Ravelry, The Knitting Website, Bans Trump Talk And Patterns

Ravelry, an online knitting community with 8 million members, announced on Sunday it is banning all pro-Trump projects, patterns and forum talk from the site, saying the administration “undeniably” supports white supremacy.

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The popular knitting site Ravelry says its 8 million members are welcome to garter, seed or purl stitch their way through thousands of online patterns — but if knitters want to cast on with any pro-Trump views, they need to do it somewhere else.

The website’s administrators announced Sunday that it is “banning support of Donald Trump and his administration” in any form, including “forum posts, projects, patterns, profiles” and anything else.

“We cannot provide a space that is inclusive of all and also allow support for open white supremacy. Support of the Trump administration is undeniably support for white supremacy,” Ravelry said in a statement.

Ravelry says its new policy is not an indication of support for one party over the other. It also said members are not allowed to entrap Trump admirers into political discourse on the site.

“Antagonizing conservative members for their unstated positions is not acceptable,” administrators warned.

They did not specify any aspects of the Trump administration’s policies that they regard as white supremacist.

Since Trump’s election, there has been a scattering of politically based patterns posted to the site — which in turn have sparked impassioned discussions in its forums. Perhaps the most popular of these is the pink “pussyhat” that became ubiquitous at women’s marches in 2017 and came to symbolize a feminist rallying cry against Trump for his remarks about women.

In another veer into explicitly partisan territory, one scarf pattern creates an illusion that makes it look like “innocuous stripes from the front, but says F*** TRUMP, when viewed from an angle.”

There are also pro-Trump projects. A member called Deplorable Knitter has posted several hat and scarf patterns that echo the Make America Great Again slogan, along with “build the wall” and Trump 2020 images.

Reaction to the policy has been as nearly as polarized as reactions to the president himself. Conservatives and Trump supporters have roundly criticized the changes, saying Ravelry’s administrators are biased and limiting free speech.

“This is equal to bakers who won’t bake a cake for a same sex marriage,” wrote one Twitter user who goes by Pamelapoppins. “Politicizing ravelry leaves a bad taste in my mouth.”

A Ravelry member named Debra took issue with being equated with a racist because she supports Trump.

“I support our president and the Trump administration and I am not a white supremacist nor do I support white supremacy,” she tweeted. “I am a conservative. How dare you call me [a supremacist].”

“I have used Ravelry for years but never again,” Debra added. “I am closing my account immediately!”

One woman, who said she is one of Ravelery’s many forum moderators, tweeted, “I can say that the emotional labor of defusing angry & ugly situations where casual hate & intolerance is directed at queer, non-Christian, or minority people is frakking exhausting.”

Author and knitter Clara Parkes called the shift a “watershed moment. In a tweet about the controversy, she wrote, “I’ve been with them since 2007 and believe me, they do not take these steps lightly.”

Some see the move as one that could reverberate well outside the crafting sphere.

The new guidelines come as social media companies, including behemoths such as Facebook and YouTube, are grappling with how to deal with the use of their platforms by white supremacist groups to spread racist messages or misinformation across the Internet. The Ravelry team says they based their new policy on similar changes made by the role-playing game hub RPG.net last year.

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Instagram Advertising: Do You Know It, When You See It?

In the photograph, Gretchen Altman is smiling, leaning back casually, a cup of coffee in hand — Hills Bros. Coffee, to be precise. It looks like a candid shot, but if you hit like, leave a comment, and tag a friend, you can get three different blends of brew, for free.

You’ve heard of influencers — social media celebrities with massive followings, who get paid to affect consumer tastes. Kim Kardashian, perhaps the most recognizable name in influencing, has more than 140 million Instagram followers and reportedly gets paid up to $1 million per post.

But Altman is part of a growing trend of “micro-influencers.” She has a small following — around 6,000 on Instagram. Her going rate is $300 to $800 to promote something, which makes her much more affordable than a Kardashian.

