Trump’s Nakba 2.0 turns milk and honey into oppression and injustice

By Ameen Izzadeen

May 14 was Al Nakba day – the day on which the freedom-denied Palestinian people remember the catastrophe that hit them 72 years ago. Every year, the day reinvigorates their resolve to fight for freedom and justice, as much as it reminds them of how armed Jewish terror gangs evicted more than 900,000 Palestinian people from their villages.
The day is also a reminder that the world system is incapable of delivering peace and justice to an oppressed people. The day on which the expelled Palestinians hold high the corroding keys of their houses is a damning indictment on states that call themselves civilized, especially the big powers which project themselves as human rights champions, paragons of virtues and believe they are morally qualified to direct the destiny of the world. Sad to say, in the so-called present era of post-enlightenment, the world’s number one power, the United States — and other Western powers to a lesser degree – encourages colonial Israel to oppress the Palestinian people with impunity. If a nation’s culturedness is ranked by its commitment to uphold global justice and end oppression wherever it takes place, which country other than the US and Israel can qualify to be at the bottom of the list? The US’ forefathers must be rolling in their graves after learning that the value-based political system they had left behind has been upended by latter day presidents such as Donald Trump, easily the worst so far to occupy the noble seat.

Nakba means catastrophe. Trump has made sure that yesterday’s Nakba day was a double disaster for the Palestinians. In recent days, while the world’s attention has been on the Covid pandemic, the US and Israel have expedited moves to annex large areas of occupied Palestine in terms of Trump’s so-called peace plan.
Arriving in Israel last Wednesday in a show of support was Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the evangelical zealot who suffers from the illusion that the second coming of Jesus Christ is possible only when the Kingdom of Israel is re-established. Encouraged by the Zionist movement, this 19th century innovation rooted in the Evangelical movement is now a political force that is driving Trump’s reelection campaign. It is this Evangelical vision or the lack of it that prompted Trump to appoint his Zionist son-in-law Jared Kushner to work out a one-sided peace plan. In January this year, at a Washington DC ceremony attended by hardline Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a handpicked group of ardent Zionists, Trump presented it as the ‘deal of the century’.
As the pandemic saps the political energy of the United Nations and is keeping world leaders’ attention away from other burning issues such as the Palestinian problem, what better time than now for Israel and its servile guardian, the US, to launch what could easily be described as the world’s biggest land robbery legitimized by Trump’s Middle East plan written in prostituted peace language.
Come July, the Israel’s rightwing coalition government will roll out the legislative process to annex more than 35 percent of the West Bank, which Israel occupied during the 1967 war. The peace plan is nothing but a move to drive hundreds of thousands of Palestinians out of their homes and confine them to Bantustans surrounded by Israeli security forces. This is Nakba 2.0, worse than the first Nakba 72 years ago.
One Palestinian village that was ethnically cleansed during the first Nakba was Dier Yassin. Just before dawn on April 9, 1948, armed members of the Zionist terror groups Irgun and Stern Gang raided this village that lay outside the area allocated by the United Nations to Israel. The terror gangs told them that they must either leave the village or face death. When the Palestinians defied their orders, more than 100 of them were lined up and gunned down.
Nakba is the Palestinian equivalent of the Holocaust. But sadly Nakba does not evoke sympathy the way the holocaust does. Renowned British historian Arnold J. Toynbee said: “The treatment of the Palestinian Arabs in 1947 (and 1948) was as morally indefensible as the slaughter of six million Jews by the Nazis. Though not comparable in quantity to the crimes of the Nazis, it was comparable in quality.”
Prior to World War I, Palestine was indeed a land of peace and prosperity. From the fertile lands of Palestine, the world’s best oranges, olives, dates and other agricultural products were sent to many a world market. Before the British took over the land under the League of Nation mandate, following the defeat of the Ottoman empire in WW1, the Arabs, including Muslims and Christians, accounted for more than 88 percent of the population. The native Jews were around 4 percent. After the 1917 Balfour Declaration, the territory saw a systematic demographic change and a rapid migration of European Zionist Jews.
The declaration issued by the then British government stands even today as a symbol of imperial arrogance. What moral right did Britain possess to take large chunks of Palestinian land and give it to the European Jews to form a state? As a result of this high-handed act, much blood has flowed in Palestine, instead of milk and honey. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this dirty British hand which committed the gross historical injustice to the Palestinian people.
As if the Balfour declaration was not enough, the then big powers dealt another blow in the form of the UN resolution 181, according to which Palestine was partitioned giving the Jews who formed 31 percent of the population 55 percent of the land, while the majority Palestinian people got 45 percent of the land.
In the dark clouds over Palestine, appearing as the silver lining this week was the statement from France and three other European Union members. France has told European Union partners to consider threatening Israel with a tough response if it annexes parts of the occupied West Bank.
Belgium, Ireland and Luxembourg have said they want to discuss the possibility of punitive economic measures if Israel carries out the annexation which is against numerous UN resolutions and international law.
But possible EU sanctions appear farfetched, as any form of sanction requires unanimity. Besides, Israel has many rightwing supporters such as ‘Balfour’ Britain and Hungary within the EU. With the Palestinians denied justice, the Middle East problem is all set to aggravate in the post-Covid world disorder; more so, if Trump is reelected.

