2022
December
01
Thursday

Monitor Daily Podcast

December 01, 2022
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TODAY’S INTRO

Fahad Shah: Continuing the fight for freedom

As the year closes, Fahad Shah, editor of The Kashmir Walla newspaper and a Monitor correspondent who was arrested in February, remains in jail. His colleagues advocate relentlessly for his release, their efforts a window on how capricious tactics by officials can strain a publication’s resources – and, all importantly, test their perseverance.

Next week, on Dec. 9, a bail hearing in one of Mr. Shah's ongoing cases will be heard in a Jammu court. It is notable for one significant difference from earlier ones.

Mr. Shah has repeatedly been granted bail, only to be rearrested. Technical delays by the state have frustrated efforts to make progress. Investigations have not been concluded; charge sheets have not been completed. The courts have responded leniently to missed deadlines. Meanwhile, Mr. Shah has been moved repeatedly; he is being held in a jail in Jammu, far from visitors who could ease the strains on his physical and mental health.

But in next week’s hearing, a judge will have a charge sheet in hand, as well as results of a completed investigation. One week later, another hearing will examine the merits of the charges. In the same week, there will be yet another hearing about Mr. Shah’s incarceration under “preventive detention,” in which the state may hold someone for up to two years without charges.

The Kashmir Walla staff members operate under sustained pressure. There’s the challenge of pursuing honest, brave journalism. There’s the need for financial support, including subscriptions, a modest amount of which keeps the doors open. Their work is a testament to what’s involved in raising voices and shedding light on injustice in Kashmir and more broadly. As press freedom organizations and others continue to advocate for Mr. Shah’s release, we too can remember the need to strengthen free voices in a world where efforts to shut them down intensify daily. 

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Europe debates: Should we ban Russians for Moscow’s actions?

The EU is wrestling with a dilemma: to allow Russians continued access to Europe, letting them escape consequences of Putin’s war, or to cut them off, and risk losing them as potential allies in Russia.

Amelia
Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters
Conscripts attend a ceremony during the Russia-Ukraine conflict in the Donetsk region, Russian-controlled Ukraine, Nov. 28, 2022. European officials are debating whether to receive Russian soldiers who try to flee to Europe in order to avoid fighting.
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For decades, Europe’s policy of engagement with Russia has been built on the conviction that openness can be a catalyst for political change. The war in Ukraine has thrown that into doubt.

Now, officials are debating whether Europe should open its doors to travelers from Russia, or should Russians face some collective responsibility for President Vladimir Putin’s war.

In recent years, Russians have been the biggest beneficiaries of Schengen visas, which allow borderless travel through Europe. But the European Union halted direct flights from Russia after the invasion of Ukraine, though Russians can still travel to the EU through third countries.

Critics of keeping the doors open to Russians point to high approval rates within Russia for the war. That, say critics, justifies a ban.

But others say polls don’t tell the whole story. “I don’t really trust a lot of that polling,” says economics professor Michael Ben-Gad. It is more likely that they are scared to share what they really think, he argues. “If somebody in Russia calls you up and asks you for your opinion about the war, what are you going to say?”

Europe debates: Should we ban Russians for Moscow’s actions?

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In the early weeks of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Petr Tuma, a Czech career diplomat, supported the idea of opening the European Union to Russians morally opposed to – or even simply fearful of – becoming front-line soldiers, as “some kind of asylum and safe haven.”

But not anymore.

Nine months into the war, military-age men “have been in Russia long enough to express their disagreement with what’s going on.” Most haven’t, he says.

Neither does he think it’s fair to allow Russians generally – from middle-class Muscovites on holiday to potential soldiers – to travel to the EU. Though Mr. Tuma, whose country currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU, believes that there should be exceptions for Russians facing danger after concerted protests against their government, for other Russians, “I think they have to understand that it’s not the right time to enjoy Europe, while Russia is basically attacking us and trying to reproach our values,” he says.

The sentiments of Mr. Tuma and others like him run counter to decades of policy built on the conviction that openness and travel can be powerful catalysts for political change. But they are part of an ongoing debate within the EU about how to respond to Russians traveling to Europe, be they defectors or tourists.

The debate’s outcome will hinge in part on whether European officials feel it is correct for Russian citizens to bear some collective responsibility for President Vladimir Putin’s war – and whether such strategies are an effective way to assail an autocrat’s rule.

“We want to sanction the oligarchs, we want to sanction those that support the war effort,” French Foreign Affairs Minister Catherine Colonna said at the September United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York, echoing the views of many Western European diplomats. Although sanctions are, as some point out, also a form of collective punishment, it is “necessary,” she added, “to allow contacts with Russian citizens.”

“We’re telling them to go back and fight?”

In recent years, Russians have been the biggest beneficiaries of EU Schengen visas, which allow borderless travel through most of continental Europe, receiving one quarter of them in 2021. Greece, Spain, and Italy have long been Russians’ top three destinations, according to European Parliament data.

Sergey Pivovarov/Reuters
A priest sprinkles holy water on Russian reservists recruited during the partial mobilization of troops before their departure to the zone of Russia-Ukraine conflict, in the Rostov region, Russia, Oct. 31, 2022. Hundreds of thousands of Russian men fled their homeland during the mobilization effort in order to avoid being drafted.

The EU halted direct flights from Russia after its February invasion of Ukraine, though Russians can still travel to the EU through third countries. This summer, the EU suspended a 2007 visa facilitation agreement with Moscow, making it more time consuming and expensive, but not terribly onerous, for Russians to visit Europe. 

A number of member nations argue that the EU should go further by banning most Russian travel to the EU altogether. As ambassadors debate a common position in Brussels, many of the EU’s 27 member nations have begun crafting their own policies.

