to include large-scale social integration but also political integration and leadership,” he says.

Ironically, the internecine violence erupted soon after an Islamist Arab political party had been in the midst of unprecedented contacts with Jewish parties to form a new governing coalition. Those contacts were put on hold amid the Israeli crackdown on protests in Jerusalem.

Israeli Arabs, 21% of the population, occupy a delicate position as they are both Palestinian by nationality and Israeli by citizenship. They push back on those who question their loyalty to the state. A recent Israel Democracy Institute poll of Arab citizens found that the highest percentage ever – 77% – said they feel they are a part of the state and share with it a common destiny.

Despite gains, there is growing backlash to the fundamental inequality of access to resources and opportunity that Israeli Arabs have long known, especially among the younger generation who have been active in demonstrations in the past year, most recently over events in Jerusalem.

The trigger for Arab citizens who have joined in the clashes may have been Jerusalem, but the grievances go much deeper.

The fundamental issues of housing and fears of eviction faced by Palestinians in East Jerusalem resonate for residents of Israeli Arab towns and mixed Jewish Arab cities. In places like Jaffa, gentrification has caused tension as many of its mostly working-class Arab residents are being priced out by luxury hotel and condominium projects. Another fault line: Jewish nationalist groups setting up enclaves inside mixed cities.

Dina Kraft
An Arab boy puts up a sign given to his family by a Jewish neighbor in Jaffa, Israel, May 13, 2021. The sign says, in Arabic and Hebrew, "We live together."

Fight for reconciliation

The fight for housing rights has been central to Neta Weiner, a Jewish member of an Arab-Jewish rap group in Jaffa called System Ali. They rap in Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, Amharic, and even Yiddish – a tribute to the city’s diversity.

Amid the riots and rocket fire this week, band members have been among those rushing into their respective apartment building bomb shelters – among the only shelters in the country where both Arab and Jewish families shelter in the same space. On a WhatsApp thread they have started writing the lyrics for a rap about this period.

Members have diverse political backgrounds, voting across the map. “But,” says Mr. Weiner, “we are together in this, and we are frightened for each other’s families and for our lives. But also we are a source of comfort for each other.”

At the cafe where N. and his friends have gathered, Gily Agar, a Jewish psychologist who lives across the street, comes by to give them a sign she made that says, in stenciled Hebrew and Arabic letters, “We are Living Together.”

In the middle, a pair of hands hold a heart.

She then walks down the street delivering the same signs to other Arab businesses and families. Her personal gesture was echoed across the country Friday with Jewish-Arab solidarity rallies.

“I’m ashamed at how some Jewish people behave and the polarization and the violence,” she says. “It’s not how most people think. Some extremists make us feel unsafe and unwelcome, on both sides.”

Beijing embraces gig workers’ cause – but not their activists

China’s gaping inequality is a test for the Communist Party, supposedly the vanguard of the working class. But that pro-worker image is often at odds with the party’s treatment of labor activists. 

Peter
Ng Han Guan/AP
A Meituan deliveryman in yellow goes on his rounds in Shanghai on April 21, 2021. Meituan is China’s largest food delivery platform. During pandemic lockdowns, delivery workers were hailed as heroes, but many in the gig economy are vulnerable to poor working conditions.

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In a video that went viral in China last month, Wang Lin sits on a street curb in the darkness. “I feel wronged,” he sighs, after a grueling day delivering takeout food – and earning less than $7 total.

Mr. Wang is no ordinary delivery driver, though. He’s a senior official in Beijing’s municipal government, whose stunt was filmed to investigate this segment of China’s gig economy, which the pandemic made especially key.

Chinese officials are eager to emphasize concern for labor issues – part of the Communist Party’s wider image as a vanguard of the working class. Meanwhile, however, it has waged a crackdown on grassroots labor activists, experts say, with scores of organizers detained and dozens of groups closed since 2015. The dynamic offers insight into China’s top-down approach to economic grievances – one that combines responsiveness with repression and can lead to fitful, uneven progress, analysts say.

“The Communist Party can’t acknowledge that the reason it’s doing something is because there has been a demand from below. It always has to appear as if they are being benevolent,” says Eli Friedman of Cornell University. “They have to ensure that the state is the one getting credit for those improvements, not the workers themselves.”

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Beijing embraces gig workers’ cause – but not their activists

When Beijing labor official Wang Lin spent a day investigating life as a takeout food delivery worker last month, much more was riding on his stunt than on-time orders of dumplings and noodle soup.

Filmed panting as he raced up stairs and jogged down alleys, the balding bureaucrat was fined for a late delivery, got lost in the crowded streets of Beijing’s high-tech hub Zhongguancun, and earned just 41 yuan ($6.30) during his 12-hour shift.

But the overriding mission of Mr. Wang’s reality show-style adventure was less about exposing hardship in China’s gig economy – which now has some 7 million food delivery “riders” – than it was about dramatizing government concern over working conditions. This concern was underscored recently by Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who called for “protection of the legitimate interests of truck drivers, couriers, and food delivery riders.”

The propaganda push reflects an effort by the Communist Party, which calls itself the vanguard of the working class, to appear proactive on sensitive labor issues, even as it wages an ongoing crackdown on grassroots labor organizers and activists who have long raised similar concerns, China labor experts say.

The dynamic offers insight into China’s top-down approach to economic grievances – one that combines responsiveness with repression and can lead to fitful, uneven progress. “Right now, the attention is from the top down – maybe from the highest top, but ... it will just be short-term attention,” says Li Qiang, founder and executive director of China Labor Watch, a New York-based nonprofit that supports China’s labor movement.

Unequal progress

The pattern has grown increasingly stark as inequality has surged during China’s shift over the past 40 years from Maoist collectivism to state capitalism, with wealth concentrated on the east coast as the interior lags behind. Despite China’s significant progress in reducing extreme poverty, about 600 million of its 1.4 billion people still have an average monthly income of 1,000 yuan (about $150), Premier Li Keqiang said last year.