(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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US-China cold war over Covid-19 pandemic

By Ameen Izzadeen

Even if the world is coming to an end tomorrow, the big powers, it appears, won’t give up their pursuit of power. They are not morally inclined or humble enough to learn the unity lesson the coronavirus teaches them. Driven by power-politics agendas or their belief in political realism, their focus is overwhelmingly on acquiring power and enhancing it by all means good and bad, come Covid-19 or high water.

With a vaccine or cure that could end the Covid-19 pandemic still not on the horizon, the United States and China appear to be daggers drawn at each other, instead of coming together as a united front to confront the virus and expedite the search for a cure. The divide is widening faster than it was before the novel coronavirus seized them unawares.

Thus there is little surprise that, despite the Covid crisis, major military manoeuvres are still taking place. If not for the fact that news agencies are preoccupied with the pandemic, these military developments would have made headlines continuously for weeks; world leaders would have reacted differently and the United Nations Security Council would have met to assess the possible threat.
Noteworthy are the heightened military activities in the South China Sea and, to some extent, Iran’s successful launch of a military satellite. Under normal circumstances, these events could have had shattering impacts on world politics.

In recent weeks, the US and China have been accusing each other of using the Covid crisis as a distraction to reinforce their respective military strength in the South China Sea. The one-upmanship game has seen a surge in the deployment of warships and provocative military exercises in the disputed waters.
While the world’s attention has been on the pandemic since February, Vietnam accused China of sinking one of its fishing vessels; the Philippines has reported a hostile encounter with a Chinese naval vessel near the Spratly islands, over which the two countries are at a dispute; Australia and the US dared to challenge the Chinese naval presence in the South China Sea by conducting a naval exercise in a bid to contest China’s sovereignty claims over several island territories in the wake of China declaring two new administrative districts in the South China Sea.

The most incendiary was Tuesday’s incident when China rushed ships and aircraft to “track, monitor, verify, identify and expel” a US warship from the Paracel Island chain in the South China Sea. In a strongly-worded statement, China’s People’s Liberation Army said the US action was “incompatible with the current atmosphere as the international community is fighting the pandemic … as well as the regional peace and stability.”
The spike in hostilities comes as the US-China diplomatic relations keep souring over accusations centred on the Covid crisis and the South China Sea disputes. This week, US President Donald Trump, in the centre of a fresh controversy over his wild suggestion that Covid-19 could be cured by injecting disinfectants, reiterated that investigations were underway to find out whether China had deliberately delayed sharing vital information regarding the coronavirus.

The US warned of tough legal action to follow if it was proved that China destroyed information regarding the early samples of the virus before it mutated into virulent forms, thus making it difficult or near impossible for other countries to come out with effective control measures. In other words, Washington was implying that China’s action, if deliberate, was criminal or tantamount to launching bio warfare, probably combined with economic warfare.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also insisted that China, in violation of the United Nations protocol, notified the World Health Organisation too late about the outbreak in Wuhan, the epicenter of the disease in China. In a prompt response, the Communist Party-run Global Times slammed Pompeo as sinister and a threat to world peace.
Buttressing the accusations were US media reports based on the US embassy’s diplomatic cables from Beijing. The reports claimed the US embassy two years ago had raised concern over inadequate safety measures at a Wuhan research laboratory where coronavirus tests were conducted. The reports have prompted US politicians to call for punitive measures against China and court action to seek damages in billions, if not trillions, of dollars. Going by the anti-China sentiments in the US and pro-US countries, a Nuremburg-style Covid-crimes tribunal cannot also be ruled out.

The Chinese foreign ministry has slammed these charges as “barefaced lies”.
The hostilities seem to be increasing with each passing day, indicating the reconciliation required to deal with the pandemic is not going to happen.
Part of the antagonism is fuelled by Trump’s Republican team to prop up his reelection bid in November this year. The Trump team is all out to exploit the widespread anti-China sentiments in the country. According to a survey conducted by pollster Harris, 75 percent of Americans believe China is responsible for the virus’s spread in the US, while a majority also believe China should be held accountable.