And Altman does some posts in exchange for free goods, she says, as long as it’s stuff she believes in. All this hasn’t stopped her from working with major companies like Verizon or Walgreens.

Altman says that as a micro-influencer she has a much more intimate relationship with her followers than a big social media star.

“I’m just living a normal life and people relate to that,” she says. “They just feel like I’m a friend of theirs.”

And it works, says Bonnie Patten, executive director of Truth In Advertising, a nonprofit that focuses on protecting consumers from deceptive ads and marketing.

“Consumers are very apt to buy things that they see being promoted on social media — especially by people they feel they have some authentic natural connection with,” she says.

But this intimate relationship worries Patten and consumer rights groups. Several recent studies have found that young audiences are largely unable to understand when something is sponsored content.

In some cases, it’s clear. When a big star like Jonathan Van Ness, of Netflix’s Queer Eye, takes to Instagram to rave about toilet paper, the assumption is he’s probably getting paid to do so. And Van Ness’s posts are clearly labeled as ads, with the caption #advertisement or #sponsoredcontent.

But what happens when an everyday person with just a couple thousand followers takes to social media to extol the virtues of a product? The motivations are not so clear cut. “The problem with a lot of these social media posts is that you don’t know whether it’s an ad or not,” Patten says.

She wants transparency in social media advertising. Whether it’s that nutritional shake, or that tooth whitener that will make you look like a Cheshire Cat, Patten wants influencers to be clear that they are getting paid to recommend it.

Ultimately, consumer advocates say the buck stops with the Federal Trade Commission. But several watchdog groups say the agency has done little in terms of enforcement.

“There are laws that say what influencers and companies can and cannot do,” Patten says. “Unfortunately, the FTC does not have the resources to police social media platforms to the extent necessary.”

An FTC spokesperson referred us to the agency’s guidelines, which say if people are getting paid to promote, “then a disclosure is appropriate.”

Altman is diligent about using those hashtags. She loves what she does and sees it as a business, but she doesn’t necessarily want to be a social media celebrity.

“With social media being so integrated into our everyday lives, we have this unique opportunity that I don’t think anyone has ever had before where we can each be our own brand,” Altman says.

For many, the very idea of everyday people becoming brands sounds like some nightmare capitalist dystopia.

Saleem Alhabash, who teaches public relations and social media at Michigan State University, says there are bigger implications to this. When the lines between what is real life and what is marketing get blurred, it changes people’s behaviors.

“You always need to be doing something exciting,” Alhabash says. “Taking pictures of your food, taking pictures of the sunset. Where it becomes so important for people to be liked and appreciated, that they have to live another persons life.”

Like many people, he wonders: What are we buying into when we’re all trying to sell something?

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What Are Iran’s Options In The Standoff With The U.S.?

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, speaks at a meeting with a group of Revolutionary Guards and their families in Tehran on April 9. Khamenei praised Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and said America’s “evil designs would not harm” the force after the White House designated the Revolutionary Guard a foreign terrorist organization.

Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP


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Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP

Tensions continue to rise between the United States and Iran, following last week’s sharp escalation in which Tehran downed a U.S. drone and the U.S. conducted cyberattacks against an Iranian intelligence group.

On Monday, President Trump announced financial sanctions against Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and several other top officials.

Earlier in the day, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reportedly told the country’s lawmakers that Iran will continue to stand firm against U.S. sanctions and threats “with full power.” An Iranian navy chief also warned that the country would shoot down more of America’s surveillance drones if they violate Iran’s airspace.

The escalation of tensions comes more than a year after President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and reapplied heavy economic and diplomatic pressure against the country. The administration says the “maximum pressure” campaign is designed to draw Iran back to negotiate a new, tougher deal, which Iran has so far rejected.

Here is a look at the tense standoff from Iran’s standpoint.

Why did Iran shoot a U.S. drone down?

