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Rethink the News

Perspective matters.

Reducing news to hard lines and side-taking leaves a lot of the story untold. Progress comes from challenging what we hear and considering different views.

2018
June
18
Monday

Recent events raise an important question: Is the West tired of dealing with the rest of the world?

In the United States, the Trump administration’s new zero-tolerance border policy has taken the extraordinary step of splitting families in an effort to tell Central Americans that they must solve their own problems at home. In Germany, a key member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government says he is going to rewrite her policy to get a “grip on the whole migration issue.” In Italy, migrant ships are being turned away.

There is a mounting sense that the West is struggling with human rights fatigue. Since World War II, the West has had an expansive mind-set, promoting the idea that universal principles, when spread, benefit all. By virtually every measure – from wealth to war to health – this has proved true.

But that worldview has also created a flow in the other direction. It has brought the rest of the world to the West’s doorstep, often literally. And it has committed the West to actually caring about those countries, not simply colonizing them economically or militarily. The result is a constant pressure for the West to become more permeable – to prove the universality of those principles by assimilating other countries’ cultures and challenges. The resulting tension is the essence of the backlash against globalization.

The underlying question to be answered is simple: Are we better off together, or not? The past 70 years offer a compelling answer. But they also suggest that, for the West, globalization is more than just cheap microwaves and lofty talk. It is a commitment to actually embrace the world. 

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Here are our five stories for today, including an emerging view of women's rights from the Middle East, a program that turns poachers into protectors, and proof of the remarkable power of library cards. 

1. Family separation: Evangelicals add their voices to chorus of opposition

For many white Evangelicals, the administration’s zero-tolerance approach to asylum-seekers is putting their support for President Trump in conflict with their reverence for the sanctity of families.  

Mark
People protest outside City Hall in Los Angeles June 7 to protest the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy, which has resulted in some 2,000 immigrant children being separated from their parents since the beginning of May.
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Patrick T. Fallon/Reuters

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As the logistical realities of the 'zero tolerance' border policy separating immigrant children from their parents have become more visible to the American public, evangelical Christians across the country have begun to debate the Bible. Normally among President Trump’s most ardent supporters, white Evangelicals like the Rev. Franklin Graham called the policy “disgraceful,” and other conservative Protestants invoked the Bible to emphasize a core evangelical conviction: that God established the family as the fundamental building block of society. Attorney General Jeff Sessions responded to the administration’s “church friends” by invoking Romans 13, a passage that calls for people to submit to civil authorities, which “God has established.”  The debate spoke to the power and influence that Evangelicals wield in United States politics, and the centrality of Scripture for both personal piety and political action. And most are rejecting the policy, citing other biblical passages. Take Julie Frady, a resident of Wichita, Kan., and a Republican voter who protested the Trump administration’s actions last week with a verse from the prophet Obadiah: “You should NOT stand at the crossroads to cut down fleeing REFUGEES…in the day of their DISTRESS.”

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Family separation: Evangelicals add their voices to chorus of opposition

When Julie Frady planned to make a poster to protest the Trump administration’s new “zero tolerance” immigration policy last week, she wanted to find the perfect Bible verse to stand against it, she says, one nobody else would expect.

She’s voted Republican most all of her life, but Ms. Frady, an evangelical Christian who lives in Wichita, Kan., says she’s been “appalled” by the Trump administration’s practice of separating immigrant children from their parents. And she’s been especially appalled, she says, at the administration’s stated purpose to use the practice as a deterrent to other immigrant families thinking of crossing the border illegally.

Since she joined about 60 protesters who marched in front of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Delano, Kan., Thursday, more and more people across the United States, and from across its often-polarized political spectrum, have begun to express deep moral reservations at the logistical realities of the practice.

Former first lady Laura Bush called the zero-tolerance policy “cruel” and “immoral” on Sunday, and first lady Melania Trump spoke out in favor of a resolution that would reunite families as well. Conservatives in Congress, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Trump loyalists, have also voiced their opposition.  

But in many ways, it was evangelical Christians, including some of President Trump’s most vocal supporters, who first began to change the course of the national conversation about immigration.

As federal agencies began to put into place the actual protocols of separating, detaining, and then finding suitable care for more than 11,400 immigrant children in custody – including about 2,000 taken from their parents since the Trump administration began its “zero tolerance” policy in April – many Evangelicals began to speak out against it.

Before opposition to the policy began to dominate the national conversation, Frady decided to use a verse from the small Book of Obadiah for her poster. The Hebrew prophet condemns the nation of Edom for closing its borders to Israelite refugees fleeing the Babylonians.

In multiple colors, she drew: “The LORD declares: You should NOT stand at the crossroads to cut down fleeing REFUGEES … in the day of their DISTRESS.”

Julie Frady, center left, an evangelical Christian and lifelong Republican from Wichita, Kan., protests in front of the United States Center for Immigration Services in Delano, Kan., June 14. She says she's "appalled" by the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy, which has resulted in 2,000 children being separated from their parents since it was announced in early May.
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Courtesy of Julie Frady

It’s in many ways a defining feature of American Evangelical identity: the centrality of Scripture for both personal piety and political action.

“I place an extremely high value on the authority of Scripture, and the place it should hold in our lives,” says Frady, a lay leader who often leads Bible studies at Northwest Free Methodist Church, a small congregation in Wichita, where she also plays tenor sax for morning worship. “I would not knowingly go against something I thought the Bible commanded, no matter how I felt about it.”

Indeed, the Bible, and the voices of Evangelicals around the country, have become a focus of the debate.

