2021
September
13
Monday

Monitor Daily Podcast

September 13, 2021
Loading the player...

TODAY’S INTRO

An act of recognition, a moment for reclamation

Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

It took Viola Fletcher 107 years to become a “queen mother.”

The honorary designation was a gift from Ghana on her recent visit there. This year, the West African nation continued reaching across seas to encourage diaspora descendants to come home during a “Year of Return,” marking 400 years since enslaved Africans began arriving in what’s now Virginia.

Ms. Fletcher – and her centenarian brother, Hughes Van Ellis, who traveled with her – share another anniversary: the 100th of the Tulsa race massacre in late May. (Listen to the Monitor’s podcast about that long-shrouded event, in which white residents laid waste to a thriving Black district called Greenwood, and about how the Oklahoma city has worked to recover.)

Ms. Fletcher and Mr. Van Ellis are among the oldest known survivors of the massacre. They testified about the event before Congress this summer. The special treatment they were accorded in Accra – titles, motorcades, citizenship, a land grant – was linked to their remarkable resilience.

“They lived to tell the story,” Nana Akufo-Addo, Ghana’s president, told reporters, according to The Washington Post. (The Monitor is now leaning in on stories of deep resolve with another major effort: Finding Resilience.)

The trip by Ms. Fletcher and Mr. Van Ellis, facilitated by a U.S. nonprofit and an African Union-sanctioned bridge-building organization, was also a reclamation of heritage, a manifestation of cultural pride.  

“They used to speak of Greenwood as ‘Little Africa,’” Oklahoma state Rep. Regina Goodwin of Tulsa told the Post. “Some White folks thought they were being disparaging. ... Yet, that was a great compliment. Africa is the cradle of civilization and a continent of intellect and soul. There is a connection. These survivors were able to see Africa.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

California recall: Is populist tool undermining democracy?

California’s recall option started life as a tool to fight corruption. A century later, with the GOP outnumbered almost 2-to-1 and partisanship raging, the conservative minority sees it as the last hope to claim leadership.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 6 Min. )

For years, the Southern Pacific Railroad – the richest, most powerful corporation in California – had a stranglehold on corrupt politicians in the state, including through bribes. In 1911, the progressive Gov. Hiram Johnson and newly elected legislators hit back with a triple punch of direct democracy: the ballot initiative, the referendum, and the recall, giving the people the power to make laws, overturn laws, and remove elected officials.

Now Johnson’s intent is being turned upside down, says Kathryn Olmsted, a history professor at the University of California, Davis. If a majority of voters decide to oust Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, he would be replaced by the challenger with the most votes: conservative talk-show host Larry Elder. Recent polls show Mr. Newsom will probably keep his job, but the possibility that a duly elected governor could be booted by a minority of voters who don’t like what he’s doing greatly concerns her. 

“The progressives put the recall in place to punish corrupt legislators or governors, and now it’s being used because people don’t like the policies,” she says. This is potentially “undermining democracy.”

California recall: Is populist tool undermining democracy?

Collapse
Brittany Hosea-Small/Reuters
California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at St. Mary's Center during a Stop the Recall rally ahead of the Republican-led recall election, in Oakland, California, Sept. 11, 2021.

Hiram Johnson would be “horrified” by Tuesday’s special election to recall California’s governor, Gavin Newsom. 

So says historian Kathryn Olmsted, speaking about California’s great reformer governor of more than a century ago who ushered in the recall as a tool to fight corruption in government. 

For years, the Southern Pacific Railroad – the richest, most powerful corporation in the state – had a stranglehold on corrupt politicians in the state, including through bribes. In 1911, Governor Johnson and newly elected legislators – all progressive for their time - hit back with a triple punch of direct democracy: the vaunted ballot initiative, the referendum, and the recall, giving the people the power to make laws, overturn laws, and remove elected officials. It was the same year that women in California won the right to vote, nearly a decade ahead of the nation.

Now Johnson’s intent is being turned upside down, says. Dr. Olmsted, a history professor at the University of California, Davis. If a majority of voters decide to oust Democratic Governor Newsom, he would be replaced by the challenger with the most votes. That’s conservative talk-show host Larry Elder, who, according to a statewide poll released Friday, has 38% support among likely voters who plan to vote for a replacement. Recent polls show Mr. Newsom will probably keep his job, with a comfortable 16- to 20-point lead, depending on the poll. But the possibility that a duly elected governor could be booted by a minority of voters who don’t like what he’s doing greatly concerns her. 

Francine Kiefer/The Christian Science Monitor
Republican talk-show host Larry Elder, leading candidate to replace California's Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in a special election Sept. 14, pauses for selfies at a rally in Bakersfield Sept. 9.

“The progressives put the recall in place to punish corrupt legislators or governors, and now it’s being used because people don’t like the policies,” she says.

Three years ago, Governor Newsom crushed his Republican opponent, winning a record 61% of the vote. If he’s replaced by a candidate with only a minority of support among voters, a recall will overturn the will of the people, according to Dr. Olmsted. She says it’s potentially “undermining democracy,” which is the exact opposite of what Johnson wanted: more democracy.

Questions about whether this recall election is democratic have been swirling all summer. In August, a federal judge dismissed a suit that challenged its constitutionality. Even so, Democrats, who control every state executive position as well as the Legislature, are talking about the need for recall reform, while the Republican minority sees this as their best chance at the governorship in a deep-blue state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 2-to-1.

