2021
November
16
Tuesday

Monitor Daily Podcast

November 16, 2021
Loading the player...

TODAY’S INTRO

‘New Kid’ author Jerry Craft creates books he would have wanted to read

April Austin
Weekly Deputy Editor, Books Editor

Jerry Craft writes books with Black characters that reflect his experience growing up. Like many writers of color, he didn’t see himself in the books he read as a young person. And so he avoided reading. As an adult, with sons of his own, he saw an opportunity to write about “the side of African American life that isn’t steeped in misery,” he has said. 

“Most of the books I saw really were about struggle … being enslaved, gangs, the civil rights struggle,” he told the Houston Chronicle. “I wanted to [write] African American characters that sometimes the hardest [decision] during the day is ‘Do you want chocolate ice cream, or strawberry?’” 

His 2020 Newbery Medal-winning graphic novel, “New Kid,” introduces Jordan Banks, a Black middle schooler whose parents make him attend a mostly white private school. In his acceptance speech, Mr. Craft says what’s meant the most is “teachers ... shar[ing] stories of kids who had never enjoyed reading a book before. [They] told me about their students of color who have broken down and sobbed because they have never seen themselves in a book.” 

“New Kid” is on a list of 850 books that Texas state Rep. Matt Krause, a Republican running for attorney general, wants to exclude from school libraries. The list includes a high proportion of authors of color and LGBTQ writers.  

“New Kid” has been challenged in Texas schools before, most recently in Katy, where a group of parents said it promoted critical race theory. After a committee review, the book was returned to school shelves. The controversy has strengthened sales of Mr. Craft’s books. As he explained at a virtual event hosted by the Harris County Public Library, “So many places have sold so many copies because now people want to see what all the hubbub is.”

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

Biden and Xi ‘meet’ and agree: US-China competition, not conflict

Face-to-face diplomacy still matters – even virtually. The meeting between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping didn’t resolve major disputes, but it could prevent the world’s most consequential relationship from going off the rails.

April
Susan Walsh/AP
President Joe Biden meets virtually with Chinese leader Xi Jinping from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Nov. 15, 2021.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 6 Min. )

Washington and Beijing shared one fundamental goal for Monday night’s virtual meeting between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden: to bring a modicum of stability to U.S.-China relations. The meeting, which ran 3 1/2 hours, was described as “intense and engaged.”

“It seems to me our responsibility as leaders of China and the United States is to ensure that the competition between our countries does not veer into conflict, whether intended or unintended,” Mr. Biden told Mr. Xi as the meeting was starting. “Just simple, straightforward competition.”

Mr. Xi struck a similar emphasis in the meeting – the first face-to-face discussions between the two men since President Biden took office. “The most important event in international relations in the coming 50 years will be for China and the U.S. to find the right way to get along,” the Chinese leader told Mr. Biden.

Indeed, experts agree that Monday’s session, a respectful and open conversation between the two leaders, put the critical relationship on the more solid footing it badly needs.

“The U.S.-China relationship was effectively dysfunctional. ... It was confrontation through public condemnation,” said Ryan Hass at the Brookings Institution. The talks “put a bit of a floor underneath the relationship.”

Biden and Xi ‘meet’ and agree: US-China competition, not conflict

Collapse

One year ago, with the globe reeling from a pandemic, the United States and China not only failed to cooperate to combat the crisis but also unleashed a level of discord not seen for half a century, at one point triggering fears of war.

Indeed, in late October 2020, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, felt compelled to call his Chinese military counterpart, Gen. Li Zuocheng, to convey a message that the U.S. was not going to attack, General Milley testified in September.

With this backdrop, Washington and Beijing shared one fundamental goal for Monday night’s virtual meeting between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden: to bring a modicum of stability to U.S.-China relations in a bid to prevent further deterioration and risk.

“It seems to me our responsibility as leaders of China and the United States is to ensure that the competition between our countries does not veer into conflict, whether intended or unintended,” Mr. Biden told Mr. Xi in remarks from the Roosevelt Room in the White House as the meeting was starting. “Just simple, straightforward competition.”

Mr. Xi struck a similar emphasis in the meeting – the first face-to-face discussions between the two men since President Biden took office.

“A sound and stable China-U.S. relationship is required for advancing the two countries’ respective development and for safeguarding a peaceful and stable international environment,” the Chinese leader told Mr. Biden. “The most important event in international relations in the coming 50 years will be for China and the U.S. to find the right way to get along.”

Indeed, experts agree that Monday’s session, a respectful and open conversation between the two leaders, put the critical relationship on the more solid footing it badly needs.

“The U.S.-China relationship was effectively dysfunctional. ... It was confrontation through public condemnation,” said Ryan Hass, senior fellow at the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution.

The leadership talks “put a bit of a floor underneath the relationship,” offering stability and stopping a runaway escalation of conflict that is not in the interests of either side, he said in a Brookings panel discussion Tuesday about the talks.

A shared responsibility

The tone of the lengthy meeting, which ran overtime to last about 3 1/2 hours, was “intense and engaged,” a senior U.S. official said afterward, reflecting how well the two leaders know one another, having spent many hours talking, traveling, and gaining familiarity over the years.

Tingshu Wang/Reuters
A screen shows Chinese leader Xi Jinping attending a virtual meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden via video link, at a restaurant in Beijing, Nov. 16, 2021.