  • The Rev. Franklin Graham, one of the president’s most outspoken evangelical supporters, called the policy “disgraceful” last week. “It's terrible to see families ripped apart, and I don’t support that one bit,” he said.
  • The Evangelical Immigration Table, which includes pastors from the president’s group of faith advisers, wrote a letter to the president earlier this month, calling for the end to the policy. “As evangelical Christians guided by the Bible, one of our core convictions is that God has established the family as the fundamental building block of society,” members of the coalition wrote. “The traumatic effects of this separation on these young children, which could be devastating and long-lasting, are of utmost concern.”
  • The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the nation and one of the most politically and theologically conservative, overwhelming passed an immigration resolution at its annual meeting last week. The resolution called for immigration reforms that would include a path to legal status for those here illegally – which has long been anathema to most Evangelicals. Such reforms should maintain “the priority of family unity,” the convention proclaimed, and should “[honor] the value and dignity of those seeking a better life for themselves and their families.”

“It’s been a really interesting week or so,” says David Gushee, an professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University in Atlanta, and an Evangelical.

“I don't think we should be using Scripture to defend any of these laws. My question is: How does love demand us to act?” said Sister Phyllis Peters, a Roman Catholic nun, speaking at a roundtable in Brownsville, Texas, Monday afternoon after elected officials visited the Casa Padre and Casa Presidents children's shelters in the city. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, (D) of Texas, called on Evangelicals, Mr. Graham, and other religious leaders to act, saying, “It will take that kind of spirit that is nonpartisan, religious, social, and humanitarian, and I think that group is much stronger than the federal government at this time. We must stand up to the federal government when it is necessary, and it is necessary now.”

Still, white Evangelicals have been Trump’s most ardent supporters from the start, and as a group they remain the most supportive of his administration’s immigration policies, polls suggest.

And Evangelicals within the Trump administration, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, invoked the Bible to defend the policy of separating children.

Discussing the “concerns raised by our church friends about separating families,” Mr. Sessions told an audience in Fort Wayne, Ind., last week, “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.”

Later, Ms. Sanders told reporters that “it is very biblical to enforce the law. That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible.”

On the one hand, it speaks to the power and influence that Evangelicals wield in US politics, notes Professor Gushee, given that a political debate over immigration policy became a debate over biblical interpretation. “Only in America, really, and only in America in the 21st century and with a conservative Republican government, would we be having these public biblical arguments about immigration policy.”

The fraught history of Romans 13

Yet after Sessions invoked Romans 13, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established,” Christians, including many white Evangelicals, pointed out the long history of this passage, a passage that Gushee says “has been used and abused by tyrants and governments doing injustice for centuries.”

“There are two dominant places in American history when Romans 13 is invoked,” said John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, to The Washington Post. “One is during the American Revolution [when] it was invoked by loyalists, those who opposed the American Revolution.”

The other was in the middle of the 19th century, to support defense of the Fugitive Slave Act, Professor Fea continued. “I mean, this is the same argument that Southern slaveholders and the advocates of a Southern way of life made.”

Steven Colbert, a devout Roman Catholic and the host of “The Late Show,” suggested Thursday that the attorney general continue reading the passage on submitting to civil authorities through Romans 13:8-10. “Love thy neighbor as thyself. Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Trump has been backtracking from his policy of zero tolerance, falsely asserting that his hands are tied, and that Democrats are the ones responsible for legal requirements that his administration is only enforcing.

But as the Monitor reported in March 2017, the Trump White House has been mulling separating children from their families as a deterrent policy from the first months of the administration. After an outcry from religious leaders, however, the plan was postponed.

‘Prosecutorial discretion’ vs. ‘zero tolerance’

The Obama administration, too, separated immigrant children from their parents, advocates note. And it also greatly expanded a policy of detaining mothers with children in expanded facilities. If a father crossed the border illegally with a child, they would typically be separated.

“The separation of families at the border is not new,” says Christina Fialho, co-executive director of Freedom for Immigrants, who advocates for immigrants being held at places like the private, for-profit Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego. “Under the Obama administration, we worked with hundreds of parents who were separated from their family in home raids, including mothers who were still nursing young children.”

The difference, however, was that the Obama administration maintained a policy of “prosecutorial discretion”: the focus of resources on known, dangerous individuals, rather than “zero tolerance,” an adherence to the letter of the law in all instances.

“We realized that we had limited resources in what we could do,” says Kevin Fandl, who worked as a senior counsel for the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from 2007 to 2013. “We believed we should target those resources toward the most serious threats to the country, those threats being convicted felons or those with a criminal history, terrorists, threats for national security, and recent border crossers, those people with no ties whatsoever to the United States.”

“Everybody else was considered a really low level for enforcement, which encouraged agents to say, ‘OK, if we spot a family with children, we’re probably not going to spend much time with them,’ ” Mr. Fandl continues. Sometimes, if they were picked up, the policy of “catch and release” allowed families with children to enter the country after being given a Notice to Appear order – which, he admits, no one expected them to do.

For critics, however, this created a perverse incentive. “No nation can have the policy that whole classes of people are immune from immigration law or enforcement,” said Stephen Miller, the president’s senior policy adviser, to The New York Times last week. “It was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero tolerance policy for illegal entry, period. The message is that no one is exempt from immigration law.”

And as Sessions put it earlier this month: “If people don’t want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them. We’ve got to get this message out.”

As a result, however, the system has been severely strained. Sessions said last week that taking care of unaccompanied minors was costing taxpayers more than $1 billion a year, most now under the care of the US Department of Health and Human Services and its Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Logistically speaking, the system is not prepared to handle the care of thousands of children, says Lisa Koop, associate director of legal services for the National Immigrant Justice Center, who represents a number of immigrant woman whose children were taken from them by the US government.

“They did not know what was going on with their kids, and when we finally managed to figure that one of the kids was being detained in New York, the child’s mother [being held at the Otay Mesa Detention Center] said to me, Where is New York? Is New York far away from here?’ ” says Ms. Koop, who recounts stories of mothers having their children literally torn from their arms. “They just have no concept of where their children are, and what conditions they’re in.”

Gushee says he has been heartened by the biblical responses to Sessions’ use of Romans 13, from those on Twitter to the discussions in the media. biblical passages that have to do with compassion and care for those suffering, and especially for “the least of these” and the most vulnerable in society, he says, “they surfaced when they were needed.”