“It’s important to have that mechanism in place, and every state should have it,” says Marissa Simmer, a retired superior court supervisor in Kern County, a heavily Republican area in the state’s vast Central Valley. The local economy relies on agriculture, oil, and gas, and Ms. Simmer faults the governor for his water and energy policies that are hurting farmers and the fossil fuel industry. 

She shared her concerns last Thursday in Bakersfield, where Mr. Elder had stopped by a local park to rally an enthusiastic crowd on his “Recall Express” statewide bus tour. “He’s our last best hope for California,” she says.

Year of the recall

Only 19 states allow recall elections, most of them west of the Mississippi River. This will be only the fourth gubernatorial recall election in the nation’s history, and the second in California’s. Although recalls at all levels of government have been declining in recent years, last year saw a big increase in recall attempts – at least 434 recall attempts or threats, including against 14 governors, says Joshua Spivak, a recall expert at the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College in New York. This year has topped that, with more than 500 attempts.

“There is one issue that dominated,” says Mr. Spivak. The pandemic. “In the past, there has never been an issue that cut across anywhere,” because recalls are usually about local issues.

Francine Kiefer/The Christian Science Monitor
Laura, who did not want her full name used, holds a sign at a rally for a Republican candidate for governor, talk show host Larry Elder, in Bakersfield, California, Sept. 9. She likes that Mr. Elder wants to roll back state mandates on masks and vaccines. The lifelong Californian says she and her husband are exploring other states – and governors – in their plan to relocate.

In behemoth California, the most populous state in the nation, it’s not just the governor who is under fire. In San Francisco, organizers say they have more than enough signatures for a recall election against three school board members. Recalls are also aimed at three Democratic district attorneys. And three Los Angeles city council members are under fire, with homelessness playing a big role. At least 70 recall campaigns have been launched in the Golden State this year. 

“This certainly does seem to be the year of the recall in California,” says Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute, whose recent poll found Governor Newsom surviving the recall. Still, a vast majority of Golden State likely voters – 86% – like the recall option.

Bakersfield rallygoers Jose and Nancy Gonzalez, shaded by a covered picnic area on a day that hit 108 degrees Fahrenheit, are grateful to have the recall option. “Our state is getting worse year by year,” says Ms. Gonzalez, a retired elementary school teacher. People ought to have the ability to remove the governor – or anyone – if they are “not doing their job" or hurting the community. Her husband agrees, citing high taxes, crime, and homelessness, among other issues.

And then there are the pandemic vaccine mandates for state employees, teachers, and health care workers, which Mr. Elder promises to roll back. At the rally, he said emphatically that he is not anti-vax. He himself is vaccinated. He is just anti-mandate for vaccinations. That’s a position that Laura, who did not want to use her full name, heartily supports. She came to the rally carrying a red, white, and blue sign: “Don’t take our medical freedom away.”

While polls show the recall option is popular across political ideologies and regions, a majority of voters also want to reform it – though how much depends on party preference. California has a low threshold for signature gathering, and its two-part ballot format is confusing: Vote no or yes for the recall; then choose among a list of replacement candidates (46 in this case) in the event that a majority vote for the recall.

The two-question format allows for the possibility that a replacement governor could be elected with only a plurality of support, and a small one at that. Indeed, about a third of voters are not expected to even vote for a replacement candidate.

This plurality concern was not an issue in the last and only other California gubernatorial recall election in 2003, when voters showed Democratic Gov. Gray Davis the door, while welcoming in Republican celebrity Arnold Schwarzenegger. That’s because more voters supported Mr. Schwarzenegger (48.6%) than voted to keep the governor (44.6%).

Political cudgel?

Even though Mr. Newsom seems safe, the election is shining a spotlight on the process. Former Governor Davis, Democratic leaders, and observers are urging reforms. They include raising the petition-signature threshold, requiring a cause for recall (such as wrongdoing), and holding a separate runoff election if voters choose to send a governor packing. Those would require changing the state’s constitution.

Given today’s intensely polarized politics, “I just hope that we don’t face this every single term for every single governor going out, and I fear that we will unless we at least raise the number of signatures required,” says Dr. Olmsted.

But Mr. Baldassare is less concerned about the recall turning into a political cudgel. Even though every governor since 1960 has faced attempted removal, “to do anything through the direct democracy process takes time and money, and a lot of money.”

The only reason this one got to an election was because of a perfect storm, all related to the historic pandemic. In November, a judge granted a four-month extension to gather signatures. This came at the exact moment of Governor Newsom’s French Laundry blunder, in which a pricey dinner party became a symbol of hypocrisy to critics. An effort that had started as a complaint against the governor’s stand on immigration, taxes, homelessness, and the death penalty suddenly sprang to life over the governor’s pandemic restrictions and behavior. Polls show a good number of independents plan to vote for the recall, along with a small slice of Democrats.

Mr. Spivak says the recall election could actually “boomerang” on Republicans. He cites Democrats’ failed effort in 2012 to recall Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker in a special election. Mr. Walker was reelected with an even wider margin than he had just two years before. “Just because you have this weapon doesn’t mean it will work for you.”

