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Opinion | Religion and Politics, in the U.S. and Abroad – The New York Times

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Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times

To the Editor:

Re “This Is How Theocracy Shrivels,” by David Brooks (column, Aug. 28):

Mr. Brooks might want to look closer to home. In America the religious right might not be gaining new adherents, but its political influence has never been greater. Abortion opponents finally have the Supreme Court majority they’ve been longing for. The G.O.P.’s hard-right turn has propelled white Christian nationalism into the spotlight. And as the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol shows, these people are willing to use violence to impose their views on the nation.

The problem is not Islamic extremism; the problem is the politicization of religion. And as theocratic regimes wither in the Muslim world, religious zealots are mobilizing in Western democracies.

Stephen Newman
Toronto
The writer is an associate professor of politics at York University.

To the Editor:

Thank you, David Brooks, for focusing on what we have succeeded in doing against Muslim extremism and what the Islamist world is thinking. The separation of religion and state is more important than ever in their world and ours. I hope very much that Mr. Brooks is correct in thinking that Islam is rejecting the politicization of its faith and that the terrorist groups do not have the support of the vast majority of Muslims.

We have failed to bring democracy to that world, but perhaps we can hope that it can see what terrorism brings.

Judith Swan
Westport, Mass.

To the Editor:

Nearly half the population of Afghanistan is under 15 years of age. It is hard to imagine that a younger generation with global economic ambitions in an increasingly secular world would support, or adhere strictly to, the dictates of a theocratic government.

Robert J. Comiskey
Reston, Va.

Doug Mills/The New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Spurning Critics, Biden Calls Exit Notable Success” (front page, Sept. 1):

While other presidents may have realized that there was no plausible endgame to the war in Afghanistan that was started 20 years ago as a response to the 9/11 attacks, only President Biden had the will and the courage to carry out this withdrawal. Let’s hope that future politicians will think long and hard before sending other people’s children into war without a clearly defined, achievable purpose.

I am grateful that the sinking feeling I had on Oct. 7, 2001, when this conflict started has morphed into a sense of relief that we are finally leaving a battle without end.

Edwin Andrews
Malden, Mass.

John Konstantaras/Associated Press

To the Editor:

Re “No Shot for Them. Don’t Tell Their Colleagues” (Sunday Business, Aug. 8):

Should the man who chose not to be vaccinated be free from his colleagues’ unhappy glances, just because he is “skeptical” of the vaccines?

It is outrageous that he could avoid letting co-workers know he is not vaccinated, exposing them to the possibility of Covid infection with the highly infectious Delta variant.

In face of the greater likelihood of unvaccinated people getting and transmitting Covid, and the overwhelming evidence of the efficacy and safety of Covid vaccines, universal vaccination should be required, I believe. It is the responsibility of the workplace to protect all workers from exposure, even if it hurts the feelings of the person who chooses to remain unvaccinated.

Merry Selk
Albany, Calif.

To the Editor:

Re “Covid Forces Bosses to Act” (Business, Aug. 4):

The article states that one of the reasons many companies are reluctant to mandate vaccines is a concern that requiring them “could give employees another reason to quit.” That could happen, but maybe the “bosses” should examine the likely results of an exodus if they institute a mandate that applies to all employees.

The Covid-related health care costs and ultimately insurance premiums for employees and the company will not rise as much. Illness-related absenteeism will be lower. There will be no Us vs. Them among the work force. The mandate will send the message that employees’ health is paramount.

Consider this as well: Those vaccinated employees hired as replacements will be better informed and less likely to believe in conspiracy theories. Dare I say they will be smarter? An opportunity like this is rare. Companies should take advantage of it.

Marvin Kaplan
Westfield, N.J.

Luongdoo

To the Editor:

Re “Honor Home Health Workers,” by Lynn Hallarman (Opinion guest essay, Sunday Review, Aug. 15):

What a lovely essay about the unsung and underpaid angels who take care of our elderly. As I grow older, I realize how my final years will depend on the kindness of family and the direct-care aides at home or a facility, should I need them.

Growing old happens so quickly. I am not prepared. Even with my dad’s dementia and decline in his 90s, somehow I didn’t connect it to my own future. At 76, I am humbled by my lack of contemplating let alone planning for the end of my own life.

It would be wonderful if every member of Congress would read Dr. Hallarman’s essay before discounting legislation that would recognize that we all get old, and remember that most will not have the means they do.

Nancy Gerson
South Dennis, Mass.

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German Election Heralds Messier Politics and Weaker Leadership After Merkel – The New York Times

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Preliminary results indicated an outcome so tight that it could take months of talks to form a new government at a critical moment for Europe.