But the US cannot economically survive an all-out hostility with China. Can it impose tough sanctions on China as it depends heavily on Chinese supply chains? With more than 26 million job losses, the US cannot afford to take more protective measures to insulate itself from China or to pursue Trump’s trade war with Beijing, unless Washington takes a plunge to diversify its investments and supply chains to Asia and Africa. One possibility is shifting the US investments from China to India, an essential strategic ally.
A cold war accompanied by an intensified trade war amid growing hostilities and court cases for damages from Beijing for the spread of the pandemic is the last thing the post-Covid world would like to see when the expectation worldwide will be for a cooperation-based international system that can ensure the physical, psychological and economic health of the people of every nation.

(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Post-Covid world order: No cure for self-centred power politics

By Ameen Izzadeen
The global war against Covid-19 can be, in a sense, described as World War III. Many believed that World War III would see a nuclear war, but before such a nuclear holocaust could happen, the world is now experiencing a calamity of world war or slow nuclear war proportions.
In the global war against the new coronavirus, nuclear weapons appear to be damp squibs. Even the world’s most powerful nations are powerless and confused as to how to defeat the invisible enemy. Just as in a world war, in the Covid war, too, thousands die daily while the crisis is also having a devastating impact on the economy of every nation regardless of its economic standing. As the crisis prolongs, millions lose their jobs or sources of income. Signs of a global famine are already visible. The United Nations has warned of it.
World War I led to the infamous recession of 1920 and World War II warranted a Marshal Plan and large scale financial injections to resuscitate the economies of war-ravaged European nations. The two wars also saw paradigm shifts in the international systems, upending the global order that existed before the wars.
Will we see a new world order in the aftermath of the Covid war? World history shows that after every cataclysmic event or war, there was a tendency to make amends – a kind of course correction. In the 17th century, the Thirty-Year War that devastated Europe or Christendom ended in the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 and in its wake brought about a nation-state-based world order that respected national sovereignty and international law. But, by the dawn of the 20th century, the somewhat idealist world order had been all but dead.
Economic competition, militarism and imperialistic agendas had created the ground for a major war, for which the trigger became the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Serbia in 1914. The four-year war in which 17 million people died gave birth to the post-WWI utopic international order, once again based on international law with the ultimate aim being world peace and conflict resolution through the mechanism of the newly set up League of Nations.
But this idealistic world order or perpetual peace as propounded by the 18th century German philosopher Emmanuel Kant could not prevent the outbreak of World War II, although the post-WWI United States President Woodrow Wilson pushed it to the hilt. Its failure to prevent WWII came under severe criticism from political realists such as E.H. Carr.
Carr demonstrated how well-conceived ideas of peace and cooperation among states were undermined by the realities of chaos and insecurity in the international realm. He criticised the proponent of political idealism for overlooking the importance of power in politics and failing to consider the exigencies of survival and the competitive nature of international politics. While idealists focused on human welfare and dreamt of a world government, Nazi Germany pursued power-centric politics and dreamt of becoming the world’s only power. This idealist world order which neglected the importance of the balance of power led to World War II.
Then emerged another world order from the ruins of World War II in which more than 70 million people died. This world order saw nations using idealism judiciously to achieve their power-centric goals. The United Nations was established but it is controlled by a handful of nations with veto powers. Peace became a pawn in post-WWII power politics that first saw a suspicion-ridden bipolar world order and the Cold War. Then there emerged a loose bipolar world order with the Non-Aligned Movement charting a middle path. Then with the demise of the Soviet Union, one of the protagonists of the bipolar international system, there emerged a unipolar system and eventually a multipolar system in the wake of China’s rise as a superpower.
Now will this multipolar system where the global power the US has been wielding since the end of WWII is being challenged by the rise of China and assertive international politics of Russia, transform into a new world order after the Corona crisis is over?
Even an ardent political realist like Henry Kissinger now realises that it is time for a New World Order, for no country can conquer an enemy like the SARS-Cov-2 virus single handedly. Kissinger was a great advocate of a balance of power world order that has enabled the United States to maintain the world’s number one status since the end of World War II.
In a recent op-ed article he wrote for the Wall Street Journal, he says: “Leaders are dealing with the crisis on a largely national basis, but the virus’s society-dissolving effects do not recognize borders. While the assault on human health will—hopefully—be temporary, the political and economic upheaval it has unleashed could last for generations. No country, not even the U.S., can in a purely national effort overcome the virus. Addressing the necessities of the moment must ultimately be coupled with a global collaborative vision and program. If we cannot do both in tandem, we will face the worst of each.”
Kissinger’s article, however, has drawn global criticism, for the new world order he was seeking to establish is, in fact, an attempt to re-establish the US-led world order or a subtle attempt to prevent China from rising as the dominant world power. But the multibillion dollar question is: Is the US qualified to give leadership to this post-corona world order where there will be no wars, no dirty arms deals, no unscrupulous activities or plunder of poor nations’ resources by rich nations.
Definitely, it cannot and will not happen under the presidency of Donald Trump, who want to stop hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the World Health Organisation, the premier international agency coordinating battle plans to defeat the new coronavirus and other deadly diseases.
Despite the growing agreement that collective global efforts and continuous international cooperation are needed to overcome future viruses, the shape of the post-coronavirus world order is likely to be far from a rules based system promoting peace and justice.
Disturbing signs are emerging that the post-corona world order will be violent and acrimonious, with nations engaging in aggressive competition to build up their corona-ravaged economies while forgetting the unity message the Covid crisis tried to rub it in. One such disturbing sign is an attempt to take China before the world court to answer charges that it failed to take early action to prevent the global spread of the coronavirus.
While the Covid crisis teaches us that humanity is one and we need to work together to find a vaccine for the deadly disease and build a healthy society in every country, self-centred power politics at play points to the reality that Utopia is still far off.
This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka on April 24, 2020