‘No stress.’ An end to dowry relieves families in Kashmir village.

Violence associated with dowry obligations is a scourge across India. A decadeslong community-led push for reform in Kashmir shows how it can be tackled.

Safina Nabi
A bride prepares to leave with her husband after a wedding ceremony in Babawayil, a Muslim village in Indian-administered Kashmir, Aug 29, 2019. The bride's face is covered with a Kashmiri shawl, which by tradition her mother-in-law will remove to reveal her face after the couple arrives at their new home. Babawayil ended dowry payments at weddings four decades ago.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 4 Min. )

Lavish weddings are a sign of social status in India, as are dowries of money, gold, and cars given to the groom and his family. But the cost of dowry payments can be so prohibitive that women delay getting married. And disputes between families over dowries are blamed for the deaths of thousands of women annually.  

For the last three decades, a Muslim village in Indian-ruled Kashmir has bucked this trend. Its community-led campaign against dowry payments has been so successful that parents no longer worry about the cost of their daughters getting married. Weddings are modest affairs, subject to written rules on how much can be spent. Dowry violence is unheard of. 

The example set by the village of Babawayil hasn’t yet caught on, and the dowry remains a deeply embedded custom across South Asia, defying past government efforts to outlaw it. Roop Rekha Verma, a rights activist and retired academic, says India’s government should back a national campaign to promote community-led abolition of dowries. 

“If we see the dowry crime rate against women, this village is doing something revolutionary. The message of this village is very beautiful that we all must aspire to follow,” she says. 

‘No stress.’ An end to dowry relieves families in Kashmir village.

Collapse

On a sunny morning, Iqra Altaf hung her laundry outside the newly built concrete home where she lives with her new husband. Its white-framed windows look onto lush green paddy fields and a path of tall green trees. 

Ms. Altaf married her husband, Ishraq Ahmed Shah in July. The two live in the same village in Indian-ruled Kashmir and their marriage was approved by both families. But unlike in most marriages in India, no money or goods were paid by the bride’s family to Mr. Shah and his family. Instead, he gave a modest sum of money to Ms. Altaf. 

Welcome to the village that outlawed dowries. 

Across India, dowry costs and disputes over payments have long fueled harassment of women. Violence associated with the giving or receiving of a dowry is blamed for the death of a woman roughly every hour, according to a 2019 report by India’s national crime bureau.

While the dowry began as a Hindu custom, in which parents compensate a husband and his family for taking a daughter into their household, it has become a mainstay of Muslim marriages in South Asia, including in Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority state in India.

Large, lavish weddings are a sign of social status in India, as are dowries of gold, cars, and houses. But the cost of weddings and dowry payments can be prohibitive for many, leading women to delay getting married. 

It was this way in Babawayil, a Muslim village of around 1,000 people, until community leaders started to question the practice in 1980. They asked villagers to pledge to neither give nor receive a dowry and pasted a document on the wall in the mosque. One copy went to the village head and another to the district commissioner. 

The no-dowry document was revised in 2004 and 2021. It bars any gifts from the bride’s family and sets a limit of 53,000 rupees ($720) for payments by the groom, including the cost of the bride’s wedding outfits.

The penalty for families who break the community’s rules is exclusion from prayers at the mosque and from claiming a burial site in the graveyard. Villagers say these rules are followed by all families, rich and poor, and that the result has been an absence of dowry-related disputes and violence.

Safina Nabi
A view of rice fields abutting Babawayil, a Muslim village in Indian-administered Kashmir, in September 2020.

Eight days to prepare

Ms. Altaf, age 23, is a business student at the University of Kashmir in Srinigar; Mr. Shah is a graduate who runs a clothing business. Their wedding preparations took just eight days. She says her family is well off – her father is the village headman – but preferred a simple marriage. 

“Wedding is a memorable event and it becomes an eternal part in one’s life. By the grace of God, my wedding will also remain a memorable one,” she says. 

Ms. Altaf received the equivalent of $30 as mehr, a direct payment from the groom’s family. This is well below the current cap on payments, which has been revised over the years to reflect inflation. She didn’t receive any silver or gold ornaments, which are common at Indian weddings. 

“In the document drafted in 2004, gold earrings were given to the bride but in the recent document that too was discarded, considering the inflation and high gold rates,” she says. 

Dowry payments are illegal in India under a 1961 law and punishable by fines and imprisonment. But this prohibition is widely ignored by families entering into marriage and rarely, if ever, enforced, making the community-led effort in Babawayil a noteworthy exception. 

“I was 25 years old when the elders of this village started this campaign,” says Ghulam Nabi Shah, a retired forest department officer. “The idea excited me.” After seeing how Kashmiris spent so much on weddings, he volunteered for the campaign and still helps to promote its message. 

The residents of Babawayil belong to the Shah caste and trace their roots back several centuries. Nearly all marriages occur within the caste. 

Muhammad Ashraf Shah, a resident of Babawayil who has two daughters, says he’s not worried about how to cover their wedding expenses. “I have not saved even a single penny for their wedding; I spend on their education and other study-related matters as I have no stress about the dowry.”

“Something revolutionary”

Even in Kashmir, most people aren’t aware of what steps Babawayil has taken against dowries. That frustrates rights activists like Roop Rekha Verma, a retired academic, who suggests India’s government should back a national campaign, along similar lines.