BERLIN — After 16 years of Angela Merkel as their chancellor, Germans scattered their votes across the political spectrum on Sunday in the election to replace her, a fractured return that heralds a messier political era in Germany and weaker German leadership in Europe.

Preliminary official results gave the center-left Social Democrats a lead of 1.6 percentage points, an outcome so close that no one could yet say who the next chancellor would be nor what the next government would look like.

The only thing that seemed clear was that it would take weeks if not months of haggling to form a coalition, leaving Europe’s biggest democracy suspended in a kind of limbo at a critical moment when the continent is still struggling to recover from the pandemic and France — Germany’s partner at the core of Europe — faces divisive elections of its own next spring.

Sunday’s election signaled the end of an era for Germany and for Europe. For over a decade, Ms. Merkel was not just chancellor of Germany but effectively the leader of Europe. She steered her country and the continent through successive crises and in the process helped Germany become Europe’s leading power for the first time since two world wars.

Her time in office was characterized above all by stability. Her center-right party, the Christian Democratic Union, has governed in Germany for 52 of the 72 postwar years, traditionally with one smaller party.

Markus Schreiber/Associated Press

But the campaign proved to be the most volatile in decades. Armin Laschet, the candidate of Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats, was long seen as the front-runner until a series of blunders compounded by his own unpopularity eroded his party’s lead. Olaf Scholz, the Social Democratic candidate, was counted out altogether before his steady persona led his party to a spectacular 10-point comeback. And the Greens, who briefly led the polls early on, fell short of expectations but recorded their best result ever.

On Sunday, the Christian Democrats’ share of the vote collapsed well below 30 percent, heading toward the worst showing in their history. For the first time, three parties will be needed to form a coalition — and both main parties are planning to hold competing talks to do so.

“It’s so unprecedented that it’s not even clear who talks with whom on whose invitation about what, because the Constitution does not have guardrails for a situation like that,” said Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, the Berlin-based vice president of the German Marshall Fund, a research group.

Even before the first official returns were announced, the battle lines were drawn as both main contenders to succeed Ms. Merkel as chancellor announced their claims to the top job — and their intention to fight for it. A long tradition of deferential, consensus-driven politics was quickly evaporating, giving way to a more raucous tone.

At the headquarters of the Social Democrats in Berlin, loud cheering erupted when the first exit polls were announced. “The S.P.D. is back!” Lars Klingbeil, the party’s general secretary, told the crowd of party members, before Mr. Scholz took the stage with his wife and insisted “that the next chancellor is called Olaf Scholz.”

Across town, at the conservative headquarters, Mr. Laschet, the candidate of Ms. Merkel’s party, made clear who he thought the next chancellor should be, saying, “We will do everything to form a government.”

Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

It is a messy set of circumstances likely to complicate the negotiations to form a government. And whoever ends up being chancellor will have not just a weaker mandate — but less time to spend on leading in Europe, analysts said.

“Germany will be absent in Europe for a while,” said Andrea Römmele, dean of the Hertie School in Berlin. “And whoever becomes chancellor is likely to be a lot more distracted by domestic politics.”

With two-thirds of the voting districts counted, the Social Democrats appeared to have a slight lead, with less than two percentage points dividing the two main parties. Analysts said the vote could continue to swing marginally in favor of either party. Four in 10 Germans voted by mail-in ballots, which were being counted at the same time as votes dropped into ballot boxes.

But few anticipated a dramatic turn that would yield a less murky outcome and alleviate the need for protracted coalition talks.

The outcome gives significant leverage to the two smaller parties that are almost certain to be part of any new government: the Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats. Courted by both Mr. Scholz and Mr. Laschet, they have signaled they will first talk among themselves.

“Two Maybe-Chancellors and Two Kingmakers,” read one headline of the German public broadcaster ARD.

Lena Mucha for The New York Times

In one way Sunday’s returns were an expression of how disoriented voters are by the departure of Ms. Merkel, who is leaving office as the most popular politician in her country.

The chancellor oversaw a golden decade for Europe’s largest economy, which expanded by more than a fifth, pushing unemployment to the lowest levels since the 1980s.

As the United States was distracted by multiple wars, Britain gambled its future on a referendum to leave the European Union and France failed to reform itself, Ms. Merkel’s Germany was mostly a haven of stability.

“She was the steady hand at the helm, the steady presence,” said Mr. Kleine-Brockhoff of the German Marshall Fund.

“Now there is an uneasiness about what comes next,” he said. “The presence and reputation of this chancellor is outsized and very hard to emulate.”

