Exploring the Corona Virus

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Exploring the Coronavirus Crisis

Acknowledgement: Much thanks go to Dr Chandra Muzaffar without whose guidance this e-book would not be what it is, Al Malik Abdullah who formatted the compilation and prepared the cover, Hassanal Noor Rashid and Nurul Haida Dzulkifly the JUST team.

Compiled by Askiah Adam Published by the International Movement for a JUST World (JUST) 1


Exploring the Coronavirus Crisis

CONTENT 1.

Introduction

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2.

Curbing the Coronavirus -- while targeting China, by Dr Chandra Muzaffar

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3.

Who is at Fault? By Hassanal Noor Rashid

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4.

Covid-19 Crisis: Crime, Poverty and the Need to evolve Social Security, by Hassanal Noor Rashid

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Covid-19: Misinformation, Education and the Need for Clarity, by Hassanal Noor Rashid

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Corona virus: Sanctions and Suffering, by Dr Chandra Muzaffar

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An Invasion in the Midst of a Pandemic, by Dr Chandra Muzaffar

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Covid Crisis: Lifting People. by Dr Chandra Muzaffar

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The Evolution of Zoom as a Communication Platform during the Pandemic, by Dr Jaspal Kaur Sadhu Singh

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Religion and Reason can go hand in hand/Searching for the Heart and Soul of Religion, by Prof. Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi

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11.

A superpower in Chaos, by Dr Chandra Muzaffar

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Social Protesting Pre and Covid-19, by Elma Berisha

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Corona in Age of Transition by Dr Junaid Ahmad

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Post Coronavirus World: Could we Expect a Better Domain by Abdullah al-Ahsan

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15.

American Hubris Robust in a Cataclysmic Global Pandemic, by Askiah Adam

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16.

Writers Profile

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Exploring the Coronavirus Crisis

INTRODUCTION This e-book is a compilation of articles by Executive Committee members, members and staff of the International Movement for a JUST World (JUST) on the Covid-19 pandemic over the months as the disease was spreading globally. They capture the sequence of major events colouring the spread and, too, the impact it had on societies and governments. To date, the impression left is that changes, popularly referred to as the “new normal”, are almost inevitable. Starting in Wuhan, China, the novel Coronavirus quickly engulfed, firstly, her neighbours and then the world, despite China’s best efforts. A lockdown was imposed on Hubei province almost as soon as the dangers to her and the world manifested. Hundreds of millions were kept indoors with only minimal movement allowed to facilitate life. Reportedly the numbers affected were some 700 million thus bringing the economy to a standstill. But, of course, accusations of human rights abuse were liberally mouthed because it was China. Each household sent out one person over a few days to replenish supplies. After some two months the lockdown was lifted and the economy resumed, soon ticking over nicely. The lockdown caused an economic slowdown. Growth shrunk. But a 1,000 bed hospital to treat Covid 19 patients was built in just 9 days. Fortunately, the control was effective. And today the economy is back to full swing with growth recorded in the last quarter and a new strategy declared to sustain growth. China will now nurture the growth of its massive domestic market. Meanwhile, in Sweden, when the Coronavirus arrived, keeping the economy running was the priority. There were no lockdowns. While Swedes were careful to social distance Sweden, unfortunately, clocked up the highest death rate in the Scandanavian region. Unlike Sweden, the neighbouring countries resorted to lockdowns. Unfortunately for Sweden the economy slowed down, nevertheless. But now, herd immunity has been achieved. The United States (US) is the world’s most advanced economy, but here is where the disease is most rampant. At the time of writing, mid-September 2020, the US has the highest infection and death rates in the world. Almost 7 million Americans are infected and more than 200,000 are dead. And, the President, Donald Trump has been liberally pronounced by too many as not having taken the necessary steps to minimise the rate of infection in the US. Although, he recently took cover behind the pretext of refusing to cause a panic, which position he insists is unchanged. He is concerned for the economy which seems to outstrip his caution for the spread of the disease. And, of course, many are accusing him of patently placing his re-election campaign before all else. He has to make good his 2016 campaign promise of “Making America Great Again!” His thinking, presumably is, lockdowns are bad for the economy. Indeed, they are, but what about the deaths? It is this context, surely, that has made the pandemic a geopolitical issue. Prior to the admission that he was avoiding a panic he put in motion accusations of China having caused the pandemic, in the first place, calling the virus the “Wuhan virus” and insisting that it was accidentally released from China’s level l4 Wuhan laboratory. This drove a trend reaching proportions large enough to cause racist attacks on the Chinese and those mistaken for Chinese, especially in the West as mentioned By Dr Chandra Muzaffar in his article, “Curbing the Coronavirus -- while targeting China”. Trump has called the novel coronovirus the Wuhan virus to

