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Monitor Daily Podcast

October 20, 2021
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TODAY’S INTRO

In baseball’s minor leagues, dignity finally gets to first base

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Fair pay in pro baseball’s minor leagues is about as rare as a no-hitter. 

On average, these wannabe big leaguers make less per hour than workers at McDonald’s or Walmart. And it’s legal. With passage of the 2018 Save America’s Pastime Act (now under litigation), minimum wage protection was removed. 

You might say, but when they get to the majors, these guys make a bundle for playing a game. True. But only 10% of minor league baseball players make it to “The Show.” And compared with players of other major U.S. sports, those pursuing the pro dream are literally paying for that privilege. A Triple-A baseball player makes less than half the minimum annual salary ($14,700) that an NBA G-League player makes ($35,000), reports Sporting News. A baseball minor leaguer must also cover housing and at least six weeks of unpaid spring training. 

Still, there is modest progress. The Triple-A minimum salary went up by 38% this year (to $14,700). And it was reported Sunday that minor league players next year will get what their hockey and basketball counterparts already receive: a housing stipend. 

The business model for nurturing new baseball talent is getting some overdue attention to fairness. Or as Bill Fletcher Jr. of Advocates for Minor Leaguers told Axios: “People talk about wages, hours, and working conditions, but it is really about dignity. Am I going to be respected as a human being?”

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‘Two different sides of a coin.’ Manchin, Sinema, and Democrats’ future.

President Biden’s efforts to work with two key senators could be seen as a way to bridge the divide between the Democratic Party priorities of the future and those of the past. 

David

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In news clips and “Saturday Night Live” skits, Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are often lumped together: two centrist Democrats standing in firm opposition to progressives, as they wrangle over the scope of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act. 

But “Manchinema,” as the two have been dubbed, aren’t exactly a united front. Not only are the senators different on a personal level – one’s a folksy former coal executive from West Virginia, the other an idiosyncratic ex-Green Party activist from Arizona – but they also appear to have different legislative priorities. 

These differing priorities reflect the politics of their respective states. Senator Manchin represents a shrinking group of mostly rural, white voters without college degrees – many of whom have left the Democratic Party for the GOP. Senator Sinema hails from a fast-growing state where the Democratic Party is gaining converts, as suburbs outside booming cities like Phoenix turn blue.

The recent wrangling over Mr. Biden’s agenda can be seen as a high-wire effort to bridge those divides.

“West Virginia and Arizona are two different sides of a coin,” says Steven Allan Adams, a West Virginia state government reporter.

‘Two different sides of a coin.’ Manchin, Sinema, and Democrats’ future.

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J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a key holdout vote on President Joe Biden's domestic agenda, chairs a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, at the Capitol in Washington Oct. 19, 2021.

In news clips and “Saturday Night Live” skits, Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are often lumped together: two centrist Democrats standing in firm opposition to progressives, as they wrangle over the scope of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act. 

But “Manchinema,” as the two have been dubbed, aren’t exactly a united front. Not only are the senators different on a personal level – one’s a folksy former coal executive from West Virginia, the other an idiosyncratic ex-Green Party activist from Arizona – but they also appear to have different legislative priorities. 

Which has made Democrats’ efforts to negotiate a compromise even more complicated.

The White House met privately with both Senators Manchin and Sinema on Tuesday, and details about likely cuts and changes to the bill have begun to emerge, driven in large part by those two lawmakers’ respective demands.

From the start, Mr. Manchin has indicated opposition to many of the proposed climate change provisions, such as a clean electricity program or a carbon tax, both of which now appear unlikely to make it into the final bill. He’s expressed support for targeted spending that benefits low-income Americans, but not for free community college, another provision that is reportedly being axed. On the revenue side, he favors tax-rate increases for wealthy Americans and corporations, and he has publicly said he thinks Medicare should be allowed to negotiate prescription drug prices.

Ms. Sinema has been far more tight-lipped. News reports have indicated, however, that she is resisting many of the revenue-raising parts of the bill, such as higher corporate and income taxes. She’s also reportedly unenthusiastic about the prescription drug pricing proposal. But the senator’s office denied a recent New York Times report that she was seeking to sharply cut climate measures as “flat wrong.” In an interview last month with The Arizona Republic, she detailed myriad ways in which “a changing climate costs Arizonans,” saying she viewed the budget bill as a chance to address the issue.

Rod Lamkey/AP
Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, shown during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Oct. 19, 2021, has been tight-lipped this fall about her objections to President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan.

These differing priorities in some ways reflect the politics of their respective states and electorates. Mr. Manchin represents a shrinking group of mostly rural, white voters without college degrees – many of whom have left the Democratic Party for the GOP. Ms. Sinema, on the other hand, hails from a fast-growing state where the Democratic Party is gaining converts, as formerly Republican suburbs outside booming cities like Phoenix turn blue. Put another way, if West Virginia represents the Democratic Party of the past, Arizona might represent its future. And the recent wrangling over Mr. Biden’s agenda can be seen as a high-wire effort to bridge those divides.

“West Virginia and Arizona are two different sides of a coin,” says Steven Allan Adams, a West Virginia state government reporter and former communications specialist for the West Virginia Senate. 

“In Arizona you see a state that is known for being the birthplace of conservatives, but in the last couple years it has gone more of a purple, and maybe in the next few years it will be blue,” he says. “West Virginia is the opposite of that.”