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Covid-19 pandemic: Democracy’s health at stake

By Ameen Izzadeen
Dictatorship makes democracy advocates sick. Yet, it has come to be accepted as a bitter pill in some societies to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic which is frightening the life out of people worldwide. So much so, the trend has given rise to a debate on whether dictatorship is better than democracy in dealing with the Covid crisis. Even some democratically elected governments have liberally drifted towards authoritarianism, exploiting the helplessness of their fear-stricken or covidphobic people.
Hungary is a case in point. Its Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, is not a great admirer of democratic values though he, like Adolf Hitler of Nazi Germany, owes his election to democracy.
The Covid pandemic was like manna from Fascist heaven for Orbán, the 56-year-old illiberal nationalist and rightwing populist. Citing as justification the worst health crisis humanity has faced in living memory, he has assumed sweeping emergency powers to rule by decree for an indefinite period.
For all intents and purposes, Hungary is now a dictatorship fathered by the coronavirus. The Hungarian issue has created a dilemma for the EU: Can a dictatorship exist within the EU? According to the EU Treaty, a totalitarian state cannot become a member. But there is also no provision in the treaty to expel or suspend a member if it fails to adhere to EU values such as human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and human rights, including the rights of minorities. To deal with a rogue member-state, the treaty, however, permits the European Council to impose sanctions or suspend its rights and privileges.
Orbán seems to be least bothered about EU sanctions, since he is riding high on rightwing populist politics fed by bigotry and racism. Critics say the Hungarian Prime Minister’s move has virtually led to the suspension of the constitution’s checks and balances and allowed him to crack down on political dissent and free speech.
A similar crisis erupted in the United States, albeit briefly, when President Donald Trump this week, dismissing the constitutional powers of state governors, boasted that he had “total” authority to decide when the lockdown would be lifted. The remark triggered a volley of attacks from democracy defenders and the media, forcing Trump to make a stunning reversal within 24 hours. However, acting more like a fascist leader than a leader of a responsible global power, Trump on Tuesday announced the suspension of $400 million as annual contributions to the World Health Organisation. The fund cut will cripple the global body’s ability to deal with not only the Covid pandemic but also hosts of other diseases such as malaria, dengue, cholera and ebola and continue with programmes such as polio eradication.
The Hungarian dictatorship and Trump’s theatrics apart, to deviate from democratic norms, demagogues get the courage from a general trait in many societies for people to blindly rally behind a powerful leader or government, especially during times of crisis.
In politics, this trait associated with a general fear or a common enemy is called ‘rallying around the flag’. Unscrupulous leaders hesitate not to turn the collective public fear to their advantage and strengthen their political power base. Even in the United States, arguably the world’s most vibrant democracy, the rallying-around-the-flag concept has been exploited by presidents. A recent example was President George W. Bush. He made use of the fear generated by the 9/11 terror attacks to achieve geopolitical ends and to get reelected.
For this political strategy to work, a sine qua non is the prevalence of a widespread fear of a real or perceived enemy in the public domain. During the Cold War period, it was the Communists. After the Cold War collapsed, it was the so-called Islamic terrorist the US itself was instrumental in birthing. For Indian leaders, it has been Pakistan, and for Pakistani leaders it has been India.
Now that the coronavirus fear is shaking societies to the core, shrewd political leaders appear to be exploiting the people’s over-respect for authority during times of crisis.
Social psychologists Jonathan Haidt and Jesse Graham say: “People often feel respect, awe, and admiration toward legitimate authorities, and many cultures have constructed virtues related to good leadership, which is often thought to involve magnanimity, fatherliness, and wisdom…[Societies may also] value virtues related to subordination: respect, duty, and obedience.”
Well, in regimented China, respect, awe and obedience are found in abundance and these traits enabled the authorities to bring the Covid-crisis under some control within three months, adding credence to the claims that authoritarianism — and not democracy — is what is required to overcome an apocalyptic emergency.
But this claim by advocates of authoritarianism is neither sound nor logical. Democracies such as Germany, New Zealand and South Korea are equally being praised for their success in flattening the Covid curve much faster than it happened in China.
These countries prove that even in the worst health case scenario, democracy and human rights can be upheld. No democracy can cite the pandemic as a pretext to undermine human rights, as is happening in several parts of the world – unfortunately also in Sri Lanka where the minority Muslims say their right to be buried after their deaths has been taken away by a government’s regulation. Rights groups have slammed the regulation, which has, without much scientific basis, outlawed burial and permitted only cremation if a Covid patient dies.
In Sri Lanka, the government has, otherwise, earned high praise for its handling of the Covid crisis. It has won much admiration from the people despite the hardship they suffer due to the prolonged lockdown. So much so, even some opposition supporters say they are fortunate to have a strong government now to effectively and decisively deal with the Covid-19 pandemic as opposed to the previous government which drew heavy criticism for its indecisiveness in dealing with urgent issues.
In other words, there is much rallying around the flag for government leaders to either admire it in statesmen-like manner or exploit it to concentrate state power in the executive branch. If they choose the latter path, they may be putting the health of democracy at stake. The government is now at a fork where one path leads to democracy and the other to dictatorship. Which way will the government go? The answer could be found in the manner in which it seeks to resolve the looming constitutional crisis over the general election and the convening of the new parliament. South Korea by holding its general election amid the corona crisis proved the health of democracy is as important as the health of the citizens.