“If we see the dowry crime rate against women, this village is doing something revolutionary. The message of this village is very beautiful that we all must aspire to follow,” she says. 

Still, the resistance across India to ending dowry payments suggests this will be an uphill task. Javaid Rashid, a professor of social welfare at the University of Kashmir, says expensive weddings impose a financial and psychological burden on families in Kashmir. He praises Babawayil’s community-led approach as one that should be highlighted so that other communities can replicate it.

“Any law or legislation will not change any social structure until people are ready to change, and this village and its people have set an example,” he says.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Professor Rashid's name.

A new way to foster religious tolerance? Put everyone under one roof.

Religion can sometimes throw up walls between different believers. The House of One in Berlin is specifically being built to combat that.

René Arnold/House of One
From left, the Rev. Gregor Höhberg, Rabbi Andreas Nachama, and Imam Kadir Sancı represent the religious leadership of the three faiths involved in the House of One.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 4 Min. )

On the site of a former 13th-century church in Berlin, the world’s first planned structure to house a synagogue, a church, and a mosque under one roof is being built: the House of One.

Borne of the efforts of an imam, a rabbi, and a Protestant minister, the House of One broke ground in May. The design will consist of three distinct boxy wings that join into one large structure. Each faith will have its own space, arranged around a central public area.

With money from private parties as well as the city and federal governments, the House of One is intended to cultivate diversity and tolerance of other religions during a time of global chaos and strife. It’s four years away from completion, but supporters say the House of One is already gathering communities – and fostering dialogue.

“It’s urgently necessary to enlighten the religious-exclusives, those people who believe their way to God is the only right way,” says Mouhanad Khorchide, a member of the House of One Board of Trustees. “This project forces them to question those thoughts, and to think about diversity within religion.”

A new way to foster religious tolerance? Put everyone under one roof.

Collapse

Betül Samhal is a practicing Muslim in “Christian country,” as she puts it. She’s found her tightknit Muslim community in Berlin where she lives, but says she’s never intimately known many Christians or Jews. Nor has she ever had the chance to talk with them about religion.

“People typically avoid people of other faiths,” says Ms. Samhal, an elementary school teacher. “People either can’t or don’t want to understand each other.”

Enter Berlin’s House of One, the world’s first planned structure that will house a synagogue, a church, and a mosque under one roof.

It’s four years away from completion, but the community has already provided Ms. Samhal with a formal structure in which to mingle with Christians and Jews. She’s also been able to present to people of all faiths about Islam, and vice versa. Recently, she had an audience of 70. There isn’t “just one Islam,” Ms. Samhal told the group, and she also addressed a misconception about women by explaining that each branch of Islam sees women very differently.

“Then we went to a mosque, and the second day we went to a church, and the third day to a synagogue,” says Ms. Samhal. “Three religions under one roof allows space for dialogue – our discussions dismantle stereotypes we may have had about other religions.”

Borne of the efforts of an imam, a rabbi, and a Protestant minister, the House of One broke ground in May after a decade of negotiations and fundraising. With money from private parties as well as the city and federal governments, the House of One is intended to cultivate diversity and tolerance of other religions during a time of global chaos and strife. Supporters say the House of One is already gathering communities – and fostering dialogue.

“It’s urgently necessary to enlighten the religious-exclusives, those people who believe their way to God is the only right way. This project forces them to question those thoughts, and to think about diversity within religion,” says Mouhanad Khorchide, director of the Center for Islamic Theology at the University of Münster and a member of the House of One Board of Trustees. “I can’t tell you if the House of One is going to be a success yet or not. But the symbolism of the project is that it shows these three religions can get along, not that everyone does get along.”

Taking responsibility together

The first stone was laid in May in Petriplatz, on the foundation of a former 13th-century church to St. Peter. It was essentially the birthplace of Berlin.

The design for the House of One was put out to competition, won by a Berlin-based architecture firm, and will consist of three distinct boxy wings that join into one large structure. Each faith will have its own space, arranged around a central hall where people can encounter each other in a public area.

Rendering Kuehn Malvezzi/Petriplatz © Davide Abbonacci/House of One
The House of One, shown here in an artist's rendering, will hold three different houses of worship in separate wings, all meeting in a central public hall to foster community and discussion among members of different faiths.

The support of the political class is clear – the Bundestag (a federal legislative body) contributed €10 million ($11.8 million) and the city of Berlin €10 million, with the roughly €20 million remaining coming from private donations from people in more than 60 countries. And the goals of the founders are as lofty as the design.

“The House of One wants to contribute to world peace,” says Imam Kadir Sancı, “and it’s important that Jews, Christians, and Muslims take responsibility together and work on an equal footing. Because they have often shown in history how to rival.”

In other words, the social divisions sown by diversity must be healed, and no one can solve these rifts alone. For House of One co-“initiators” Mr. Sancı, Rabbi Tovia Ben-Chorin, and the Rev. Gregor Höhberg, religion is an ideal place to bring people together. After all, 85% of people in the world belong to a religion.

Along those lines, the House of One will be a place of learning and education, since teaching about religions can promote respect and cross-cultural understanding. It can also dispel stereotypes, says Mr. Höhberg. Religion offers a wealth of experience to show people of “different religions, cultures, and origins how to co-exist peacefully,” he adds.