Mr. Xi referred to Mr. Biden as an “old friend,” and the two traded stories and referred to past conversations in a meeting that was at times unscripted, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said at the Brookings session. “It’s not just reading off talking points. There is actually a genuine give-and-take,” he said.

“They both recognize the weight of the relationship and stewarding the relationship ... and they are looking to shoulder that weight responsibly,” Mr. Sullivan said.

Both leaders pledged to continue their meetings. Going forward, Mr. Hass said, this would appear to establish a new pattern, where the leaders meet to identify key issues, empower senior officials to follow up, and then meet again to push things forward.

“The U.S. and China seem to be making strides” in closing the gaps in expectations, he said. “It doesn’t solve the problems that are embedded in the relationship, but it makes it more manageable.”

Both leaders used the meeting to air disagreements and to highlight areas of highest danger for the relationship, according to officials on each side.

President Biden cited China’s human rights abuses, specifically referring to treatment of the Muslim Uyghur population of Xinjiang province – a situation Secretary of State Antony Blinken, present at Monday’s meeting, has labeled “genocide.” He also spoke of China’s “unfair trade and economic policies,” senior officials said.

For his part, Mr. Xi condemned advancing U.S. military cooperation with China’s neighbors – presumably a reference to the Biden administration’s stepped-up cooperation with the “Quad” countries of Australia, India, and Japan – saying such bloc-building would “inevitably bring disaster to the world.”

U.S. balancing act

A surprise climate accord announced between the two powers last week had raised hopes among some advocates that Monday night’s talks could result in additional breakthroughs.

But the virtual meeting was more about “setting the guardrails” for the intense competition between the two countries, rather than any concrete actions or “deliverables,” a senior administration official said after the meeting.

Evan Vucci/AP
President Joe Biden walks to a "Quad" summit with (from left) Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, at the White House, Sept. 24, 2021. Chinese leader Xi Jinping told Mr. Biden in a virtual meeting Nov. 15 that such bloc-building would “inevitably bring disaster to the world.”

Moreover, the distance between their respective top priorities – Mr. Biden focused on China’s rising threats against Taiwan, according to officials, while Mr. Xi wanted progress on lifting tariffs on Chinese goods imposed under the Trump administration – suggested that cooperation is likely to be more the exception than the rule in coming years.

The U.S. president did not end up offering any of the tariff relief the Chinese leader sought.

Indeed, the Biden administration’s rhetoric on China suggests the delicate balancing act the administration is executing when it comes to the world’s most consequential big-power relationship.

On the one hand, Mr. Biden’s frequent references to “intense competition” with China and tough talk on China’s human rights abuses and authoritarian model of governance reflect the president’s vision of China as a rising 21st-century challenge.

“The use of the term ‘competition’ by the administration is not a political tactic” to respond to Republican critics, says David Shambaugh, director of the China program at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, commenting in an email. “It is an intellectual and policy construct of how the U.S. frames the relationship.”

At the same time, the almost automatic add-on calls for “cooperation” when possible and in the interest of both parties suggest a pragmatic realism toward China.

This “on the other hand” view recognizes that China – as the world’s second-largest economy, with trade and investment ties with key strategic regions of the world that often surpass those of the U.S., and with a rapidly expanding military and growing nuclear arsenal – requires deft and realistic engagement.

Need for “new mechanisms”

From the perspective of some China experts and some officials within the administration, that means the U.S. cannot deal with China the same way President Ronald Reagan approached a failing Soviet Union in the 1980s, as some new Cold War theorists would advocate.

“We have the internet now, our supply chains are significantly intertwined, it’s a deeply different environment from that of the Cold War, so we can’t address the challenges China poses today by turning to the past for responses,” says Emily de la Bruyère, a senior fellow in the China program at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington.

“We need to come up with new mechanisms to deal with a new situation.”

From the perspective of China’s domestic politics, Mr. Xi seeks to demonstrate he can manage the U.S. relationship as a crucial Communist Party meeting approaches in late 2022, when he intends to secure a rare third term as China’s top leader, experts say.

“Xi doesn’t want the possibility a war will break out or the U.S. will radically ramp up sanctions or put more Chinese companies on the entity list,” says Scott Kennedy, a senior adviser and expert on China’s economic policy at the Center for Strategic and International Relations. Instead, Beijing “wants to stabilize things where they are,” he says.

On freezing Poland-Belarus border, migrants cry for help

Thousands of migrants are freezing on the border between Belarus and Poland, trapped in a geopolitical standoff. Our correspondent talked to three of them about their dilemma.

April
Leonid Scheglov/BelTA/Reuters
Migrants gather near a fence on the Belarus-Poland border. Thousands have arrived in hopes of being allowed into European Union member Poland, but Poland is refusing them entry and Belarusian troops are not allowing them to leave.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 6 Min. )

Thousands of mostly Middle Eastern migrants are camping out in the freezing cold, stranded on the Belarus border with Poland, and prevented from going any farther toward their goal – the European Union.

Trapped between Polish soldiers guarding the border fence and Belarusian soldiers who will not let them turn back, three Syrian migrants are in a particularly bad way. “We’ve been 10 days without food or water,” Mahmoud Naaous told the Monitor on a WhatsApp call. We have no tent or anything else, just our clothes. We are going to die.”