In West Virginia, last Democrat standing

Party leaders have given themselves a deadline of the end of the month to come up with a framework that will satisfy both progressives and moderates. Democrats are planning to pass the Build Back Better Act using a process called budget reconciliation, which allows them to avoid a GOP filibuster in the Senate. With just 50 Democrats in that chamber, the party cannot afford to lose even one vote, which means both Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema (along with every other Democratic senator) will need to be on board.

But alleviating the different concerns of those two lawmakers has not been easy. And while some of their objections have been attributed to the senators’ own ideological views – or, more cynically, their financial interests – much of it also clearly reflects attitudes in their home states. 

West Virginia was one of only three states in the nation that saw its population decline over the past 10 years; it will lose one of its U.S. House seats in redistricting this year. The state capital of Charleston was the country’s fastest-shrinking city in the 2020 census. 

The Democratic Party in West Virginia has been shrinking even faster, with registered Republicans now outnumbering registered Democrats. Considered reliably Democratic only a few decades ago, the Mountain State has now become just as reliably Republican. In 2020 then-President Donald Trump won there with almost 69% of the vote – his second-largest margin in any state.  

“It’s a depressing time to be a Democratic leader in West Virginia,” says John Kilwein, chair of the West Virginia University department of political science. 

Mr. Manchin, West Virginia’s only remaining statewide elected Democrat, won reelection to a second term in 2018 by only 3 percentage points, helped in part by an unpopular Republican opponent.

“The state is moving so red around Joe Manchin that [2024] is going to be a tough battle for him,” says Mr. Kilwein. Still, he suggests that all the attention the senator has received for bucking his own party on the budget bill may be helpful at home.

Mr. Manchin’s reported opposition to many of the package’s climate change programs runs contrary to the almost 70% of national Democrats who call it a “very important” voting issue. But it makes sense coming from a state that has a long history with coal mining. 

“From a strategic point of view, I think this is the best way Manchin could handle [reconciliation bill negotiations] if he’s trying to get reelected,” Mr. Kilwein says.

The West Virginia senator’s approval rating fell a few points in a recent poll of likely voters (from 49% last year to 44% now), but the percentage of West Virginians who disapprove of Mr. Manchin has also decreased, from 44% to 37%. 

Even if some West Virginia Democrats are unhappy with Mr. Manchin’s stance, most likely understand that he represents their only realistic option for holding the seat.

“If you’re still a Democrat in West Virginia, you’re probably very liberal, but you’re also probably pretty practical and you understand that Manchin is probably your only choice,” says Bob Shrum, a veteran Democratic strategist and director of the University of Southern California’s Dornsife Center for the Political Future. 

Democrats growing in fast-growing state

Unlike West Virginia, Arizona saw its population grow by almost 12% over the past decade, with two of the nation’s fastest-growing cities in the 2020 census. The population of Buckeye, a suburb of Phoenix, increased by almost 57%. 

And Arizona’s Democratic Party has grown simultaneously. The number of registered Republicans still outnumbers registered Democrats statewide, but Democrats have added more voters to their rolls in the past two years than the GOP. For the first time in almost seven decades, Arizona has two Democratic senators: Ms. Sinema and former astronaut Mark Kelly, who won a special election in 2020.

As the state shifts left, there are signs that Ms. Sinema’s opposition to some progressive priorities could land her a primary challenger in 2024: A Primary Sinema PAC has already been created to help fund an opponent. A recent poll of likely Democratic voters in Arizona found Ms. Sinema’s approval rating to be a dismal 25%, while 85% approved of Mr. Biden and Senator Kelly.

“People here are frustrated with her,” says Matt Grodsky, an Arizona-based political strategist and former director of communications for the Arizona Democratic Party. “She’s at odds with what commonsense Arizona voters are thinking.” 

Coming from one of the nation’s hottest and driest states, Ms. Sinema has in the past expressed support for climate change measures, though she hasn’t revealed where she stands on the current proposals.

“Voters in Arizona really do support those types of investments toward a green energy economy,” says Tony Cani, an Arizona political strategist and former deputy director of Biden for Arizona. “There are signs that a number of companies and innovators are coming to this state to set up shop.”

But some Democratic critics believe she’s underestimated levels of support back home for certain social programs.

Prescription drug pricing reform, for example, polls well with all voters, not just Democrats. According to one survey, more than 80% of adults nationwide favor allowing the government to negotiate with drug companies to lower prescription drug prices. Critics counter that it could hinder pharmaceutical companies’ ability to develop and bring new drugs to market. 

“Politically, Manchin’s actions are more defensible given the state he represents and his political profile,” says Democratic strategist Joel Payne. “Sinema doesn’t have the same rationale to lean on. Her quixotic approach is less palatable to her base and leaves them wondering, ‘Why are you throwing sand in the gears?’”

Ms. Sinema’s strongest reservations appear to be on the revenue side. She’s reportedly questioned tax hikes for both individuals and large corporations, which critics say could hurt American businesses’ global competitiveness.

That stance may make sense coming from a state with such conservative roots, and which has grown in part by luring workers from neighboring high-tax California. This year, Arizona’s GOP-led State Legislature passed sweeping income tax cuts, moving the state from a progressive system to two flat rates. Still, the issue is contentious: The new cuts were in response to a ballot measure passed by voters in 2020 to raise taxes on Arizonans making over $250,000 per year. Activists are gathering signatures to try to block the law from taking effect.

Critics point out that Ms. Sinema’s fellow Arizonan, Senator Kelly, hasn’t been putting up roadblocks, suggesting a different political calculus that some see as more in tune with the fast-changing state.