China’s have-nots include hundreds of millions of migrants from rural areas who often do not enjoy the same safeguards as urban workers. Many join the gig economy as self-employed workers and so lack labor contracts and related legal protections. Like the food delivery workers, they are vulnerable to decreasing or unpaid wages and harsh, algorithm-driven working conditions.

The narrated video of Mr. Wang’s grueling day – including a scene of him sitting on a street curb in the darkness, sighing, “I feel wronged” – was intended to convey the government’s benevolence toward the critical but exhausted food delivery workforce, hailed as heroes during pandemic lockdowns.

To a degree, it worked. The video went viral on China’s internet and won praise in the Communist Party-controlled media.

“Wang Lin’s guest appearance as a takeaway boy” follows the tradition of leading party cadres “going deep into the masses” to “accurately reflect the people’s demands ... and make the flesh-and-blood ties between the party and the people closer,” the official Xinhua news agency commented.

Grassroots pressure

Yet analysts say the party’s need to tightly control the narrative on labor issues has led to the repression of grassroots activists such as that of food delivery worker Chen Guojiang, also known as “Mengzhu.” Mr. Chen was detained together with four other delivery workers when Beijing police raided the apartment they shared three months ago.

“This was clearly a response to ... Mengzhu,” says Eli Friedman, associate professor at the Industrial and Labor Relations School at Cornell University and author of “Insurgency Trap: Labor Politics in Postsocialist China.”

“The Communist Party can’t acknowledge that the reason it’s doing something is because there has been a demand from below. It always has to appear as if they are being benevolent,” he says. “They have to ensure that the state is the one getting credit for those improvements, not the workers themselves.”

Thomas Peter/Reuters/File
Food delivery drivers pick up their parcels at a makeshift lunch hour distribution spot outside an office building in Beijing on Aug. 4, 2020.

Mr. Chen and other food delivery workers formed a mutual aid network to address day-to-day needs, including legal advice and housing. In 2019, he helped establish a Delivery Riders Alliance and took the pseudonym Mengzhu, short for “leader of the alliance.” He set up chat groups with some 15,000 drivers, posted videos, and encouraged his “takeaway brothers” to take collective action against injustices.

In February, just before his detention, Mr. Chen led an online campaign that claimed a bonus program by the Ele.me delivery platform – one of the two largest in China, along with Meituan – was a scam. He posted a video that gained millions of views and stirred public criticism of the company.

Despite the campaign’s small scale, it brought a surge of public support and succeeded in pressuring Ele.me to issue an apology and promise compensation. But it also challenged the government’s control and so spurred the arrests that followed, says Aidan Chau, a researcher at China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based nongovernmental organization. “This is something that I don’t think the government would be willing to see, a group which can motivate a lot of workers,” says Mr. Chau.

In April, Mr. Chen was accused of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a charge often used against activists.

“Their repressive capacity is so encompassing that ... they can just crack down on that bottom-up movement, and then adopt potentially little bits and pieces of it again as they see fit and on their own terms,” says Dr. Friedman.

Indeed, Mr. Wang’s day delivering for Meituan could be viewed as the party taking a page from Mr. Chen’s playbook. In the video, the party chief for the Beijing Human Resources Bureau tasks Mr. Wang, the bureau’s deputy director of labor relations, with the fieldwork – which in turn generates public pressure for Meituan to treat drivers better. The Hong Kong-listed tech giant is also under investigation in China for antitrust violations.

“I won’t deliver food forever”

China’s transition to capitalism saw a large increase in grassroots activism and strikes, leading to the passage of a labor contract law in 2008. But enforcement has been limited, and in the past 10 years the percentage of workers with a labor contract has decreased, Dr. Friedman says.

The tightening of party controls launched by Mr. Xi since he took power has also led to the detentions of scores of labor activists and closure of dozens of nongovernmental labor organizations since 2015. This leaves workers with few outlets to express grievances other than strikes. Beijing has urged gig workers to join unions, which in China must all fall under the official All-China Federation of Trade Unions, a wing of the party. But unions play a limited role as they tend to align with management.

Unofficial labor groups “will continue to exist, but they will be forced to remain more silent than before,” says Mr. Chau.

Beijing is unlikely to regulate significant protections for gig economy workers, fearing that could worsen unemployment, Dr. Friedman says. Despite the long hours and low pay, some food delivery drivers say they like the freedom of informal work.

Mr. Yu, a young migrant from central Shaanxi province, came to Beijing six months ago and now earns about 4,000 yuan ($620) a month delivering food six hours a day for Meituan.

“I don’t have any problems” with the work conditions, says Mr. Yu, who only gave his last name for privacy. Still, he says, “I definitely want to do a different job in the future – I won’t deliver food forever.”

Another Beijing rider, who delivers for FlashEx, and gave his name only as Mr. Wang, says he earns 12,000 yuan ($1,860) a month and saves half of it. After several more years, he plans to hang up his motorbike keys.

“Although I’ve got freedom with the Flash job, the work is intense, running the roads every day, and it’s risky,” he says via text. He also has to silently stomach rude customers to prevent any friction. “I’m afraid of complaints,” he says, “so I endure it – if I can.”

In US, pandemic’s end is in sight. Are Americans ready?

Why does Brookline, Massachusetts, still require masks outdoors, despite CDC guidance? Different people are comfortable with different levels of risk and change, scientists say, urging empathy as U.S. towns unmask at their own pace.

Peter

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There’s no playbook for ending a pandemic. The coming months will likely involve a national effort to write one in real time, with approaches that are likely to differ across state, city, or even local lines. 

“We haven’t done this for 100 years,” says Georges Benjamin, director of the American Public Health Association. “We’re evolving back to a degree of openness. But we don’t know exactly what that will look like.”

The differences in approach are no longer as stark across red-blue lines either. Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi – which lag in vaccination rates – are reopening their states, but soon New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut will too. And on Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its guidance to allow vaccinated Americans to be unmasked indoors in most situations.