Encouraging religious integration

Critics of the project are plentiful. Who will actually worship there, when distinct places of faith – synagogues, churches, mosques – have long been embedded within Berlin neighborhoods, with deep connections to their residents?

Further, a common criticism of interreligious dialogue is that it can make members feel out of touch with their own religion. Some Muslims have criticized the project because of the involvement of Forum Dialog e.V., a Muslim organization connected with the Gülen movement, which has been banned in Turkey, says Dr. Khorchide.

Still, the optimism around the House of One is strong. And the criticism that interfaith dialogue waters down one’s own religious passion? “Years of experience show that dialogue awakens in people the need to get to know their own religion better and more intensively,” explains Mr. Sancı.

Dr. Khorchide nods to the tremendous potential for the project to change the dialogue on a civil, theological, and political level. “When we laid the first stone, the former president of Germany was there,” he says. “The state is funding more than half of this project. Politicians in Germany are very invested in encouraging religions’ integration – it’s a clear signal.”

One signal the House of One does send is that Islamophobia and antisemitism will not be tolerated.

Whether such goals come to pass, Ms. Samhal says she’s already befriended Jews that she now sees socially.

“As a Muslim you don’t often get a chance to speak with Jewish people,” she says, “and I was so excited to be able to make friends and get their perspective on things.”

Q&A

Students from abroad are back. What that means to the US.

The return of international students underscores that an American university education still dangles value. We asked an author and researcher about what the renewed influx means for the U.S.

Courtesy of Rajika Bhandari
Rajika Bhandari is the author of "America Calling: A Foreign Student in a Country of Possibility." She brings both academic and personal perspectives to the importance of an education that stretches boundaries and what international students mean for the United States.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 5 Min. )

Hundreds of thousands of international students each year aspire to a degree from a U.S. college or university – and the transformative journey of that education.

Three decades ago Rajika Bhandari was one of them, arriving from India for graduate school. Her new book, “America Calling: A Foreign Student in a Country of Possibility,” is not only a personal reflection of that time, but a social scientist’s view on the impact of international students on the education landscape. 

“If we think about the stature and global excellence of American colleges and universities,” says Dr. Bhandari, “they would not be where they were today if they did not have a long history and association with the rest of the world and its students through education.” 

In a Q&A with the Monitor, Dr. Bhandari also talks about the high price of college and how international students help to make education one of the country’s largest service exports. Students come “from a really wide range of economic backgrounds. ... For the most part it is not easy, just as it isn’t for domestic American students.”

Students from abroad are back. What that means to the US.

Collapse

When Rajika Bhandari came to the United States from India in the early 1990s as a doctoral student in philosophy, she was often the only international student in her classes. She faced uncomfortable questions about her accent and prejudices against her background, but also discovered new freedoms and expanded expectations for her life and career. 

Dr. Bhandari, who went on to immigrate to the U.S. and became a researcher and consultant in the field of international education, writes about her experience and its relevance today in her book being released Sept. 14, “America Calling: A Foreign Student in a Country of Possibility.” 

Dr. Bhandari spoke with the Monitor about why she views international students as assets to the U.S., the impact of the pandemic on these students, and her belief in the “transformative” power of education. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

You write about how many Americans don’t truly understand the experiences of international students or their value to the U.S. Why is it important for Americans to learn more? 

There are a couple of reasons. The most obvious one is the more pragmatic and compelling economic argument. If you stopped the average American on the street and asked them – or shared with them that international students and what they bring in financially to the U.S. basically makes American education the fifth or sixth largest service export for the country – they would be quite surprised. I think there’s a very clear economic impact on the American economy and American colleges and universities at the state level, at the city level, that’s not at all widely known or understood. 

But I would say that the larger value ... is really what international students are bringing to American campuses and how they have been intrinsic to the international ethos and fabric of American higher education. If we think about the stature and global excellence of American colleges and universities, they would not be where they were today if they did not have a long history and association with the rest of the world and its students through education. 

Only 10% of American undergraduates will have gone abroad by the time they finish their undergraduate degree, so for the remaining 90%, one of the key forms for them to have some global exposure is going to be that Syrian, or Indian, or Chinese classmate. 

You mention in the book that sometimes there’s a perception that it’s all incredibly wealthy students coming to study in the U.S., but that isn’t always the case, as you pointed out with how much you saved and had to be frugal. 

International students to the U.S. come not only from over 200 countries, but from a really wide range of economic backgrounds. The perception of the wealthy international student is really a bit of a myth that’s been perpetuated over the past few years, due to just a small number of international students who might be undergraduate students who are able to fully pay their way or have other sources of support that make it easier for them to study in the U.S. 

But for the most part it is not easy, just as it isn’t for domestic American students. The cost of a U.S. credential is just so high. With currency devaluation against the dollar it’s very difficult for families to send their child to the U.S. So students still aspire; they cobble together different sources of funding. 

How has the pandemic impacted the experience of international students who are currently studying in the U.S. or who wish to?

Last year was incredibly disruptive for all students, for domestic students, but more so for international students because their homes are in other countries and many of them were left stranded. Many lost jobs that they were legally able to perform but that they lost due to pandemic-related factors. It’s been a very difficult year that’s affected them not just educationally in terms of the disruptions to their degree and study, but also emotionally and certainly financially.