The EU accuses Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of “weaponizing” the migrant flood, making it easy for the migrants to get into his country, and then depositing them in a forest, near the border, and encouraging them to try to enter Poland illegally.

As diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis continue, Mr. Naaous and his companions have given up on their hope of reaching Europe. “What we need is to get out of here,” he said on the phone. “We need help.”

On freezing Poland-Belarus border, migrants cry for help

Collapse

The man’s voice, carried over a faint phone line from the depths of Europe’s oldest forest, was tinged with desperation.

“We’ve been 10 days without food or water,” says Mahmoud Naaous, urgently. “We have no tent or anything else, just our clothes. We are going to die.”

Mr. Naaous, a Syrian delivery driver who fled Lebanon, had hoped to find refuge in Europe. Now he finds himself stranded on the border between Belarus and Poland in the freezing cold, along with several thousand other migrants.

As tensions between Belarus and the European Union mount over their future, these migrants, scattered through the primeval Bialowiesza forest that straddles the border, have struggled to make their voices heard. Journalists and humanitarian workers have been barred from the border area on both sides.

One of Mr. Naaous’ traveling companions, Walid Hammoud, said he was seriously ill and could scarcely breathe, when reached by WhatsApp on Monday. “We are at the Polish (border) fence,” he said in a feeble and faltering voice. “We are waiting for the Polish army.”

But the Polish soldiers on the border have orders from their government to keep the migrants out. Belarusian soldiers, on the other hand, have prevented Mr. Hammoud from going back the way he came, even though a Belarusian military doctor recommended he be transferred to a hospital, according to Mr. Naaous.

Stranded and alone in the woods, “we are super, super cold,” a third Syrian in the group, Mohammed al-Attar, said in a voice memo that ended with a muffled sob. “Please, please, please, we want help.” He sent a photo of his group, three men huddled together under a tree, their faces framed by beards, scarves, and hooded sweaters.

Leonid Shcheglov/BelTA/AP
A Polish serviceperson sprays tear gas during clashes between migrants and Polish border guards at the Belarus-Poland border near Grodno, Belarus, on Tuesday. Polish border forces say they were attacked with stones by migrants seeking to enter Poland.

Taken to a faraway spot

Migrants from Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan have been gathering at the woodland border since August, when Belarus made it easier to obtain entry visas. The EU has accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of using the migrants as weapons against the bloc, and the three Syrians’ experience suggests official involvement in their journey.

From Minsk, a taxi took Mr. Hammoud and his companions to a regular border crossing in Brest, according to his nephew, Dr. Ahmed al-Youssef, who lives in France and has been in regular telephone contact with his uncle in recent days.

“Once they got to Brest the Belarusian army took them to this faraway spot,” in the forest, explains Dr. al-Youssef. “The army puts [migrants] in areas where there is not much Polish security” along the border fence.

“This inhumane system of using refugees as tools to exert pressure on the European Union has not improved but has got worse over the last days,” Germany’s EU Minister Heiko Maas said Monday as the bloc announced new sanctions against Belarus aimed at airlines and travel agents allegedly involved in the standoff at the Belarus border with Poland.

“Today’s decision reflects the determination by the European Union to stand up to the instrumentalization of migrants for political purposes. We are pushing back on this inhuman and illegal practice,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.

President Lukashenko has, however, posed a problem for the EU, which has been struggling for several years to design a humane and efficient system for sorting political refugees, possibly eligible for asylum, from economic migrants.

The journey turns deadly

Mr. Hammoud, whose nephew said he was planning to seek asylum in Germany, said he had left Lebanon “because I could not make a living there” as a truck driver and because he was seeking better medical treatment than was available in Beirut.

The trio said they arrived in Minsk on a Belavia flight from Beirut on Nov. 2  and reached the border three days later. Mr. Naaous said he paid $1,200 for the flight and another $1,500 for his Belarus visa, arranged for him by an agent in Beirut and issued by the Belarusian Consulate in the Syrian capital, Damascus.

A travel agent in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Erbil said colleagues of his there have been selling package journeys to Belarus, including a visa, for $3,500. Under EU pressure, Iraqi and Syrian airlines have now suspended flights to Minsk. FlyDubai still advertises one-way fares to Minsk from Beirut for $2,000.

For many, the air journey may have seemed safer than the Mediterranean route to Europe, where nearly 23,000 migrants have drowned or disappeared, according to the Missing Migrants Project. But with temperatures dropping, the journey from Belarus to Poland has turned deadly. Nine migrants are reported to have frozen to death in recent days.

“If Belarus was not issuing visas, no one would have been able to go,” says Hunar, the travel agent, who provided only his first name. “Every day we get about two people asking to go to Belarus, but we don’t provide that service. It is putting people at a level of risk that the heart cannot accept.”

For Mr. Hammoud, the eldest of the group, the risks proved much worse than expected. His difficulties breathing and ghostly complexion have his two companions worried. “My back and chest are killing me,” he said on the phone Monday. “There isn’t an NGO in sight.”

Belarusian soldiers come and go in the area, Mr. Naaous says, but are no help. On Monday, a Polish soldier exchanged no words with the group, but threw a bottle of water over the barbed wire fence erected to keep them out.

Some migrants have managed to break through the fence to reach Polish territory and have then been pushed back by soldiers. That is when “the nightmare really starts,” says Philippe Dam of Human Rights Watch, which sent a fact-finding mission to both sides of the border last month.