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Exploring the Coronavirus Crisis

further magnify the association between Covid-19 and China thus exacerbating the racial inference and ameliorating his faults. To maintain his position, with respect his voters, Trump’s allegations have included charges against the World Health Organisation (WHO) as handmaiden of the Chinese. But Hassanal Noor Rashid points out in “Who Is At Fault” that “Despite having news of the virus in early January, there was no caution taken to successfully mitigate its spread in the West”. Trump though, firstly threatened to defund the WHO and ultimately he has withdrawn the US from the organisation at a time when the disease has yet to show signs of abating. In nine short months the world has suffered almost a million Covid-19 deaths. Confirmed cases to date is 30,694,541 a figure accrued from January 2020. And after half a year, the virus is still exhibiting surprises. Initially, seemingly virulent to the usual suspects, the old with their baggage of autoimmune diseases and cardiovascular problems it moved on to the young and strong. By now it has become clear that it can affect just about anybody, when given half a chance. The WHO urged solidarity among nations as a defence against the pandemic. Much cooperation especially to formulate a vaccine and find an effective drug did happen. To date a Russian vaccine has been tested and patented. According to reports China is on the verge of announcing her vaccine. Meanwhile, in the UK AstraZeneca’s AZD1222 vaccine being developed with Oxford University will resume trials after the UK regulators decided it was safe. One test participant in the US came down with an inflammation of the spinal cord. The clinical trials will be resumed in order “to provide the vaccine broadly, equitably and at no profit during the pandemic,” according to the company’s statement. As Hassanal Noor Rashid in his “Covid-19 Crisis: Crime, Poverty and the need to evolve Social Security,” shows this spirit of altruism is much needed. Regrettably, while the lockdowns have proved very effective in retarding the spread of the virus, in some instances it has led to increase in domestic violence. And, too, a surge in unemployment, which has led to growth in crime rates. Even more unfortunate, the pandemic declared by the WHO in March 2020 was politicised and instead of solidarity the hegemon, under Donald Trump, decided on continuing attacks of sanctions and even an attempted invasion of Venezuela in early May this year, to maintain US stranglehold of the world as highlighted by Dr Chandra Muzaffar in “Coronavirus: Sanctions and Suffering,” and “An Invasion in the Midst of a Pandemic”. The United States went on to demonise China, attacking the Chinese Communist Party government as a dictatorship and accused her of repression of the Uighurs and the population of Hong Kong, especially. Trump sent two aircraft Carriers to the South China Sea in celebration of US Independence Day, even while China was carrying out military exercises there in her own waters. But of even greater importance is Covid-19’s demonstration of the inadequate public health care services of many nations. Capitalism, when as predatory as in the US, cannot be sustained for universal good. A social system of sorts must be implemented which reaches even the least fortunate in society. That the American example clearly demonstrated the near abandonment of the poor with regard healthcare provisions is good reason to advocate for universal healthcare and social services wherever it 4


Exploring the Coronavirus Crisis

is absent. President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, at the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) virtual Summit, refloated the idea of the late, former president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez of setting up an international humanitarian fund for the purpose of distributing medical equipment and medicines among its member states (see “Coronavirus: Sanctions and Suffering” by Dr Chandra Muzaffar). Even more urgent is the economic impact of the necessary measures to combat and retard the spread of the virus. The lockdowns left the global poor unprotected. As in India, those without proper homes were left vulnerable to the virus, a painful situation made worse by economic pressures forcing many to walk hundreds of miles home to their villages of origin because the transport system was not operating. This tragedy was repeated in Indonesia, Thailand and even in Malaysia where a young man walked from the capital to his village in the east coast of the Peninsula, Kelantan. Economic rescue packages was a project common to all countries but in some this became opportunities for corruption, as in Malaysia. Dr Chandra Muzaffar intimated as much in his article, “Covid Crisis: Lifting People”. But in the US trillions of dollars passed by Congress as a rescue package was over a short time shown to be used to bail out big businesses without the necessary caveat of keeping employment intact as what was done in Germany. There was no doubting the need to keep companies reasonably healthy to prevent a sudden surge of unemployment and obviously public money should be used in such a way so as to propagate money velocity. However, this was not Washington’s main concern. Again, as in the 2008 rescue package, Wall Street took precedence over the High Street and only time will tell how severe the damage will be to the US economy. There are some predicting a future where the coronavirus is an inescapable presence, meaning without a vaccine the behavioural changes established during the pandemic will be retained. Cleanliness and social distancing will be the new normal. Masks are recommended to better stop transmissions. The immediate future must see the public focusing on defeating the spread of the coronavirus, if not its annihilation. In this new normal, others see the move to internet communication as coming into its own where emphasis on social distancing remains and mass gatherings forbidden. Dr Jaspal Kaur Sadhu Singh in her “The Evolution of Zoom as a Communication Platform during the Pandemic” observes the phenomenal rise of the Zoom application that has fitted the gap, almost neatly, enabling online meetings where physical meetings are out of the question. Large gatherings and mass assemblies are almost everywhere without exception pronounced illegal thus affecting religious congregation prayers. For Muslims the impact has been immense. Close to the hearts of all Muslims is the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, which was put on hold this year. Saudi Arabia closed her borders and only locals were able to perform the Hajj. In other largely Muslim countries the weekly Friday prayers were initially banned and later when lockdowns were lifted the congregation was limited to accommodate social distancing. And, too, affecting all Muslims was the terawih or congregational prayers of Ramadhan, the fasting month. Happening during lockdowns families were encouraged to perform these prayers at home. Some families Zoomed together. Of course, not everyone was happy. In fact, in Malaysia a regional assembly of Muslims at a mosque in the very early days of the lockdown left a trail of infections, as happened, too, in India. But as Professor Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi in his article, “Religion and Reason can go hand in hand/Searching for the Heart and Soul 5