“But the story is not just the Bible verses,” Gushee continues. “The tears and suffering of human beings whose rights are being violated speaks. That is a language that should be taken seriously. In fact, one might even say this language is revelatory.”

“To see children weeping, to see bereft parents not knowing where their children are, to learn about a man who killed himself in a detention center because he was torn apart over the destruction of his family – these stories speak, too.”

And they have spurred devout evangelical Christians like Frady to action.

“I love America,” says Frady, who wore a purple T-shirt with “Jesus was a Refugee” to the protest near her home in Wichita. “It is my homeland, and I am certainly blessed to be an American.”

“But I am also not naive to its warts,” she continues. “And this is more than a wart.”

Staff writer Henry Gass contributed to this report from Brownsville, Texas.

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2. On election issues, Supreme Court sticks to the shallows

The United States looks to its Supreme Court for big decisions. But the decisions released Monday on US elections show that, sometimes, the Supreme Court itself isn’t ready to make those tough choices.  

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Rest easy. It’s OK to wear your “Don’t Tread On Me” tea party T-shirt into the election booth. At least, it’s OK in Minnesota. The Supreme Court ruled that’s the case last week, striking down a Minnesota state law that had barred such politically themed attire from polling places on grounds of electioneering. As for gerrymandering, though, high court justices have just collectively shrugged their shoulders. Justices this term heard two big cases dealing with the big, contentious issue of partisan district packing, but on Monday they deferred final decisions on those cases, on narrow grounds. When it comes to election law, that’s the story of this year’s Supreme Court term: definitive decisions on smaller items, avoidance on larger ones. Thus a term that seemed poised to make big changes in the logistics of US elections has made only small corrections. But as far as gerrymandering is concerned, it will be back. It’s an issue the court has struggled with in one form or another for more than a decade. Justices “manufactured reasons not to decide these cases today. That means the court hasn’t decided what it thinks yet,” says Justin Levitt, a redistricting expert and former assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, on Monday. 

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1. On election issues, Supreme Court sticks to the shallows

Elections – how they’re set up, how they’re carried out – have been an important theme in the current Supreme Court term. Justices considered cases on everything from appropriate voting booth attire to methods of drawing election district lines.

But in the end the high court didn’t order big changes in American political logistics. On this issue its nine members collectively edged around the shallow end of the pool without diving into deeper waters.

The gerrymander issue, dealing with partisan manipulation in the drawing of districts, was notable in this regard. With two big partisan gerrymander cases on the docket, one from Wisconsin and one from Maryland, the Supreme Court seemed set to finally settle the contentious question of whether, or how much, lawmakers can create districts designed to maximize Republican or Democratic party representation.

Instead, on Monday narrow rulings on both cases in essence deferred definitive answers.

Justices “manufactured reasons not to decide these cases today. That means the court hasn’t decided what it thinks yet,” says Justin Levitt, a redistricting expert and former deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that the injection of excessive partisanship into redistricting in unconstitutional, says Levitt, who is now a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. What they’re stuck on now is how to define “excessive” in this case, and what remedies for partisan gerrymandering might look like.

Both Democrats and Republicans have been guilty of egregious gerrymandering. “Voters are the ones caught in the middle,” Mr. Levitt says.

Racial gerrymandering, which is always illegal, is another matter. The court still has one election case left to decide this term on that question, out of Texas.

On other election issues the current Supreme Court term has provided more definitive action.

Take T-shirts. In 2010, a Minnesota voter named Andrew Cilek went his polling place wearing a tea party T-shirt saying “Don’t Tread On Me,” and a button with the message “Please I.D. me,” a phrase often used by those who allege voter fraud is widespread in the United States.

Many states have laws limiting political expression in immediate election environs. Minnesota is no exception, and poll workers told Mr. Cilek he must cover up or he would not be allowed to vote.

Last week the Supreme Court ruled that states do have the power to control speech within polling places, and that such controls must only be “reasonable” to be legal. But the T-shirt cover-up failed to clear even this low bar, wrote Chief Justice John Roberts for the majority. Minnesota’s law was so broad that even a “Vote!” button might conceivably be banned. The “Don’t Tread On Me” shirt should be allowed, wrote Roberts.

This decision does not mean your polling place is about to be overrun by voters dressed as political billboards or carrying blinking election signs, says Edward Foley, director of election law at the Ohio State University College of Law and author of “Ballot Battles: The History of Disputed Elections in the United States.”

In the Minnesota apparel case the court “took the claims seriously about whether these T-shirts interfere with the voting process, but said you can’t overdo that concern relative to the rights of people to express themselves,” says Mr. Foley. “It was a very careful decision, which is what you want.”

The high court’s 5-4 split decision on an Ohio case dealing with the removal of voters from the state’s rolls has drawn more attention, and perhaps more criticism, than the T-shirt case. On June 11, justices ruled in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute that Ohio’s practice of canceling the registration of voters who do not go to the polls for a certain period and then do not respond to notice of impending removal does not violate federal laws.

Critics say Ohio’s practice will disproportionately affect minorities, the elderly, and poor voters who move from place to place. In a dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted that laws protecting voting rights were created “against the backdrop of substantial efforts by States to disenfranchise low-income and minority voters.”

However, voters can avoid problems here simply by voting, or updating voter registration online, says Foley of the Ohio State University College of Law. No one is permanently hurt in terms of registration ability.

“My own take on it is that it is not as consequential as these other cases,” he says.

That mainly means the two gerrymander cases: Gill v. Whitford from Wisconsin, and Benisek v. Lamone from Maryland. The former challenged the statewide map of legislative districts drawn up by Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled state legislature. The latter challenged a single congressional district drawn by Democratic officials in Maryland.

Legal experts thought the two cases presented the high court with a golden opportunity to wrestle with the problem of limiting the partisanship involved in drawing district lines, once and for all. After all, heightened partisanship and modern technology has made gerrymandering the norm rather than the exception in many states, as lawmakers “crack and pack” districts to maximize the power of their constituencies.