In late September, the Baltic states and Poland closed their doors to Russian tourists, including those traveling onward to other EU countries, citing safety concerns. “There are persons coming with the aim of undermining the security of our countries, insofar as three-fourths of Russian citizens support Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine,” argued a joint statement written by these governments.

The question of offering sanctuary to Russian soldiers is also controversial. Analysts have argued that doing so is a key way to deliver a blow to the Kremlin by potentially siphoning off its fighting force. “I call on EU states to do like Germany,” European Council President Charles Michel said, “and welcome Russian deserters.”

But some remain opposed. “A refusal to fulfill one’s civic duty in Russia, or a desire to do so, does not constitute sufficient grounds for being granted asylum in another country,” Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu told Reuters.

Still, tacitly encouraging Russians to do their military “duty” is an odd tack for Europeans to take, even granting that the decisions of those fleeing men – who number in the hundreds of thousands by some estimates – may be based more on personal welfare than political conviction, says Michael Ben-Gad, professor in the School of Policy and Global Affairs at the City, University of London. 

“There’s this idea that they’re just trying to ‘save their own skins,’ which may very well be true for a lot of them,” he says. “But I’d say on the whole, you want to encourage that behavior. Russian soldiers who are effectively ready to surrender, we’re telling them to go back and fight?”

What’s more, the morale of Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine is “more likely to be affected if they know that other people are getting out of service – that people who should be fighting have slipped across the border and are being welcomed and settled.” That is powerful psychological warfare, Dr. Ben-Gad says.

And as far as the subject of Russians’ apparent widespread support for President Vladimir Putin’s war goes, there’s reason for skepticism, he says. “I don’t really trust a lot of that polling – and this idea that Russians are easily brainwashed.” It is more likely that they are scared to share what they really think, he says. “If somebody in Russia calls you up and asks you for your opinion about the war, what are you going to say?”

Protecting Europe

Still, Baltic states have good reason to be wary of augmenting the Russian minorities in their countries, Dr. Ben-Gad says, since Russia has long used any sizable Russian-speaking population as an excuse for power flexes including invasion. “The idea that they’d be permanently settled in the Baltic states is a bad idea.” 

Security is a particular concern when it comes to fleeing soldiers, notes Mr. Tuma, the Czech diplomat who is also a visiting fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Europe Center. Since Europe has kicked out many Russian officials, most of Moscow’s “embassies in European capitols are depleted.” As a result, the Kremlin’s “secret services are looking for other ways to operate, and [military-age Russian men], if allowed into other EU countries, would be great assets for them,” he says. 

Jaap Arriens/Sipa/AP
A man holds a sign reading 'Honor and glory to deserters' in front of the Russian Embassy in Warsaw, Poland, on Oct. 28, 2022. While most Russians seeking to escape the mobilization effort fled to former Soviet republics such as Georgia and Kazakhstan where visas are not required, others attempted to make their way to Europe.

Though it’s true that siphoning off potential Russian fighters to weaken its military “would make some difference for sure, if you compare the pros against the security risk we’d be facing,” the risk is not worth the reward, Mr. Tuma says. Their presence would also cause tension among Ukrainian refugees, he adds. 

Putting aside the question of resettlement, French and German diplomats have advocated welcoming any Russians not on a sanctions list who’d like to come to Europe. Restrictions on travel, say the diplomats, unnecessarily isolate ordinary Russians and help fuel Mr. Putin’s anti-Western narratives.

But such concerns matter less than showing solidarity with Ukraine’s plight, says Benjamin Tallis, research fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations. What’s more, he adds, is the idea that it’s possible to create political change in Russia through travel that includes shopping sprees, lovely beaches, and even enlightening conversation with Europeans now bears reexamination. 

“Germany is a prime example of thinking that economic ties with Russia would be enough – that they would end up delivering liberal politics,” but this hasn’t proven to be the case, he says. And allowing Russians to continue to travel to the EU while their government wages a brutal war could have a “corrosive effect on our own democratic systems.”

“Whenever people see Russians flaunting their wealth without having a democratic system to generate it, this raises the question: Is this an alternative model?” says Dr. Tallis. “We don’t have to shoot ourselves in the foot by making autocracies seem more appealing than they are.”

At the same time, the EU should be trying to “change the cost-benefit calculation for certain Russians who have given tacit consent to the Putin regime – who have absented themselves from the political process – in order to enjoy the material benefits they provide,” he argues.

“There are things we have that make Europe special in many ways – and that we should protect as a benefit to be enjoyed by those” whose leader is not waging a war on Western values, he says. “You can’t visit Europe.”

Patterns

Tracing global connections

In Israel, an inspiring political model that ... failed

It crops up in democracies globally: Majorities agree on policy, but partisan battling stymies action. The outgoing government of Israel models what can happen when opponents prioritize vision, generosity, and courage.

Amelia
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The coalition that has governed Israel is preparing to clear out its desks and hand over power. Theirs is the story of a political failure – but an audacious, inspiring one that is very much worth telling.

It’s about an alliance of sworn political enemies who worked together. They presented an alternative to the zero-sum partisan combat that complicates progress in democracies worldwide, America’s included.

Indeed, they passed the first government budget in three years, increased employment, oversaw a strong pandemic response, and slashed the government deficit. But gladiatorial partisanship struck back, decrying compromise as treachery.

Still, it’s a lesson about what can happen when cooperation is a priority.

Former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called it the 70/70 rule – one that is present in many democracies. It involved setting aside the hot-button issues – which ultimately have to be addressed – in favor of the other 70% of issues on which 70% of Israelis agree: infrastructure, schools, crime, inflation.