Now what the projections are is that there may be a rebound this fall because there’s eagerness, there’s anticipation for students to be back in the U.S. Visa issuance has also gone up significantly. That was stalled for a while but recent reports suggest that U.S. consulates are now doubling down on trying to issue visas as quickly as possible so students can begin arriving. But I think there are going to be some longer-term impacts. One of them is how unaffordable a U.S. education is in general and always was, even before the pandemic. 

Why have international students increasingly turned to countries such as Canada, Australia, China, and the U.K. for higher education? 

I think it’s a mix of factors. Most students are coming from less affluent [countries] with higher education systems that are not as highly developed or highly regarded as those of some of the Anglophone countries like the U.K. and the U.S. Both have always been a big draw for students from countries like China and India. The “made in America” brand of education has really come to imply academic and professional excellence. 

A lot of it has been linked very clearly to capacity. India has a surging youth population which is expected to only grow. It’s very difficult for India’s own higher education sector to meet that kind of demand. Even though in recent years there have been many newer universities that have come up, there simply is not going to be enough high quality higher education or college seats available, so students will always go abroad.

China has been elevating its profile as a destination for international students by having more international partnerships abroad, offering many more scholarships for international students to come and study, as well as course offerings in English, all of which have been very appealing to many students from around the world. 

What idea from the book do you hope readers will remember most? 

It’s the idea that education can be a profoundly transformative experience, and especially so because of the age at which most students are where they are still growing, they’re still evolving, their ideas and mindsets and values haven’t quite been set in stone and are still being shaped.

Points of Progress

What's going right

Might without size: Island nations cooperate to control fishing rights

In our progress roundup, collaboration beats competition. Eight small Pacific countries have increased their own revenues and prevented overfishing by together making deals with foreign fleets.

Might without size: Island nations cooperate to control fishing rights

Collapse

Focusing on discrimination this week, we look at how the U.S. Olympics improved pay equity, the U.N. is calling out global racism, and Argentina is officially recognizing nonbinary people.

1. United States

American Paralympic athletes now make as much money per medal as their nondisabled counterparts. Previously, Paralympian gold medalists received $7,500 while Olympians who won gold received five times as much.

The United States Olympic Committee adjusted payments after the 2018 Winter Games, and retroactively paid Paralympians for their 36 medals earned in Pyeongchang, South Korea. With the prizes now matched across the Olympic and Paralympic competitions – $37,500 for each gold medal, $22,500 for silver, and $15,000 for bronze – the Tokyo Games are the first to pay athletes equally from the start.

“Paralympians are an integral part of our athlete community and we need to ensure we’re appropriately rewarding their accomplishments,” said USOC head Sarah Hirshland in 2018. “Our financial investment in U.S. Paralympics and the athletes we serve is at an all-time high, but this was one area where a discrepancy existed in our funding model that we felt needed to change.”
Today,” Business Insider

Ricardo Moraes/Reuters/File
At the 2016 Summer Games (pictured), wheelchair basketball's Matt Scott helped his team win gold. He was the closing ceremony's flag bearer on Sept. 5, 2021 in Tokyo after the U.S. men defended their Rio de Janeiro title to win gold earlier in the day.

2. Argentina

Nonbinary Argentines can now mark their gender as “X” on national identification documents. The new marker applies to anyone “who does not feel understood under the male/female binary,” according to a decree published in the official government gazette, and is available on passports as well. This recognition of gender nonbinary people is a first for Latin America, but follows similar changes in countries such as Australia, India, and some U.S. states. The International Civil Aviation Organization also accepts the use of “X” as a gender marker.

President Alberto Fernández enacted the change, which has been deliberated since 2012, in late July. Concerns remain about using “X” as a catchall for gender identity that falls beyond the binary, but advocacy groups such as the Argentine LGBT Federation are celebrating the move as a “historic advance” in human rights. For many nonbinary people, having important documents reflect their true gender offers security and ease of mind. “For the first time I can say my full name and feel like it’s legal,” said Gerónimo Carolina González Devesa, a doctor who was among the first people to receive a new ID. “It’s the end of a long battle.”
Reuters, Agence France-Presse, The New York Times

Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters/File
Bonobos, pictured grooming each other at a sanctuary, are unique to Congo.

3. Congo

Salonga National Park has been removed from UNESCO’s list of threatened World Heritage Sites due to improved park management. Designated a World Heritage Site in 1984, the world’s second largest rainforest encompasses roughly 14,000 square miles – the size of Taiwan – some of which has never been explored by humans. Salonga plays a critical role in absorbing greenhouse gas emissions and housing vulnerable species, including the forest elephant and bonobo. It was added to the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1999, during the Second Congo War, in part as a result of poaching and pollution.  

