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)