Last Thursday, Iranian forces shot down a U.S. unmanned aircraft with a surface-to-air missile over the Strait of Hormuz, a stretch of water between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Iran claimed it had entered Iranian airspace.

Washington denied that and released images that U.S. officials said showed the drone flight path, appearing to be in international waters close to Iran.

Iranian officials then held a news conference and displayed what they said were pieces of drone wreckage collected in Iran’s territorial waters.

The shoot-down was the most dramatic moment in the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran. President Trump said the military was about to strike Iranian targets on Thursday in retaliation for the drone shoot-down but he called them off.

“The downing of the U.S. drone had an explicit, decisive and clear message that defenders of the Islamic Iran’s borders will show decisive and knockout reactions to aggression against this territory by any alien,” Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami, a commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, said hours after the shoot-down, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency.

What does Iran want out of all this?

The world’s seventh-largest oil producer last year, Iran wants to be able to sell its oil freely, without the pressure of U.S. sanctions cutting off many of its usual markets. Countries such as Russia and China have continued their trade with Iran. But the Trump administration says its goal is to “bring Iran’s oil exports to zero,” something Tehran has vowed will never happen. Under the sanctions European buyers and others struggle to find a way to protect companies that may want to continue doing business with Tehran, without being penalized by the U.S. and losing access to the lucrative U.S. market.

Ultimately, Iran wants to be treated as a major Middle Eastern power whose interests must be respected. The Trump administration says for Tehran to enjoy normalized relations it has to meet a dozen demands, including stopping support for militias in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and Palestinian territories, halting uranium enrichment and ballistic missile systems. Iran has rejected these terms.

What are the divisions in Iran?

Iranian politics are marked by divisions — most notably between moderates and hard-liners. President Hassan Rouhani, whose administration negotiated the nuclear deal with the U.S., Europe and other world powers, is sometimes considered a moderate in comparison with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

But in fact Rouhani is no moderate. Another term often used to describe him — “pragmatist” — might be more accurate. Rouhani is a confirmed supporter of the Islamic Revolution that brought Iran’s cleric-led government to power in 1979.

The main difference between Rouhani and the hard-liners is Rouhani’s willingness to engage with the outside world to achieve Iran’s goals. During the Obama administration, with the prospect of sanctions relief in sight, even Khamenei gave grudging support to the nuclear negotiations.

But after Trump pulled the U.S. out of the deal, Khamenei declared that Iran should never negotiate with America, because its word can’t be trusted.

What are Iran’s options?

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has the capacity to act, though Tehran denies Washington’s assertion that it was IRGC was behind recent attacks on cargo ships in the Gulf. In April, the State Department designated the Revolutionary Guard a “foreign terrorist organization.”

Iran has proxy allies in the region, such as the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon and militias in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Tehran has threatened to retaliate against any action against it by the U.S. or its allies in the region.

After America’s exit in May 2018, Iran could also pull out of the nuclear deal, something the remaining signatories — which include European countries, Russia and China — want to avoid.

Then there is President Trump’s stated desire for talks with Iran. U.S. officials say they believe sufficient pressure will bring Iran back to the table. But so far, Iran’s supreme leader has refused new talks with the U.S. and Iranian government officials also say they will not negotiate under the current conditions.

In an interview with NPR last week, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht Ravanchi, said, “You cannot negotiate with somebody who has a knife in his hand putting the knife under your throat.”

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Opposites Attract: Two Violin Concertos In The Hands Of A Master

Augustin Hadelich’s latest album spotlights violin concertos by Johannes Brahms and György Ligeti.

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Patrick Long/Warner Classics

Augustin Hadelich‘s latest album of violin concertos offers two unlikely bedfellows. The tuneful, romantic classic by Johannes Brahms bumps up against the modernist mayhem of György Ligeti. The album, titled simply Brahms, Ligeti: Violin Concertos, also proves to be a compelling introduction to one of today’s best, but still undervalued, violinists.