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Corona pandemic: Lessons from war zone paradoxes

By Ameen Izzadeen

Normalcy can be defined as a state where we enjoy freedom from fear and hunger. With the new coronavirus pandemic spreading faster than virologists could imagine, the extent to which we fear death and disease determines the degree to which normalcy is destroyed. The fear of uncertainty has reached a level unprecedented in living memory for many, especially for those who were heedless to the suffering of fellow human beings.

Since we began to roam this planet, we have been living with fear of something or another. Fear is a key emotion of human life. No evolution theory is adequate to describe the fear ingrained in us.
Religious philosophies teach us that righteousness will lead to a state where there are no fears and worries.
But human beings are hardly righteous in their social, economic and political conduct.  Our moral turpitude, greed and self-centredness have given rise to political and socioeconomic systems where powerful nations lord it over weaker nations. Be it the multipolar, bi-polar, unipolar or post-unipolar international systems, all these world orders have seen fear being used as a weapon by a dominant society against weaker societies. Forget the barbaric leaders of the yore, even the leaders of the so-called post-enlightenment era, as we sometimes refer to the times we live in, use fear as a political weapon not only to subjugate people or a minority within a country, but also to elicit public support for unpopular wars or to dominate other nations through colonial or neocolonial mechanisms.
In sociology, this is called the culture of fear — a concept where fear is incited to achieve political or work place goals. The United States’ War on Terror is a case in point.  During the George W Bush presidency, the war party comprising the militarists, the capitalists and right-wing ideologists made use of the fear generated by the 9/11 attacks to achieve sinister political goals.