The World Heritage Committee noted that anti-poaching measures have allowed bonobo populations to stabilize, and praised the government’s decision to ban prospecting for oil within park boundaries. Salonga’s elephant populations are also improving. But some warn that other plans in Congo threaten conservation goals. A recently announced tax on the killing of protected species would replace outright poaching bans, and a 10-point national natural resources plan would end a ban on forest concessions. “Instead of green lighting new paths of destruction, the DRC needs a blueprint for permanent protection of the forest, including management by the communities who live in it and depend on it,” said Irène Wabiwa Betoko of Greenpeace Africa.  
The Times, Newsweek, AFP, Climate Home News

4. Pacific Islands

Eight Pacific nations’ cooperation is staving off overfishing and bringing in half a billion dollars each year. In 1982, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Nauru, the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands agreed to coordinate relations with foreign fishing fleets, which were descending on the surrounding waters in search of lucrative skipjack tuna. Previously, the countries had competed with each other to sell fishing rights to the fleets, and grew frustrated at the lack of local profits. Over decades of trial and error, the Parties to the Nauru Agreement developed the Vessel Day Scheme, in which the group determines a sustainable amount of tuna fishing for the region and divides that amount into fishing days with a minimum base price. Companies from the United States, China, and other powerful nations then bid for days. Since 2011, PNA countries have also been able to trade days, stabilizing revenues for nations whose water may be temporarily unfishable, such as during an El Niño year.

The program has been described as “revolutionary” and “a shining example of cooperation.” The increased fishing revenue has tangible impacts for member nations: In Kiribati, where the program has raised fishing revenues from $25 million to $160 million over the past decade, the fees are supporting critical infrastructure projects and social spending for students and older people. In Papua New Guinea, a revenue increase of about $60 million is earmarked for sustainable coastal fisheries development.
The Guardian, Parties to the Nauru Agreement

World

After years of negotiations, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously established the Permanent Forum of People of African Descent. The General Assembly’s resolution states that “any doctrine of racial superiority is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous,” and that combating racism and xenophobia should be “a matter of priority for the international community.” The new 10-member forum will be tasked with monitoring progress, offering advice to other U.N. agencies, assessing best practices, and helping ensure “the full political, economic and social inclusion of people of African descent.” Half the group will be appointed by the Human Rights Council, and the other five members will be elected from each region by the assembly. The forum’s first session is set for 2022.

Ricardo Arduengo/Reuters
A girl poses for a photo in Haiti, where roughly 95% of the population is of African descent.

The group is expected to bring order to piecemeal efforts at tackling global racism. “Structural and systemic anti-Black racism manifests in the climate crisis, global public health crisis, state violence, economic inequality, and various other markers of human life,” writes Amara Enyia, managing director of the transnational advocacy organization Diaspora Rising. “Not only is it time to create coherence to address the broad swath of issues affecting people of African descent – it is the best way for the United Nations to ensure that it is indeed a relevant international body.”
United Nations, The Associated Press, Ms. Magazine

Other headline stories we’re watching

(Get live updates throughout the day.)

The Monitor's View

The invite list for Biden’s democracy summit

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 3 Min. )

In less than three months, President Joe Biden plans to hold the Summit for Democracy. It will be a virtual gathering of leaders from what the White House calls “a diverse group” of the world’s democracies. The event itself is highly anticipated. It may help protect democracies from a trend toward authoritarian rule. Yet just as anticipated is the invitation list. Who decides whether a country has a democracy?

The question is crucial because Mr. Biden expects to hold a second, in-person summit in a year that could create an alliance of democracies, not merely a meeting for democracy. For the summit on Dec. 9-10, meanwhile, the White House will only say it is inviting “established and emerging” democracies.

A good example of the dilemma is one of the world’s youngest democracies, Iraq. Its last election in 2018 had a record low voter turnout. And the voting was so rigged and fraudulent that it helped spark mass protests in 2019, forcing a prime minister to resign. The vote for a new parliament will be held Oct. 10, a year in advance, and could determine if Iraq is invited to the democracy summit.

The invite list for Biden’s democracy summit

Collapse
Reuters
A man in a wheelchair drives near a poster of Haider al-Jabbouri, a parliamentary elections candidate who is also disabled, in Kerbala, Iraq, Sept. 1.

In less than three months, President Joe Biden plans to hold the Summit for Democracy. It will be a virtual gathering of leaders from what the White House calls “a diverse group” of the world’s democracies. The event itself is highly anticipated. It may help protect democracies from a trend toward authoritarian rule. Yet just as anticipated is the invitation list. Who decides whether a country has a democracy?

The question is crucial because Mr. Biden expects to hold a second, in-person summit in a year  that could create an alliance of democracies, not merely a meeting for democracy. For the summit on Dec. 9-10, meanwhile, the White House will only say it is inviting “established and emerging” democracies.

A good example of the dilemma is one of the world’s youngest democracies, Iraq.

Its last election in 2018 had a record low voter turnout, 13 years after the United States created a democracy following the military ouster of a dictator. And the voting was so rigged and fraudulent that it helped spark mass protests in 2019, forcing a prime minister to resign. A new prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, promised to fulfill the protesters’ demand for an early election that would be fair and transparent. The vote for a new parliament will be held Oct. 10, a year in advance, and could determine if Iraq is invited to the democracy summit.

“The credibility of the [election] process will prove essential for Iraq’s future,” says U.N. Iraq Special Representative Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert.

Mr. Kadhimi, a reformist tied to no political party, is so keen for a clean election that he has invited hundreds of international experts to monitor the polls. To protect the foreign observers, he is deploying Iraq’s special forces to guard voting areas from any attacks by Iran-backed militias that might try to disrupt the voting.