“When you neutralize the most politically sensitive issues,” Mr. Bennett wrote in an opinion piece, “ministers from left and right saw each other as decent people working for the good of Israel and not as the demons we’d been calling each other.”

In Israel, an inspiring political model that ... failed

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Ariel Zandberg/Reuters/File
Party leaders of the coalition government, including United Arab List party leader Mansour Abbas, Labour party leader Merav Michaeli, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett, New Hope party leader Gideon Saar, Yisrael Beitenu party leader Avigdor Lieberman, and Meretz party leader Nitzan Horowitz, gather at the Knesset before the start of a special session to approve and swear in the coalition government, in Jerusalem, June 13, 2021.

This is the story of an audacious, inspiring political failure.

And even as its authors – the departing coalition government in Israel – prepare to clear out their desks and hand over power, it is very much worth telling.

That’s because, over the last 18 months, an alliance of sworn political enemies has managed to come together and work together. They’ve chosen cooperation over political combat. They resolved that scoring political points mattered less than getting things done.

They’ve shown there’s an alternative to the zero-sum partisan combat increasingly blocking the day-to-day business of government not just in Israel, but in other democracies worldwide, America’s included.

And they’re leaving less than halfway into their four-year term not because they’ve failed to deliver. They made good on their pledge to make democratic government function again, passing the first annual government budget in three years. They increased employment, oversaw one of the world’s most successful pandemic responses, and slashed a widening government deficit.

They’re on their way out because gladiatorial partisanship struck back, with protests and social media attacks decrying compromise as treachery.

The campaign, most vocally from the political right, began even as negotiations on forming the coalition were underway. With one parliamentary backer quickly jumping ship, the government took office in June of last year with just a single-seat majority in the 120-member Knesset.

When a further Orthodox conservative Knesset member withdrew support in April, the coalition no longer had a majority. Amid a series of other departures, new elections – Israel’s fifth in four years – were held at the start of November, paving the way for the return of right-wing populist Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Yet if the coalition’s early demise is a cautionary lesson, there are also more hopeful ones.

The first is that 21st-century politics need not be an exercise in partisan cage-fighting. There is another way, but it requires politicians of vision, generosity of spirit, and no little courage.

In Israel’s case, three such leaders were key to making it possible.

Benny Gantz was the center-left politician whose party won the most seats among the coalition members in the 2021 election. But in order to get a deal, and no doubt in the hope of muting far-right fury, he agreed that the head of a smaller, right-wing party, Naftali Bennett, would get first crack as prime minister, handing over the reins only halfway through their term.

Abir Sultan/Reuters
Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett attends a Cabinet meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem, Oct. 23, 2022.

Above all, there was Mansour Abbas, head of an Islamist party. He became the first member of a governing coalition in Israel’s history from the Arab citizens who make up about one-fifth of its population.

Still, remarkable though the alliance was on a personal level – Mr. Bennett, in a New York Times piece a few days ago, recalled meeting Mr. Abbas and finding “a brave leader just about my age who turned out to be something of a mensch” ­– the lesson with the most powerful resonance for America and other divided democracies is more practical.

It’s about how they got things done.

Mr. Bennett calls it the 70/70 rule. It involved setting aside the hot-button issues on which the coalition partners, and Israeli voters, were clearly incapable of agreeing: the future of relations with the Palestinians, and the divide between religious and secular Israeli Jews.

The focus was on the other 70% of the issues on which 70% of Israelis agree: transportation and infrastructure, schools, crime, and the cost of living.

“When you neutralize the most politically sensitive issues,” Mr. Bennett wrote, “ministers from left and right saw each other as decent people working for the good of Israel and not as the demons we’d been calling each other.”

It’s a compelling road map. And in at least one important respect, it ought to provide some reason for optimism: because the 70/70 rule also applies even in other divided democracies.

In Britain, for instance, the hot-button equivalent to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians is Brexit, the 2016 referendum that took the country out of the European Union. That’s still a political third rail. But recent polling suggests a growing majority regrets the messy divorce that followed and, at a minimum, hopes for a post-Brexit arrangement with Europe restoring the main trade and other benefits of membership.

In the United States, polling consistently finds comfortable majorities in favor of not just infrastructure improvements, but issues like background checks for gun owners, a pathway to citizenship for “Dreamers,” and the right for same-sex couples to marry.

On same-sex marriage, that’s actually led to a 70/70 moment in the U.S. Senate, which relied on rare bipartisan support to pass a bill this week that would write that guarantee into federal law.

And in the recent midterm elections, there were victories for a number of candidates who played down partisan issues in favor of a pledge simply to address voters’ everyday concerns: roads, housing, the cost of living, crime, and in Alaska’s sole congressional race, fishing.

Still, as the short-lived Israeli coalition demonstrated, the head winds against a politics of cooperation remain stiff.

Mr. Bennett still holds out hope. “We imprinted a unique image and model of how a highly polarized society can cooperate,” he wrote. “That beautiful image, once engraved in hearts and minds, cannot be easily erased.”

But it’s perhaps Albert Einstein who best captured that hope, and a recognition of the time, political vision, and grit that will likely be required.

“Failure,” he famously said, “is success in progress.”

In the Philippines, a deadly storm holds lessons on climate resilience

In the Philippines, one village’s struggle to rebuild in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Nalgae highlights the limits of climate resilience strategies. Does running from high-risk areas always make a community safer?

Amelia
Mark Saludes
Government workers conduct search and retrieval operations after heavy rains brought about by Tropical Storm Nalgae triggered a mudslide in Kusiong village, part of the Maguindanao del Norte province in the Philippines, on Oct. 31, 2022. The storm left 164 dead and 28 missing across the country after it made landfall on Oct. 28.
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When news of the approaching storm arrived in Kusiong village, many of the local Teduray tribal people did as they’d practiced in annual drills: They gathered at a designated church to wait it out. But as a wave of boulder- and tree-laden mud tore through the village, that shelter became a graveyard. 