Exploring the Coronavirus Crisis

of Religion,”, made plain that it is well within the purview of governments to ban congregational gatherings as a public health security measure. Indeed, right off the bat billionaire Bill Gates warned the world that only a vaccine can bring back the old normal of public gatherings. The recent admission by WHO that Gates-backed vaccine has caused the recent outbreak of polio in Africa (Fort-Russ.com, September 10, 2020) is only going to further pulverise his image given that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was forced to leave India for a similar reason. Large public gatherings while banned did not stop the chaos that has become a part of American sociopolitical scene. See Dr Chandra Muzaffar’s “A Superpower in Chaos”. That Covid-19 has highlighted class inequalities and race discrimination cannot but inflame public anger towards the callous disregard of black lives by the US police force. As the presidential election draws near the unrest has not eased. In fact, even while the protests against police violence are ongoing the police have not stopped the malevolence they perpetrate towards blacks and other minorities. But as Elma Berisha points out in “Social Protesting Pre and Covid-19”, social protests were spreading globally when the pandemic broke. The Gilet Jaunes demonstration in France were already a year old when Covid-19 struck. The climate protests had begun to spread west from Australia. The young activist, Greta Thunberg, was beginning to make an impression. Lebanon was protesting. So, too, were the Palestinians. And then, in the midst of the pandemic, in Minneapolis, USA, a white policeman was videotaped with his knee pressed on the neck of a black man, George Floyd, until the big man went limp and died. Black Lives Matter and Antifa, two American civil society organisations, harnessed the public indignation and cities in the US erupted in violence demanding the police be defunded. Suddenly the US had not only health and economic emergencies, but crime also exploded. The situation remains unchanged with just weeks away from the 2020 presidential elections. Whither the future? Dr Junaid Ahmad in his “ Corona in an Age of Transition” views the pandemic as a phase in American history, the decline of American power. “What this pandemic’s impact on America has exposed so nakedly are the weaknesses of an empire in decline for quite a while now…The scandals and obscenities of the sundry aspects of American society that its rulers have tried to conceal all these decades, the country’s broken healthcare system, its obscene inequality and utter indifference to the lives of ordinary working Americans,” he writes. The new normal is not an outcome imminent in the present is Dr Junaid’s conclusion but he exhorts the “emancipatory ethos” of prophetic religions and philosophical traditions as drivers towards a relatively more just and egalitarian future. This same optimisim is shared by Elma Berisha who, however, views it as a possibility necessarily emanating from the popular protests. Another writer sharing the same stance is Abdullah al-Ahsan. He writes in “Post Coronavirus World: Could we Expect a Better Domain?” of establishing trust amongst the global majority that surely is able to diminish “the arrogance, corruption and exploitation by a tiny elite”. And he speaks of a difficult recovery as a result, “a slow process but it will be more dignified, durable, participatory and respectful.”

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Exploring the Coronavirus Crisis

But Askiah Adam views another possibility. In her piece,”American Hubris Robust in a Cataclysmic Global Pandemic”, she sees instead a United States helmed by President Trump as seeking a foreign foe to diminish the widely shared sense that he is a failed American president. Facing the perfect storm -health, economic and social disintegration and re-election -- a war with China might be the only option opened to him. At the time of writing the escalation of tensions between the US and China is no longer mere speculation. The US Congress abandoned the recognition of China’s One China policy and the members of Trump’s cabinet began directly interfering in Taiwan -- sale of arms, ballistic missiles included -- cannot but be viewed by China as extreme provocation. It is a challenge to her sovereignty. Reports of 22nd September 2020 says China has issued warnings of a “Taiwan takeover”. Australia’s news.com.au reports that China has sent 20 fighters to breach its borders with Taiwan and Taiwan’s President has disingenuously warned of a “clear and present danger” to the whole region. The Chinese has said that this is no bluff and war is inevitable if US provocations continue. While a war may seem like an illogical consequence of the pandemic, President Trump appears caught between a rock and a hard place. Would political expediency force his hand to further escalate tensions with China based on the many pretexts already lined up: Hong Kong, Uighurs, Taiwan, the South China Sea are some? But the most outstanding reason would be the challenge to US global dominance. Historically, imperialists have resorted to wars to retain their position as in the 17th century imperialist wars between France and Britain. For instance, Louis the XIV used war as both a foreign policy device and to strengthen his domestic appeal (alphahistory.com) But will Trump start his first war, a contained misadventure, on the falsehood of Chinese hegemonic ambitions in the last days of his presidency?