Above any one program, says Mr. Cani, Arizona voters are “super transactional” and want the government to get things done.

“I don’t think she wants her brand to be ‘I’m the one who is stopping government,’” says Mr. Cani. “And that’s not who the people of Arizona want her to be.”

From Israel’s wildly diverse government, a surprise: (So far) it works

Here’s another story about the pursuit of political progress. Israel’s most diverse coalition government is a democratic experiment in pragmatic politics and unexpected cooperation.

David
Amir Cohen/Reuters
People attend a rally in support of a so-called government of change, a day after far-right party leader Naftali Bennett threw his crucial support behind a unity government in Israel to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 31, 2021.

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Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s 4-month-old coalition government represents a historic first in Israel. Wildly diverse, it came together in rejection of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-ruling prime minister and arguably its most divisive.

The new “government of change,” as it’s called, includes Islamists, Jewish nationalists, and progressives. It’s a coalition born of a pragmatic impulse to break the national political deadlock after four inconclusive elections, and it has been offering a master class in cooperation that is rare in our age of political fracture.

There’s much the coalition government does not agree on, but it has focused on rallying around consensus issues such as fighting the pandemic and a wave of crime afflicting Israeli Arab communities, and continuing outreach to the Arab world. It has even taken on the more ideologically fraught challenges of relations with the Palestinians, and rethinking Israel’s previous rejection of the nuclear deal with Iran.

Despite the government’s numeric weakness in parliament, its work is garnering praise, and its emphasis on consensus seems to have lowered the political temperature in Israel.

Says Allison Kaplan Sommer, a columnist for the daily Haaretz: “One of the reasons this government came together is that people were tired of screaming and disagreeing and wanted to get things done.”

From Israel’s wildly diverse government, a surprise: (So far) it works

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Naftali Bennett was a young man, just 23 years old, when Israeli democracy experienced its darkest hour, the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The lesson it taught him, Israel’s new prime minister said Monday at the state ceremony marking 26 years since that national trauma, was this: “Under no circumstances, no matter the situation, should the nation be torn apart. We mustn’t burn our house down. We are brothers.”

He was speaking of the past but making a point about the present.

The 4-month-old coalition government Mr. Bennett leads represents a historic first in Israel. Wildly diverse, it came together – and perhaps still stays together – in rejection of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-ruling prime minister and arguably its most divisive, both internally and with the outside world.

The new “government of change,” as it’s called, includes Islamists, Jewish nationalists, and progressives. It’s a coalition born of a pragmatic impulse to break the national political deadlock after four inconclusive elections in quick succession, and it has been offering a master class in cooperation that is rare in our age of political fracture.

There’s much it does not agree on, but it has focused on rallying around consensus issues such as fighting the pandemic and a wave of crime afflicting Israeli Arab communities, and continuing outreach to the Arab world.

It has even taken on the more ideologically fraught challenges of relations with the Palestinians, and rethinking Israel’s previous rejection of a nuclear deal between world powers and Iran.

Despite its numeric weakness in parliament, the government’s work and its very survival are garnering praise.

“The consensus is [the impact] of this odd combination of diverse politicians is more sweeping than anyone could have anticipated,” says Nimrod Novik, Israel fellow at the Israel Policy Forum, a New York think tank.

When it came together with little in common beyond their loathing of Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Novik says, “I don’t think anyone anticipated the comfort that the different streams of Israeli politicians [would] feel with one another when sitting together at the coalition table.”

In the Netanyahu years, political opponents were cast as enemies. Here, coalition partners are “finding out that the other’s approach is one you might not share, but to superficially dismiss it as unpatriotic is nonsense,” says Mr. Novik.

Ronen Zvulun/Reuters
Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, left, chats with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid ahead of a group photo with ministers of the new Israeli government, in Jerusalem, June 14, 2021.

“So something important is happening around the cabinet table and in coalition dynamics in the Knesset,” he says. “There appears to be far more openness to consider alternative approaches, to seek compromises.

“We are not fully there, though, just in early phases of this experiment, but at least for the moment it is happening,” he says.

An Israeli Arab Sadat?

Tal Shalev, chief political correspondent for Walla News, an Israeli news site, cites Mansour Abbas, head of Raam, the first independent Arab party in a governing coalition in Israeli history, for playing an essential role.

“It’s the first open sign that Arab politicians are really being part of decision making and having input on the agenda. Of course it’s only on civic issues, but even that is groundbreaking,” she says. “Every week they [the parties] have to overcome a challenge or barrier, and so far they have succeeded very much to overcome them, mostly because of Mansour Abbas, who some have started calling the Israeli Arab Anwar Sadat.

“Drawing lessons from that level of cooperation means everyone has to swallow a lot of bitter pills, because on every issue you can find divisions in this government, not just on the Palestinian front for example, but within the economy, since you have socialists and capitalists sitting together,” says Ms. Shalev.

Underscoring its fragility, the government is currently facing its biggest test of survival: It must pass a budget by mid-November, despite myriad internal disputes. By law, failure to do so means the government would fall, sending the country to yet another round of elections.

Allison Kaplan Sommer, a columnist for the daily Haaretz, says coalition members are well aware their individual political fates depend now on their staying in power. They “know they are in a lifeboat together. If they don’t stick together, they’re all going to drown.”

“Shrinking the conflict”

A key policy shift under this government has been the decision to bolster Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who had been demonized and sidelined during Mr. Netanyahu’s tenure. That policy, some analysts say, helped boost the popularity of the militant Hamas among Palestinians.

