Best of times…

By I A Rahman

JUNE 2020. What a wonderful time to be living in! How glorious the wave of resistance — to one of the worst forms of discrimination — that has swept the West, from America to Europe.

Scores of black Americans have been brutally murdered by white policemen in the US over the past many years. There have been protests and flashes of anger among the victims on each occasion and then the ugly occurrences have been consigned to oblivion. But when on May 25 last a white Minneapolis policeman put his heavy boot on the neck of George Floyd and squeezed the life out of his body, he also unleashed a mini revolution.

For several weeks, the people of the US bared their wounded conscience in 140 cities. At least six people were killed in attacks on protesters across the US and curfew had to be imposed in several cities.

Young black Americans were not only pouring out their anger, they were also vowing to fight racism. They painted their new slogan, ‘Black Lives Matter’, across wide surfaces. It was great to find them speaking in the language the world had not heard since Martin Luther King had spoken of his dream.

It’s good to be living in times when black Americans and white allies are challenging arrogant rulers.

Donald Trump threatened to use troops to target the demonstrators. He was shouted down by his own defence experts. Even the Republican worm turned. Former secretary of state Colin Powell said he would vote for Trump’s Democratic rival. Former president George W. Bush declared he won’t support Trump. The black protesters were joined by a sizeable number of their white compatriots.

The op-ed editor of The New York Times’ resigned his post following internal protests against the publication of an article in support of Trump’s call to arms. In the US and elsewhere, many journalists took heart that the world had not become devoid of defenders of the dignity of their calling.

The call against racism crossed the US frontiers and spread to Canada and European countries. Britons woke up to their own contribution to racist politics. They pulled down the statue of a slave trader in Bristol and didn’t leave Churchill’s statue untouched. The statues of Columbus and Leopold have been damaged, and the murder of Lumumba recalled. George Floyd has been buried, but the demonstrations have continued.

It seems some things have changed forever. At least many cities will have fewer statues in their boulevards. However, the anti-racism wave might subside with time, perhaps sooner rather than later. Racism is too deeply entrenched in the capitalist system and in the psyche of the erstwhile imperialists to be extirpated by an agitation that is rooted more in emotion than in cold logic. It is not clear whether the present polarisation in the US could result in the dumping of Trump or whether the country’s conservative hard core will dig its heels and preserve its hegemony.

Be that as it may, it is good to be living through times when the long-suffering black Americans and their allies among the white youth are challenging the most arrogant rulers in the world.

It is a good time to be living in because Javed Akhtar won the prestigious Richard Dawkins Award 2020 for “critical thinking, holding religious dogma up to scrutiny, advancing human progress and humanist values”. Humankind needs the values mentioned in the citation to sustain its claim to be living by reason. And our dear Malala Yousafzai has also made the times worth living in by delivering a special virtual commencement address, reminding us that she will soon receive her degree from Oxford, and continue to lay new milestones on her path towards women’s liberation and empowerment.

There have also been heart-warming tidings of victories over Covid-19 that make the present time worth living in. Jacinda Ardern, the heroic figure who leads the people of New Zealand, was recently beaming with joy at the recovery of the last coronavirus patient and her country’s victory over the dreaded disease.

Taiwan was happy that against 441 cases of virus infection only seven lives were lost. And Vietnam had done even better — 327 infections and no death. The woman health minister of Kerala was showing the way towards checking Covid-19 in Modi’s India.

One is tempted to take special notice of Thailand’s remarkable success in containing the epidemic. As a country that receives a huge number of Chinese tourists, Thailand fell right in the path of the coronavirus. At the beginning of the year, the country received more than 7,000 tourists from Wuhan, the epicentre of Covid-19, but it was able to control the epidemic to a large extent: with 3,083 infections it suffered only 37 deaths and attained a recovery rate of 96 per cent.

But when we looked at our own land we found superstition was dictating policies and there was a premium on bigotry. The lockdown that had saved three million people in 11 European countries and an equal number in the US from dying had become a dirty word because of its repudiation at the highest level. Possibilities of decent conversation had disappeared as most people were shrieking at each other at the highest possible pitch. The media was living by scandals: sugar scandal, wheat scandal, prices’-manipulation scandal, and petrol shortage scandal. The business of catching the corrupt had become the main function of the government. The government had not even thought of making a law to deal with the epidemic. Already reporting one of the world’s highest mortality rates of medical personnel, Pakistan was being mentioned as a country at high risk and facing the bleak prospect of losing a large number of lives without succeeding in saving the economy.

It was surely the worst of times for a large segment of humanity.

Tailpiece: When spokesmen of the National Command and Operation Centre speak of the rising graph of Covid-19 cases and causalities, their gestures and body language suggest they are talking of another country, a different people.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of Iblagh News.

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