“Once people are pushed back into Belarus, they are intercepted by Belarusian border guards, forced to stay in makeshift camps, often beaten, often threatened and forced to go again to Poland multiple times. No food. No water. Even dying in some situations,” Mr. Dam says.

“On our own in the woods”

Under EU and international law, Poland may not push back migrants who ask for asylum once they are on Polish territory, says Mr. Dam. Nor may Polish officials arbitrarily expel people to a country where they would be at risk of abuse. 

Leonid Shcheglov/BelTA/AP
Belarusian Red Cross employees hand out humanitarian aid to migrants gathering at the Belarus-Poland border. The EU is calling for humanitarian aid as up to 4,000 migrants are stuck in makeshift camps in freezing weather in Belarus, while Poland has reinforced its border with 15,000 soldiers.

The humanitarian crisis at Poland’s border has been brewing for weeks and came as no surprise, he says. The EU could and should have helped put in place an orderly process to review asylum requests, he argues – a few thousand people pale in comparison with the million that arrived in 2015.

Instead, mounting frustration gave way to chaotic scenes on Tuesday in the Bruzgi-Kuźnica border region, where crowds of migrants tried to break through the barrier while Polish border guards kept them at bay with water cannons.

Belarusian state television has broadcast video of disorganized makeshift camps in the forest and next to a wire fence. The government-linked Belarusian Red Cross says it has delivered food and set up three heated tents at a makeshift camp in recent days, but its spokesperson was unsure of its location.

So is Mr. Naaous, who has no idea where his group is in relation to that shelter and says they no longer have the strength to move major distances. As dusk fell on Monday evening, the group sent a pin location from the no man’s land at the heart of a bitter geopolitical standoff that has turned into a life-and-death gamble.

“We are on our own in the woods between Belarus and Poland,” Mr. Naaous said. “What we need is to get out of here. We need medicine. We need help.”

Frenemies: Why UK-French relationships survive their countries’ spats

Political relationships are under strain between Britain and France. But the presence of large French communities in London suggests diplomatic spats won’t reverse the affection held, albeit dented.

April

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 6 Min. )

Diplomatic spats over fishing rights and trade agreements continue to strain the relationship between Britain and France already fractured by the rhetoric around Brexit. In Britain, the official line is that the U.K. has left the European Union but not Europe.

For those French people who have made Britain, and London in particular, their home, that distinction hasn’t rung entirely true, though, as the vitriol brewed by geopolitical tensions has shadowed their day-to-day experiences.

There have been four major flashpoints between Britain and France over the past year, the most recent being post-Brexit fishing rights, following the seizure of a British trawler by French authorities in late October. The fractured Anglo-French relationship has made headlines on both sides of the channel, with disputes over fish inspiring warlike comment in many of Britain’s newspapers.

Still, French citizens living in the U.K. are finding that the political split isn’t reversing the human connections they have made with Britons.

“Even if political relationships have deteriorated as a result of Brexit and the various conflicts since, it’s not new,” says French-born British resident Nathalie Reis. “There have always been conflicts between the two countries. They will manage to find a way.”

Frenemies: Why UK-French relationships survive their countries’ spats

Collapse
Stephane Mahe/Reuters
A trawler sails off the fishing port in La Turballe, France, Nov. 5, 2021. The British and French governments are currently at odds over fishing rights in the English Channel, and it is affecting the lives of French citizens living in the United Kingdom.

Nathalie Reis may be a French citizen, but she has lived in the United Kingdom longer than she lived in France.

The London-based translator moved to the U.K. in 1991 after completing her studies in Paris and falling in love with both the English language and the British man who is now her husband and father to her British-born children. “I never felt like a foreigner,” she says. “I have never wanted to be British and never felt the need to be British. I thought of myself as European.”

But that has changed since Brexit, and as Britain’s political relationship with France has deteriorated. Ms. Reis has recently applied for a British passport so that border officials will stop questioning her status. “I have become a foreigner and more of an immigrant,” she says.

Diplomatic spats over fishing rights and trade agreements continue to strain the relationship between Britain and France already fractured by the rhetoric around Brexit. In Britain, the official line is that the U.K. has left the European Union but not Europe. For those French people who have made Britain, and London in particular, their home, that distinction hasn’t rung entirely true, though, as the vitriol brewed by geopolitical tensions has shadowed their day-to-day experiences.

But still, they are finding that the political split isn’t reversing the human connections made between Britons and French nationals living in the U.K.

Courtesy of Nathalie Reis
Nathalie Reis says life has changed for her and many other French-born nationals living in Britain since Brexit and recent deteriorating political relations between the U.K. and France. But she, like many others, has married and built a life in Britain that offers hope and continuity.

“Even if political relationships have deteriorated as a result of Brexit and the various conflicts since, it’s not new. There have always been conflicts between the two countries. They will manage to find a way,” says Ms. Reis. “I know French people who have gone back, but we are still here. I’ve remained very French but also at the same time become very English.”

“The bad Europeans”

While there are no official numbers on French citizens in the U.K., an estimated 250,000 live in London alone according to the French Consulate.

In his 2017 election campaign, President Macron sought support from French voters during a visit to London, describing the British capital as “the sixth French city,” echoing comments made in 2014 by then-Mayor of London Boris Johnson to Bordeaux Mayor Alain Juppé that he was mayor of “the sixth biggest French city on earth.” Those comments display “genuine recognition” of the French community in Britain, says Paul Smith, who teaches French history and politics at the University of Nottingham.