Kicking off a new policy dubbed “shrinking the conflict,” intended to decrease the impact of it on the daily lives of Palestinians, the new government has adopted a number of goodwill measures, roughly doubling to 10,000 the number of Gaza residents allowed to work in Israel, granting West Bank residency to thousands of undocumented Palestinians, and increasing the number of building permits for Palestinians in the part of the West Bank under full Israeli control.

Heralding the change, Defense Minister Benny Gantz recently traveled to Ramallah and met with President Abbas, the first such meeting in over seven years.

Adel Hana/AP
Palestinians apply for permits to work inside Israel at the chamber of commerce in Jebaliya, northern Gaza Strip. Israel said Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, that it will increase the number of Palestinian workers it permits to enter its territory from the Gaza Strip by another 3,000, raising the total to 10,000.

Regionally, the government is also engaged in a full-court press to resuscitate ties with Jordan that has included a significant new water deal and a celebrated visit by Prime Minister Bennett to King Abdullah at his palace.

And there’s a consensus, too, to preserve and expand the previous government’s normalization of ties with the Gulf Arab states under the Abraham Accords. On Monday the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador invited Mr. Bennett for what would be Israel’s first official state visit to his country.

The Iran deal

In another vital area, Israel’s conflict with Iran, the government is signaling perhaps its most significant U-turn from the Netanyahu era, indicating it no longer views the 2015 nuclear deal as a historic mistake.

Defense Minister Gantz even said in an interview that he would be open to U.S. attempts to revive the agreement from which former President Donald Trump withdrew.  

Echoing the words of some Israeli security officials who have criticized Mr. Netanyahu’s handling of the nuclear issue, Mr. Bennett expressed regret that since the deal was canceled, the Iranians have been able to make what they say is great progress in their uranium enrichment capabilities.

Robert Danin, a senior fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center and a former senior State Department official, says what has changed is the way Israel approaches its relationship with the United States.

“There is a pragmatic change in approach … the recognition that opposing the [nuclear deal] as a position has been a disastrous approach and they have come to recognize that Israel had dealt itself out of the discussion rather than put aside its disagreements in order to have influence,” he says.

Government limits

There is, however, a limit to how far this government can go.

Mr. Bennett, a former settler leader himself and leader of the nationalist Yamina party, has said outright there will be no negotiations toward a future Palestinian state. Addressing the United Nations General Assembly last month, he did not even mention the Palestinian issue.

Further, the government’s approval of settlement building in the Jerusalem area and pledges for additional West Bank building are major points of contention within the coalition, as is the impunity extremist settlers have enjoyed despite repeated acts of violence against Palestinians.

“If your new government seeks to ‘shrink the conflict,’ the evidence must be seen on the ground,” wrote Ali Awad, a Palestinian activist in +972 Magazine.

“You could authorize permits for houses and guarantee access to all the basic services and infrastructure that you are obligated to provide for Palestinians under occupation,” he added. “You could stop sabotaging our security and our freedom of movement. Instead, however, you have let settler violence spike seriously in recent months.”

Ms. Shalev, the Walla correspondent, says that by putting aside the most vexing issues on the conflict with the Palestinians and the future of Israel, the government is limiting the scope of its leadership. “It’s difficult for politicians to come out as leaders if they don’t deal with that question,” she says.

The government’s limitations notwithstanding, its emphasis on consensus seems to have lowered the political temperature in Israel.

“Compare the amount of people screaming at demonstrations during the Netanyahu era and now, and the level of discourse is calmer,” says Haaretz’s Ms. Kaplan Sommer.

“One of the reasons this government came together is that people were tired of screaming and disagreeing and wanted to get things done.”

‘Driven by hope,’ an Afghan refugee fights to save her sisters

As members of Afghanistan’s Hazara ethnic minority face persecution, our reporter talks with Afghan women in Canada, who are determined to help their “sisters” in Afghanistan.

David
Sara Miller Llana/The Christian Science Monitor
Halima Bahman co-founded the Hazara Women's Organization in Canada last year. Since the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, the Canada-based group has quickly pivoted to fundraise for Hazara families in safe houses and help them with translations and documents they may need to resettle in Canada.

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Halima Bahman was just 11 years old, living in northern Afghanistan, when she survived a massacre of her fellow Hazaras, a minority ethnic group, at the hands of the Taliban, in 1998.

Later she fled with her family to Canada. Now she is devoting herself to helping Hazaras in Afghanistan who are once again under threat from the Taliban, trying to find them safe houses, and smuggling them out of the country.

She says she swings “from being very hopeful that I can do something … to feeling helpless.” But she has at least been in touch with the Canadian immigration minister, and helped persuade him to put the Hazaras – Shiite Muslims in an overwhelmingly Sunni country – on a priority list for evacuation.

“I’ve lived everything close to death that the people are experiencing right now,” Ms. Bahman says. “So I’m just driven by hope, hope that we can save someone’s life.”

‘Driven by hope,’ an Afghan refugee fights to save her sisters

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As a young girl, Halima Bahman was forbidden to peer round the thick blankets her mother had placed over their windows, but she often took a quick peek anyway.

It was 1998. The Taliban had taken over her town in northern Afghanistan, Mazar-e-Sharif, staging a massacre of her fellow Hazaras, an ethnic minority. 

One day, from a second floor window, she was watching her neighbors flee in their cars over the hills when one vehicle was struck by a rocket. Inside was her childhood friend, Hafiza.