With over 100 recordings of the Brahms concerto to choose from, who needs another? But Hadelich demonstrates he is an intimate communicator with his 1723 Stradivarius, making it sing as sweetly as any of his peers in the Adagio, which sports one of the composer’s most tender melodies. The Norwegian Radio Orchestra, led by Miguel Harth-Bedoya, provides transparent, chamber music-like textures, but also flexes considerable muscle in the concerto’s outer movements.

Hadelich also has a secret sauce for this piece, and it’s in the cadenza. That’s a passage in many concertos where the soloist gets to show off with a solo. For this recording, Hadelich composed his own cadenza to close out the first movement. Like building a house in a historic district, the violinist respects the architecture of the neighborhood, but his design is fresh. It puts Hadelich’s precision, agility and grit on display while he riffs on themes from earlier in the piece.

The Grammy-winning violinist is 35 years old and makes it all sound easy, but his road to success wasn’t. Hadelich, who was born to German parents in Italy, gave his first concert at age 7. But when he was 15, an accident on his family’s farm left his face and his right hand badly burned. Some doctors doubted he’d ever play again. But after surgeries, physical therapy and a lot of courage, he won the prestigious Indianapolis Violin Competition. His career was launched, with a technique that blends lyrical elegance and flexible strength. And that is what’s needed — in spades — to play the Ligeti concerto, one of the craziest and most confounding in the repertoire.

Completed in 1992, the five-movement work is a ferocious, fascinating ride. The composer filters old musical formulas through his kaleidoscopic lens, pushing the soloist to the brink. Hadelich masters all Ligeti’s tricks, every nuanced color and ethereal sound the instrument can make. Chaos is around every corner, but also moments of serene beauty.

Hadelich brings his secret sauce to this concerto too, with another brand new cadenza. This one written for Hadelich by Thomas Adès, the masterful British composer. It dovetails perfectly into the concerto’s slam-bang final notes. It’s the most astounding passage of the entire album. When Hadelich first saw the score, he thought it was unplayable. But it became just one more road block this singular violinist has vaulted over in his blossoming career.

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U.S. Battles To Beat Spain At Women’s World Cup

In the 76th minute of the game, United States’ Megan Rapinoe powered the ball low and to the left giving the U.S. a 2-1 lead.

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Thibault Camus/AP

It wasn’t easy, pretty or elegant. But the U.S. Women’s National Team battled to beat Spain in the round of 16 at the Women’s World Cup. The U.S. had an easy road in this tournament. Until Monday. Spain, playing in its first ever World Cup, played like it had been there many times before. But in the end, it was not enough. The U.S. defeated Spain 2-1.

Spain started aggressively and came out on the attack in the opening minute — challenging the U.S. defense. But the U.S. struck first. Tobin Heath was tripped in front of the Spanish goal for a U.S. penalty kick. Megan Rapinoe hammered the ball low and to the left in the seventh minute. But the lead did not last long.

Spain came right back after U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher made a short and ill-advised pass to Becky Sauerbrunn that Spain intercepted and led to a beautiful strike by Jennifer Hermoso to tie it 1-1 (that was the first goal the U.S. had allowed in 647 minutes of play)

Alyssa Naeher plays Becky Sauerbrunn the ball despite #ESP‘s high pressure, and the #USA pays the price. Quite a finish by Hermoso, too

(via @FoxSoccer) pic.twitter.com/PcpSVl0Kti

— Planet Fútbol (@si_soccer) June 24, 2019

Both sides battled back and forth during a tense and physical first half. U.S. forward Alex Morgan was knocked to the turf a half-dozen times (and the knockdowns of the star U.S. striker continued in the second half). It was the fourth sell-out of a U.S. game at this tournament and the decidedly pro-U.S. crowd was anxious as Spain made run after run in the U.S. backfield (and watching Spain trip up U.S. players all game long).