That explains why both main candidates to succeed her mostly ran on platforms of continuity rather than change, attempting where possible to signal they would be the one most like the departing chancellor.

“This election campaign was basically a contest for who could be the most Merkel-like,” Mr. Kleine-Brockhoff said.

Even Mr. Scholz, whose center-left party is the traditional opposition party to Ms. Merkel’s conservatives, played up his role as finance minister in the departing government rather than his own party’s sensibilities, which are well to the left of his own.

Lena Mucha for The New York Times

“Stability, not change, was his promise,” said Mr. Kleine-Brockhoff.

The distinctive political tradition of the Federal Republic of Germany is change through consensus.

In the four decades it was split from the Communist East, West Germany had strong governments, traditionally formed by one of the two larger parties teaming up with a smaller partner or, in rare circumstances, the two big parties forming a grand coalition. This tradition was continued after reunification in 1990, with far-reaching changes — like the labor market reforms of the early 2000s — often carried out with support from across the aisle.

But four parties have become seven and the two traditional main parties have shrunk, changing the arithmetic of forming a government that represents more than 50 percent of the vote. In the future, analysts say, three or four, not two, parties, will have to find enough common ground to govern together.

Some analysts say this increasing fragmentation of Germany’s political landscape has the potential to revitalize politics by bringing more voices into the public debate. But it will no doubt make governing harder, as Germany becomes more like other countries in Europe — among them, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands — that have seen a similar fracturing. And messier politics could make the next chancellor weaker.

Ms. Merkel has embodied the tradition of consensus more than perhaps any of her predecessors. Of her four terms in office, she spent three in a grand coalition with her party’s traditional opponents, the Social Democrats.

Laetitia Vancon for The New York Times

Governing as Ms. Merkel’s junior partners almost killed the Social Democrats, Germany’s oldest party, stripping it of its identity and its place as the leading voice of center-left opposition. But Mr. Scholz used his cozy relationship with the chancellor to his advantage, effectively running as an incumbent in a race without one.

At party headquarters on Sunday night, he was being celebrated as a savior by party members who were adamant that the chancellery was theirs.

“The S.P.D. is the winner here,” insisted Karsten Hayde, a longtime party member, while Ernst-Ingo Lind, who works for a parliamentarian, said that only a year ago, he would “not have dreamed of being here.”

Among the parties represented in the next German Parliament is the Alternative for Germany, or AfD, which shocked the nation four years ago by becoming the first far-right party to win seats there since World War II. Its vote share slipped to 10.5 percent from almost 13 percent in 2017 and it will no longer be the country’s main opposition party. But it solidified its status as a permanent force to be reckoned with. In two states in the former Communist East it came first.

“We are here to stay, and we showed that today,” Tino Chrupalla, co-leader of the party, told party members gathered on the outskirts of Berlin.

For all the messiness of this election and Merkel nostalgia, many Germans took heart from the fact that more than eight in 10 voters had cast their ballots for a centrist party and that turnout was high.

Laetitia Vancon for The New York Times

The mobilization was palpable outside several polling stations in Berlin, where families patiently waited their turn in long lines.

“It’s the beginning of a new era,” said Ms. Römmele of the Hertie School.

Christopher F. Schuetze, Jack Ewing and Melissa Eddy contributed reporting from Berlin.

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Quebec undergoes a culture shift as ‘woke’ politics is redefined in the province – The Globe and Mail

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Quebec Solidaire Leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois questions the government during question period on Sept. 23.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

For 50 contentious years, the defining split in Quebec politics was between sovereigntists and federalists. “Should Quebec remain in Canada?” was the ideological question par excellence.

But last week, when Premier François Legault exchanged barbed words with the rising opposition star Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois in the Salon bleu of the National Assembly, a new political axis was born. Call it “les wokes” vs. “les Duplessistes.”

This divide isn’t about economics or independence so much as issues of race and religion, whose primal importance in Quebec was once again borne out by this year’s federal election. And although the divide stems from a pair of insults hurled across the floor of the provincial legislature, it reveals a deeper realignment in Quebec’s political class that is being mirrored around the democratic world, away from traditional standards of left and right and toward a preoccupation with identity.

The fracas began on Sept. 15, when Mr. Nadeau-Dubois, a leader of the “Maple Spring” student protests in 2012 and now parliamentary leader of the left-wing Québec Solidaire, rose in the Assembly to accuse Mr. Legault of imitating Maurice Duplessis. It was meant as a bitter reproach: “The Boss” ruled Quebec for most of the period between 1936 and his death in 1959 with a mixture of Catholic piety, anti-Communism and Quebec nationalism, while openly persecuting religious minorities such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and suppressing dissent. His time in power is still often called The Great Darkness.