It’s been a month since Nalgae dissipated, and many from the mountainside community are still missing. 

“We lost everything in the mudslide,” says Joan Masukat, whose daughter died during the storm.

The Teduray were relocated here from their original coastal settlement a couple of years ago by the government, at least in part to keep them safe from storm surges. As climate change fuels more extreme and erratic weather events, some experts argue the community was safer on the shore, where the threats were more familiar. Advocates say the Teduray’s plight – and that of more than 300,000 other Filipinos displaced by Nalgae – underscores a need for multihazard warning systems and better land management.

“Poor Filipino communities are generally resilient to whatever disaster that comes, because they have no choice but to adapt and survive,” says Analyn Delos Reyes Julian of Caritas Philippines, the humanitarian arm of the Filipino Catholic Church. “But we know that they deserve more than that.”

In the Philippines, a deadly storm holds lessons on climate resilience

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It’s been a month since Tropical Storm Nalgae triggered deadly mudslides in the southern Philippine village of Kusiong. The earth has hardened over the remnants of more than 200 Indigenous households, and the local Teduray tribal people have buried 43 of their own. More remain missing.

“We lost everything in the mudslide, our loved ones, our livelihood, our homes,” says Joan Masukat, whose 1-year-old daughter died during the storm. “Now, we have nowhere to go.”

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. A couple of years ago, the Teduray people were relocated here from their original coastal settlement by the government, at least in part to keep them safe from escalating storm surges. They now join the growing ranks of climate refugees around the world who’ve been displaced by droughts, floods, and other natural disasters. 

As poor and otherwise vulnerable communities bear the brunt of this year’s extreme climate events, advocates worry that disaster-resilient spaces appear to be shrinking. In the Philippines, the Teduray and climate activists are questioning the government’s climate preparedness, calling on leaders to declare a climate emergency, and looking harder at how land is managed.

“Poor Filipino communities are generally resilient to whatever disaster that comes, because they have no choice but to adapt and survive,” says Analyn Delos Reyes Julian of Caritas Philippines, the humanitarian and advocacy arm of the Filipino Catholic Church. “But we know that they deserve more than that. They should get all the help they need to get back on their feet and survive the worsening climate situation.”

Tunnel vision

Since a devastating tsunami struck their former village in 1976, the Teduray have held annual storm drills, teaching new generations how to identify the sound of an approaching wave and designating safe areas where families could wait out storms on higher ground. But they were unprepared for the geohazards that faced them at the foothills of Mount Minandar in Maguindanao del Norte province.

When news of the approaching tropical storm arrived, many gathered at a church to wait it out. As a wave of boulder- and tree-laden mud tore through the chapel, that shelter became a graveyard. 

Mark Saludes
Joan Masukat recalls losing her daughter during Tropical Storm Nalgae in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Philippines, on Nov. 1, 2022. Ms. Masukat is a member of the Teduray Indigenous group, which relocated from the coast to a hillside site in Kusiong village to escape surging seas. The relocation site was flattened by a mudslide, killing at least 43 people.

It’s not uncommon for communities to focus on one type of threat at the expense of another, experts say. In fact, a United Nations report published shortly before Nalgae made landfall on Oct. 28 warned that just over half the world’s countries lack multihazard early warning systems, making them especially vulnerable to climate disasters. Researchers state that systems which simultaneously monitor for “interrelated and cascading events are essential” as climate change fuels more extreme and erratic weather events. It’s not enough for a community to know a typhoon is coming, for example, if the real danger lies in the floods, landslides, or disease outbreaks that follow.

Maguindanao del Norte Gov. Fatima Ainee Sinsuat says these sorts of tragedies are “unacceptable.”

“We were ready for the typhoon and the storm surge, but we were not prepared for the landslide. This was the first time that it happened to us,” she says.

Mrs. Sinsuat says the local government is working to improve its disaster risk reduction program, and that authorities are “carefully identifying” a new relocation site for the Teduray people.

“But we need to be sure this time,” she says. “The new site must be safe from both landslide and storm surge.” 

Seeking safe harbor

In some ways, the entire archipelago is on the front lines of the ever-worsening climate crisis, but geologist Narod Eco says safe spaces aren’t really shrinking. Rather, “there is a lack of proper land use management.” 

“Land use management must primarily serve our people,” he says. “Sadly, land areas that are safe from the impact of harsh weather conditions are given to industries and businesses.”

After the storm dissipated in early November, Robinhood Padilla, senator and chair of the Committee on Cultural Communities and Muslim Affairs, announced a probe into the Teduray’s 2020 relocation, alleging they were forced out by a “powerful person” who wanted to build a resort on the community’s ancestral land. 

Mayor Lester Sinsuat of the surrounding Datu Odin Sinsuat town (and husband of Mrs. Sinsuat, the governor) says the government initiated the move due to fears of another deadly tsunami. 

“I relocated them because of the threat of storm surge,” he says. “There are a lot of coastal villages in our town that needed to be relocated away from the shore to prevent the loss of lives.” 

Ms. Masukat, who lost her daughter, says she was grateful to the local government for moving the community away from the volatile coast, and doesn’t blame anyone for failing to predict the landslide. 

“There was no precedent. Everyone thought that we were safe in our new settlement,” she says. 

Still, some argue that the Teduray were safer on the coast, where the threats were more familiar.