Still, while the French are very numerous in Britain, and many of them do highly skilled jobs, they cannot be described as a community, argues Françoise Boucek, research fellow and political scientist at Queen Mary University of London and the Centre for European Research, because of how quickly “they tend to assimilate and spread.”

“They don’t get together for specific cultural reasons,” she says. “There’s not a sense of strong community [compared to] other people driven by war or conflict, forced to seek asylum.” 

But the sense of “us” and “them” may be growing, fueled by recent political events. There have been four major flashpoints between Britain and France over the past year, the most recent being post-Brexit fishing rights, following the seizure of a British trawler by French authorities in late October.

In September, Paris was outraged when Australia canceled a contract for French submarines in favor of a new deal with the United States and the U.K. London wants the French government to do more to dissuade migrants from trying to cross the English Channel, and British COVID-based travel restrictions on travelers from France have also caused tensions.

Alastair Grant/AP
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, greets French President Emmanuel Macron as he arrives at the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Nov. 1, 2021. France and Britain have been arguing over fishing and trade rights in recent weeks.

The fractured Anglo-French relationship has made headlines on both sides of the channel, with disputes over fish inspiring warlike comment in many of Britain’s newspapers.

Tensions over fishing rights have risen since the new post-Brexit trade deal was introduced in January. French fishers complain that the U.K. authorities have refused to grant permits to fish in newly British waters to boats that had fished them when they were European waters, as the Brexit deal requires. When the authorities on the island of Jersey denied permits to a number of French trawlers, the French authorities responded by seizing a British boat – leading to the furious British press coverage.

The French are now a “stand-in for Europe, the bad Europeans,” says Dr. Smith. “The British are not a punching bag [for the French] in the same way as the French are to the British. This goes back a long way.”

The cross-channel political spats have cast a shadow over the personal lives of many French citizens in Britain. Dr. Smith says his French-born wife feels nervous about speaking her native language in public because of “Francophobia” in Britain’s media.

He says a “deliberate dragging of feet” policy by the British government, making French fishers wait for permits to fish in U.K. waters, parallels the experience of French nationals applying for U.K. settled status, which will allow them to continue to live and work in Britain. “Everyone said it would be straightforward, but when you sat down, it was cumbersome and very slow,” he complains.

A less friendly environment

Véronique Martin moved to the U.K in one of the first ever student exchange programs, trialed three years before the 1987 opening of the ERASMUS program, and like Ms. Reis, fell in love with a British man. She has stayed ever since, “completely embracing British culture, loving its people, its music.”

But Britons weren’t so warm to her. In April 2018, she was asked by a pro-European Union group to speak at a rally in the constituency of Jacob Rees-Mogg, a leading Conservative proponent of Brexit, in front of many Brexit supporters. “I was the only foreigner. I was scared before it started. I was heckled to such an extent I had to stop speaking,” Ms. Martin says. “The chairman of the rally reminded everyone to respect and listen to me.”

She told the crowd, “you cannot go on hating the European workers who show so much courage and work really hard. It’s not their fault that your wages are undercut ... it’s not their decision, it’s the government that has the duty to make sure that bosses don’t undercut wages.”

She was able to win over the room in the end, Ms. Martin remembers. “The woman who shouted at me the most came over to me and hugged me. We managed to turn it around through common humanity,” she says.

But she cannot influence Franco-British relations by voting in Britain, though she would like to be able to do so; without British citizenship, she is excluded from participating in Westminster elections. Faced with “taxation without representation” in the U.K., she is now planning to exercise her democratic rights again in her original homeland, where she will have the chance not only to vote in the upcoming French presidential election, but also to elect senators representing diaspora French citizens.

For all the ups and downs of being a French person in London today, many French citizens still love Britain – not for its traditional Britishness, but for its multiculturalism.

“When I left [home in Corsica] at 18, I just about knew what ‘Jewish’ meant,” says Ms. Reis. “I certainly didn’t know anything about Hindus or Sikhs, and very little about Muslims. What I love about London and the U.K is the mix of people and the way they can be from different religions and nationalities, and they can all mix.

“Bringing up my kids with different religions around us, ... I wouldn’t swap it.”

Essay

When climate change stops being policy and starts getting personal

For many, climate change has remained a dry, policy-driven subject. But for Monitor correspondent Shafi Musaddique, it – and the COP summits around it – speak of home.

April
Mahmud Hossain Opu/AP
Women carry drinking water in Bonbibi Tala in Satkhira, Bangladesh, on Oct. 5, 2021. The salinity of soil in the region has increased over the past 35 years in this region of Bangladesh due to rising sea levels – one of the many ways that Bangladeshis are threatened by climate change.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 4 Min. )

Every COP climate summit that comes around is deeply personal for me, shedding new light on the monthly phone calls from Bangladesh stretching back to a time before I was born.

When I was growing up, those conversations with relatives halfway around the world passed news of villages flooded, crops failing, soil corrupted, a lack of jobs, and evermore, desperate calls for financial assistance.

Technology has improved the quality of those conversations in the years since, but the calls become more urgent. Their concerns grow each year, piling high like the many reports by international NGOs and governments around the world on just how precariously close Bangladesh is to disappearing.