But justices sent the Wisconsin case back to lower courts to reexamine whether challengers have a legal right to bring the case at all. In the Maryland case, they simply let stand the existing state districts for the 2018 election.

It isn’t quite right to say the court “punted” on this issue, say some legal experts. It appears justices are split along their own partisan lines, 4-to-4, on this issue – with one swing vote, Justice Anthony Kennedy, unsure of what a proper test determining excessive partisanship might look like.

The case determinations end the possibility that a Supreme Court decision on gerrymanders could play a role in the 2018 midterms. But it’s an issue that could soon end up in the high court again. A partisan gerrymandering challenge to North Carolina’s congressional map is one of the cases on the list for a possible hearing next Supreme Court term.

More than any other state, North Carolina is a place where the norms of political fair play seem to have broken down, says Foley. The atmosphere in the state is such that it may help prove that there has to be a constitutional limit to protect the process.

“It may ... turn out to be valuable for American democracy as a whole that North Carolina becomes the focal point, because the stakes could not be any clearer than in North Carolina,” he says.

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3. Islamist and feminist: A new generation stakes its claim

Many Islamic women in the Middle East say the pillars of their faith demand gender equality. And increasingly, they are raising their voices to fight for it. 

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Women marked the seventh anniversary of the toppling of President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, in Tunis, Tunisia, Jan. 14. Women Islamists played a leading role in Tunisia's democratic transition after the Arab Spring.
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Youssef Boudlal/Reuters

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The concept of Islamic feminism, a push for gender equality rooted in Islam, has been around for more than a century. Yet with the rise of Islamist movements since the 2011 Arab Spring, a new generation of Islamist women are using their faith to combat social norms and archaic laws they say have deprived them of rights enshrined in the Quran itself. “Fighting against injustice and inequality, fighting for human rights and women’s rights – these are not just my political causes,” says Jordanian Alaa Khaled at a recent protest. “These are the pillars of my faith.” Still, there are questions about how far feminists can go in Islamist movements that can, at times, have a condescending approach to women within their ranks. “While we are for women’s rights, we are against ‘equality,’ ” says Ibrahim Hassan, a Muslim Brotherhood member from Amman. “We must respect women, listen to them, learn from them, but they cannot do all men’s work or be effective in certain leadership positions. We see any attempt to tell society both genders are equal as a scheme by seculars and the regime to crack down on religion.”

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Islamist and feminist: A new generation stakes its claim

Alaa Khaled finds nothing unusual about being both a devout Muslim and a women’s activist, insisting she is an activist because she is a Muslim.

Wearing traditional clothing and a hijab, with a Jordanian flag draped over her shoulders, the 26-year-old says she makes sure her voice is the loudest at protests.

“As a Muslim it is incumbent on me to fight for social justice for my country, my citizens, and my gender,” Ms. Khaled says while protesting austerity measures and taxes in Jordan in recent demonstrations that brought down the prime minister.

“Fighting against injustice and inequality, fighting for human rights and women’s rights – these are not just my political causes,” Khaled says. “These are the pillars of my faith.”

The concept of Islamic feminism, a push for gender equality rooted in Islam, has been around for over a century.

Yet with the rise of Islamist movements since the 2011 Arab Spring, a new generation of Islamist women – parliamentarians, activists, and civil society leaders across the Arab world – are putting the theory into practice, using their faith to combat social norms and archaic laws they say have deprived them of rights enshrined in the Quran itself.

Although the concept takes many forms, at the core of Islamic feminism are explicit passages in the Quran denoting the equality of all human beings. Activists call for the implementation of gender equality, in line with the Quran, in the state, the private sector, society, the family, and in everyday life. 

Fatema Mernissi, a Moroccan sociologist trained at Brandeis University, is considered the godmother of modern Islamic feminism. Her studies in the 1970s and 80s assert that it was a male-dominated interpretation of the religion, shaped and influenced by the very patriarchal cultures Islam sought to reform, that stripped Muslim women of their rights and power.

Tunisia

In the post-Arab Spring rise of Islamist parties across the Arab world, the strongest example of Islamist feminists’ new influence has been in the Arab Spring’s most dramatic success story: Tunisia.

There, women Islamists played a leading role in the country’s democratic transition: 42 out of the 49 women elected to the 2011 National Constituent Assembly that later drafted Tunisia’s post-revolution constitution were from the Islamist Ennahda party.

While Ennahda’s rise to power stoked fears among secular Tunisians of a rollback of women’s rights, those concerns proved unfounded.

In 2011, Tunisia’s women Islamists reached across the aisle to secular and leftist feminists to pass a bill requiring gender parity in national elections, mandating that half of parties’ candidates be women. In 2016, they teamed up again to pass a second bill requiring an equal number of men and women on the ballot in municipal elections.

When the Tunisian government introduced a bill protecting women from domestic violence and gender-based discrimination, Ennahda joined feminists in championing the legislation – its representatives in parliament voted unanimously in support of the bill, ensuring its historic passage last year.

Yet their most important contribution was in the drafting of Tunisia’s constitution.

In 2014, Mehrezia Labidi, a senior Ennahda MP and head of the parliamentary women and family committee, played a key role in drafting Article 46, a constitutional article guaranteeing gender equality, equal rights, protection against gender-based violence, and gender parity in all elected bodies. It was a watershed for Arab women’s rights.

“Men and women have equal rights in Islam, it is the men’s interpretation of the religion that has led us astray,” Ms. Labidi told the Monitor in an interview from her office in Tunis early this year. The revolution was a chance, she and others say, to prove that women’s rights are not exclusive to secular Western feminism.

“Why am I obliged to only seek empowerment from outside my religion?” Labidi asked. “Instead, I want to re-appropriate my religion and re-empower myself and other women who are empowered by Islam.”

Morocco

There has also been an Islamist women’s spring in Morocco, where King Mohammed VI enacted democratic reforms amid intense protests in 2011, allowing the Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) to form a government.