Even if people have spent the last year fantasizing about a return to “normal,” disrupting routines now considered commonplace will involve taking away a sense of security for many. Uncertainty is uncomfortable.

“Endings tend to be messy, and they’re not clear cut or neat,” says Steven Taylor, who studies the psychology of pandemics.

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In US, pandemic’s end is in sight. Are Americans ready?

Steven Senne/AP
Patrons seated at outdoor tables at a restaurant converse and dine without masks on May 2, 2021, in Boston. Massachusetts announced on April 30, 2021, that masks were required outside in public only in certain situations. However, some local ordinances are more strict.

Brooke McDonald’s walk to work begins at her dorm on Boston College’s campus. The school maintains specific safety rules for its students, including an outdoor mask mandate. So as she exits, her mask stays on. 

But as she rounds Chestnut Hill Reservoir and enters Brighton, those rules expire. Per updated state orders, face coverings are no longer required outdoors in Massachusetts. If she wanted to, Ms. McDonald could doff her mask the rest of the way to Cityside Tavern, where she works as a server. 

Walk two more blocks east, though, and the rules change again. Despite CDC guidance, the neighboring town of Brookline chose to maintain its universal mandate. Socially distanced or not, Ms. McDonald would need to mask up once more.

The rules, she says, “kind of [depend] on where you are.”

Ms. McDonald doesn’t mind the area’s mosaic of safety protocols, but she struggles to keep up. With so many rules for so many areas, she tends to just match the behavior of those around her. When in Brookline, do as the Brooklinians do.  

Emblematic in her mile-long trip to work are the idiosyncrasies of America’s current phase in the pandemic. Key metrics suggest the country is in the early stages of bidding the health crisis goodbye. Yet with herd immunity out of reach – even in New England, home to the highest vaccination rates in the country – uncertainties remain.

More broadly, there’s no playbook for ending a pandemic. The coming months will likely involve a national effort to write one in real time, with approaches that are likely to differ across state, city, or even local lines. 

“We haven’t done this for 100 years,” says Georges Benjamin, director of the American Public Health Association. 

“We’re evolving back to a degree of openness,” he says. “But we don’t know exactly what that will look like.”

Kathy Willens/AP
Fans stand and applaud Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Matt Harvey as he leaves the mound during the fifth inning of a baseball game against his former team, the New York Mets, on May 12, 2021, in New York.

The differences in approach are no longer as stark across red-blue lines either. Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi – which lag in vaccination rates – are reopening their states, but soon New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut will too. And on Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its guidance to allow vaccinated Americans to be unmasked indoors in most situations.

But Dr. Benjamin doesn’t expect the process of moving on to be uniform. There are about 3,000 health departments in the United States, ranging in size from federal to municipal. Laws vary by state, but the system is decentralized, meaning decisions are more often made at the bottom than the top. To wit, CDC releases on COVID-19 come in the form of guidance, not regulations. Unless the issue crosses state lines, states and counties are free to follow that guidance or not. 

“Public health is governed at the local level,” says Dr. Benjamin.

For example, after the CDC’s Thursday announcement both Massachusetts and Boston said they would keep local mask restrictions in place, for now.

While that system itself is not flawed, he says, it does involve higher variance. Members of the public who don’t routinely check state and local regulations are bound to get confused, especially with troves of misinformation and scenes of major outbreaks abroad circulating at a fingertip. At once, risks might appear higher or lower than they actually are. 

“For the average person, it must be baffling to be constantly hit by shifting standards,” says Steven Taylor, who studies the psychology of pandemics at the University of British Columbia. 

Such confusion comes even as the country has made real progress this spring. Since a peak in January, daily cases and deaths have plummeted, returning to rates not seen since last September. The CDC and other forecasters predict even steeper declines in cases and deaths by midsummer. 

Yet there’s a continued sense among many that the country isn’t out of the woods, evident in policy and public behavior. 

“Most people haven’t changed their precautions all that much since early January,” says Zoë McLaren, an associate professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who focuses on infectious disease.

From a pure risk-reward point of view, that consistency may not make sense, but Dr. McLaren says the hesitancy is inevitable. Each time regulations and guidance change, the public takes time to ponder them and decide whether, and how much, to alter their precautions. 

“The risk level has come down a ton over the past couple of months, and we know that that means the optimal behavior should also shift quite a lot during that period,” says Dr. McLaren. “Yet we see that the behavior hasn’t shifted.”

Wilfredo Lee/AP
People play dominoes at Maximo Gomez Park, also known as Domino Park, on May 3, 2021, after the park in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami reopened following its closure last year due to the pandemic.

Risk tolerance differs by area

Overall, the same is true in terms of policy. Some states have blitzed toward reopening, but most are iteratively relaxing precautions as cases and deaths fall. 

“What you’re seeing in terms of [each state’s] governor who’s making decisions is it’s less about political ideology,” says Dr. McLaren. “It’s less about even the specific current vaccination rates, and more about tolerance for risk.” 

Dr. Swannie Jett, director of health and human services for Brookline, which kept its outdoor mask mandate indefinitely, says his town has consistently been one of the most cautious in the country throughout the pandemic, including being one of the first areas with a mask mandate. Given Brookline’s tight shopping districts and otherwise crowded restaurants, he says, more conservative rules are appropriate – regardless of national recommendations. 

“Throughout the pandemic, CDC has often made changes,” says Dr. Jett. “So I’d rather use a precautionary principle and be safe rather than sorry.”  

On the opposite end, policymakers have sometimes relaxed rules before their area feels ready. In late April, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser widely loosened mask requirements for vaccinated adults, only to reverse the change after public outcry

Policymakers are left searching for a Goldilocks zone that allows fewer restrictions, while still making sure cases continue to fall and the public feels safe. Different areas have different solutions, and that process requires confronting the same uncertainty present at the pandemic’s beginning, says Dr. Taylor, of the University of British Columbia. Even if people have spent the last year fantasizing about a return to “normal,” disrupting routines now considered commonplace will involve taking away a sense of security for many. Uncertainty is uncomfortable. 