Unless governments around the world introduce drastic measures to cut carbon emissions, an estimated 30 million Bangladeshis will be displaced in the coming decades. A U.S. government report published in 2018 highlighted that 90 million of the 160 million-plus Bangladeshis live in “high climate exposure areas.”

If Bangladesh manages to celebrate its centenary in another 50 years’ time, it will mean that we, as a global community, have done something substantial to save millions of people. Saving Bangladesh means securing the hopes and future for everyone, wherever they may be.

When climate change stops being policy and starts getting personal

Collapse

Going back to when I was a child in the 1990s – and even before – there has been one constant ritual at home, come rain or shine: the international phone call.

It usually follows like this: Pick up the receiver when it rings, be greeted with a five-second pause, and then a crackled, muffled voice speaking in Bengali – the faint traces of a relative halfway around the world, an uncle, an auntie, a cousin many times over. Someone you know, but don’t really know.

Growing up, I thought those conversations sounded like an echo under the sea. And their content, relayed to me and my family here in Britain, shared the diluvian news from those who remained in our ancestral home of Bangladesh: villages flooded, crops failing, soil corrupted, a lack of jobs, and evermore, desperate calls for financial assistance.

Technology has improved the quality of those conversations in the years since, but the calls become more urgent. Their concerns grow each year, piling high like the many reports by international NGOs and governments around the world on just how precariously close Bangladesh is to disappearing.

Unless governments around the world introduce drastic measures to cut carbon emissions, an estimated 30 million Bangladeshis will be displaced in the coming decades. A U.S. government report published in 2018 highlighted that 90 million of the 160 million-plus Bangladeshis live in “high climate exposure areas.”

Every COP climate summit that comes around is deeply personal for me, shedding new light on the monthly phone calls from Bangladesh stretching back to a time before I was born. Bangladeshis live in an already fragile ecosystem and have done so for millennia, long before urbanization and colonial borders etched country names onto world maps. They are accustomed to change and adaptation by their very nature of living. But how long can they keep on adapting amid a climate crisis?

For many, climate has remained a dry, policy-driven subject, spruced up by the odd protest and activist group. But the drumbeat gets louder. Climate is becoming more personal for all of us, especially for those in Europe and the United States.

2021 has seen Bangladeshi-style floods ravage Europe and the U.S. Here in London, I witnessed flooding of streets and train stations almost high enough to swim in this summer. In nearby Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands, summer floods caused destruction on an epic scale. At least 70 were killed and dozens declared missing.

In September, Hurricane Ida devastated New York City like never before. We saw videos of the subway filled with water and reports of people being swept away. The phone calls I heard as a child have now crept up on many of us here in the West.

Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters/File
A family moves with its belongings to a safe place after flooding in Munshiganj district, on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, July 25, 2020.

Being born in Britain but with a foot in the East has meant a very personal and upfront understanding of climate. As a child, I had heard the stories of the fabled continent of Atlantis. It doesn’t take much of an imaginative leap to relabel Atlantis as a low-lying nation in South Asia, submerged underwater.

I have always known that my ancestral homeland will disappear if humanity does not act fast on climate change. And by extension, that would mean the permanent erasure of a big part of my identity: customs, culture, food, language, and people. Memories of that culture would linger elsewhere through a vast and expansive diaspora. But the motherland would be consigned to the chapters of history.

Being British adds a layer of complicity to thinking about the climate. Britain played a seminal role in the launch of the Industrial Revolution, an era that changed consumption habits, supercharged carbon emissions, and swung economic power firmly to the hands of the West. But Britain also has an opportunity to provide solutions both big and small, by helping safeguard poorer nations through greater financing and by ensuring better checks and balances on institutions such as banks that underwrite fossil fuel companies.

Hope remains. COP26 President (and British member of Parliament) Alok Sharma’s tears at the end of the summit show that climate touches us all, and that perhaps even those in suits who seem emotionless from afar are deeply invested after all.

In March, Bangladesh celebrated 50 years since its birth as an independent nation. It is a country brimming with youth, with incredible progress on gender equality, despite battling long-term problems such as child labor. Bangladeshis are leading climate activists, without the stardom of Greta Thunberg, longing to stay home on the beautiful, low-lying beaches of Cox’s Bazar. Many of them are angry that COP26 hasn’t pushed the needle far enough, but in their anger is a solution and a drive that should be inspirational.

If Bangladesh manages to celebrate its centenary in another 50 years’ time, it will mean that we, as a global community, have done something substantial to save millions of people. Saving Bangladesh means securing the hopes and future for everyone, wherever they may be.

Essay

When strangers become links in a chain of compassion

In the same way that antisocial behavior can darken one’s outlook and diminish self-esteem, the righting of an injustice can uplift and empower.

April

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 3 Min. )

Hastily sitting down in the subway, I stared at my plastic-foam treasure chest – a free lunch from my residency program. I hadn’t eaten all day.

At the next stop, a man about my age (mid-30s), leathery-faced and wiry-bearded, plopped down next to me, his eyes dazed. His fingers found my boxed lunch, and he tightened his grip on it. 

“No!” I said, wresting the box away and moving to the far end of the car. The man stood and staggered toward me, grabbing the box. When he put a hand on my chest, I let go. 

A man in his late 60s walked straight up to the other man. “No, pal, that’s not yours,” he said, plucking the lunch from the younger man and handing it back to me.

As the older man passed me, I asked his name.