Other electoral reforms make up quite an impressive list. Under pressure from protesters, the current parliament decreased the power of political parties, many of which have bribed voters to cast ballots for specific candidates. Mr. Kadhimi also set up a special anti-corruption group to thwart anyone planning to rig the voting. One cell of conspirators has already been caught. And he has tried to ensure the independence of the electoral commission.

In addition, cellphones and cameras are banned inside voting booths. Electronic voting cards will be disabled for 72 hours after a voter casts a ballot. Voters who are hard of hearing will be given a sign language interpreter. Ballots will be counted locally, not at a central headquarters. And an independent audit firm will check on how votes are counted.

“I call on all candidates and political parties to fully commit to healthy competition,” says Mr. Kadhimi.

Every democracy continually strives for the best way to ensure free and fair elections (even in the U.S.). For Iraq, it is still not known if young people will ignore a call by the protest organizers to boycott the election. Many are upset that the prime minister has done little to prosecute Iran-aligned gunmen who have killed pro-democracy activists.

As an “emerging” democracy, Iraq is slowly learning how to conduct elections with integrity. This one will probably be far better than the last, say U.N. experts. On aspirations alone, young Iraqis clearly embrace democratic values, such as equality and openness. Iraq could easily earn an invite to Mr. Biden’s summit.

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.

Healed of hopelessness

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

Feeling insignificant, hopeless, and worried that her future was bleak, a teen contemplated suicide. Then a conversation with a Christian Science practitioner helped her see that as God’s child, she had inherent value and purpose – a realization that brought healing and turned her experience around completely.

Healed of hopelessness

Collapse
Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

High school was drawing to a close, and I was very unhappy. I didn’t have any real goals or plans beyond graduation. Feeling depressed, I even contemplated suicide.

I had grown up attending Christian Science Sunday School, but I had stopped going. The future seemed bleak, and I felt hopeless. At the same time, a growth appeared on one finger. I tried several over-the-counter remedies, and while the growth would sometimes shrink after an application, it always came back.

My family saw my struggles, and my mom eventually asked me if I’d be willing to talk to a Christian Science practitioner – someone who helps others find healing through prayer.

“Just this once,” she encouraged me.

So, very reluctantly, I agreed to do it.

I met the practitioner in her office, and when she asked what was troubling me, I held up my finger. To my surprise, she waved it aside and said, “No, what’s really bothering you?”

I hesitated for a minute, then proceeded to lay out my whole bleak outlook. I told her that I didn’t feel like I mattered. That I felt like one insignificant speck in a sea of a million people. I told her my life felt hopeless, and then the tears started to flow.

She listened patiently, and when I’d finished telling her everything that was wrong, she reminded me what I’d learned in Sunday School: that I was God’s perfect work. We talked about divine Principle, another name for God – that it is expressed in all of His creation, including me, as perfect harmony and purpose. We also read aloud Hymn 51 from the Christian Science Hymnal, which says in part:

Man is the noblest work of God,
His beauty, power and grace,
Immortal; perfect as his Mind
Reflected face to face.

God could not make imperfect man
His model infinite.
(Mary Alice Dayton)

Right there in that practitioner’s office, I began to see my value as God’s expression, man – the beloved child of God – and my inseparability from God’s goodness. I realized that He really was providing everything I needed – joy, love, peace, and purpose.

We prayed together, and for the first time in a long while, I was able to look away from a hopeless, limited sense of existence and toward God as my true creator and Father-Mother, revealing all the possibilities inherent in my true, spiritual nature. God’s love felt so real to me.

The practitioner said she would continue to pray for me, and I left. As I walked away, I felt as though a dark, oppressive cloud had moved out of my life. I felt so free.

But that wasn’t the end of the healing. The growth that had seemed so permanent began to shrink and then disappeared completely within a day or two.

Then, my school counselor told me about a job posting in the career department that she thought would be a good match for my business skills. I applied for the job and soon began working at a local investment company, where I learned a lot and stayed for several years. I gained confidence and felt valued.

Best of all, the thoughts of depression and suicide left and never returned. I felt hopeful again and was convinced that I was in God’s loving care – which gave me a totally different outlook on my life and the future.

This was a turning point in my practice of Christian Science. This healing changed my life, and after that, it was impossible not to recognize the value of Christian Science and to put it into practice to overcome other problems as they arose in my later teen years and beyond. It also felt natural to join both The Mother Church and a branch Church of Christ, Scientist.

I can say now that I truly feel God’s love and presence in my life, and that since this healing, hope has never again felt out of reach.

Originally published in the Christian Science Sentinel’s online TeenConnect section, March 30, 2021.

Viewfinder

One in a million

Mark Lennihan/AP
A mother gives her son a kiss as he arrives for the first day of class at Brooklyn’s PS 245 elementary school, Sept. 13, 2021, in New York. Classroom doors are swinging open for about a million New York City public school students in the nation's largest experiment in in-person learning after 18 months of school closures and remote learning.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

Thanks for being here to start your week. Come back tomorrow. A pandemic-focused society might view older adults, broadly, as a group that’s “at risk.” But many in that cohort have proved labels of frailty to be false. We’ll explore. 

More issues

2021
September
13
Monday

Give us your feedback

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