“In early 2020 it was the norm not to wear a mask,” says Dr. Taylor. “Now it’s normal to wear masks. So what is normal?”

“Endings tend to be messy”

With that hesitancy in mind, public health officials should approach this phase with empathy, says Dr. McLaren. Some members of the public may be slow to adjust. Even if there are costs to being overly cautious, she says, that’s OK. Transition phases take a while. 

“Endings tend to be messy, and they’re not clear cut or neat,” says Dr. Taylor. “They tend to drag out, and then there’s that ambiguity again.”

Facing such ambiguity in Brighton, Ms. McDonald is ready for the pandemic to end. But she’s in no rush. Despite the often contradictory rules around her, she prefers a more careful approach and has felt safe throughout the semester.

Still as restrictions loosen, she says she’ll be ready. She works at a summer camp and hopes to have some mask-free moments. She misses social gatherings and wants a regular year of college. 

But until then, she’ll keep watching other people’s behavior on her walks to work. Recently those have involved fewer masked faces. Ms. McDonald doesn’t mind.

“I think the end is in sight, which is exciting,” she says.

A deeper look

Renewable energy in a rare ape’s habitat raises ethical dilemma

The targets set by developing countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions require hard choices in how to generate electricity, including the building of hydropower dams in fragile ecosystems. 

Peter
Fieni Aprilia/IWMF/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Women from Sitandiang village walk home after shopping for groceries in Bulu Mario village, North Sumatra, Indonesia, April 1, 2021. Sitandiang is three miles by road from the site of a hydropower dam that is due to begin operating in 2025.

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Emmy Hafild co-founded Indonesia’s most prominent environmental NGO in the 1990s. Today she’s an adviser to a private company building a hydropower dam along the Batang Toru river ecosystem on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, which relies on coal to produce most of its electricity.

Ms. Hafild accepts that there is a trade-off between producing hydropower and the disruption of the surrounding ecosystem, but argues that this project is necessary to help Indonesia hit its target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “Climate change is real,” she says. “At this time, we cannot ... [see things in] black and white.”

Her support for the project has made her unpopular among Indonesian environmentalists. An international campaign to stop the dam, which is being built by Chinese engineers, has focused on the plight of a rare and endangered orangutan species that lives in the region. The project has been delayed but is due for completion by 2025.  

Indonesia is not the only country wrestling with this dilemma. In most developing countries, electricity holds the key to economic growth and industrialization. To produce clean energy may require making hard choices about hydropower projects that impact the environment. 

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Renewable energy in a rare ape’s habitat raises ethical dilemma

The loud call of gibbons reverberates in Sitandiang, a small village surrounded by misty forested hills on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Like other villages in South Tapanuli district, Sitandiang has porous borders between human and wildlife habitation. This mixed landscape attracts wildlife to forage and build nests, and when fruit season comes, the gibbons aren’t the only tree-swingers: The Tapanuli orangutan, the rarest ape on the planet, also shows up. 

On a recent morning, Sampetua Hutasuhut, the village chief, was stripping the fruits of sugar palm with his knife. His cellphone beeped. It was his wife telling him that a tree had fallen on a power cable. No wonder the power to the village had been out for more than 12 hours, he thought, before calling the power company to ask for help. “Usually, it takes a long time for them to get here,” he says.

Mr. Sampetua isn’t alone. In many villages in rural Indonesia, power outages are a persistent problem. Demand for electricity, and pressure to produce and distribute more of it, poses a challenge across this island archipelago of 276 million people.

Less than a mile from the village chief’s wooden house is a potential solution: A stream that burbles up through giant black rocks and a dead tree trunk. The stream is part of the Batang Toru river system, a waterway that Indonesia’s national utility, PLN, plans to dam and convert into hydroelectric power. Construction began four years ago – and has generated a storm of controversy.

Fieni Aprilia/IWMF/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Sampetua Hutasuhut, the chief of Sitandiang, a village in North Sumatra, Indonesia, chops sugar palm fruit at his house on April 1, 2021. His village is near the site of a $1.5 billion hydroelectric dam that Indonesia says is necessary to reduce emissions from power generation.

Scientists and environmental activists from around the world are campaigning against the project because of the threat it poses to the habitat of the Tapanuli orangutan. They also warn the location is perilously prone to earthquakes and landslides; at least 10 residents and workers died in late April after heavy rains near the dam site triggered landslides.

Not long ago, Emmy Hafild might have been on their side. She cut her teeth as an environmentalist in the 1990s when Indonesia was a U.S.-backed dictatorship and activism was a risky career choice. In 1999, she was on the cover of Time magazine as one of five “Heroes of the Planet.”

Today Ms. Hafild is on the other side of the barricades, working as a senior paid adviser to the dam’s developer, North Sumatera Hydro Energy. She argues that it should be built because it will produce green energy for North Sumatra, which relies on coal for most of its electricity, while having what she says is only a limited impact on Batang Toru’s ecosystem and its wildlife.  

Indonesia is far from the only country wrestling with this dilemma. In most developing countries, electricity holds the key to economic growth and industrialization, at the same time that governments are also trying to live up to their international commitments to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases. Hydropower dams hold out the prospect of fossil fuel-free electricity – but often at a cost to fragile ecosystems.

Ms. Hafild already sees the mounting cost of climate change. Take a recent storm that left a deadly trail in Flores in eastern Indonesia. Her heart broke. It is a place where she spent half of her life. “I knew at least 100 people in Adonara,” she texted The Christian Science Monitor, referring to the town hardest hit.

Courtesy of Emmy Hafild
Emmy Hafild, a senior adviser to North Sumatera Hydro Energy, stands in front of a weir formed by the Batang Toru river in North Sumatra, Indonesia, on Oct. 20, 2018. The company is building a $1.5 billion hydroelectric dam on the site, which is part of the habitat of a rare orangutan species.