Shaken as she was at just 11 years old, living through a killing spree that took thousands of lives, Ms. Bahman forgot Hafiza. For over 20 years, as she fled to Uzbekistan, then moved to Austria and eventually to Canada, she never thought of her friend’s face or demeanor, so pale, so quiet and calm.

She didn’t even recall her name – until this August, when the Taliban took over Afghanistan and the trauma and loss she had felt as a young girl swept over her in a rush of grief.

Today, that pain is fueling her determination to identify and protect vulnerable Hazara women and children who face an increasingly desperate situation under Taliban rule.

It has been heartbreaking and exhausting work, she acknowledges. “I go through different emotions,” she says, sitting on the back deck of her home in the comfortable neighborhood of Vaughan, north of Toronto. “From being very hopeful that I can do something now that I’m an adult and I’m here, not like the last time when I was a kid, I was just helpless.

“But then feeling really angry about why this happened … to feeling helpless again, like there is so much need and I cannot do much.”

Moving heaven and earth

Ms. Bahman has been an activist on behalf of her minority since arriving in Canada nearly 15 years ago. The predominantly Shiite Muslim Hazaras, who some say are descended from Genghis Khan’s army, often have Asian features and have suffered persecution in Afghanistan for over a century.

The “Hazara” label was almost used as a swear word, she says. “You’re ugly, you’re Hazara; you’re backwards, you’re Hazara,” she heard as she grew up.

The Sunni Muslim Taliban was particularly brutal when it ruled in the 1990s, and international human rights groups have issued dire warnings about the Hazaras’ safety now, threatened by both the government and a rival Islamic State affiliate group.  

Before the fall of Kabul, Canadian Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced a program to resettle 20,000 of the most vulnerable Afghans. Priority groups included those who had helped the Canadian army and religious minorities such as Sikhs and Hindus.

But not Hazaras. Ms. Bahman decided to do something about that.

As images of desperate Afghans pushing their way onto evacuation planes in Kabul shocked viewers around the world in August, she joined a group of refugee advocates and successfully pressed for a meeting with Mr. Mendicino. He was persuaded that Hazaras should be listed, and promised that Canada would “move heaven and earth to help.”

But as the details of how the program will work are developed, Ms. Bahman is keeping up the pressure, which is key to the Hazaras’ protection, says Stephen Watt, a leader of the refugee cause in Canada.

“It’s hard to make the case that these are people in need of help if you don’t know about them or their unique history of persecution,” he says. “Halima is both extremely articulate about the situation as an advocate and is somebody who personally experienced one of the worst massacres of Hazara history.” 

Driven by hope

Ms. Bahman says her advocacy work grew from her direct exposure to terror in Mazar-e-Sharif. The Taliban had threatened to kill every male Hazara between ages 7 and 70, and rounded up thousands of them. She once visited a holding center, she recalls, and still thinks about what may have happened to them.

In Canada, she began working with women specifically because of the discrimination they have long faced, and co-founded the Hazara Women’s Organization last year. “Being underprivileged or being oppressed is not something you should be ashamed of. It’s something you have to address and change,” she says. “There is so much beauty in being Hazara.”

She says that when she first arrived in Canada she often found herself the only woman at the table. But that has started to change, with a new generation of Hazara refugees in Canada who are today responding to the crisis. Tahira Razai is one of them.

“Women have always been oppressed. They have always been pushed down and told ‘you can’t do it; you can’t lead the community,’” she says. “Once given the opportunity, [women] will show they can do it.” She met Ms. Bahman at a demonstration in Toronto to bring attention to the plight of the Hazaras, and the two women continue to work together. 

Their priority now is to find safe houses for the Hazara families in Afghanistan with whom they are in touch, and to try to arrange their clandestine escape from the country. They have not yet succeeded in this, but the need is urgent: The women’s WhatsApp channels are full of grim news about the disappearance and death of their fellow Hazaras, including some of Ms. Bahman’s own family.

“I’m here in my warm home with food. Nothing is my concern. Safety, nothing,” says Ms. Bahman. “I have lived everything close to death that the people are experiencing right now. So I’m just driven by hope, hope that we can save someone’s life.”

Commentary

Music, movies, laughter: How one minister seeks to make God accessible

Statistics show a decline in churchgoing in the Black community. But a minister sees God’s love language everywhere, and hears faith “in the prayers before ballgames and the deep theological conversations in barbershops.”

David
Courtesy of the Rev. Nicole Duncan-Smith
The Rev. Nicole Duncan-Smith (left) hugs Ms. Harriet Corprew, a leader in the Peridot collective in the St. Paul Community Baptist Church's Jewel Ministry, after her ordination.

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Ministering to those on the margins of the church – or society – is not as complicated as we sometimes make it seem. While statistics rage, proclaiming that youth and people of color are making a mass exodus from the church, I believe Americans are engaging God in beautiful and radical ways.

I see evidence of that faith in the acceptance of music with religious themes on secular radio. I hear it in the prayers before street ballgames and the deep theological conversations in barbershops.

Who can really relate to a Creator who lives in the distant sky? 

Instead, I look to culture for a sort of love language for communicating about God that doesn’t hover over people but exists inside them. Be it sports, music, movies, comic books, or just the ministry of laughter, I seek to make God accessible, like a friend.

Those same touch points were important to Jesus. 

A homeless, brown, Palestinian Jew, who occasionally drank with people he should not even have sat with, according to the religious mores of the day, Jesus believed in loving God and following the golden rule – not judging folks.

People – young people, especially – know us by our love.