“If there was good land use management, authorities wouldn’t have had to relocate [the Teduray people] from their original settlement near the shore. ... The government just needs to provide them safe evacuation camps and proper evacuation plans whenever there is a threat of storm surge,” says Mr. Eco.

Of the 327,048 people displaced by Nalgae, only 17,202 are staying in government-designated evacuation centers, according to National Disaster Risk Reduction & Management Council data from late November. Authorities report that more than 309,000 people remain displaced in the hardest-hit Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, including the Teduray tribal people in Kusiong village. 

“A lot of them have set up temporary shelter along the road or near the shore while they wait for the government’s decision on their relocation,” says Ms. Julian, who recently visited the area to assess the impact of the storm on poor communities.

While internally displaced persons in Mindanao live from day to day on relief packs, the call for the Philippines to declare a nationwide climate emergency grows stronger. 

Mark Saludes
Ian Rivera, national coordinator of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice, poses during a press briefing in Quezon City, Philippines, on Nov. 23, 2022. Mr. Rivera and his organization recently launched a campaign that aimed to put pressure on the national government to declare a national climate emergency.

Declaring a climate emergency

“For vulnerable communities to adapt and survive, the government must prepare the people,” says Ian Rivera, national coordinator of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ). “The Philippines can only do this if there is a national policy that will serve as the backbone in combating the climate crisis.”

The PMCJ’s “National Campaign for the Survival of Peoples and Communities,” launched Nov. 23 during its congress in Quezon City, aims to ramp up the organization’s lobbying efforts related to climate resilience, including the declaration of a national emergency.

Several nearby nations have declared a climate emergency, such as the Maldives, Japan, New Zealand, and Singapore.

In the Philippines, local governments and educational institutions have done the same. Makati City in the capital region, and Silliman University in Dumaguete, acknowledged climate change as an existential emergency this year – both vowing to ramp up climate change mitigation efforts. But the federal government has not gone so far. 

“A national climate emergency declaration will mandate every government agency to advance the welfare of the people over business interests and development projects that are destructive to the environment,” says Rodne Galicha, executive director of Living Laudato Si’ Philippines, a faith-based organization that promotes environmental sustainability.

For displaced people such as Ms. Masukat, that urgency is clearer now than ever, as she and her neighbors search for a “safe place where we can rebuild our lives.”

‘The ocean is what we know.’ Can Senegal woo climate refugees inland?

Politicians are waking up to the reality of climate migration. Senegal could offer a blueprint for how coastal African cities might deal with relocating citizens from places that have long provided economic opportunities – and emotional links.

Amelia
Guy Peterson/Special to the Christian Science Monitor
A woman walks back from the beach through the narrow, sandy streets of Langue de Barbarie, Senegal, where people live just as much inside their homes as they do outside. Sandwiched between the river Senegal and the Atlantic Ocean, Langue de Barbarie has a rich history of fishing going back hundreds of years.
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When Madické Sène was a child, the sands at Langue de Barbarie stretched out some 100 yards. Now rising seas have swallowed much of the beach, including his 10-bed house.

It’s one sign of how the climate crisis is already ravaging West Africa’s coastal cities. By 2050, some 113 million people across the continent could be forced to move because of the effects of climate change, including rising sea levels. 

In Senegal, some 3,200 residents of the peninsula that forms part of the historic city of Saint-Louis have been displaced. By 2080, tens of thousands more will be affected, with one study predicting 80% of the wider city area could be underwater.

Some 12 kilometers inland, the government has built a displaced persons camp as a temporary stand-in for a new village. But peninsula residents like Mr. Sène have no desire to leave.

“I was born here, and I’ll grow old here,” he says. ”The ocean is what we know.” 

Among just 1,500 residents living in Diougop, the temporary camp, Ndeye Coumba Gueye has taken a state-subsidized cosmetology course – one of several sweeteners aimed at convincing people to relocate there. 

“My hope is that when the [permanent] houses are built, there will be people ... who come to live here,” she says.

‘The ocean is what we know.’ Can Senegal woo climate refugees inland?

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As Madické Sène grills a pair of crabs he caught earlier in the morning, he stares out at the calm morning waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

“It used to stretch all the way out there when I was a child,” he says of the beach, pointing past a handful of brightly painted fishing boats sitting some 100 yards out in the water. Now, as he sits on a mat, laid out on a newly built seawall, the waves roll in just 25 yards away at high tide. 

His mat, the grill, the crabs, the fabric he’s strung up overhead to provide shade from the sun – all of this sits atop what used to be his ten-room house, swallowed by a particularly swollen sea in 2018. Behind him lie the remnants: the last standing bedroom, a bathroom, and a wooden animal pen for his sheep.

Mr. Sène’s set-up is replicated among his neighbors. They’re the scars leftover from the rising sea levels pummeling away at this coastal peninsula known as the Langue de Barbarie, part of the city of Saint-Louis, some 140 miles from Senegal’s capital, Dakar. 

Some 3,200 residents of the peninsula’s crowded fishing quarter, Guet Ndar, have been displaced by the increasingly volatile seas, which have at times flooded the entire peninsula to the point where the ocean spills into the Senegal River on the other side. In response, the government in 2019 erected temporary displaced persons camps 12 kilometers inland. It plans to eventually replace them with a newly-built village.

But residents like Mr. Sène have no desire to leave.

Guy Peterson/Special to the Christian Science Monitor
Madické Sène stands in what is left of his house, pointing out toward the beach only a few meters from the front door on the Langue de Barbarie in Saint-Louis, Senegal, Nov. 1, 2022. Most of his house was swept away during a large storm in 2018 which destroyed dozens of homes and a school.

“I was born here, and I’ll grow old here,” he says. “The [ocean] air we have here doesn’t exist anywhere else. We can’t farm, we can’t do anything else – the ocean is what we know.” 