She sees this as another sign of climate crisis. “Climate change is real. We never had that kind of typhoon before in Indonesia,” she says. “At this time, we cannot ... [see things in] black and white.”

A dubious record for emissions

Indonesia is a major emitter of greenhouse gases. In 2015, it released 2.6 billion tons of carbon and other gases, a record amount due to mega peatland fires that made it the world’s fourth largest emitter that year. 

But while peatland burning is a major factor, so too is Indonesia’s reliance on coal to produce electricity. According to the Australian-based Global Carbon Project, its emissions from fossil fuels, such as coal and gasoline, are increasing sharply. In 2019, fossil fuels emitted 600 million tons of carbon in Indonesia. (The United States emitted the equivalent of 6.5 billion tons, mostly from transportation, electricity, and industry.)

Under the Paris climate accord, Indonesia must reduce its emissions by at least 29% by 2030. To reach this target, analysts say Indonesia needs to invest more in renewable energy – wind, solar, hydropower, and geothermal – so it is less reliant on fossil fuels. Last year, renewables made up 15% of overall supply, up from 12% in 2018.

But “our progress to ... [hit] the target on renewable energy has been very slow,” says Ms. Hafild, who blames lobbying by coal producers. “If I were an active environmental activist, that’s where I’m going to attack,” she says, referring to an industry that has long been politically influential in Indonesia, which is the world’s second largest coal exporter.

Fieni Aprilia/IWMF/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
A housing area in Sitandiang village, North Sumatra, Indonesia, on April 1, 2021. The village is near a dam that, once completed, will supply a 512-megawatt power plant that has drawn international criticism over its potential impact on the area's fragile ecosystem.

One of the most vocal opponents of the Batang Toru dam is Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia (WALHI), a national nongovernmental organization that Ms. Hafild cofounded in the 1990s. Doni Latuparisa, WALHI’s director for North Sumatra, says his organization does support renewable energy – but not at any price. “We want the developer to pay attention to environmental aspects,” he says.

Based on WALHI’s consultations with geologists and conservationists, Mr. Latuparisa says the project sits in the wrong place. The area between the dam site and the power plant – an eight-mile drive by road – is vulnerable to seismic activity and extreme weather events. Indeed, the April 30 landslide was the second in six months. Like other environmentalists, Mr. Latuparisa also worries about the negative impact on the river ecosystem and how to protect the critical habitat of the Tapanuli orangutan.

In what was an exciting breakthrough for primatologists – and an unexpected complication for the dam’s backers – the Tapanuli orangutan was first identified in 2017 as a separate species of a long-haired primate that is native to Sumatra. Orangutan means “person of the forest” in Malay and Indonesian; the Tapanuli is the third species identified. But it is already in a precarious situation. With only around 800 individuals living in a shrinking habitat, the species is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as critically endangered.

SOURCE: Indonesia Ministries of Forestry and Agriculture, Foresthints.news
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Scientists at the IUCN say that the dam site is a crossroads for three orangutan subpopulations, namely the west, east, and south blocks, so construction would isolate these groups from each other. (The east and west blocks are already divided by an intra-island highway; the Monitor’s reporting found that the dam site lies between the west and south blocks. Orangutans also need to cross villages to reach the south block.)

Serge Wich, a United Kingdom-based primate biologist and specialist at the IUCN, says that by reducing the chance that orangutans will mate with those from different groups, the dam project would likely lead to their extinction. “Where restoration is needed now, more destruction is happening,” he says.

“Two explosions yesterday”

Two miles from the dam site, Wan Pardede sits beside the intra-island highway that passes through his village where he has spent his whole life. From here, he used to see scattered houses that gradually merged with misty forests. Some of these forest areas are now flattened because of construction of the dam project. 

“We heard two explosions yesterday,” he says. The developers usually announce to the villagers when they plan to carry out explosions, so they can prepare for the deafening sound, he says.

Syifa Yulinnas/Antara Foto/AP
A wild orangutan of Sumatra hangs on a tree at the Soraya Research Station in the Leuser Ecosystem Area in Subulussalam, Aceh province, Indonesia, March 14, 2021. A rare species of orangutan was identified in 2017 in North Sumatra near the site of a controversial hydropower dam.

Erwinsyah Siregar, a local environmental activist who guided the Monitor around the site, worries about the impact of dam construction on wildlife. “The river used to be a place where many orangutans were found,” he says. If dynamite deafened humans, how would wildlife react, he asks.

Development of the dam began in late 2017, just as scientists unveiled the identification of the Tapanuli orangutan species. The project was initially due to end by 2022. But the pandemic, which kept Chinese construction crews away for months, has led to delays. 

Even before the pandemic, the international opprobrium had also affected its timeline: In 2020, the Bank of China pulled its support for the $1.5 billion project, a decision which PLN officials blamed on the protests by environmentalists. The project is being built by Sinohydro, a Chinese government-owned construction company. The current target for completion in 2025. 

Fieni Aprilia/IWMF/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Wan Pardede, a resident of Pengkolan village, North Sumatra, Indonesia, sits besides a trans-island highway in April 2021. He has watched as the construction of a $1.5 billion hydroelectric dam has altered the landscape, including the habitat of a rare orangutan species.

Amid this backlash, North Sumatera Hydro Energy (NSHE), the privately owned Indonesian developer, reckons it has a workaround solution that, in theory, means that its project would be far less destructive than the giant dams of yesteryear. It works like this: An underground tunnel will bring the Batang Toru river water from the dam site to power generator. This way, there’s no need to build a large dam that would inundate large areas of forest.  

Ms. Hafild says this system, known as “run of river,” is a good dam design for the environment. “I’ve been involved in a [past] campaign against large dams. But, for run of river, we have to compromise somehow,” she says. The project will only permanently alter 80 hectares (198 acres). This is very small, she says, “but the impact is very good for the planet.”