Underscoring the importance of the fear factor in global politics, the US described its invasion of Iraq as “Shock and Awe”.
Politically and historically, the culture of fear has divided the world into two: Nations which live in fear and nations which use fear to dominate or conquer nations in fear. Fear is a relative term. So is the freedom from fear. In a militarily powerful nation, citizens live in a relatively safer environment than the citizens of a bullied nation, a nation under attack or, for that matter, a nation which is subjected to crippling economic sanctions.  Notwithstanding the post-9/11 reality of terrorist acts disrupting the asymmetry in fear in the invader nations, overall, their citizens were largely insulated from the type of fear which hundreds of millions of people experienced in war-affected countries.
The coronavirus pandemic has now shown the people of the powerful nations that fear of dying an untimely death is not just the lot of the people whose countries they have destroyed and continue to destroy.
Even at the time of the pandemic, in the war-devastated countries such as Yemen, Syria and Libya, people live in fear, not knowing who among them would die next in the next air attack, roadside terrorist bomb, chemical carnage or a genocidal massacre.
While in the rich nations, people filled casinos, discotheques and entertainment parks and splurged billions of dollars and food is lavishly wasted, in war-ravaged countries millions did not know from whom and where they would get their next meal. They cooked grass and fed children.
Stop the war in Yemen immediately, begged the UN Secretary General Antonia Guterress who described the war in this impoverished nation as the worst humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II.  Hundreds of Yemeni children died of cholera and famine, yet the rich nations kept selling war material to nations involved in the war.  Yemeni children’s deaths were not counted daily, just as the World Health Organisation and other institutions count the Covid-19 deaths now.  
When the poor Yemenis ran for cover to protect them from air and missile attacks the Saudi-led coalition carried out with US and British weapons, in the west, life went on as usual, indifferent to the sufferings the Yemeni people were undergoing.
Mercifully, the Covid-19 has so far spared this war-ravaged nation. Or is it because its infrastructure is so devastated that there is no way one could test or count the Covid-19 cases?
Syria is another country where the rich nations ganged up to frighten the life out of the people with a destructive war aimed at overthrowing the government for the simple reason that it was an obstacle to their geopolitical and geo-economic interests.  

As the Syrians in their millions fled their homes to save them from the regime forces and the barbaric terrorists, not to mention the US, NATO and Israeli air attacks, the fear that was tormenting them or their deaths did not shake the conscience of the war mongers or a majority of their citizens.  For the Syrian people, the coronavirus appears to be a gentler enemy than the war, which kills more than 5,000 people every month.
This week at a UN Security Council meeting, the UN Humanitarian Affairs Coordination Office issued an urgent appeal for an immediate end to the Syrian war to save the people from the coronavirus pandemic. It expressed serious concern over the Syrian government’s inability to deal with the situation as half the country’s health system had been destroyed due to the war.
Occupied Palestine’s health crisis is another irony the coronavirus pandemic has exposed but the West does not seem to have understood it.  Today the US that perpetuated the Palestinian people’s suffering by stopping aid and using its veto powers to prevent a just and fair solution is under a virtual lockdown. But in the Gaza Strip and, to some extent, on West Bank, the Palestinians have been living under the Israeli-imposed lockdown since 1967.
In the Gaza Strip, described as the world’s biggest open-air prison, people have no access to quality food and medicine. The hospitals are overwhelmed with people who suffered gunshot injuries during their non-stop “Great March” protests on the border with Israel.  With some 100 Covid-19 cases and nine deaths in the Gaza, the Palestinians are set to face another crisis.  
During the coronavirus crisis, these war zone paradoxes teach a key lesson in humanity for the rich and the powerful to be sensitive to the fear and suffering they imposed on innocent civilians in the countries they have devastated. 
Due to space constraints, this article has skipped other ongoing conflicts. But we would like to express serious concerns about the situation in refugee camps, especially the slums that shelter Rohingya refugees on Bangladesh’s border with Myanmar.  These people are largely an abandoned lot today without proper food and medical facilities with even caregivers limiting their presence in the camps due to Covid-19 fears.
The pandemic can bring about catastrophic situations in refugee camps. The UN should pay more attention to these unfortunate people and work out a plan to minimise the adverse impact of the pandemic on already battered people. 

(This article was first published in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Covid pandemic: We work together or sink together

By Ameen Izzadeen

In times of crisis, selfishness exacerbates the disaster. A person cannot stand guard to the money he has stacked in a secret room when the fire is engulfing him from all sides or the flood water level is rising. He should leave everything and try to save his life. At a time when the coronavirus pandemic is making science and knowledge appear primitive and pathetically and pathologically inadequate, the rich nations’ focus should not be on measures to protect their wealth or their economies, but on measures to save lives worldwide through global efforts.

Every dollar should be spent towards saving humanity from the existential threat it is facing. We need not overly worry about the fate of the economy now. But some world leaders like the United States president Donald Trump do not think so. On Tuesday, Trump, in yet another shocking statement, said social distancing had caused too much pain to the economy and added that he wanted the country “opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” on April 12.

At a time when nearly three billion people worldwide are under lockdown, leaders should not act irresponsibly and say ‘it’s the economy, stupid’. This is the time for big powers to exercise their soft power for the wellbeing of not only the populations within their nations but the world’s population at large. Can someone staying in a luxury suite in a seven-star hotel feel safe when the workers’ quarters in the basement is on fire? This is the time for superpowers to give leadership to a global effort in the war against the virus. The United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called for the world to act together to halt the menace.