Music, movies, laughter: How one minister seeks to make God accessible

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The young woman walked into the church and stood in the vestibule outside the sanctuary. She looked nervous and out of place. One of the ushers came up to me and tapped me, saying, “Minister Nicole, can you talk to this young lady?” She, all of 21 or 22, was shaking and could not look me in the eye. She was scared, and though she didn’t say it immediately, she thought she didn’t belong.

We sat together and began to talk. I took her hand, smiled, and brushed her bangs back. We prayed, and then she said it: “I have a pimp and he is looking for me.”

My chest caved in, but not because she was a sex worker. I was struck because she could have been my child. Within the hour, we were able to feed her, connect her with a counselor, and offer her a place to spend the night. I asked her to sit right there while I arranged a ride for her.

But when I came back, she was gone.  

As a new member of the ministerial staff, I thought I had failed – that she didn’t trust me or I’d missed something. Then the same usher who’d tapped me earlier came up to me. “She told me to tell you ‘thank you,’ but her ‘daddy’ was waiting for her,” the usher said.

“Daddy” is the street term for a pimp. Somehow, he had found her and come for her.

I never saw her again, but I was glad I’d at least gotten to share with her that Jesus sees and loves her, and that there is nothing she has ever done that is too low down for God to lift her up.

Ministering to those on the margins of the church – or society – is not as complicated as we sometimes make it seem. While statistics rage, proclaiming that youth and people of color are making a mass exodus from the church, I believe Americans are engaging God in beautiful and radical ways.

Seeing faith all around us

According to the Pew Research Center, the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated – atheists, agnostics, and those describing their religion as “nothing in particular” – have increased from 17% to 26% of adults in the United States since 2009. There’s a similar trend among Black Americans, 21% of whom are religiously unaffiliated. Of those, the majority are younger: Twenty-eight percent are Gen Zers, and 33% are millennials. Only 11% are boomers.

But identifying with a religion is different from having faith. Pew found that among religiously unaffiliated Black Americans, 9 out of 10 believe in God or a higher power.

Courtesy of the Rev. Nicole Duncan-Smith
The Rev. Nicole Duncan-Smith spends time with the children of St. Paul Community Baptist Church at the church's family day in the park.

I see evidence of that faith in the acceptance of music with religious themes on secular radio. I find it hearing kids on the street rap lyrics by Kanye West and Chance the Rapper that lift up the Lord. I spot it in the iced-out Jesus jewelry that looks gaudy to some, but those wearing it believe the image of Christ on their chest protects them. I hear it in the prayers before street ballgames and the deep theological conversations in barbershops.

Many people want to walk in conversation intellectually, creatively, and culturally with the Judeo-Christian idea of God, but are their novel approaches appreciated by the church?

Unfortunately not. For far too many clergy and congregations, theology is (a) rooted in hierarchy, (b) constructed on silos of shame, and (c) more invested in the institutions of church than in the liberating principles of “the Way.”

Being connected to an organized assembly of believers has glorious benefits. But those three theological threads are often so woven into the fabric of a congregation that people have no idea those dynamics are at play – or that they’re unattractive to those outside the church and may even be pushing them toward a life of sin.

An Afri-centric ministry

Before the isolation of the pandemic, I served in person at St. Paul Community Baptist Church (SPCBC), a thriving, multigenerational, African American congregation in the New York borough of Brooklyn. (Just last month, we finally began worshipping in person again.) Our members range from full-time workers to those habitually unemployed. We have Ph.D.s, MBAs, and people once known by a prison ID number. We have feisty seniors and a thriving youth culture.

Over the past 10 years, four of our church’s young adults have appeared (separately) on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, our all-Black boys’ Rites of Passage program has had a 100% high-school-graduation and college-admissions rate, and we are always looking for new ways to make meaningful connections with our millennial and Gen Z populations.

One way we’ve done this for nearly 30 years is by sharing God’s presence and Jesus’ redeeming touch through the Afri-centric lens of our MAAFA ministry. Maafa, a Swahili word, means great devastation, disaster, or tragedy. Popularized by Marimba Ani in her book “Let the Circle Be Unbroken,” maafa is used to describe Africans’ enslavement and the middle passage journey that transported them to the Americas for the sole purpose of exploiting them.

Each September, we pause for a week to recognize our ancestors who sacrificed their lives in one of humanity’s most inhumane acts. We also marvel at how God has sustained us through many generations since then.  

Making church “beautiful”

Sharing about Jesus shouldn’t be boring – especially if you are presenting the Most High as indwelling, like the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts. Who can really relate to a Creator who lives in the distant sky? 

Instead, I look to culture for a sort of love language for communicating about God that doesn’t hover over people but exists inside them. Be it sports, music, movies, comic books, or just the ministry of laughter, I seek to make God accessible, like a friend. 

Those same touch points were important to Jesus. 

homeless, brown, Palestinian Jew, who occasionally ate and drank with people he should not even have sat with, according to the religious mores of the day, Jesus believed in loving God and following the golden rule – not judging folks and manipulating them into spiritual submission with fire-and-brimstone promises of hell.

That is not to say that the condemnation of sin and its consequences should not be a part of the ministerial conversation. 

But people – young people, especially – know us by our love. At SPCBC, we try simply to love them. We welcome them and are willing to plant the seed with love.

After that young woman left with her “daddy” years ago, the usher reassured me, “Young preacher, you saved her life by sharing your Christ with her. Even if you couldn’t save her today, she knows she can come back. You made church beautiful.” 

I hope I planted a seed with love.