Sustainable development is a triangle with three sides: social, environmental, and economic. Each side doesn’t need to have equal value, she says. “I tell my friends that it cannot be black and white. It has to be some compromise in areas where we think it can help us to prevent climate change, because it is a calamity for the world. It’s a humanity crisis,” she says.

Ms. Hafild describes herself as an environmental activist at heart who only works on projects that are in line with her idealism. Some of her former colleagues accuse her of selling herself to the dam developer. She doesn’t care what they think of her and insists that her focus on climate change, and the need to find compromises, isn’t new. “This is my belief from the very beginning. It’s not because I am paid now,” she says.

A rope bridge for wildlife

As the dam project proceeds, the question of how it can coexist with the protection of forestry and animals hangs in the air. 

Fieni Aprilia/IWMF/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
A rope bridge allows orangutans and other wild animals to access other sections of tropical forest in Sipirok, North Sumatra, Indonesia, in April 2021. The area is the habitat of a rare orangutan species that was first identified in 2017. The bridge was built by the developers of a hydroelectric dam that is due for completion by 2025.

On a recent afternoon, Dini Ayu Lestari, an enthusiastic young conservationist working for NSHE, traveled along a dusty road through the project area. On the roadside, a leaf monkey was sitting on a tree branch. When Ms. Lestari stopped and got out of her pickup truck, the monkey immediately shied away. Up above, more than halfway to the towering canopy, a small rope bridge spanned the road.

Ms. Lestari says some small mammals have been captured on film crossing the bridge. Like Ms. Hafild, who advises her, she’s optimistic that biodiversity conservation and the dam development can coexist.

Every day, she patrols around the dam site to see if there are orangutans or other wildlife roaming the area. Indeed, from the dam site to the power generator, plantation forests and old-growth forest can still be seen.

“Before land clearing, we go into the forest and record what’s inside,” she explains. If it’s safe, the construction can continue. If not, she works with local conservation officials to mitigate the impact on wildlife. Mr. Erwinsyah says this usually means alerting animals with a small detonation before the forest is cleared.

Areas designated for temporary infrastructure are repopulated with different species of fruit trees, such as matoa and durian, that orangutans feed on. “We are making sure there are places where the orangutan can hide when the construction begins, [that] they have enough food, they can have place to rest and they can mate,” says Ms. Hafild.

As for the orangutan connectivity issue, Ms. Hafild says PLN has mapped the critical habitat and is working with the government and NGOs to develop corridors.

She admits that the biodiversity team faces a constant battle with the Chinese dam constructors, who ignored some of its recommendations in the past. But she believes the team’s efforts will protect the wildlife around the dam site and could even make it a better place, while producing renewable energy that can help Indonesia break its coal habit.

“The world will know, in 2025, when the construction will be over, that area will be one of the best areas for orangutan protection,” she says. 

This reporting was supported by the Round Earth Media program of the International Women’s Media Foundation.

SOURCE: Indonesia Ministries of Forestry and Agriculture, Foresthints.news
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Women’s pro soccer goes big-time in England. Why now?

Women’s professional sports have historically struggled to attain the popularity and financial success of men’s leagues. In England, society may be set to embrace women’s pro soccer.

Peter
John Sibley/Action Images/Reuters
West Ham United's Mackenzie Arnold saves a penalty shot from Manchester City's Rose Lavelle during a Women's Super League match at Chigwell Construction Stadium in London on May 9, 2021.

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Thanks to a societal shift in how the British view women’s sport, along with increasing investment of money and talent, women’s soccer in England is set to enter into the public consciousness more fully.

A number of factors have helped push women’s soccer closer to the national forefront. The astronomic growth of men’s soccer has created a disconnect between players and fans, leading many fans to find solace in a women’s game still rooted in local communities.

England’s female domestic talent has flourished in recent years, with the women’s national team becoming a top-flight international competitor. An influx of top U.S. players to the Women’s Super League, England’s elite tier, has also helped skyrocket interest in the past year.

Additionally, a landmark television deal will soon see women’s soccer aired on the BBC and Rupert Murdoch’s Sky cable platforms. A recent research survey found that 34% of British adults say they are now fans of the women’s game.

“There are some brilliant stories that we don’t know about because we don’t treat our female athletes the same way as we do with male athletes,” says business consultant and soccer fan Chris Paouros. “This is the chance to change that.”

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Women’s pro soccer goes big-time in England. Why now?

It was some three years ago when Rodney Cyrus decided to stop watching men’s soccer in favor of the women’s version in England instead.

He had grown cold to the “cynical approach” of the men’s game, awash with billions and churned into a product, he says. So when Manchester United, one of the biggest clubs in the world with rich American owners, finally introduced a women’s team – 140 years after the inception of its men’s team – he switched over.

“I’m aware that they play second fiddle to the men’s game, perhaps much lower down the rung in terms of acceptance, history, and financial independence,” he says. But “there’s an honesty to the women’s game I like.”

Mr. Cyrus is part of a growing trend that may now be reaching a tipping point. Thanks to a societal shift in how the British view women’s sport, along with increasing investment of money and talent over the past decade, women’s soccer is set to expand beyond its previously niche following and enter into the public consciousness more fully. 

More talent, more attention

A number of factors have helped push women’s soccer closer to the national forefront. The astronomic growth of men’s soccer has created a disconnect between players and fans, leading to many fans of the men’s game finding solace in a women’s game still very much rooted in its local communities.

Chris Paouros, a Tottenham Hotspur season ticket holder and a steering committee member and chair of the board at the Women’s Equality Party, underscores the “positive experiences” attracting disillusioned fans of men’s soccer alongside a “different audience with younger women and families.”

“Fans of the men’s game say they’re worried about the atmosphere and the aggression and how expensive it is. All of that doesn’t happen in women’s football,” she says. “One of the things I love about women’s football is that we’re all there to support our team rather than [insult] the opposition.”