By Askiah Adam

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Exploring the Coronavirus Crisis

CURBING THE CORONAVIRUS —– WHILE TARGETTING CHINA By Chandra Muzaffar We are inundated with an avalanche of information on the novel coronavirus infection. Within this avalanche, there is a lot of “news” that is clearly false. Those responsible for such news can be classified into two categories at least. The first comprises mischief-makers who derive some cheap thrill by generating and disseminating fake news that creates fear and causes panic among the people. The law should deal severely with such individuals. The second category may have a political agenda of sorts. The purpose may be to cast China in a bad light, to tarnish its image, to project the Chinese government as incompetent and even dishonest. The false information manipulated by this group may be very similar to the one utilised by the first category. Both categories allege that the government lied about the number of fatalities which they contend run into thousands. They suggest that the authorities were slow in responding to the crisis caused by the virus. Attempts to reveal the “truth” about what was really happening in Wuhan the epicentre of the crisis by some doctors and journalists have been suppressed and the “whistle blowers” punished. It is not just the Chinese authorities that have refuted these and other allegations. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has publicly commended the Chinese government for its “swift action” and its “extraordinary measures” in containing the infection. The government has attempted to be as transparent as possible from the outset and has provided accurate information to the people. It was the Director-General of the WHO, Tedros Adhanam Ghebreyesus, who stated emphatically that there was no need for other countries to restrict travel and trade unnecessarily. The coronavirus, he argued, should be combated with “ facts not fear” And indeed some of the facts are simply amazing. Chinese scientists were incredibly fast in identifying the genome sequence. Together with their Russian counterparts a Russia-China vaccine is in the making. Chinese architects and engineers have also built a state of the art hospital in Wuhan in just 9 days. Designed to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, the Huoshenshan Hospital has a thousand beds and medical staff drawn from the armed forces. The Chinese government is building another hospital with 1,500 beds which will begin functioning on the 6th of February. Facts like these mean nothing to those with a political agenda. The motives that shape their agenda take precedence over everything. There is a primary motive out of which has developed a secondary motive. Discrediting China is part of a larger geo-political drive that seeks to thwart China’s ascendancy. The aim is to ensure that the present hegemon, the United States of America (USA) remains on top at all costs. A host of measures and moves — some economic, some technological, some related to security and politics, others linked to culture and human rights — have been adopted by those who are hell-bent on perpetuating their hegemonic power. This is why some of the distortions about the current coronavirus threat should be seen in the light of disinformation about the alleged persecution of the Uighurs in 8


Exploring the Coronavirus Crisis

China and the so-called suppression of the people of Hong Kong. The name of the game is the same: it is the targeting of China. This primary motive has now given rise to a secondary motive. In the course of fighting the coronavirus, groups in certain countries are displaying negative sentiments towards Chinese people as such. This impacts adversely upon inter-community relations both at the global and national level. At a time when China and the Chinese are leaving large footprints all over the planet, a deeper understanding of the civilisation and its citizens is what the world needs. It is not in the interest of inter-civilizational harmony to view a community in its entirety as an adversary and try to isolate it. Similarly, in multi-ethnic societies with Chinese minorities the checking of the spread of a virus should not be used as a justification to stereotype and stigmatize a community. Seen against this backdrop, Malaysia, China’s neighbour with a significant Chinese minority has done well in managing the post coronavirus situation. It has accorded priority to the health and well-being of its people and at the same time handled this cross-boundary crisis in a calm manner without any hysteria. It has been sensitive to the feelings of China and its people. Once again, Malaysia has demonstrated that it is possible to protect our sovereignty while respecting the dignity and integrity of a dear neighbour whose friendship we cherish.

4 February 2020.

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W.H.O AND CHINA: A CASE OF GEO-POLITICAL MISDIRECTION WHO IS AT FAULT? By Hassanal Noor Rashid The Covid-19 pandemic has been a real roller-coaster ride as far as geo-politics is concerned. Through the chaos and the barrage of information and updates on the on-going pandemic, there are still those, especially among the political elite who have moved ahead of the pandemic management curve and have begun investing time and energy into calling for accountability and reparations from those they claim were the chief cause of many catastrophic global, social infrastructure failures. As of 20th April 2020, the United States has over 764,000 cases of Covid-19 with a staggering number of lives lost at over 40,000. The question that is on everyone’s mind is how did a supposedly first world country like the United States, which has spent trillions of dollars in its overly inflated military budget, continue to send aid worth USD$3.8 billion to Israel, and touts itself as the global superpower unrivalled by any other, do so poorly in mitigating this crisis, but has allowed it to cripple its societal and economic balance at such an unprecedented scale? Many are familiar with the rhetoric now that the United States (US) have directly blamed the World Health Organization (WHO), especially its chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, of not only failing to characterize the appropriate level of severity of the virus, but also for being too China-centric, depicting both of these as failings that have led to the present level of the pandemic. As a result, Trump has decided to cut funding for the WHO, a crude retaliation for the perceived failing of the WHO to effectively inform about the severity of the virus. The Trump Administration has also levelled criticism towards China’s reported cases of the Covid-19, accusing it of inaccuracies and false reporting, which is what was claimed to have misled many on the severity of the virus. The varying and predictable responses were given, and blame was laid first and foremost at the WHO and China’s feet. But is this truly a fair assessment? AUTHORITY, RESPONSIBILITY AND REALITY It has to be acknowledged that during the initial phase of the virus pandemic, there was lacking a sense of urgency when it came to understanding the severity of the virus. The hardest affected country then was China, beginning in January, with over 80,000 cases.