The Rev. Nicole Duncan-Smith is a journalist, hip-hop enthusiast, wife, mom, preacher, and all-around cool kid.

Books

October’s 10 best books to savor in autumn

Our reviewers’ favorite books this month include John le Carré’s (last) tale of British spies, a novel where characters test the boundaries of moral imperatives, a family’s journey toward hope, and a look at George Orwell’s appreciation of nature.

David

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“Life is pure adventure, and the sooner we realize that, the quicker we will be able to treat life as art,” poet Maya Angelou posted on social media in 2011, three years before her death. 

While most people think of “adventure” as something to go out and discover – a quest, for example – it can also describe an interior journey of the heart and mind.

The books that Monitor reviewers liked best this month include adventure in the traditional sense, with a spy novel and a mystery, as well as insightful fiction in which characters wrestle with moral questions.

Rounding out the selection are nonfiction titles that explore personal growth inside a prison, the personalities of Roman rulers, and George Orwell’s love of the natural world. 

October’s 10 best books to savor in autumn

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Simon & Schuster and Henry Holt and Company

Amid the turning leaves, October books deliver treats and surprises by the bushel-full. Imaginative and immersive fiction meets a bounty of captivating and impactful nonfiction titles. 

1 My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson

Jocelyn Nicole Johnson’s short-story collection aims its powerful beam on history’s proximity, racial trauma, and community survival. The title story follows a group of residents fleeing a white supremacist siege of their Charlottesville, Virginia, neighborhood. Led by Sally Hemings’ descendant Da’Naisha, the group escapes to Thomas Jefferson’s well-preserved manse.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

2 Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Franzen’s novel uses the 1970s as a backdrop for an exploration of authenticity, power, and the balance between independence and societal obligations. At the center of the story is a Midwestern pastor, his wife, and their four children, each of whom tests the boundaries of what they had once assumed were moral imperatives. Readers should be aware of coarse language and an array of moral infractions.

3 Silverview by John le Carré

Published posthumously, the 26th novel by the late author and former MI5/MI6 secret agent is a smashing finale to his oeuvre. It’s a lyrical, twisty morality tale set in an English seaside town that slowly reveals the lives of those involved in modern-day intelligence work. It’s a spy novel that’s both riveting and insightful.

4 Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers

Empathy infuses this hauntingly beautiful novel set in 1950s London. Journalist Jean Swinney investigates a young woman’s claim that her child was the result of a virgin birth. Genuine characterizations, pitch-perfect prose, and gentle wit make this absorbing mystery and love story unforgettable.

5 Once Upon a Wardrobe by Patti Callahan

In this novel, a college student at Oxford in the 1950s befriends C.S. Lewis to find out for her younger brother where Narnia came from. Her brother, who is housebound from an illness, has become fascinated with “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” The story of a loving family journeying toward the light of hope is deeply reassuring.

6 The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

In Amor Towles’ third novel, a road trip takes on epic proportions for four boys in the 1950s. Their route, and the book itself, are not linear: Stories trail off like railroad sidings; threads are lost and picked up again; and through it all pass the boys, who are trying desperately to go in the right direction. The book’s abrupt ending may trouble some readers. Fans of “A Gentleman in Moscow” might be disappointed. (Read full review here.)

7 The Writing of the Gods by Edward Dolnick

A science journalist delves into the fascinating story of the Rosetta stone found in Egypt in 1799 and the 20-year race to decipher the mysterious picture-writing of ancient Egypt known as hieroglyphs. The story centers on two rival geniuses who finally solved a linguistic mystery that had befuddled scholars for centuries.

Penguin Publishing Group

 

8 Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit

Challenging preconceptions about the author of “Animal Farm” and “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” Rebecca Solnit offers an unexpected view of British writer George Orwell. Examining his life and work through the lens of Orwell’s passion for, and appreciation of, nature, Solnit presents a well-researched, elegantly written book that deepens our understanding of the literary icon.

9 Our Class by Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, volunteered to teach a college-level literature class at the East Jersey State Prison. His book is a gumbo of genres: personal narratives, plays, songs, poems, and history. There are lurid tales of barbarity and inhumanity, but there is hope in the transformative power of human relationships. 

10 Twelve Caesars by Mary Beard

“We are still surrounded by Roman emperors,” writes classicist Mary Beard at the beginning of her fascinating book, which embarks on a study of not just the Julio-Claudian dynasty of caesars made infamous by Suetonius and Robert Graves but also of their ubiquitous iconography – in statues, on coins, in paintings and sculpture. It’s an eye-catching field guide to these famous ancient rulers.

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How Bangladesh tries to heal a religious rupture

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In a country with a history of interfaith tensions, Bangladesh just provided an example of how to counter religious bigotry. After days of violent attacks on Hindus, many public figures quickly reminded Bangladeshis of the basis for communal harmony. It was a call for more than tolerance.

Thousands of people rallied Wednesday – a day when Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists in Bangladesh observed three of their holy days – in celebration of a common commitment to peace. “Teach Your Children to Love, Not to Kill,” read one placard.

In an appeal to act only on accurate information, Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister of Bangladesh, urged people to fact-check anything controversial on social media. The violence was started by a video that seemed to show Islam’s holy book near a Hindu statue.

In society at large, crowds formed human chains on campuses and at the national museum to show interfaith solidarity. A well-known actress offered this idea: “If the country belongs to all of us, then there should be no word for ‘minority.’”

Such reactions provide lessons for other nations dealing with religious strife. When a society puts faith in equality of all, it can enjoy equality between faiths.