Senegal’s government is balancing dual goals as it battles against the damage wrought by climate change in Saint-Louis. Mitigation projects aim to save as much coastline for as long as possible, while at the same time the government is preparing for the peninsula’s eventual disappearance. Citizens face a juggling act, too, as they try to envision – or resist – a life different from their cultural and economic identities as fishermen.

“We understand – that’s their natural home,” says Ousmane Ndiaye, a social integration expert at the Municipal Development Agency, one of the Senegalese agencies, along with the World Bank, leading the construction of permanent housing. Negotiations will continue for as long as needed, he says. “That’s a general problem in almost all displacement projects.”

Rising tides

The effects of the climate crisis are already playing out across West Africa’s coastal cities, from Lagos to Abidjan. Long a magnet for economic opportunities, they are also some of the most densely populated areas. By 2050, some 113 million people across the continent could be forced to move because of the effects of climate change, including rising sea levels. 

Guy Peterson/Special to the Christian Science Monitor
The remains of a school destroyed by waves during a storm in 2018 on Langue de Barbarie in November 2022. A sea wall built shortly after the storm offers some protection to what is left on the beach.

Saint-Louis, famed for its pastel-colored colonial architecture, is likely to be hit hard. Composed of a peninsula, an island, and a crowded mainland, today almost 12,000 residents are at risk of displacement as sea levels rise and the shoreline erodes. By 2080, some 150,000 people will likely have to move, according to one study, with 80% of the city at risk of being submerged in annual floods.

Waist-high walls adorn new riverfront promenades under construction on the island and the peninsula, which both sit, precariously, just barely above sea level. The seawall by Mr. Sène’s house has severely reduced the effects of storm surges, residents say. But even with those protections, residents continue to be displaced. Evacuation orders by the government aren’t enforced. Instead, almost all who have moved have done so because it was their last resort. 

Some 1,500 of those former peninsula residents now live in stark, temporary housing at the displaced persons camp, called Diougop. The tent-like houses have small solar panels, but no storage capacity. Bathrooms, toilets, and taps for running water are communal. A few people sell vegetables along the sterile rows of housing, but jobs are scarce. 

Guy Peterson/Special to the Christian Science Monitor
A girl carrying water on her head walks through Diougop, a small, temporary town built by the Senegalese government for displaced people. All 1,400 residents came from Saint-Louis' vibrant, coastal Langue de Barbarie neighborhood and have found it hard to adjust to life in the inland camp.

“There’s nothing here,” says Mamadou Gueye, a resident who moved to Diougop last year. Like many camp residents, Mr. Gueye still fishes – but now he’s forced to commute to Guet Ndar by slow buses or expensive taxis, on trips that can take up to two hours in bad traffic.

“It’s difficult. The family is back [in Guet Ndar] – the community, family, friends,” he says.

More houses – and improvements – are on the way. An empty field, currently used to play soccer, will soon host a market. More land is slated for a school. Some residents have already staked out a new life.

“It’s great here. It was great when we lived in Guet Ndar, too, but we didn’t have work that looked like this,” says Ndeye Coumba Gueye, braiding her coworker’s hair in a salon set up in a shipping container. Ms. Gueye, who was unemployed in Guet Ndar, took advantage of a state-subsidized cosmetology course with her friends – one of the many ideas the Senegalese government has thrown in to sweeten the deal of moving. Others have taken up jobs at a corner store – also set up in a shipping container – or plant vegetables in a microgarden. 

“My hope is that when the houses are built, there will be people from Guet Ndar who come to live here,” she says. “Guet Ndar is crowded, there’s more space here.” 

Building a new home

Ms. Gueye’s comments touch on the Catch-22 facing Diougop: More people living here could bring more jobs, and a sense of community. But no one wants to move here before that happens. 

Guy Peterson/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Mamadou Gueye, a fisherman who endures a 2-hour commute daily to Langue de Barbarie, stands in the doorway of his temporary house in Diougop, in November 2022.

Support programs, like the cosmetology class, have helped some people adjust. But they’re far from being a pull factor motivating people to move if they don’t have to. On the contrary, many women who moved away from Guet Ndar have become unemployed, no longer able to dry or sell the fish coming in from the beach each day.

Even among those who are more optimistic about Diougop, the ocean retains its pull. And it’s easy to view the seawall on the peninsula as contradictory. So long as it props up the sandy strip, it emboldens people to stay – the same people whom the state is trying to convince to leave. Yet the limited preservation of the peninsula is also one of the only things keeping the limited hope in Diougop alive. 

The sea took most of Michelle Gueye’s family’s home in 2019. She’s since moved to her sister’s house in another neighborhood, but commutes to Diougop for work. She plans on moving there once the permanent housing is finished next year.

“We can create solidarity here. We’ve already started,” says Ms. Gueye, who is unrelated to Mamadou and Ndey Coumba. “But I’ll always go back to the Langue de Barbarie. My heart is there.”

Q&A

Filmmaker: ‘Women Talking’ offers model of ‘truly democratic’ conversation

In “Women Talking,” Mennonite women plot a path forward after sexual assault. Writer-director Sarah Polley looks at the limits of forgiveness and the sacrifices of courage.

Amelia
Michael Gibson/©2022 Orion
Judith Ivey (left) stars as Agata, and Claire Foy as Salome, in writer-director Sarah Polley’s film “Women Talking,” adapted from the novel by Miriam Toews.
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“Women Talking,” a movie with book-club appeal, is an adaptation of Miriam Toews’ novel of the same name.

Loosely based on a true story, and centered on themes of forgiveness and courage, the film focuses on a group of women in an isolated Mennonite community as they face down the horrors of systematic drugging and rape by fellow parishioners, and work to build consensus on how to move forward. 