“COVID-19 is threatening the whole of humanity — and the whole of humanity must fight back,” Guterres said, launching an appeal for $2 billion to help the world’s poor. He said individual responses were not going to be enough.

At the onset of the Covid crisis, the United States, which yesterday became the worst affected country in terms of number of cases, or for that matter China or Russia, should have convened a video conference of leaders of nations affected by the virus. The world should have by now seen a global command centre led by a team of experts working in coordination with the World Health Organisation.

Sadly, this week’s G7 ministerial conference online produced more talk than substance, with the US Secretary of State making a big deal about a puerile dispute with China over the US insistence that the virus should be called Wuhan virus.

In contrast to Washington’s inadequate or irresponsible movement in the direction of a global response, Cuba, despite crippling US economic sanctions, is playing an exemplary role, by sending brigades of doctors to Italy where the death toll soared past 8,200 yesterday, and to neighbourhood countries such as Venezuela, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Suriname and Grenada to help these nations deal with the pandemic.

Meanwhile, also commendable is the role China is playing at global level in helping nations to overcome the Covid crisis. It has sent doctors to Italy and shared its expertise and success stories with other nations and provided financial assistance.

Agree that the US has contributed more than US$ 100 million to assist developing nations fight the virus. But this is not enough. The Trump administration should have been more generous and considerate and should not have put politics before lives.

Take for instance, its policy on Iran where every ten minute one person dies of the new coronavirus. The US not only ignored calls to lift sanctions on Iran, one of the worst affected countries, but also imposed fresh sanctions. The Trump administration has thus put its regime-change politics before people’s lives and become an accomplice to the coronavirus homicide, which some experts believe could reach 3.5 million by May – a figure that pales into insignificance when compared to the one million lives Iran lost during its nine-year war with Iraq. The Trump administration is also said to have put politics before humanity when it is said to have hampered Venezuela’s attempt to get the International Monetary Fund’s assistance to cope with the Covid crisis. On Wednesday, despite the worsening coronavirus crisis situation at home, the Trump administration slapped drug trafficking charges on Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro and issued a warrant for his arrest.

On Wednesday, the US Senate unanimously passed the nation’s largest-ever rescue package, a $2 trillion lifeline to revive the coronavirus-hit economy, help the suffering Americans, provide aid to critically depleted hospitals. The fact that the package has ignored the global call for more funds to deal with the crisis, perhaps, is yet another indication that the Trump administration has shirked its responsibility as a global power.

The mega package provides direct cash payments — $3,400 — for an average American family of four. The health sector will get $100 billion while $500 billion will go to small businesses and core industries as grants and loans. Overall, it is largely aimed at keeping the economy alive and healthy.

It is debatable, however, whether matters economic could be set aside to be taken up once the pandemic is over. Some may argue that the health of the economy is important to invest more in health care. Although their argument does hold water, what is required is an urgent transformation of the present profit-oriented global economy into a welfare economy before millions fall victims to the pandemic.

As developing and least developed countries struggle to harness every resource at their disposal to save lives, the pandemic has by yesterday affected more than 530,000 people worldwide and killed more than 24,000. The situation could turn worse if the virus hits some of the poorest countries, where people are crammed into slums with poor sanitation facilities and health care systems. Millions could die.

The looming danger demands more altruistic policies from richer nations. The G20 leaders, representing the world’s powerful economies, on Thursday had an online meeting to work out a global response to this crisis. They envisaged a $5 trillion rescue package. This is commendable, but there was no clarity on how much will go to poor nations. During their 90 minute meeting convened by Saudi Arabia, they also did not pay much attention to the developing nations’ call for debt relief and moratoriums.

Countries such as Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Ethiopia have called for moratoriums on their international loan repayments. They can ill afford to set aside the money to repay their loans to richer nations and the IMF when they face a health crisis which the richest nations themselves have failed to successfully deal with. It is now or never: We need to work together or
sink together.

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The deeper message of coronavirus: Unity and just world order

By Ameen Izzadeen

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads in all directions putting governments into a spin, the crisis is as much a time for reflection as it is for concerted efforts to find treatments, vaccines and ways and means to control the disease.
As the saying goes, we must not let a serious crisis go to waste.

The coronavirus epidemic should have made the world’s superpowers realise how helpless they are against a virus so nanoscale that scientists can only fathom it through a micrograph with the help of an electron microscope. Isn’t this a time to stop and ponder how feeble and useless the biggest and the most powerful weapons in their arsenals are? The Mother of All Bombs which the United States President Donald Trump dropped on Afghanistan in 2017 boasting it was the most powerful conventional bomb the US has in its arsenal is of no use against an invisible enemy. 