How Bangladesh tries to heal a religious rupture

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Reuters
A protester in Dhaka, Bangladesh, holds a placard during an Oct. 19 protest against violence committed on Hindu communities.

In a country with a history of interfaith tensions, Bangladesh just provided an example of how to counter religious bigotry. After days of violent attacks on Hindus over a social media post seen as blasphemous against Islam, many public figures quickly reminded Bangladeshis of the basis for communal harmony. It was a call for more than tolerance or a condemnation of hate.

Thousands of people rallied Wednesday – a day when Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists in Bangladesh observed three of their holy days – in celebration of a common commitment to peace. “Teach Your Children to Love, Not to Kill,” read a placard at one rally. (At least six people have been killed in the violence since Friday, with dozens of Hindu temples and homes attacked.)

In an appeal to act only on accurate information, Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister of Bangladesh, urged people to fact-check anything controversial on social media. The violence was started by a video that seemed to show a Quran, Islam’s holy book, near a Hindu statue.

“Bangladesh is a country of secular spirit,” she said. “The people of all religions will perform their religious rituals freely as our constitution has given that directive.” She also directed prosecution of those who committed the violence. Hundreds have so far been arrested.

In society at large, crowds of people formed human chains on campuses and at the national museum to show interfaith solidarity against religious hatred. A famed movie director suggested non-Hindus tell Hindu neighbors that they are not alone.

A well-known actress, Bidya Sinha Saha Mim, offered this idea on Facebook: “If the country belongs to all of us, then there should be no word for ‘minority.’”

Such reactions in Bangladesh provide lessons for other nations dealing with religious strife. When a society puts faith in equality of all, it can enjoy equality between faiths.

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.

Is harmony still relevant?

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Sometimes disagreement can be so deep-seated that harmonious resolution seems unattainable. But when we let God – rather than resentment, anger, or self-righteousness – inspire our approach, we come to find that harmony and healing are never out of reach.

Is harmony still relevant?

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Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

On any subject, there can be a variety of opinions. That’s certainly normal. Too often, though, this seems to be taken to an extreme, with disagreement going hand in hand with negativity, resentment, and even anger.

In light of this unsettling trend, here is a provocative question: Is it possible to be in harmony with someone with whom you disagree?

At one point, a close friend and I were thinking through a plan of action relating to a situation that was important to both of us. We each felt that our own approach was correct. Our disagreement was deep-seated and sincere.

Yet throughout our discussions, we stood upon what proved to be a powerful foundation: the deep care we genuinely felt for one another, reflecting God’s love for all His children. This didn’t mean we avoided tackling the hard questions. Rather, as we thought the topic through together, this commitment to living our God-given harmony gave us the clear-sightedness to recognize an even better solution than the ones we had each first identified on our own.

Harmony built simply upon human emotions, as well-meant as they can be, doesn’t contain the glue needed when we’re wrestling through tough issues. Something more is required. Christ Jesus once prayed to God that his followers “may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:22). Constantly, Jesus felt his oneness with God, whom the Bible names Love, and this comforting awareness enabled him to love, help, and heal friends and enemies alike.

Christian Science teaches that we each can follow Jesus’ example and prove for ourselves the great value of thought that humbly yields to divine harmony. Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy explains in her book “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” “For true happiness, man must harmonize with his Principle, divine Love;...” (p. 337).

Solid, permanent harmony is a quality of divine Principle, another name for God. As such, it has infinitely more staying power than any human emotion. Best of all, God expresses and maintains harmony in all of us, as His spiritual offspring, without interruption. To recognize this, even when inharmony seems most overwhelming, is powerful prayer – prayer that resolves and heals.

Putting this into practice involves more than thinking about God as the source of true harmony. It’s about letting God, Love, shape what we think and do. When singing with someone, it’s more pleasing when you bring yourself into harmony with the other person’s voice, rather than just singing your own tune. Similarly, as we go through daily life, we can bring our thoughts into harmony with the Love that is God. In fact, doing so is more than just pleasing; it’s a great joy of existence. Some of the notes and tones of divine Love are thoughtfulness, comfort, insight, health, and pure goodness.

“Be not conformed to this world,” counseled the Apostle Paul, “but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2). Thought in conformity with the world may include self-righteousness, resentment, and anxiety. Thought in conformity with God, however, is thought that is in conformity with God’s purity, God’s authority, God’s goodness, God’s love, God’s all-presence.

So, it’s worth it to actively let our thoughts harmonize with God. Instead of resenting an individual with whom we disagree, we can prayerfully behold ourselves and the other person in harmony with God. To do this is to love in the same manner that Jesus urged us to.

In a vibrant poem, Mrs. Eddy compares the thoughts we think to the strings of a harp. “O’er waiting harpstrings of the mind / There sweeps a strain,” it begins (“Poems,” p. 12). We can invite divine Love to play the harpstrings of our thoughts with its beautiful goodness and harmony. As a result, we’ll find ourselves honestly able to proclaim, as it says later in the poem, “Father, where Thine own children are, / I love to be” (p. 13).

Is harmony still relevant? It certainly is! And when we look to God as the source of genuine harmony, we find that, yes, it is indeed possible to be in solid harmony with someone – even when we disagree.

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A Samaritan pilgrimage

Raneen Sawafta/Reuters
Members of the Samaritan community take part in a traditional pilgrimage marking the holiday of Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles, atop Mount Gerizim near Nablus in the occupied West Bank on Oct. 20, 2021.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow: We’re working on a story about a national wildlife refuge created within a city.

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