“Kevin,” he said, shaking my hand. He had the grip of a good man. 

“Thank you, Kevin.”

At my stop, I alighted into a deluge. Squatting in one of the bus shelters sat a disheveled man with a cardboard sign: SEEKING HUMAN KINDNESS OR SPARE CHANGE.

I was soaked, I was tired, I was hungry.

Stepping into the shelter, I held out my lunch. “Do you like Greek food?”

When strangers become links in a chain of compassion

Collapse
Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File
Children enjoy a ride on the No. 7 subway line in New York City. Public transit can be a social equalizer, a place to share space and observe people from very different walks of life – for better or for worse.

Hastily sitting down in the subway car, I stared at my plastic-foam treasure chest – a free lunch from my residency program. I hadn’t eaten all day: too many patients. Masks are mandatory on the train, so I couldn’t open it until I arrived at the Veterans Affairs clinic. The doors opened at the next stop, and a man about my age (mid-30s), leathery-faced and wiry-bearded, stumbled in. 

He plopped down next to me, and his dazed eyes roved about. His fingers found my boxed lunch almost before his eyes did, and he tightened his grip. I pulled back, and he fixed his eyes upon me. 

“No!” I said, and wrested the box away, then trudged to the other end of the car for a seat next to a mother and three children.

A few stops passed before I heard a husky, growling voice talking to itself, then shouting to itself, then shouting at me. By the reflection in the window, I saw the man stand and stagger to my end of the train. He lurched over me and grabbed the box. I held on until he put his hand on my chest, then I let go. He leaned back against the wall of the train. The mother and her children grew very quiet, and I turned toward the window again. It had begun to rain. 

Immediately I started to make excuses for him and myself: Perhaps he needed it more. I’ll buy something later. If there were a fuss, the train would stop and I’d be even later. 

My attention shifted from the rain sliding down the pane to a reflection of a man in his late 60s in a black T-shirt and a pair of jeans with a backpack slung over one shoulder. He slowly and surely walked across the rumbling floor of the train, straight up to the other man, and stood inches away from him.

“No, pal, that’s not yours,” the older man said in a no-nonsense voice, plucking the boxed lunch effortlessly off the younger man and reaching back without looking to offer it to me. “You’re going to get off this train,” he continued.

“I ain’t gonna get off this train,” the younger man said. “You gonna fight me?”

The older man shook his head, then extended his hands to rest just above the man’s shoulders – he did not touch him – essentially pinning him to the wall where he stood. There was what seemed like a long pause before the train came to a stop at the next platform. When the doors opened, the older man stepped away, pointed to the door, and said, “Get out of this train, now.” The would-be thief did as he was told, and the older man stood near the doors until they shut. 

Then he turned away to return to his seat. I extended my hand as he passed.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Kevin,” he said, shaking my hand. He had the grip of a good man.

“Thank you, Kevin.” I don’t know what compelled me to ask his name, but I had to know it. We shouldn’t be strangers anymore, I thought. Kevin hadn’t acted as though we were strangers – just neighbors who hadn’t been introduced. 

The accepted thing to do was to make excuses for a wrong, to ignore it, to sit and wait for the police to act after the fact. File a report, perhaps. 

Kevin’s intervention was a reaffirmation of municipal manners where “neighbor” is also a verb and what one thinks should be done by someone else becomes what one can do oneself. It’s this kind of “neighboring” that keeps communities from declining into anarchy.

Kevin nodded, smiled a little, and continued back to his seat. When his stop came, he passed by me once more. I shook his hand and thanked him again.

At the end of the line, I alighted from the train into the deluge and hustled toward the VA facility. Squatting in one of the bus stop shelters sat a disheveled man. As I walked by, I read his cardboard sign, in all caps: SEEKING HUMAN KINDNESS OR SPARE CHANGE.

I was soaked, I was tired, I was hungry.

Stepping into the shelter, I held out my lunch. “Do you like Greek food?”

Other headline stories we’re watching

(Get live updates throughout the day.)

The Monitor's View

What’s different for these Iran nuclear talks

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 2 Min. )

A new round of talks aimed at restarting the Iranian nuclear deal begins Nov. 29, the first negotiations since the election of a new hard-line president in Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, last June. But more hangs over these talks than a conservative regime in Tehran that might be less inclined to revive the 2015 agreement with the United States. Also since June, Iran has experienced one of its driest spells in half a century.

Along with other woes – inflation, high youth unemployment, tough U.S. sanctions – Iran may be desperate for international help to relieve its water crisis. If that’s the case, it would be joining several other Middle East countries that have lately begun to cooperate on water issues, reversing decades in which water was a source of conflict in the region.

If such cooperation helps relieve the parched lands of the Middle East, the region could be a harbinger for the rest of the world as it deals with climate change. When faced with a common enemy, longtime foes may see each other as a needed friend.

What’s different for these Iran nuclear talks

Collapse
WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
A woman and her son walk near Qom, Iran, March 24.

A new round of talks aimed at restarting the Iranian nuclear deal begins Nov. 29, the first negotiations since the election of a new hard-line president in Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, last June. But more hangs over these talks than a conservative regime in Tehran that might be less inclined to revive the 2015 agreement with the United States.

Also since June, Iran has experienced one of its driest spells in half a century. Water behind dams is down 30% from last year, causing electricity blackouts. Dozens of cities have suffered with cuts in water supplies. Between 2003 and 2017, Iran’s capital, Tehran, subsided more than 12 feet because of underground aquifers being depleted.