The current Premier, Mr. Nadeau-Dubois argued, was channeling his notorious predecessor in part by conflating support for Bill 21, a contentious piece of provincial legislation that bans the wearing of visible religious symbols by certain public servants, with membership in “the Quebec nation.”

Visibly angry, Mr. Legault shot back that a majority of Quebeckers support the religious-symbols law. Duplessis, he said, had “many faults, but he defended his nation. He wasn’t un woke like the leader of Québec Solidaire.”

A surprised wave of laughter went up in the Blue Room; the Quebec media has been tittering about Mr. Legault’s choice of epithet ever since. Why was the Premier of North America’s only majority francophone jurisdiction wielding a term popularized by Black activists to describe vigilance about social injustice? Why was he using it as a put-down, not to mention a noun?

Asked to define “un woke” the following day, Mr. Legault offered an original contribution to the Quebec vernacular, saying that to him it meant someone “who wants to make us feel guilty about defending the Quebec nation [and] defending its values.” Google searches for the word exploded in Quebec.

But if the Premier’s particular gloss on the term was novel, its use by conservatives in the province was not. In the past couple of years, columnists for the influential Quebecor media conglomerate have become particularly enamoured of using “woke,” in English, as a slur for liberals and leftists who are highly sensitive about race and gender, a trend on the American right as well. Benoît Melançon, a literature professor at the University of Montreal, searched a media database to find that, since the beginning of last year, the word has appeared in francophone outlets more than 2,000 times.

The word entered Quebec’s political bloodstream purely as a pejorative; virtually no one in the province owns up to the label. While a French politician running to be the Green Party’s presidential candidate recently embraced being “woke,” Prof. Melançon noted, “that’s never done in Quebec.” Likewise, although some historians and journalists have recently begun rehabilitating Maurice Duplessis’s reputation – and Mr. Legault himself jokingly compared his party to Duplessis’s as recently as 2019 – his name remains a popular shorthand for reactionary authoritarianism.

Both political camps have begun life, then, with no self-professed members – but that does not mean they lack weight. In an unsuccessful attempt to steal back some thunder from two rival parties and reassert the importance of his political project, Parti Québécois leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon tweeted a photo of himself this week wearing a shirt that said, “Neither woke, nor duplessiste. Indépendantiste.” The provincial Liberals, meanwhile, traditional standard-bearers of the federalist cause, have stayed out of the fray altogether. Their only slight involvement in the squabble came when Mr. Legault sneeringly referred to them as one of two “multiculturalist” parties in the National Assembly.

The lower profile of Quebec’s once-dominant parties, and the issue that animated them for decades, is the result of a sea change that has sidelined the traditional debate about sovereignty in favour of lower-stakes skirmishes about immigration and ethnic diversity. The shift dates to around 2007, according to Frédéric Bérard, a political commentator, doctor at law and course instructor at the University of Montreal’s law school. It was then, he said, that the question of “reasonable accommodation” of religious minorities came to the forefront of political life in the province.

Quebec has since been roiled by successive controversies around that theme, from the question of whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear the niqab at citizenship ceremonies to the outrage that greeted a debate moderator’s question during the recent federal election campaign about Quebec’s “discriminatory” religious-symbols law.

These issues have emerged, not coincidentally, amidst the long-term decline of the Parti Québécois. Sensing the withering of its traditional goal of an independent Quebec state, the PQ embraced a program of aggressive secularism and the integration of immigrants into the francophone mainstream as an alternative form of national self-assertion, Mr. Bérard said. “It’s less trouble to ban a veil than to have a referendum on independence.”

Although Quebec’s identitarian shift had local causes, it also happened in parallel with a move away from traditional definitions of left and right worldwide. Culture and identity have replaced economics as the main vectors of politics in much of the West, said Mark Fortier, a sociologist and publisher (as well as the author of a book about reading the work of Mathieu Bock-Côté, one of the main exponents of anti-wokeism in the mass-market Journal de Montréal newspaper).

If “les wokes” vs. “les Duplessistes” seems like a tempest in a Québécois teapot, then, it may be part of something bigger. Consider Brexit in the U.K. and the rise of Donald Trump in the U.S., Mr. Fortier said.

“It’s not just in Quebec … It’s the Quebec version of a phenomenon that traverses all liberal democracies.”

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Politics Chat: Democrats At Odds Over Government Spending – NPR

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Moderate and Progressive Congressional Democrats at odds over their party’s two big spending bills, plus a deadline for the debt limit looms this week.

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