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The WHO, in the early stages of the pandemic, did mention that there was no evidence of human to human transmissions, that there was no need to impose any travel restrictions or bans to affected countries, and it did mention, too, that there was no need to wear face-masks. Obviously, these previous statements did inform in some way on how seriously people took the disease, and perhaps contributed to the perception and misinformation that the virus was no worse than the flu. So, is the WHO at fault for not considering the issue as severe from the very beginning? Partly. As an authoritative and trusted world body, its advice on matters pertaining to public health is crucial for policy makers and world leaders to ensure appropriate action and decision-making. But with China reporting a downward trend of infections and local Covid-19 cases by February 2020, the worst was thought to be over. It was assumed that as the totalitarian measures taken by China to contain the virus had worked China’s virus looked like it was mainly China’s problem and there was no need to worry. However, the pandemic, had begun to ramp up around the globe only in March 2020 with South East Asia and much of Europe suddenly begun turning into the new epicentres of the virus, with many falling to the virus at unexpected levels. With this in mind, the situation that the WHO found itself in was one of shock, to the core, as within the span of a couple of months, the virus had attacked more viciously than ever and had outpaced our ability to respond THE CHINESE TRUST DEFICIT: THE CHINA COVID-19 NUMBERS The first case of Covid-19 was reported by Beijing on December 31, 2019. Was there an attempt at concealment, of the epidemic initially? Strong evidence suggests that there was censuring. Those who spoke out about the virus, most notably Dr. Li Wenliang, who was the first to whistle blow on the virus was censured. However, such secrets as the scale of the infection, cannot be kept hidden long and by January the whole world knew about the virus. One may also recall that when the virus had hit its peak in China, on February 13th, Xi Jinping had moved to remove Communist Party officials who were in charge of the Hubei Province and Wuhan city. They were thoroughly replaced with Beijing’s hardliners. Soon after, the city was in full lockdown, and the number of cases started pouring in.

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But are these numbers trustworthy? After all the Chinese government has had a long-standing reputation for secrecy and censuring, It is wholly understandable why people would mistrust their internal reports. This move was made after the previous local government had reportedly attempted to subdue to the severity of the virus. Drawing from the country’s previous experience with the SARS pandemic, the Chinese government most likely knew that the secretive approach it had previously taken would not work. As Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations had noted, the truthfulness in China’s reporting may be trustworthy, mainly because it is in its best interest to report the accurate numbers. After Xi Jinping’s firm reshuffling of the Hubei Province leadership, the Chinese President ordered more resolute efforts to bring the outbreak under control. A comparison of China’s fatality rate by the virus with those outside of the Hubei province, and its regional neighbour, South Korea, closely matched. Data corroboration such as these confirm the validity of the numbers there. Hubei Province began reporting consistent updates of cases and fatalities as well and their numbers were higher because the number of cases overwhelmed the local healthcare system and given the early stages of the virus’s discovery, many didn’t know how to best treat the virus. The biggest spike in the number of cases on February 13th, 2020, was when it had begun to use CT scans on patients’ lungs rather than just traditional lab-test confirmation, allowing people to be isolated faster. China had changed the way it had detected cases several times but given that the pandemic was in its infancy, it is understandable. Many of the numbers had been listed out in a comprehensive report on February 28th by the Chinese CDC and the WHO, which highly detailed the age brackets, methods on how the virus was contracted and the affected areas. And finally, unlike the SARS outbreak which was only reported four months after the first case, the Covid-19 cases were reported within days of the first cluster which had appeared in Wuhan. Between January 30th to February 16th, China had conducted 320,000 tests in the Guangdong province alone, which were all reported on a fairly regular basis. China has been fairly transparent with its reporting and documentation, during the initial stages of the Covid-19 Pandemic and throughout, even sharing the mapped-out genetic sequence of the virus was revealed within weeks of the first case. It is to China’s credit that it had managed to contain the virus as well as it did, especially in a country of 1.39 billion people.