Women feature prominently in the Islamist movement’s electoral lists; the majority of the 81 women MPs in the Moroccan parliament belong to the PJD. Experts say the PJD and Ennahda practice what they preach, with near gender parity within their organizations.

“Participating in a more open democratic society has opened these movements up for women leaders and candidates who ascribe to an Islamic concept of feminism and who were previously sidelined,” says Hassan Abu Haniya, a Jordanian expert in Islamist movements.

There have been solid first steps for Moroccan Islamic feminists. When Morocco amended its constitution in 2011, women pushed for an article barring gender discrimination. This February, Morocco passed a law criminalizing “acts of harassment, aggression, sexual exploitation or ill treatment” of women.

Meanwhile, Moroccan Islamist feminists have been pushing further, backing reform of Islamic-based inheritance laws that give men twice the share of their female relatives – putting the feminists at odds with the religious establishment in Morocco.

Jordan

Islamist women, and other activist Muslim women, have also begun shaping the conversation on women’s rights in Jordan, home to both a tribal society and one of the most socially conservative Islamist groups in the Arab world.

Last August, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, voted for the historic repeal of an article in the country’s penal code allowing rapists to marry their victims to avoid punishment.

They argued that the article, along with many regressive laws on Jordan’s books concerning women, “came from a tribal and traditional culture,” not from Islam.

“In Jordan we are battling conservative tribal traditions that people try to mask as religion,” says Dima Tahboub, an IAF member of parliament. “It is up to us women, Muslim women, to tear down the misconceptions and bring back the empowerment and rights guaranteed in Islam.”

Ms. Tahboub is now campaigning to grant Jordanian women married to foreigners the right to pass on citizenship to their children – using Islamic and moral arguments that it is wrong to deny constitutional rights to women and their children.

“Women’s rights are not concessions for these Islamists groups; most of these causes can be justified by Islamist organizations within their ideology as they are less based in theology and are more pragmatic,” says Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and an expert in Islamist movements.

Differing views

While Islamic feminism is seemingly flourishing in many Arab countries, experts and women activists themselves warn that it is not a unified movement and that they do not agree on all core issues.

For example, while Islamist feminists in Morocco are working to overhaul inheritance laws, others, such as Tahboub in Jordan and Labidi in Tunisia, argue that families and male citizens should have the choice to either follow Islamic teachings or set a more generous distribution for female relatives.

Then there is the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Ennahda and the Jordanian Brotherhood oppose CEDAW, which they claim imposes a Western concept of family values on Islamic societies, while other Islamic feminists see the convention as compatible with Islam.

And there are questions on how far feminists can go in Islamist movements that remain largely patriarchal and can have at times a condescending approach to women within their ranks.

“The first explicit mention of women’s rights is in Islam. What these women are doing is not new, but it is important,” says Ibrahim Hassan, a Brotherhood member from Amman who has been active in the movement for more than 20 years.

“But while we are for women’s rights, we are against ‘equality,’ ” he says.

“God made men and women different for a reason; we must respect women, listen to them, learn from them – but they cannot do all men’s work or be effective in certain leadership positions.”

“We see any attempt to tell society both genders are equal as a scheme by seculars and the regime to crack down on religion.”

Such attitudes can be reflected in the makeup of Islamist parties themselves. In Jordan’s Brotherhood, women serve in parliament and have run as mayoral candidates but hold virtually no leadership positions. In the Egyptian Brotherhood, women were scarcely visible – or even involved – with its short-lived government. Even Ennahda, the most progressive of Arab Islamist movements, has a small minority of women in its top governing councils.  

Meanwhile, Islamist feminists’ ability to find common ground with their secular counterparts remains a challenge.

Secular women activists have expressed both hope and frustration with Islamist feminists. Tunisian and Jordanian activists privately admit that they wish to cooperate further with Islamists but remain wary of their agenda – with their objection to CEDAW being a “deal breaker” for many who wish to join forces.

Yet Islamist feminists say they remain pragmatic, and insist that pushing for greater rights is both a moral and religious duty – one that can be carried out on either side of the religious-secular divide.

“Arab regimes deprived us of our rights and distanced us from our religion,” says Khaled, the Jordanian activist. “The more we march toward equality, the closer we are to Islam.”

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4. Poachers become protectors, and tigers bounce back in an Indian park

Why do poachers poach? Addressing root causes helped this national park boost animals’ security. But helping poachers become key to the solution reaped benefits for its human communities, too.

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At 6 a.m. a thin layer of fog floats over Periyar’s rolling hills. The birds are not yet too hot to sing, and the national park is blanketed in a soft light. It’s the morning trek on the Tiger Trail: an overnight camping trip for tourists eager to catch sight of the cats – or even just their claw marks. “Without these people we couldn’t do the tours,” a security guard says, referring to the guides. “I wouldn’t even find my way back out of this forest without them.” Since their teenage years, these men have shared the lush landscape near this national park with its animals, but originally as poachers. Park officials decided policing alone wouldn’t stop the poachers, many of whom needed jobs. So 20 years ago they offered poachers a deal: Come work for us. After all, who knew the forest better – or poachers’ habits? Today, 11 of the original forest guides remain, patrolling the park and taking care of visitors. Poaching has decreased, but that’s not the only change. “Now my family is not ashamed anymore,” says one guide. “My daughter can say where her father works with pride.”

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Poachers become protectors, and tigers bounce back in an Indian park

Kunjumon Chacko freezes. His arm cuts through the air, palm facing out, ordering the group to stop. Behind the peak of a small hill just 100 meters away, a family of five elephants stand alert.

“They can smell us with the wind,” he whispers as the largest elephant begins to growl. “They are more dangerous than the tigers.”

Over two days inside Periyar Tiger Reserve, a national park in South India, Mr. Chacko and his colleagues demonstrate time and time again their knowledge of this forest and its inhabitants. Since they were teenagers, the men have shared the lush Cardamon Hills and shores of the Periyar River with bison, elephants, and tigers – originally, as poachers.