England’s female domestic talent has also flourished in recent years, with the women’s national team becoming a top-flight international competitor. In the 2019 Women’s World Cup, the English national team finished fourth. And just before the tournament, Barclays Bank announced the largest commercial investment ever in women’s sport in the United Kingdom with its multimillion-pound, three-year deal sponsorship of the Women’s Super League (WSL), England’s elite tier.

Paul Childs/Action Images/Reuters
Manchester United's Jane Ross celebrates their first goal scored against Bristol City at a Women's Super League match on May 2, 2021.

An influx of top U.S. players has also helped skyrocket interest in the past year, with stars including Alex Morgan, Sam Mewis, and Rose Lavelle swapping the National Women’s Soccer League in the U.S. for the WSL. No one could have guessed that upon their arrival at Manchester United in the fall, Christen Press and Tobin Heath jerseys for three days outsold each of those of the men’s squad, another sign that English fans were captured by the bright stars of the women’s game just as much, if not more, than the men’s game.

The increased talent and fan attention has drawn interest from broadcasters as well. A landmark television deal will soon see women’s soccer aired on the BBC and Rupert Murdoch’s Sky cable platforms, paving the way for women’s soccer in England to broaden its reach. A recent research survey found that 34% of British adults say they are now fans of the women’s game, according to Barclays.

“You can’t underestimate how important it is,” says Ms. Paouros, who works as a business consultant. She predicts free-to-air soccer on the BBC will smash viewing records set by men’s games broadcast on Sky and Amazon. “There are some brilliant stories that we don’t know about because we don’t treat our female athletes the same way as we do with male athletes. This is the chance to change that.”

And more eyeballs will mean an increased chance of corporate sponsors wanting a slice of the action, she says, estimating that the results of “two broadcasting rights cycles ... will allow teams to be self-sustaining.”

Disparities remain

Glaring disparities remain off the pitch, however. The financial viability of teams remains tethered to their male counterparts, which can vary wildly; clubs like Manchester City, whose owners are backed by the wealth of the royal family of the United Arab Emirates, tower over others.

And big men’s clubs sometimes give their women’s team short shrift. When Liverpool built a new training ground for the men in 2020, replete with beach volleyball courts, the women’s side was excluded.

Waterlogged pitches remain all too prevalent in the WSL, resulting in multiple canceled women’s games in the winter, while players in the second division continue to hold down non-footballing full-time jobs while traveling long distances for games. “Those players are seen as professional, but not treated as professional,” says Man U fan Mr. Cyrus.

And women’s soccer, Mr. Cyrus says, continues to be an afterthought for soccer’s power brokers. When six of England’s biggest teams announced the ill-fated European Soccer League, only one sentence was devoted to the inclusion of a breakaway women’s version without further detail.

For all its challenges, women’s soccer attracts both disgruntled men’s fans and a new market of young women and families for its unique, family-friendly climate. Players remain connected to fans in a way that honors the game’s not-so-distant amateur past.

Though that may be changing with the influx of money. Fara Williams, a former England international who made her debut in 1999, retired in April, tethering the last remaining link between the amateur game and its evolved professional version. It’s been a decade since most players worked part-time jobs while playing for their respective clubs in semiprofessional leagues.

Now, there’s opportunity for female players to act out in ways the male players have gotten into trouble for. For example, as England entered its winter lockdown, some elite players were found to have traveled to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, seemingly for leisure, in violation of pandemic restrictions, upsetting fans and pundits alike. The controversy was “an opening of a window” into the world of newfound money in women’s soccer, says Mr. Cyrus.

Still, a down-to-earth atmosphere distinguishes women’s soccer as a potential competitor to the men’s game, and has enabled tightknit online communities on social media, says student Kristian Moe, a keen follower of the WSL in Bergen, Norway. Through Twitter, he’s found solace in a community of women’s soccer fans looking to get along with each other and share ideas online.

“I feel it’s a closer community than the men’s game. It’s not as big, so it’s more intimate, so it’s easy to discuss with people. There isn’t the same toxic environment.”

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A lesson in rights from Afghan schoolgirls

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Where do rights – such as the right of a girl to an education – actually exist? In the days after a May 8 bombing in Afghanistan that killed dozens of schoolgirls, reporters have found an answer to that question in interviews with survivors and others.

“I’ll go again and again. Even if there is another attack, I’ll go again,” one 18-year-old survivor told Reuters. In all their interviews with pupils, families, and teachers, Reuters reporters found “a commitment to education in a country where girls were blocked from school under Taliban rule from 1996 until their ouster in 2001.”

The Guardian newspaper quotes a 16-year-old girl with a message to the bombers, who are presumed to be Taliban or another Islamic militant group: “This attack was against Afghanistan’s new generation. They want to push our generation into the dark, but we will push for a bright future. I will never stop studying.”

Since the U.S. ousted the Taliban two decades ago, many Afghans are proud of improvements in women’s rights and the rights of religious minorities. Civic rights now have become non-regressive, or difficult to reverse, as they are both lived and seen as inherent to each individual.

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A lesson in rights from Afghan schoolgirls

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Schoolgirls hold flowers as they arrive to visit students who were injured in a May 8 car bomb blast outside a school in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Where do rights – such as the right of a girl to an education – actually exist? In the days after a May 8 bombing in Afghanistan that killed dozens of schoolgirls, reporters have found an answer to that question in interviews with survivors and others.

“I’ll go again and again. Even if there is another attack, I’ll go again,” said one 18-year-old survivor. “I won’t become hopeless, because we can’t be afraid of gaining knowledge, of studying.” In all their interviews with pupils, families, and teachers, Reuters reporters found “a commitment to education in a country where girls were blocked from school under Taliban rule from 1996 until their ouster in 2001.”

One father near the bombed school in Kabul said he wants all seven of his daughters to be educated, despite the tragedy. The Guardian newspaper quotes a 16-year-old girl with a message to the bombers, who are presumed to be Taliban or another Islamic militant group: “This attack was against Afghanistan’s new generation. They want to push our generation into the dark, but we will push for a bright future. I will never stop studying.”