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As Matteo Chinazzi from the Laboratory for the Modelling of Biological and Socio-Technical Systems at the Northeastern University in Boston had noted in his publication to Science, China’s efforts had cut the number of Covid-19 cases by 77 percent. This understanding of the differences in governance and cultural make-up between Western and EastAsian societies explains why the Chinese experience cannot be replicated elsewhere. Such factors which many have pointed out, is due to the highly-controlled governance of the Chinese state, its technologically sophisticated surveillance infrastructure, and highly coordinated socialmobilization; no other country can tout the same level of social mobilization as China does. Its hard-handed approach towards maintaining social cohesion and control, may be seen by others as a human rights travesty, but it has allowed China to mitigate the spread of the virus domestically. DECISIVE CRISIS MANAGEMENT AND THE LESSONS LEARNT With all that has been mentioned so far, does it still stand to reason that the WHO and China are to be blamed for the current crisis shaking much of the world? Did countries like the U.S and many others in Europe not have enough time to adequately prepare, and if they had more heads-up and more trustworthy numbers would the impact have been mitigated? Despite having news of the virus in early January, there was no caution taken to successfully mitigate its spread in the West. There have even been reports that indicated the U.S’ own military intelligence agencies had tried to raise alarms about the epidemic in China as early as November 2019, well before even China had first reported it to the WHO Reportedly, many analysts at the National Center for Medical Intelligence, a subsidiary of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, had alerted Donald Trump’s administration officials months before. When the report had finally reached the President’s attention it would then purportedly undergo weeks of vetting and analysis. So, if the U.S knew that the virus was already a severe issue then, how can it stay on its claim that the WHO and China were responsible for the severity of the US and European cases? The WHO funding cut, and the accusations laid towards China are more indicative of an internal political dispute that is being played out in the U.S. with geopolitics involved. With China having recently lifted the lockdowns on Wuhan, it has begun to re-ignite the engines of its economy. Depending on how the crisis plays out, some speculate that China may have the economic advantage to get ahead of the curve while its rivals are still in quarantine and lockdown, with their economies at a standstill. To the elites of the hegemon, this is unacceptable. 13


Exploring the Coronavirus Crisis

This perhaps also explains why President Donald Trump had expressed intentions to re-open the U.S economy in May, a prospect which many of his health advisors have deemed as overly optimistic. So perhaps the desperation of restarting the U.S economy, to rectify the surging joblessness crisis, the need to counter-balance China’s own reboot, is the main driving factor in this case. It is no secret that much of the perceived success of U.S President Donald Trump, relies heavily on the alleged economic boom that he engineered bringing the US to new heights. The Make America Great Again dream is quickly being undone by Covid-19. If the U.S were to slump even further because of the Covid-19 pandemic, this will provide more proverbial ammunition for the President’s political rivals to tear him down and threaten the future of his presidency. TO HOPE FOR A WELL GUIDED FUTURE With all that has been mentioned, laying blame for the Covid-19 on China and the WHO doesn’t hold much water, and perhaps doesn’t hold much relevance in the present situation. The crisis that has been unfolding, had begun back in January 2020, but given the spread of the virus and the impact beginning to take shape in March 2020 around the world, there was perhaps little to no time to adequately prepare. A lot of the blaming and finger pointing are exercises in political disaster control that is frankly not needed at this time. It only serves to confuse and anger, which does not benefit anyone. What is needed is strong decisive leadership and management from not just the political elites, but from local governments and community leaders. In the U.S much praise has been lauded towards Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has been regularly updating on the virus and its impact towards the citizens of New York. In Malaysia, the Health Director General Dr. Noor Hisham Abdullah has received much praise in his handling and management of the pandemic with many Malaysians looking to him for guidance. Praise needs to also be given to the local groups and front-liners whose initiatives are helping to us all ease through the crisis, as none are playing a small part in these trying times. But if the Chinese experience is to be examined and contrasted with what is going on elsewhere, the lesson to be drawn here is that perhaps it is not just the preparation of a crisis that helps mitigate its impact, but, more importantly, the management of it which determines the outcome. Rarely are we actually able to fully prepare adequately, but at this time, strong leadership, coordination and cooperation are the essential to succeeding against the virus.

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In times of peace there are politicians, but in times of crisis, the true leaders emerge.

20 April 2020

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COVID-19 CRISIS: CRIME, POVERTY AND THE NEED TO EVOLVE SOCIAL SECURITY Global inequality and injustice have been heated topics and of deep social concern throughout human history. In January 2020, OXFAM (Oxford Committee for Famine Relief), a reputable confederation of charitable organisations, declared in a widely circulated report “2,153 billionaires have more wealth than the 4.6 billion people who make up 60 percent of the planet’s population”. Debates about the statistical tools utilized by OXFAM has been widely discussed and circulated, but many of these are moot when faced with the considerable truth and challenge that there is a widening gap and disconnect between the rich, the middle class, and the poor The globally shared struggle against the Covid-19 crisis is a humbling reminder to everyone that the challenges we face in the 21st century, affect these groups in strikingly different ways, and at different levels of severity. THE HOMELESS AND THE POOR While the Movement Control Order (MCO) and city-wide lockdown have been issued in numerous countries, many on social media have been quick to denounce and openly criticize those who have not adhered to this order. In various instances this has been well justified, with people going out of their localities with poor reasons to do so, further endangering the health of the general public for what can only be described as selfish and inconsiderate reasons, and apathys towards the severe impact of the crisis at large. But what of those who do not feel they have a choice on the matter? While the order to stay home and lounge about within the comforts of one’s abode seems like a nonissue for many, the sobering reality is the unsustainable ability to stay at home for an extended period of time without earning an income. This is an unsupportable luxury for the majority, a problem more acute the poorer the economy. The most obvious group affected are those whose households are living hand to mouth, where their income is measured on a daily workload basis. This is a reality for many low wage earners in various countries now caught in a hard situation where they cannot go out to earn for their household, which must impact adversely on the well-being of their family later down the line. On this matter, Malaysia’s government has pledged a significant sum of money to help these affected groups. However, in order to assure that everything is coordinated effectively in a just manner, politicking and posturing need to be put aside in the interest of ensuring the aid provided will alleviate the crisis. To do otherwise is not only disingenuous, but will further erode trust between the people and the government, a guaranteed powder keg that will inevitably result in chaotic civil disobedience.