The nine nuclear powers have some 4,000 nuclear warheads in their possession, but they appear literally damp squibs.  The Tomahawks, the Tridents, the Hellfires, the SS-N-30s, the S-400s, the Dongfengs, the Agnis, the Shaheens, the Khorramshahrs, the Jerichos, all types of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles and powerful projectiles that can reduce cities and habitats to rubble appear good-for-nothing lumps of metal.  The United States’ F-16s, Russia’s MiGs and China’s J-20 aircraft are no checks against the highly virulent virus. America’s Abrams-1, Russia’s T-90As and China’s T-99 battle tanks cannot crush the new coronavirus that has already taken the lives of more than 8,000 people and affected more than 200,000 people worldwide, compelling the most developed nations to resort to extreme measures such as lockdowns and stopping flights. 

We would have saved lives, if the trillions of dollars nations have dumped on weapons had been used in the development of their health sectors, producing more doctors, nurses and health professionals, in building more hospitals, turning their arsenals into warehouses to store medical ventilators to be used in times of health crises such as the one we are now facing. 

The cost of one Tomahawk missile the US produces is more than US$ 1.4 million. This money is sufficient to produce more than 1,000 ventilators. The lack of foresight to invest more on health and the over expenditure on defence have led to the health systems of the US, Italy and other developed nations creaking under pressure without adequate hospital beds and ventilators. 

The United States must have easily fired more than 3,000 Tomahawks since 1998 on Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria in wars that have not made the US any safer than it was befor but only made arms dealers multi billionaires.

The trillions of dollars in public money spent on destructive wars should have been used on health sector research and development or invested in projects to produce in the US and other countries brilliant scientists who will find cures for the Covid-19 and incurable diseases such as cancer. This is responsible superpower behaviour. The pandemic has exposed the unpreparedness of the world’s most advanced nations to face a health crisis. This is because they have a lopsided understanding of what security is. Security is not protecting the borders from the enemy. At its core is human security.  There is little meaning in protecting the borders from the enemy if leaders let the people under their care die of diseases due to lack of efficient medical care geared to face health emergencies.

But as you read this column, billions of dollars are spent on developing new supersonic weapons capable of killing tens of thousands of people in one blast, as the big power arms race loses no momentum, coronavirus or not. The virus seems to say, “Oh mankind, spend not your wealth in warfare or to promote hatred, but spend it in nurturing unity among nations and spreading love.”  But man does not listen to the lesson the virus teaches us. Instead, he struts about. Doesn’t he know that plagues and flus in the past have humbled the powerful and the arrogant?

We can beat the freaking virus, leaders may say with elections in mind.  This is no time for hubris and vow “we are going to beat the coronavirus.” This is the time to work together, think afresh and bring about a world order where disputes are sorted out peacefully through arbitration rather than through wars and violence.  In Iran, as a result of the US sanctions, health officials are struggling to cope with the rapidly rising coronavirus cases. Isn’t this a time to forget political rivalry, extend the hand of friendship and lift the sanctions at least temporarily for Iran to save lives?

The coronavirus is no respecter of social and economic differences that have divided humanity. It has affected the oppressor and the oppressed, the rich and the poor, the black, the white, the yellow and the brown, the theist, the atheist and the agnostic. The virus is rubbing into us the message that humanity is one and we need to work and rise as one people to overcome this crisis. The need of the hour is to share the global resources in a sustainable and equitable manner. 

Sadly, we are not ready. We refuse to part with a virus that is more dangerous than the new coronavirus – hatred that manifests in the form of racism. The racism virus has killed umpteen million people since man appeared as a social animal on this blue and green planet.  Even as the new coronavirus was spreading its tentacles far and wide, the racism virus was killing people in India, the land of the Buddha and Gandhi.  

The so-called Islamic terrorists also carry this virus in their hearts. In their warped interpretation of Islam, all those who do not follow their ideology are lesser humans and therefore they have no qualms about killing the ‘others’, including Muslims of other sects. 
This virus has affected Israel, Myanmar and several other countries where minorities are oppressed. It has hit democracies and made right wing racist politics luring to the masses in countries which were once seen as the standard bearers of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We can tame the new coronavirus through the moral force that can emerge through our adherence to humanistic values such as unity, Justice, generosity, peaceful settlement of conflicts and measures that would make our planet more green and clean. For this, nations need to denounce power politics that spawns mutual suspicion, the greed to dominate and plunder the resources of weaker nations, and pushes nations to launch wars and commit iniquities. At a time like this, even realpolitik promotes the adoption of political idealism.

(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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