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)

About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
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