For more than 20 years, they hunted the animals they now protect. Today, they work as tour guides and caretakers of the national park, thanks to an initiative by the local forest department. Once the problem, they’re now the solution: a root-cause approach that helped win Periyar a biodiversity award from the United Nations in 2012. This year marks the 20th anniversary of their appointments as forest officers.

The project is nearing its close, however: The men are all in their fifties, and when the last of them retires, so will the experiment.

Forest experts

“We earned our livelihood by smuggling and poaching cinnamon, sandalwood, boars, and bison for many years,” Joseph Koshy says, sitting next to a crackling bonfire. “Now we protect the forest.”

The small camping ground consists of three tents, a canopied fireplace with a corner for preparing food, and a portable toilet, all surrounded by a 10-foot-deep trench. “To ward off tigers?” a tourist asks. Mr. Koshy laughs. “No, they could easily hop over it, but elephants can’t. It’s to make sure they don’t wreak havoc in the camp.”

The former poachers regularly patrol the forest, and three times a week they take a group of six on an overnight Tiger Trail. Seeing the reclusive cats is unlikely, but following the territory markings of their enormous claws on the trees offers a thrill of its own.

Camping is only possible because the 11 former poachers know the forest and its dangers like the back of their hands. Every trek is accompanied by at least two former poachers and an armed guard – again, not for the tigers, but to scare off elephants in case they should charge.

When the group was approached by the forest department, poaching and smuggling were on the rise. Infrastructure improvements had made traveling inside the park easier – including for poachers. Encouraged and financially supported by the World Bank’s India Ecodevelopment Project, which aimed to increase collaboration between conservationists and locals, a few enthusiastic forest officers at the reserve took action.

Facing a swelling number of poachers – who were armed, and in need of a steady income – the rangers knew policing alone wouldn’t eradicate poaching from the Cardamon Hills. At the time, Periyar’s tourism industry was less developed, making opportunities to make a good living more scarce.

Many of the poachers were fighting court cases, or effectively on the run from the law. But, with the blessing of the government, the forest department offered them a way out: all outstanding charges would be dropped if they helped put a stop to Periyar’s poaching problem.

Twenty of them agreed, and were given training on forest conservation and protection, as well as tourism activities.

“When we worked illegally we had more money,” Chacko says, “but we had also more problems.”

As poachers they were seen as criminals, outcasts in the local community. “The first day my daughter went to school, the other kids and the teacher said to her ‘Your father is a robber.’ That was very difficult for her,” he says. “Now, my family is not ashamed anymore. My daughter can say where her father works with pride.”

Koshy was even elected into local office, and served two terms as an assemblyman.

Sunset on the trail?

The program has worked for the park, as well. The men knew the modus operandi of their former fellow smugglers and poachers: which routes they took and which markets they approached.

“Now we can say there is zero poaching in Periyar Tiger Reserve, because these guys are in the forest,” says ecotourism officer Syam Krishnan. The number of tigers has risen to 48, up from 21 in 2002, and cinnamon trees have recovered as well. Smugglers after its valuable bark had almost eradicated them in the park.

Tourists’ presence is also key to keeping poachers away. “For the Tiger Trail, you don’t just go in as a tourist, you go as a protector of the forest,” Mr. Krishnan says solemnly. “Since you are there with the guides nobody will come.”

When the program began in 1998, there were 20 guides. Today, 11 remain. But the end of the program is looming, with their retirement on the horizon. With the development of Periyar’s tourism industry, there are now more job opportunities for young people nearby, reducing the pull of poaching. But park officials have established dozens of anti-poaching camps, basecamps for other patrol squads, to try and prevent illegal activities from erupting again.

It remains a major problem elsewhere in India, however. Other national parks have shown interest in Periyar’s concept, but so far, none has achieved its own poachers-turned-protectors program. In one attempt to reduce poaching, the West Indian state of Maharashtra decriminalized killing poachers on sight in 2012, after eight tigers had been shot within one year.

“When the former poachers leave, the Tiger Trail ends forever,” Krishnan says. It would be impossible to train new people with this kind of experience, he adds. “While they were poaching, they stayed inside the forest for weeks. They can hear the forest, they can smell the animal’s scent. It’s impossible to teach this kind of knowledge.”

At 6 a.m., during the morning trek on the Tiger Trail, a thin layer of fog floats over Periyar’s rolling hills. The birds are not yet too hot to sing, and the park is blanketed in a soft light.

“Without these people we couldn’t do the tours,” says Muhammed Hashmi, an armed security guard, as the group walks past fresh elephant and porcupine tracks at the waterhole. “I wouldn’t even find my way back out of this forest without them. They know everything. I’m just carrying the gun.”

Then he laughs, looks ahead for Koshy and the others, and elegantly manoeuvres through several large piles of bison dung.

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5. Where kids can pay off library fines simply by reading more

The punishment was well intentioned. Los Angeles public libraries wanted to cut down on lost books. But the real solution didn't come until they considered what they really wanted: more kids reading more books. 

Mark
A man and his grandson patronize the East Los Angeles Library, part of the L.A. County Library system. Whenever anyone age 21 or younger racks up fines, the library invites them to 'read away' those charges – at the rate of $5 per hour.
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Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters/File

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Libraries are starting to think differently about lost and late books, particularly those checked out by young people. Some are waiving late fees outright. The Los Angeles County Library, in addition to recently doing that, is also letting anyone 21 and younger “read away” prior fines and charges for lost books. The Great Read Away is part of a multipart initiative that aims to eliminate policies or programs that impede citizen access to services. Since the program began in June 2017, the county’s 87 libraries have logged more than 29,000 reading sessions and lowered fines accordingly. Among those benefiting from the program is 10-year-old Dariana Martinez, a fourth-grader at Fourth Street Elementary School in East Los Angeles. She says she had racked up “about $30” in fines and has now reduced that to less than $10 through reading during weekly visits to the library. “The Read Away program helped me, 'cause a lot of the time I forget my books and my mom has to pay,” she says. “So when my mom heard about Read Away, she was really happy.”