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It also must be noted in light of recent cases, that it is of no help to anyone when even the Civil Society Organizations are facing difficulties exercising their duties and mission to aid the poor and homeless due to the MCO. Order must be maintained through trust. Another group that has been equally disenfranchised are the many small and medium enterprises (SME) and their owners who are also seeking more financial assistance to lift them from the dire circumstances that have befallen them. Wider impacts on the economy aside, as many have already eloquently pointed out ad nauseum, many business owners and the wage earners are tied together in a relationship that is adversely impacted by the pandemic. Should business owners find themselves unable to keep their businesses afloat, then the employees will not only be facing unemployment , but they may face the difficult prospect of seeking employment again post-pandemic. Failed businesses are not easily redeemed. CRIME AND THE VICTIMS OF VIOLENCE What is an equally disconcerting topic is how the present Covid-19 crisis has purportedly marked an increase in various crimes including violent ones. Domestic abuse has especially seen a marked increase ever since the MCO was announced. As an example, in Malaysia, as of 26 March 2020, the Talian Kasih, a hotline which was introduced to provide counselling and assistance for women and children experiencing abuse and mental health problems saw a drastic mark up of over 1,800 calls to the helpline, recorded since the MCO began. This is a whopping 57 percent increase. This problem was especially noted after the fact that the Women and Family Development Ministry (KPWKM) had been criticized by various NGO groups, for initially suspending the hotline during the Movement Control Order. In the United Kingdom, similar instances in the surging of domestic abuse cases have also been recorded, with many groups appealing to the government for a “separate emergency fund for local authorities to ensure they are able to adequately house survivors of domestic abuse in appropriate locations�. Some have speculated that there might actually be a higher number of unreported cases as many would probably be far too fearful to reach out for help, as their abusers are now forced to stay within the household in close proximity to their victims. This is a particular concern for watchdogs who are disturbed that many children are also in vulnerable circumstances during the period of the MCO

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In Australia, for example, Julia Inman Grant, Australia’s e-Safety Commissioner, stated that there were 13,000 reports investigated last year alone and that she had already seen a significant spike in the past two weeks. It is to the commendable credit of individuals, organizations, and law enforcement officials who constantly monitor and respond as best they can to these issues when they do arise, but as it stands many resources have been spread thin to cover the crisis in various areas. THE NEED TO EVOLVE SOCIAL SECURITY Each of the previously highlighted issues showcase some serious faults in the safety nets of our social security structures, out of the many other numerous issues. But what more can we do immediately to help those under duress in this crisis? To be frank, nothing truly meaningful. Many of the challenges we are now recognizing are done so on hindsight and the MCO has effectively impaired many from extending a helping hand. Well-meaning intentions cannot effectively be actualized, because we need to adhere to the present order to combat the infection rates of Covid-19. All of these unintended consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic may only be truly exposed later on, but they do offer a valuable insight to the many gaps that society needs to fix so that we may be better prepared for when another crisis hits, whether it be in the near or distant future. We should emphasize on focusing nation-building towards securing more social systems that benefit the poor and marginalised communities, with protocols and procedures that ensure they are not only given the assistance to overcome the problem but to also lift them from poverty to further cushion the impact when another crisis hits. Businesses, especially SMEs which function as the backbone of developing nations will need to be given a larger degree of protection in order to ensure the survival of the wider economy, and also protect every person whose proverbial rice bowl is dependent on such economic activities as well. More funding should also be given and allocated towards civil-society groups and organizations that also provide various aspects of social security, especially those who directly deal with cases of domestic abuse and children’s welfare. For this to come to fruition, we must build a society and a governance system that recognize our many social security failings as arguably traceable back to two factors : :public apathy and corruption. This has long plagued the upper echelons of leadership in our political and social sectors and we are now seeing that the ineffectiveness of our present social security systems is due to these ailments.

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We must focus on building and strengthening our shared social security for the sake of our communities, and if we put more effort into strengthening it, we will be more able to weather the next crisis that befalls us, with nobody left in the lurch. And, with that, further heights of prosperity may be possible for everyone.