It’s 1-1 at the half. Spain, in its World Cup debut, is giving the 3-time-champion US team a real challenge in this round of 16. And US fans seem stunned. #USAvESP #WWC2019 pic.twitter.com/wgE8VyGCEb

— melissa block (@NPRmelissablock) June 24, 2019

Spain is the toughest opponent the top-ranked U.S. had faced in the Women’s World Cup. Questions had swirled this tournament about a relatively untested U.S. defense. Spain had several chances and challenged the back line all game long but the Americans did not break.

It was in the 76th minute when the U.S. broke the tie. Rose Lavelle was brought down in the box after a light challenge by a Spanish defender that may or may not have have hit Lavelle’s leg. Megan Rapinoe took her second penalty kick of the game. And, like in the first half, she powered the ball low and to the left giving the U.S. a 2-1 lead.

The U.S. had never lost a World Cup game when it scored first. And it had always made it to at least the semifinals in every WWC. The three-time and defending 2015 champions next play on Friday. It’s a game that’s been anticipated all tournament long: U.S. taking on host country France in the quarterfinals.

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Trump Administration Pushes To Make Health Care Pricing More Transparent

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar testifies during a hearing before the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee of Senate Appropriations Committee.

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President Trump will sign an executive order Monday on price transparency in health care that aims to lower rising health care costs by showing prices to patients. The idea is that if people can shop around, market forces may drive down costs.

“The president knows the best way to lower costs in health care is to put patients in control by increasing choice and competition,” Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said at a phone briefing for reporters Monday morning.

Like several of President Trump’s other health policy-related announcements, today’s executive order doesn’t spell out specific actions, but amounts to an expression of the president’s desire for HHS to develop a policy and then undertake a lengthy rule-making process.

Azar outlined five parts of the executive order, two of which are directly related to price transparency.

It directs the agency to draft a new rule that would require hospitals to disclose the prices that patients and insurers actually pay in “an easy-to-read, patient-friendly format,” Azar said.

The new rule should also “require health care providers and insurers to provide patients with information about the out-of-pocket costs they’ll face before they receive health care services,” he added.

The idea is simple. Health care is an industry where consumers don’t have access to the kind of information they have when making other purchasing decisions. The executive order could — if it leads to finalized, HHS rules — pressure the industry to function more like a normal market, where quality and price drive consumer behavior. Some consumer advocates welcomed the move.

“Today patients don’t have access to prices or choices or even ability to see quality,” said Cynthia Fisher, founder of a group called Patient Rights Advocate. “I think the exciting part of this executive order is the President and administration are really moving to put the patient in the driver’s seat and be empowered for the first time with knowledge and information.”

Exactly how the rules the executive order calls for would work is still to be determined, administration officials said.

Push back from various corners of the healthcare industry came quickly, with hospital and health plan lobbying organizations arguing this transparency requirement would have the unintended consequence of pushing prices up, rather than down.

“Publicly disclosing competitively negotiated, proprietary rates will reduce competition and push prices higher — not lower — for consumers, patients, and taxpayers,” said Matt Eyles, CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans in a statement. He says it will perpetuate “the old days of the American health care system paying for volume over value. We know that is a formula for higher costs and worse care for everyone.”

Some health economists and industry observers without a vested interest expressed a similar view. Larry Levitt, senior vice president for health reform the Kaiser Family Foundation, tweeted that although the idea of greater price transparency makes sense from the perspective of consumer protection, it doesn’t guarantee lower prices.

“I’m skeptical that disclosure of health care prices will drive prices down, and could even increase prices once hospitals and doctors know what their competitors down the street are getting paid,” Levitt wrote.

This executive order is the latest in a series of moves from the Trump administration on health care price transparency recently. As NPR reported, just last month the White House announced its legislative priorities for ending surprise medical bills, which included patients receiving a “clear and honest bill upfront” before scheduled care. That same week, HHS announced a final rule requiring drugmakers to display list prices of their drugs in TV ads.

However, several of President Trump’s past health care announcements have gotten tied up before the promises to lower costs could be realized.