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Where kids can pay off library fines simply by reading more

Twelve-year-old Sergio Garay, a sixth grader at Griffith STEAM Magnet Middle School, loves going to his local branch library in East Los Angeles. In fact, he loves the library so much he reads and studies there almost every day after school.

But recently, Sergio was in danger of losing his library privileges: He’d been reading “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days,” a popular page-turner for preteens, “and I forgot it at school one day.”

He’d stowed the book in its proper place, he says, “and then it disappeared. A lot of people steal other kids' books.”

The cost of replacing that book was more than $10 – and any time a cardholder’s fines go past that amount their borrowing privileges get frozen. Sergio didn’t have that kind of cash, so not only was he unable to find out what happened to the Wimpy Kid, but he wasn’t allowed to check out any other books.

Had Sergio’s book been stolen a year ago, he would have had to wait until he came up with enough money to pay off his library debt. But because the Los Angeles County Library embarked on a campaign to remove impediments that keep residents from patronizing their public libraries, Sergio discovered a way to pay off his fines without spending a dime – a program for young readers called the Great Read Away.

Whenever anyone age 21 or younger racks up fines, the library invites them to “read away” those charges – at the rate of $5 per hour. Since the program began in June of 2017, the county’s 87 libraries have logged more than 29,000 reading sessions, and lowered fines accordingly. During the program’s first 11 months, young readers logged 1.6 million minutes of reading time, and 10,000 accounts were cleared completely of fines.

In the time before the Great Read Away, “when someone lost a borrowed book they not only had to pay the cost of the lost book, but the library also added a $10 processing fee,” explains Darcy Hastings, assistant library administrator for youth services. “Now, if you’re a kid, and you lose a $4.95 paperback, and then we tack on another $10, what are we saying to you? We’ve taken your $5 mistake and turned it into a $15 mistake.

“You may not want to tell your mom,” Ms. Hastings says. “You may not want to come to us and say, ‘Hey, I made a mistake. Can we work something out?’ You’re just going to stop using your library card. And that doesn’t help you, and it doesn’t help us.”

Increasing library use

The Los Angeles County Library serves nearly 3.5 million residents, and Hastings says a search of its records found 13 percent of children’s library accounts were inactive because their fines or fees were above $10, “so we know they weren’t using their cards.”

County Library Director Skye Patrick inspired the Great Read Away when she made it the library’s mission to eliminate policies or programs that impeded citizen access to services. It was tied to a multi-part initiative approved unanimously by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Following a no-fine month in May of 2017, the library instituted the Great Read Away program. It then partnered with local schools, sending in library staff to help students discover the array of services and resources available to them.

“We visit schools and bring special student library cards to issue to kids right there in their classrooms,” Hastings explains. “In the first six months of the student card program we visited over 700 classrooms and issued over 15,500 student library cards.”

More recently, in December, the Board of Supervisors voted to end late fees altogether for patrons 21 and younger from that point on. Young people who had fines before that time, and those who lose books, are still candidates for the Great Read Away program. 

At the East Los Angeles Library, manager Martin Delgado says more than 2,000 people from the working-class neighborhood come through the doors on a typical day. “We average about 150 individuals per month doing the Read Away program. It makes my staff and I feel really good – because this really is a literacy program, and everyone’s reaping the benefit.”

Popular with parents

One of those 2,000 users is 10-year-old Dariana Martinez, a fourth grader at Fourth Street Elementary School. She had racked up “about $30” in fines and says, in a soft voice, “I felt pretty sad – because I had to waste that money, and the money could be used for getting food and clothes and better stuff.”

As her mother waited in another room, Dariana explains that she reads away her fines “mostly every time I come to the library, every week.” Her fine is now below $10.

“The Read Away program helped me, ‘cause a lot of the time I forget my books, and my mom has to pay,” she says. “So when my mom heard about Read Away, she was really happy.”

Which is all part of the library’s greater literacy plan: “We do a short survey with some parents and over 80 percent of them tell us that they’re more willing to bring their kids to the library and let them check out materials because we now have the Great Read Away,” Hastings says. “They know that if a fine results because of a book forgotten at home then their child can read down the fine.”

Sergio calculates he has about two and a half hours remaining before he unblocks his library card. “Read Away has made me more responsible,” Sergio says. He adds: “I know that if I forget to turn in a book, I can read away the fines.” And that means he can keep reading.

Hastings points to research that looks at a pivotal phase in all children’s lives, “right around the end of the third grade, when their education switches from ‘learning to read’ to ‘reading to learn.’ It’s like learning to play the trumpet or running the quarter mile: You have to practice to become good at it.

“If reading down a fine can encourage just a little more practice, that’s great,” she says. “Kids practice reading, their library cards can be used again, they check out more books and read more. Everyone wins.”

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The Monitor's View

The high court’s hint on partisan gerrymandering

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The Supreme Court hinted today at how it may someday decide on partisan gerrymandering, the drawing of electoral districts by state legislators to keep one party in power. Voters, the justices said, must first show whether they were harmed by the boundaries of their  district. From the court’s view, the remedy lies in defining individual harm rather than the effects on a party statewide. A voter’s political identity can shift from one election to the next, even across party lines. The justices are wary of setting a permanent rule for redistricting if voters can be impermanent in how they vote. This fits into James Madison’s vision for the American republic: that it would force individuals to see the greater good by cooperating rather than simply competing for selfish or group interests. The drawing of lines for electoral districts must build community across partisan divides rather than divide people by their mutable political identities. The courts have been wise not to intervene in partisan gerrymandering so far. They stand ready to remedy individual harm. But perhaps they hope enough voters will see the harm for themselves and use the ballot box, not a lawsuit, to fix it.

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The high court’s hint on partisan gerrymandering

In a unanimous ruling on Monday, the Supreme Court hinted at how it may someday decide on partisan gerrymandering, or the drawing of electoral districts by state legislators to keep one party in power. Individual voters, the justices concluded, must first show whether they were harmed by the boundaries of their particular voting district. For the courts, the effect of gerrymandering on political or social groups is not a matter of justice.