The movie “grapples with the question of what we want to build, not only what we want to destroy, what we want the world to look like, not just what we don’t want it to look like,” says writer-director Sarah Polley in a recent interview in Boston. 

The female characters in the film, though illiterate, use memorized Bible passages to support their positions. They work through their situation in a way that Ms. Polley says is a model: “[They] construct this truly democratic conversation that actually looks like what we should all expect from democracy, which is a fruitful, rich, difficult, evolving conversation.”

She understands there may be assumptions about the film’s audience. “Will men go see a movie called ‘Women Talking’?” she wonders. “I can’t wait to find out. I certainly hope so.”

Filmmaker: ‘Women Talking’ offers model of ‘truly democratic’ conversation

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“Women Talking,” a movie with book-club appeal, is an adaptation of Miriam Toews’ novel of the same name. Loosely based on a true story, and centered on themes of forgiveness and courage, the film focuses on a group of women in an isolated Mennonite community as they face down the horrors of systematic drugging and rape by fellow parishioners, and work to build consensus on how to move forward. Writer-director Sarah Polley (“Away From Her,” “Stories We Tell”) sat down with the Monitor in Boston recently to talk about the film. The conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for space.

The costumes and set could imply a time long ago – that we’ve moved beyond harmful situations brought on by rigid gender roles – but it’s also timeless. Why is it important to tell this story now?

I think of the film as a kind of fable that’s about all of us who live in patriarchal societies. It grapples with the question of what we want to build, not only what we want to destroy, what we want the world to look like, not just what we don’t want it to look like. 

In the film there are moments of emotional tension, and then the women would gather and shift into their faith and the tension would dissipate. What was happening?

They have this amazing stuff to rely on, right? Like that amazing piece of Scripture that I think is so powerful and really changes the entire direction of the conversation. When one of the elders says, “I suggest that we think about what is good, what is pure, what is true, what is excellent,” and takes that verse from Philippians [4:8] and it completely shifts the conversation. It’s interesting because it’s a group of women who are illiterate, but what they do have is this unbelievable in-depth understanding and analysis of the Bible. ... [And then they] construct this truly democratic conversation that actually looks like what we should all expect from democracy, which is a fruitful, rich, difficult, evolving conversation.

Eric Charbonneau/EPK.TV
Sarah Polley, writer-director of “Women Talking,” speaks at a special screening of the film at the 2022 AFI Fest on Nov. 5 in Los Angeles.

In the film, each character has a different definition of forgiveness. Was that intentional?

Yes. Forgiveness is really tricky. I don’t think it can be impelled or something people can be pressured to arrive at. If harm is ongoing and present, it’s unreasonable to ask people to have forgiveness. ... What would you need to do to be able to forgive? Many times, the answer to that is boundaries and self-care, and doing what is good for you and your community as opposed to a self-sacrificing act. Creating the conditions for forgiveness to be possible involves a move towards right relations, and a sense of justice and a sense of safety, and a sense of freedom. And all of those things may one day lead to forgiveness. 

How does the script honor the traditions of the Mennonite faith while also allowing the characters to reinvent themselves?

I think it’s really easy for secular audiences to sit back and judge a community that has faith ... and certainly the story we’re telling in this community ... is really horrific. So I was really interested in capturing tonally – through music, through image, through sound – what does it feel like to have faith? What are they fighting for? What are they hoping for?

In the writing of the script, when did hope emerge as an essential part of the story?

I just think it’s important to leave people with something. ... There’s something so hopeful in that they do find a way through.

With a female director, mostly female cast, and a script from a book by a woman about women, what do you want men to take away from the film?

It’s about the human experience. I wouldn’t shy away from the fact that it’s a feminist film. I think a lot of harm comes from hierarchical power structures and patriarchy, and some of that harm also falls on men. ... In fact, at the very heart of the film is the most sympathetic male character ever. ... Will men go see a movie called “Women Talking”? I can’t wait to find out. I certainly hope so. 

What message do you wish to leave with audiences about how to imagine and build a better world?

All of the really hard things that have happened to us have also given us a greater capacity for empathy and for connection and community building. ... I think creating the conditions to be safe and free has to be so central to any kind of vision of the world. But for me, the thing that I really took away from this process of making the film is this capacity – which I don’t think I had before – to make as much room for imagining what I wanted the world to look like as analyzing what was wrong with it. And that, for me, just felt like a huge turning point in terms of possibility.

“Women Talking” opens Dec. 2. It is rated PG-13 for mature thematic content including sexual assault, bloody images, and some strong language.

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Saving biodiversity with a note of harmony

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In November, the Democratic Republic of Congo took a step toward saving the world’s second largest tropical forest. The country approved a law recognizing the Pygmies as a distinct people with greater control over their traditional lands in the Congo Basin forests. While the law grants rights for this Indigenous people, it also sets a model for saving the planet.

The Pygmies learned long ago how to protect one of the world’s most biodiverse forests. Their lifestyle, culture, and spiritual identity are intrinsically linked to living in harmony with plants and animals. The law is yet another example of progress in many countries leading up to the largest global conference on preserving biological diversity. The conference, which starts Dec. 7 in Montreal, will be the 15th such gathering focused on implementing a 1993 treaty aimed at protecting wildlife and plants.

If nations at the conference find agreement on a doable plan to protect biodiversity, it will reflect the intrinsic harmony found in much of nature – and among many Indigenous peoples.