For instance, in May 2018, Trump rolled out a Blueprint To Lower Drug Prices which included a variety of proposals intended to reduce pharmaceutical costs to individuals, the industry and the economy as a whole, as NPR reported.

In October of last year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services proposed an international pricing model for setting what Medicare Part B would pay for certain drugs. This is the closest the Trump administration has come to Trump’s campaign promise to have Medicare negotiate with drug companies.

The proposal was put out for public comment with a December 2018 deadline. Thousands of comments came in, including a lot of pushback from the pharmaceutical industry and the proposed rule has not yet been finalized and it’s not clear it ever will be.

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Johnathan Rice’s ‘The Long Game’ Is Not Quite A Breakup Record

Johnathan Rice

Silvia Grav/Courtesy of the artist


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Silvia Grav/Courtesy of the artist

  • “Meet the Mother”
  • “The Long Game”
  • “Hollow Jubilee”
  • “Naked in the Lake”

Jonathan Rice rolled in the door and right away I knew I was going to enjoy chatting with him. He arrived as a party of one, with merch in a carry-on bag in one hand, and a guitar case in the other. Normally there’s a manager, a sound person, or label folk shepherding. But this time, it was just Rice and a rental car touring the Northeast.

The Scottish-American Rice has been performing for over 15 years, and for many of those years, he was in a relationship with Jenny Lewis, even co-releasing an album as Jenny and Johnny. They’re no longer a couple, and his latest album, The Long Game, is a partial reflection on that relationship, but it’s not quite a breakup record.

Rice’ll talk about that reflection, advice from Bill Murray and tricking your audience into listening to poetry. Hear the complete session in the player.

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Thousands Of ISIS Fighters Must Be Tried Or Let Go, U.N. Rights Chief Says

Laundry dries on a chain link fence in an area for foreign families of suspected ISIS fighters at Al-Hol camp in Hassakeh province, Syria.

Maya Alleruzzo/AP


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Maya Alleruzzo/AP

The U.N.’s human rights chief says there are only two options for dealing with the tens of thousands of suspected ISIS fighters currently detained in Syria and Iraq: They must be either tried or let go, and their families cannot be detained indefinitely.

Some 55,000 suspected ISIS fighters and their family members have been swept up and detained since ISIS was effectively toppled and lost control of its territory, the U.N. says.

“It must be clear that all individuals who are suspected of crimes — whatever their country of origin, and whatever the nature of the crime — should face investigation and prosecution, with due process guarantees,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said. She also warned that flawed trials “can only serve the narrative of grievance and revenge.”

“And the continuing detention of individuals not suspected of crimes, in the absence of lawful basis and regular independent judicial review, is not acceptable,” Bachelet added.

The U.N. official highlighted the ISIS detainee issue during her remarks at a session of the Human Rights Council, saying it was not receiving the attention it deserves.

As an example, Bachelet cited the al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria, where some 11,000 people who are believed to be the wives and children of foreign ISIS fighters are living in what she called “deeply sub-standard conditions.”

“Foreign family members should be repatriated, unless they are to be prosecuted for crimes in accordance with international standards,” Bachelet added.

NPR’s Jane Arraf recently visited the al-Hol camp, where she was told that at least 200 children have died either on the way there or in the camp, oftentimes of malnutrition or hypothermia.

“We are continuously dealing with cases of malnutrition,” Massoud Ramo of the Kurdish Red Crescent told NPR.

Many countries have appeared reluctant to repatriate their own citizens who were detained in Syria and Iraq.

The U.K. is perhaps the most dramatic example, as it has stripped a young woman named Shamima Begum of her citizenship. Begum was 15 when she ran away to Syria with two friends to join the Islamic State, and she has since said she wants to return to the U.K. When she was found in the al-Hol camp in northern Syria, Begum said two of her children had died, and a third has since passed away.