Other Afghans took to social media to insist on preserving women’s rights as the United States prepares to withdraw its troops in September. “The one thing that is impossible to change is our faith to end this darkness and barbarism!” wrote a person named Sakhi Ataye on Twitter.

Five days after the bombing, President Ashraf Ghani addressed the nation to say that reconstruction of the school had already begun. The “main decision on peace and future of Afghanistan will be made by the collective mind of Afghanistan which has always proved its wisdom throughout the history,” he said.

Since the U.S. ousted the Taliban two decades ago, many Afghans now accept civic rights as part of their “collective mind.” They are proud of improvements in women’s rights and the rights of religious minorities. Nearly a third of the national legislature is made up of women. Close to 90% of Afghans approve of women voting. Such rights exist on paper in the Constitution. Yet as the reaction to the May 8 bombing shows, Afghans themselves are unwilling to accept that rights can be easily lost.

When asked what happens to Afghan women and girls once the U.S. withdraws, a top Pentagon official, David Helvey, told Congress last month: “This is a question that the Afghan people themselves need to be able to answer and solve.” He added that “the courage and enduring importance of Afghan women and their contributions to progress in society are remarkable and apparent. “

If the Taliban do take power in Kabul, as some experts predict could happen in 2-3 years, Afghans will have one way to expose any restrictions on their rights. The country now has an estimated 27 million smartphones. That “could make extreme Taliban behavior more visible than in the 1990s,” states a U.S. intelligence report. The U.S. vows to withhold aid to Afghanistan if the Taliban end up eroding democratic rights.

For most Afghans, civic rights now have what legal scholars call “positive vitality.” Rights and liberties have become “non-regressive,” or difficult to reverse as they are both lived and seen as inherent to each individual. If the people around world ever needed a reminder of where rights exist, they heard in the voices of Afghan girls in Kabul, who expect to return to their reconstructed school.

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.

When God healed my family

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Prayer based on an understanding of God and God’s perfect creation does more than comfort – it heals.

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When God healed my family

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

One day, as a work-at-home mom, a sudden and acute back pain made it very difficult for me to sit at my desk to work, or to care properly for my daughter. Then, when I wasn’t watching, my daughter leaped off the sofa, evidently dislocating her leg.

I began to pray immediately. While prayer may seem like an unconventional initial response to a physical emergency, I had learned through my study and experience of Christian Science that prayer can be the first and best aid in an emergency. Prayer that turns to the always-present healing Christ – revealing the truth of God as universal Love, caring for all creation – calms fear so that one can find the spiritual inspiration needed for any situation.

This kind of prayer does more than just comfort. I had observed the healing effects of this sort of prayer many times and was already praying for my own healing. I felt confident that the Christ could bring about a quick healing for my daughter, as well.

As I acknowledged divine Love’s caring and guiding presence in our home, my fear lessened, and I saw the wisdom of stabilizing my daughter’s movements with pillows. When she was comfortable, I asked her to stay still and watch her favorite cartoon, which she was happy to do, while I continued to pray for her healing.

That’s when my cat, Pookers, walked in, or rather heaved herself into the room, dragging one useless leg behind her. She, too, seemed to have a dislocation. So I turned to God in prayer asking what I needed to know to also help Pookers.

The Bible’s opening chapter teaches the reality of God’s creation as permanently good and healthy. In light of this, mortal limitations, pains, accidents, and fears can’t have any real basis in what God has made. Rather, mortal conditions are distortions that keep us from seeing the reality. Christ Jesus’ method of healing evidenced this. He exercised a spiritual sense that discerned both God and God’s creation as spiritual and perfect. This included seeing this perfect creation right where an otherwise discordant physical picture presented itself, including sickness or sin. This spiritual perception of his consistently produced healing.

In Christian Science, Jesus is understood to be the Way-shower. As such, I realized that an essential purpose of his life was to show us how to exercise the same spiritual sense and find healing. Through prayer we begin to see ourselves and everything that God made as it really is – spiritual, perfect, safe, sound, and vibrantly good – untouched by mortal misconceptions of what one’s experience may include.

As I prayed, I saw that no one needed to feel stuck in a false sense of what’s real and true – not my daughter, not me, and not Pookers. Whatever the cause of these injuries appeared to be was irrelevant, because God is the only actual cause, creator, or Mind, of us all.

This truth has a direct impact on our experience. “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, explains, “Accidents are unknown to God, or immortal Mind, and we must leave the mortal basis of belief and unite with the one Mind, in order to change the notion of chance to the proper sense of God’s unerring direction and thus bring out harmony” (p. 424).

I voiced aloud what I was seeing as spiritual truth, which applies to all of God’s creation: “You are as perfect as the Mind that made you. You are safe in the perfect Love that always cares for you.” And with that, Pookers stood, stretched, and walked off normally and well. Immediately afterward my daughter got up and was hopping around. With a click and snap, her leg had relocated itself properly in the socket. And I realized, with joy, that my back pain was also completely gone.

What I understood more deeply the day God healed us is that the perfect Mind that creates us is also the powerful Love that helps and heals. The revelation of the healing Christ in prayer is powerful enough to break any fear or experience of discord and pain.

Turning to God as the divine Mind and ever-present Love caring for us, we discover what God creates us, our children, and even our loved pets as – eternally God’s, and perfectly whole.

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Change of command

Steve Helber/AP
Corps of Cadet commander Kasey Meredith (left) reviews the corps during a change of command parade and ceremony on the parade grounds at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia, on May 14, 2021. Ms. Meredith, of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, is the first woman to lead the school's Corps of Cadets in its 182-year history.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

Come back Monday, when we’ll have a story about whether Hamas is gaining politically from violence between Israelis and Palestinians. And if you haven’t signed up yet, please join us for an online event next Tuesday, May 18: “A master class in building respect across deep divides.”

This Respect Project event features two Monitor writers and is hosted by Amelia Newcomb, our managing editor

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