“A tough year lies ahead,” wrote Qasem Taghizadeh-Khasemi, deputy energy minister for water, on Instagram in September.

Even more worrisome to the rule of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, are ongoing protests over water issues. At least eight protesters have been killed in recent months. The protests brought a rare statement of consolation from Mr. Khamenei. “The people showed their displeasure,” he said, “but we cannot really blame the people, and their issues must be taken care of.”

Along with other woes – inflation, high youth unemployment, tough U.S. sanctions – Iran may be desperate for international help to relieve its water crisis. If that’s the case, it would be joining several other Middle East countries that have lately begun to cooperate on water issues, reversing decades in which water was a source of conflict in the region.

One example was a session on the sidelines of the recent United Nations climate conference in Scotland. A group called the Eastern Mediterranean & Middle East Climate Change Initiative, formed in 2019, met to start formulating a 10-year plan to collaborate on water issues. The membership ranges from Oman to Israel to Cyprus. Israel has also started to cooperate with Jordan on water sharing and to export its sophisticated water technology to the Gulf states and Morocco, part of an emerging Israel-Arab detente.

“The effects of climate change in the Middle East are so dramatic and severe that only through regional cooperation can we survive and prosper,” Ambassador Gideon Behar, Israel’s special envoy for climate change and sustainability, told The Times of Israel.

If such cooperation helps relieve the parched lands of the Middle East, the region could be a harbinger for the rest of the world as it deals with climate change. When faced with a common enemy, longtime foes may see each other as a needed friend.

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.

The two books that changed my life

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

After years of physical and emotional challenges, a man thought he’d reached the end of his life. But the fresh, spiritual perspective he gained from reading the Bible and the textbook of Christian Science brought life-changing physical healing and character improvement.

The two books that changed my life

Collapse
Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

The two books that changed my life – the Bible, and “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy – came to my attention a decade ago at a time when I was facing physical and emotional challenges that had begun early in life.

As a child, I attended a parochial school in Uruguay. I was very introverted, which created problems for me with my classmates and teachers. As a teenager, I found that my social and emotional problems inhibited my progress as a student and created difficulties in my interactions with others.

General frustration led to anger toward all the people I knew. That’s when my problems with stomach ulcers and gastritis began. At the same time, my father, who was the breadwinner for the family, became ill and could no longer work. It was decided that I should go to work.

I wanted to fulfill my dreams, one of which was to be a professional soccer player. The bitterness at not being able to fulfill my hopes and dreams increased my resentment, and I developed additional health problems.

Then, in my late 20s I met a woman of profound faith, who later became my wife. She began to talk to me about spiritual matters and prayer from the perspective of her faith. What she said made a deep impression on me, but my health problems persisted. I had accepted that my situation was hopeless.

In my mid-40s I had to enter an intensive treatment center because of my poor physical and mental condition. I thought I had reached the end of my life. Gradually, with the support of my wife, I began to improve, and my physical ailments began to heal. “I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 30:17).

A few months after I went back to work, I was fired after 24 years of service. However, my perspective on life had totally changed, and I had started to see things from a more spiritual standpoint. I loved reading and prayer – things that before had been unknown to me.

It was then that I felt guided to read the Bible; I read it during every free moment. But when I finished reading, I still had many unanswered questions about life. I thought, “What now?”

Some time before, my wife had gone to a street fair and bought a copy of Science and Health. She bought the book thinking that reading it would do me good, but without knowing what it was about. The book sat on our bookshelf for a while. But when I opened it, I began to find the answers to all the questions I had that nobody had been able to answer.

Reading Science and Health, the book I later learned was the Christian Science textbook, opened up the Bible to me and enlarged my understanding of God as good and of my relationship to God. I learned that I was not a hopeless mortal, but spiritual and eternal, the reflection of God that cannot lapse into turmoil or sickness.

When I finished reading the book from cover to cover, I wanted to know more about the author and her other writings, and about her discovery, Christian Science. I was able to contact the nearest Church of Christ, Scientist, and when I visited, I was given other Christian Science literature. The members welcomed me very kindly and invited me to attend their services, which I did without hesitation.

The Bible and Science and Health changed my life completely, reforming me morally and healing me physically. The feelings of anger and resentment disappeared, and instead I felt compassion and forgiveness, as these two books teach. I found new work and purpose. I realized that when thought is centered on God, it is a better transparency for divine Truth, the healer of both mind and body.

Eventually I took a two-week course called Christian Science Primary class instruction, which teaches the Science of Christianity and how to practice it. More recently, I took a class in Christian Science nursing, showing Christian Scientists how to take practical care of the sick.

I am grateful for all that I continue to learn from my study of the Bible and the Christian Science textbook. Because of them, I am a new man.

Adapted from an article published in the November 2020 issue of The Herald of Christian Science, Spanish Edition.

To read this article in Spanish, click here.

Viewfinder

Call of the wild

Toby Melville/Reuters
A deer stag barks during the rutting season in Richmond Park in London, Nov. 16, 2021.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

April Austin
Weekly Deputy Editor, Books Editor

Thanks for joining us today. We’ve got a great range of articles for you tomorrow, from politics in Peru to what tree rings can tell us about climate change. 

More issues

2021
November
16
Tuesday

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.