“Despite the complexity of these challenges, rendering people stateless is never an acceptable option,” said Bachelet.

The U.N. rights expert was particularly critical of making children stateless, saying, “To inflict statelessness on children who have already suffered so much is an act of irresponsible cruelty.”

Other countries have taken different approaches. To date, the U.S. has returned three American women and 10 children from northern Syria.

When the U.S. repatriated the latest group earlier this month, NPR’s Ruth Sherlock cited a State Department spokesperson who said that “appeals [lodged] by alleged American citizens to return to the U.S. are being looked at on a case-by-case basis.”

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‘I Couldn’t Continue On’: A Former Jehovah’s Witness On Leaving The Faith

Amber Scorah writes about exiting the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Leaving the Witness.

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Growing up as a third-generation Jehovah’s Witness, there were certain things Amber Scorah did not question.

When, as a teenager, the community shunned her and prevented her from participating in her father’s funeral, she accepted it as appropriate punishment for having sex with her boyfriend. Rather than pulling away at that time, Scorah doubled down.

“When my father died, it just gave me more impetus to want to go back to the faith,” Scorah says, “because I knew that the only way I would see him again was if I were a Jehovah’s Witness who survived Armageddon, because after Armageddon, the faithful would be resurrected to Earth, in our beliefs.”

Scorah went on to marry an elder in the church, and she and her husband traveled to China as missionaries. But gradually, doubt set in.

“The more I got to know and learn about Chinese culture … the more I realized their culture had thousands of years of rich wisdom and cultural tradition and history,” she says. “And here I was, across the table, coming here, this person from the West telling them to throw all that away in favor of this a-hundred-or-so-year-old new American religion.”

In the new memoir, Leaving the Witness, Scorah reflects on her to decision to leave her faith and her marriage. She eventually moved to New York and had children with a new partner, but the transition wasn’t easy.

“It was very disorienting,” she says. “I felt like everything that had mattered to me was gone. And the weirdest part of it all was that it was my own doing. Nobody did it to me. I chose it, because I couldn’t continue on in something I didn’t believe in anymore.”


Interview highlights

On being “disfellowshipped” as a teenager for having sex with her boyfriend

Disfellowshipping is a means of excommunication, and what happens effectively is that when the elders determined that you were not repentant enough … they would make an announcement at the congregation meeting. They would go to the platform, stand at the podium, and just say, “Amber Scorah has been disfellowshipped.” They wouldn’t say why, but it was an announcement to let everyone know that they had to stop associating with you. …

Disfellowshipping was just a complete shunning of the sinner. So what that effectively meant was that you lost your contact with your entire community, including your own family. … If you wanted to get back, they left the door open, but … you had to show your repentance by attending all the meetings and being very regular in showing up at the Kingdom Hall. However, no one was allowed to talk to you, and you sat in the back row while the meeting was on, and left … as soon as it was over, so that no one would have to talk to you.

On why she began to question her faith while she was doing missionary work in China

The people that I was talking to didn’t have any frame of reference for Christianity or for the Bible; it was all for the most part quite new to them. So this Jehovah’s Witness doctrine I was teaching them was basically their first introduction. And for a while it was great, because as a Jehovah’s Witness, to have this kind of fresh blood where nobody had any prejudice against anything that I was saying was really encouraging and satisfying.

But what started to happen the longer I was there — I was studying with them in their language. … I was sort of hearing what I was teaching almost for the first time through their ears. And while Chinese people on the whole are so hospitable and respectful — especially to a teacher, because culturally … a student does not question a teacher — so while they were really great students (they would answer the questions; they would look up the scriptures) over time I did start to notice a shift in their expression would tell me that some of the things I was saying sounded kind of crazy to them.