Saving biodiversity with a note of harmony

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Mathieu Shamavu for www.virunga.org via REUTERS
A caretaker at a center for orphaned gorillas poses at Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In mid-November, the Democratic Republic of Congo took a step toward saving the world’s second largest tropical forest – and the world’s largest carbon sink. The country approved a law recognizing the Pygmies as a distinct people with greater control over their traditional lands in the Congo Basin forests. While the law grants rights for this Indigenous people, it also sets a model for saving the planet.

The Pygmies, whose population may be as high as 1.2 million, learned long ago how to protect one of the world’s most biodiverse forests. Their lifestyle, culture, and spiritual identity are intrinsically linked to living in harmony with plants and animals, according to Marine Gauthier, an expert on rights-based habitat governance. One of their ancient customs, for example, forbids Pygmies from entering “hidden places where animals come to heal.”

The law is yet another example of progress in many countries leading up to the largest global conference on preserving biological diversity. The conference, which starts Dec. 7 in Montreal, will be the 15th such gathering focused on implementing a 1993 treaty aimed at protecting wildlife and plants. The previous meeting was 12 years ago.

This conference, says head Elizabeth Mrema, could be “the last chance” to head off mass extinction of many species by having countries adopt practices in harmony with nature. Perhaps the most important outcome would be agreement on a proposal to protect 30% of land and sea by 2030 (known as 30x30). Only about 17% of land and 7% of oceans are currently protected.

At least 112 of the 196 countries attending the conference support the goal of limiting human encroachment on nearly a third of the planet. If approved, the plan could be similar to a major global agreement on climate change set in Paris in 2015.

Details on how to measure and monitor the 30x30 plan still must be worked out. And Ms. Mrema says any agreement must safeguard the rights of Indigenous peoples. An estimated 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity is in their traditional lands. Their customs in eco-preservation are also worth saving.

If nations at the conference find agreement on a doable plan to protect biodiversity, it will reflect the intrinsic harmony found in much of nature – and among many Indigenous peoples.

At their previous gathering in 2010, nations set a goal of “living in harmony with nature by 2050.” The world can get a head start by letting nature be nature on a third of the Earth.

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.

Unity – our natural inclination

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Is conflict inevitable? Approaching our interactions from the basis of everyone’s inherent oneness with God is a strong foundation for unity that’s stable and lasting.

Unity – our natural inclination

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Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

Divisiveness seems prevalent these days. Some would say that this is human nature, that we are driven by fear and motivated by self-interest, in perpetual competition with our neighbor. And God is frequently conceived of as the originator of this imperfect individuality.

Yearning for a higher ideal of humanity, people often turn to the Bible. There we find men and women faced with the same kinds of challenges that we experience today, and we see examples of how they overcame those challenges through a more spiritual approach to life, an approach we can put into practice ourselves.

This opportunity to find guidance and healing in the Bible is available to all. When read in a spiritual light, the Scriptures reveal the nature of God, our divine Parent, as perfect, good, omnipotent Spirit, and each of us as God’s beloved child, reflecting this goodness and indivisible oneness with God.

The consummate example of this spiritual identity is Christ Jesus, and the foundation of Jesus’ life was his unity with God. His extraordinary exemplification of this unity gave him complete dominion over fear, illness, even death. He boldly declared, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30). Jesus yielded to God, good, under all circumstances, and that enabled him to always bless those around him. There was nothing in him capable of injuring, even if his actions or words at times were stern. He demonstrated that God’s will is absolute good and embraces all.

Because this spiritual state is our true being, the inclination for unity is innate within us. When we wholeheartedly acknowledge our oneness with God, yielding to the divine will, nothing can stop us from being a powerful healing influence for unity in our community and beyond.

The ultimate potential of such influence is indicated in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, which says, “With one Father, even God, the whole family of man would be brethren; and with one Mind and that God, or good, the brotherhood of man would consist of Love and Truth, and have unity of Principle and spiritual power which constitute divine Science” (pp. 469-470).

We can begin to prove the power of understanding our true, spiritual unity in small ways right where we are, as I found when I was newly appointed to my town’s Zoning Board of Appeals. I was immediately struck by the serious and frequent disagreements among the members over the cases which came to us. Despite a temptation to resign from the board, my prayers led me to stay and love my board “neighbors” by holding in my thought the reality of the unity that Jesus proved.

Before and during each session, my prayer was to see and love each member as one of God’s children, and I prayed to listen for the divine will, silencing any preoccupation with what I thought I personally wanted as an outcome. I found that the more effective I was at turning from that limited, human perception of others to the divine sense of these neighbors, the more it seemed to me that our decisions were benefiting all concerned and were accomplished with less contention.

During the remainder of my term, our interactions and discussions were characterized by goodwill, mutual respect, and unity. This was a proof to me of the power of prayer to heal division.

This is a modest case compared to situations of disunity that need to be healed around the world. But it points to the good that can be accomplished if we each approach how we live our lives from this basis of understanding everyone’s true unity with God, good, in which creator and creation are one, with no possibility of separation. Proving this reality in our individual experiences helps us to more confidently affirm the same truth for all humanity, contributing to the healing of division more broadly.

In his prayer for unity among his followers, Jesus says: “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.... that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us” (John 17:11, 21, English Standard Version). This indicates for all time the significance of unity, its foundation in God, and the basis of our natural inclination to express it.

Adapted from an editorial published in the Nov. 2, 2020, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

Viewfinder

A young royal watcher

Brian Snyder/Reuters
Henry Dynov-Teixeira waits for Britain's Prince William and Catherine, Princess of Wales, to arrive for their visit to Greentown Labs in Somerville, Massachusetts, Dec. 1, 2022.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Thanks for joining us today. Tomorrow, you can listen in as economics writer Laurent Belsie talks with “Why We Wrote This” host Samantha Laine Perfas about taking a deeper look at the four-day workweek. 

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