In other words, the court has now set a high bar for when judges should intervene, if at all, in what is fundamentally a political decision on how to group voters. Courts have long been reluctant to decide when a district’s boundaries favor one party, perhaps hoping voters might someday overcome their political divisions and cooperate in electing representatives who oppose partisan gerrymandering.

In its ruling, the high court did leave a door open for further review of this common practice by both political parties. It sent a case from Wisconsin back to a lower court to allow plaintiffs to prove whether “concrete and particularized injuries” from gerrymandering had placed a burden on their individual votes. The court refused to hear whether Wisconsin’s redistricting by a Republican majority after the 2010 Census had harmed Democrats by “packing” or “cracking” districts with voters along partisan lines.

From the court’s view, the remedy for any gerrymandering lies in defining individual harm, and only in a voter’s district, rather than the effects on a party statewide. In the past, the court has identified such harm when districts were drawn to harm minority voters, such as blacks. But in politics, unlike with race, a voter’s identity can be fluid, depending on multiple factors, shifting from one election to the next or from issue to issue or even across party lines. The justices are wary of setting a permanent rule for redistricting if voters can be impermanent in how they vote.

This reasoning fits into what James Madison had hoped for the American republic. He helped design a democracy that would force individuals to see the greater good by cooperating rather than simply competing for selfish or group interests. Voters would shift their alliances and join forces depending on an issue, knowing that today’s majority could easily be tomorrow’s minority.

Issues may change, but the common interest in getting along does not. Individuals may have a political identity – Democrat or Republican or something else – but they must also recognize the inherent dignity and worth of other citizens. Treating others by social, economic, or political class, even to the point of sorting them into electoral districts by such groupings, only feeds into social fragmentation.

The drawing of lines for electoral districts must build community across partisan divides rather than divide people by mutable political identities. The courts have been wise not to intervene in partisan gerrymandering so far. They do stand ready to remedy individual harm. But perhaps they hope enough voters will see the harm for themselves and use the ballot box and not a lawsuit to fix it.

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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.

Why you are always qualified

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Today’s contributor shares how she was freed from a crippling sense of inadequacy and hopelessness during job transitions when she realized her real job was simply to express God.

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Why you are always qualified

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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I’m grateful for opportunities I’ve had throughout my career to learn and grow as an individual, discover new talents, and apply new skills. But when I would transition from one job to another, I often felt overwhelmed and unqualified for anything. This was particularly true when it came to putting together my résumé.

To say I dreaded this task is an understatement! Trying to categorize my eclectic work experience in a traditional résumé format made me feel I wasn’t qualified to do anything specific. I also compared myself with others who seemed to have followed a more traditional career path. Furthermore, the more I’d work on my résumé, the less it seemed to accurately reflect me. The whole process sent me into a dark mental place that left me feeling inadequate, worthless, and hopeless.

This came to a head when I applied for a particular job that had an extremely competitive application process. It was at this point that Christian Science and what it teaches about God and our relation to Him lifted me out of this dark place and helped me realize that all of us are uniquely and fully qualified by God for right employment.

During that time, I was reminded of this comforting Bible passage: “The steps of a [good and righteous] man are directed and established by the Lord, and He delights in his way [and blesses his path]” (Psalms 37:23, Amplified Bible). God, divine Love, wants only success and joy for His children, since He created us to glorify Him. Because we are God’s spiritual creation, made in His image and likeness, our main purpose for being is to express the fullness, richness, love, and goodness of God. So we really all have full-time employment each and every day, which is to express more of these qualities in a way that shows others how God loves all.

The passage from Psalms also reminded me that God doesn’t leave us alone to figure out how to fulfill our purpose. Because He created us as the expression of His entireness, God has qualified us with the capacity to glorify Him fully, whether at a job, in school, or by helping others in some way. I’ve found that understanding our relation to God and striving to express Him in all we do breaks limitations to health, employment, supply, peace, and joy.

Christ Jesus’ life and work was the consummate example of this. The Christ, the nature and essence of God he expressed, enabled him to glorify God in everything he did, including healing the sick, raising the dead, preaching the gospel, and feeding crowds of people. He said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

I also appreciated something Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science and founder of this newspaper, writes in her book “Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896”: “God is responsible for the mission of those whom He has anointed. Those who know no will but His take His hand, and from the night He leads to light” (p. 347).

This reaffirmed my trust in God’s care for me. As His beloved children, we are all His “anointed.” I realized that glorifying God isn’t only my true purpose, but everyone’s. This helped me overcome an unhelpful sense of comparison and competition.

As I considered these ideas, the focus of my job search shifted to how I could best glorify God. I made a list of all the spiritual qualities inherent in me as God’s child – for instance, intelligence, discernment, love, joy, graciousness, poise, creativity, and wisdom. More than just being a rote exercise, this brought me a totally different perspective of myself and others, which in turn helped me feel more valued and valuable.

With this fresh inspiration I was able to create a professional yet nontraditional résumé that for the first time accurately represented not just my work experience, but me. These ideas also helped inspire me through the hard work and patience required for that particular job search, which was ultimately successful. Above all, I have remained free from that crippling sense of insecurity as I have gone through other changes in position and career.

Everyone is divinely qualified to glorify God, in unique ways. And each of us can affirm and appreciate this for ourselves and others, whatever our path may be.

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A celebratory splash

Participants celebrate after winning a race to commemorate the Dragon Boat Festival (Tung Ng) June 18 in Hong Kong's Tolo Harbour. The holiday falls on the fifth day of the fifth month in the lunar calendar. More than 4,500 athletes from around the world competed this year.
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Bobby Yip/Reuters
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( June 19th, 2018 )

Thanks for joining us today. Please come back tomorrow when staff writer Ryan Lenora Brown looks at perhaps the most powerful weapon against Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria: educating girls. And for a bonus read, check out Linda Feldmann’s look at how “citizen diplomats” are helping US-Russian relations.

Monitor Daily Podcast

June 18, 2018
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