On deciding to end her marriage and leave the faith

When you’re raised in a really highly controlled group like this, a fundamentalist group, it takes a lot to unravel and unpick all of the beliefs, because so much of your identity is wrapped up in it. Your entire worldview is wrapped up in it. A lot of people think it’s just like: One day you wake up and you’re like, “Oh my goodness! I had this epiphany.” … It didn’t really happen like that. But there were things along the way that started to bother me and that started to feel wrong, things that I hadn’t seen before. …

This is not the kind of religion that you can sort of just slink out of unnoticed. It’s very tight-knit, and I was also in quite a prominent position … not everyone goes to China to be a missionary and is married to an elder. So if I were just to leave, it would not be easy. Also, I realized a lot more after leaving that there were things in this group that were cult-like. But at the time I wasn’t ready to admit that, but I knew that it was wrong and I knew I had to get out of it. If I were not to make some kind of clean break, it would be so easy for me to just get sucked back in. It’s hard to explain how much of a hold the beliefs have on you, because even if I had a couple of doubts I still believed the rest of it. So it was almost like I think I felt propelled towards creating some kind of ending, and when you’re in a group that the ultimate ending is apocalypse, Armageddon, I think in some ways that’s the only kind of ending you know — that you have to just blow everything up in order to start over again — and it worked.

On grieving the loss of her nearly 4-month-old son, Karl, who died suddenly on his first day of daycare

It’s so awful that sometimes I can’t believe it’s real. … When my dad died, it was sad, but it was temporary, because all of us die, and basically the way the religion explained it is … that God will resurrect those who are faithful and can bring them back to life in the paradise. So death was always a temporary thing to me when I was a Jehovah’s Witness, and now when my son died … I had nothing to fall back on. It was impossible for me to believe anything anymore about the afterlife. …

Before in my life, I had so many answers. I had such clear answers to all these questions. When I realized that they had no basis in reality, I went to the other side, where I just learned to accept that there was mystery, that there were things in this life that we couldn’t understand. And also I was forced, maybe more than anyone else, to find a way to feel comfortable in that, and I kind of have.

And it’s sort of related to this spiritual feeling I think I’ve had my whole life, which I used to chalk up to being a religious experience, but I think more now of as a spiritual experience — just that there’s the numinous, or the magical all around us. And life is made up of these moments where if you choose to notice them, they’re around you. Because those things like, say, the love I saw in my son’s eyes for me when he was a baby, are so inexplicable and transcendent, I think that they do feel magical. And if you think about them that way you can just, in some ways, appreciate the magic of it.

On having her daughter a year after she lost her son, and living in fear

I think being raised with this Armageddon concept from a very young child, I was kind of an anxious person who worried all the time. Even with Karl, I was really worried about everything. I was so careful. That’s why I was blindsided when he died that way that he died. I just couldn’t have seen it coming. … Yes, at the beginning, I felt terrified of something happening to [my daughter], and I did have PTSD. I would be out just walking down the street imagining, like, that a truck is going to like plow over us for no reason. But I think it was almost like the sheer unexpectedness and the horror of that child could die the way that Karl died that almost made me realize that all of these things are beyond our control. And I had to let go at some point and just trust that things will be OK, and that was all I could do, because ultimately being that close to death makes you really appreciate life. And I didn’t want to not let my daughter live. I wanted her to have her life. … So I just find ways to keep my fear at bay. That’s all I can do.

On what she thinks when she sees Jehovah’s Witnesses now

Scorah, who grew up a third-generation Jehovah’s Witness, says leaving the faith was “very disorienting.”

Courtesy of Amber Scorah/Viking


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Courtesy of Amber Scorah/Viking

When I see a Witness in the subway now, there’s a part of me [that] wants to hand them my book, because I want them to be free, to read the experience of someone who got through to the other side and has a happy life. … I mostly … feel sorry for them. I feel sad that the life that they will live will be lived for this myth, and maybe they’ll never know, and maybe that’s fine. But I can’t help, now that I’ve seen both sides, feeling badly that that’s the life that they are going to have.

Sam Briger and Seth Kelley produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz and Molly Seavy-Nesper adapted it for the Web.

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