5 April 2020

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COVID-19: MISINFORMATION, EDUCATION AND THE NEED FOR CLARITY By Hassnal Noor Rashid

The recent explosion of COVID-19 cases in the South East Asian region has contributed to the globally growing pandemic that has impacted our global social order and may have many dramatic unforeseen consequences to come It has exposed the fragility of our dynamic inter-connected systems, the lack of adequate response from world leaders in an aggressively deteriorating situation, and perhaps worst of all, the apathy and ignorance of a significant segment of the global population to the severity of the pandemic. It is not necessary to re-cap here on the origins of the COVID-19 virus. Beginning in China, the virus ultimately found its’ way to West Asia, South East Asia, Australia, Europe (which has been the worst hit to date, even surpassing China is some respects) and ultimately America. The danger it presents is undisputable, especially to the most vulnerable of us. Governments have issued various controls to help contain the spread of the virus, but has had limited success. The virus infection rates still continue to rise as medical infrastructures are now being strained, with a frightening prospect that when overburdened, the death tolls will begin to rise, much like the case of Italy But why is the spread of the virus still increasing and the situation still deteriorating? A lot has to do with the continuous movement of people who are spreading the virus around and abroad, despite movement control orders that have been issued to curb and control such movements. France and the United States of America still see mass gatherings occurring. Italy before the pandemic crippled the country had a lax attitude towards the severity of the disease and disregarded the government’s advice to maintain social distancing. This is also happening in South East Asia with the recent Muslim Tabligh gathering in Malaysia, with an estimated 12, to 16 thousand people attending. This particular incident was one of the catalysts for the recent spike in Covid-19 cases in Malaysia and South East Asia. Is this incident the fault of an apathetic populace or a group that is inanely selfish as to put the lives of others at risk for their own pursuits? Not entirely. While it is true that there were many who were more adamant about attending such gatherings, rather than obeying the movement control orders out of some misplaced notion of religiosity, individualism or human rights, the truth is many were also not aware of the severity of the virus’s impact upon the larger community, because of ignorance, or having been taken in by half-truths and fiction from various sources that had spread false information and “fake news”. Information, that emphasizes the allegedly low death rates associated with of the virus; that the virus only survives in certain climates; that it is no worse than the common cold; and even the latest on how 21


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the virus can be treated with simply drinking warm water to flush out the virus from one’s system, have all contributed towards prevailing misunderstandings and misconceptions about Covid-19. This illustrates one of the greatest ironies of our times, in that social media, while it has enabled us to become more connected and informed, has also allowed for such fallacies to spread and pollute discourse and thus affect policy and decision-making. And the bureaucracy of the larger governments, slow-moving as is their nature, were not quick enough in many instances, to address the rumors and misinformation in an effective manner. By the time they acted, the virus had spread to such a degree, that lockdown and containments were the only drastic options left. Many of the falsities are still being propagated to this day with some members of the elite classes and “well-learned� members of the public still defying movement controls and arguing technicalities over the directive. Governments need to play a more dynamic role in the face of this crisis, but they also need to draw a lesson from this crisis as well, that education of the population, clear directions and communications are also important to manage a crisis such as this. Liberties are important in times of peace, but a clear leadership is needed in times of crisis. There has been a lot of slow and overly cautious response from the governments and not enough proactive decision making. People have been stricken by the disease because of all the misinformation, lack of education on the situation, and poor forms of governance in managing it. Should there be a much larger threat looming on the horizon, far worse than COVID-19, given our current handling of the crisis, it is truly doubtful we could manage the next one at all. However, with all the gloom that has been addressed, the ray of hope that can be gleaned is the willingness of so many people to stand vigilant against wrongdoings and misinformation. The dedication and proactiveness of the medical community who argue against such misinformation, while serving on the frontlines to battle the disease is commendable. The police and law enforcement personnel who are out there enforcing the movement control order putting themselves at risk to help the community retain a semblance of order also deserve our accolades. The people who continuously reach out to educate others of the disease and of the important steps to take in managing it, while calling out those who continue to disregard the severity of the situation, are also doing a commendable job. All these groups and others I have not highlighted could play a constructive role, once the crisis is over. They could help Malaysia and the world to be better, stronger and wiser.

25 March 2020. 22


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CORONAVIRUS: SANCTIONS AND SUFFERING By Chandra Muzaffar In the midst of the most horrendous crisis to confront the entire human family in recent decades, the Unite States elite, it appears, is hell-bent on perpetuating massive sanctions against certain states and affecting regime change in some of them. Sanctions cause much pain and suffering and even death on a wide scale. One would have thought that given what the global Coronavirus pandemic has wrought in the US, its elite would seek to lift sanctions it has imposed upon societies determined to protect their independence and sovereignty. By looking at three well-known victims of US sanctions, we shall show how the coronavirus crisis has helped to bring to the fore some of the issues that challenge them. Iran has been under comprehensive sanctions which have become increasingly harsh since 1980. There is no need to emphasise that it is because Iran after the Islamic Revolution of February 1979 refused to yield to US dictates and chose to champion the Palestinian cause through deeds rather than words that it found itself the target of the superpower of the day. Iran has made it very clear that though it is going through great difficulties as a result of the Coronavirus it will not accept any assistance from the US unless the US lifts the sanctions. It has however applied for financial help from the IMF which according to some sources has been blocked by the US government that exercises considerable influence over that multilateral institution. China and other countries from the European Union have come to Iran’s aid. It is significant that citizens’ organisations in Iran have extended a hand to the poorer segment of US society which is bearing the brunt of the pandemic that has now crippled the country. Cuba is yet another country under US sanctions for much longer — since 1961 — which has also reached out to the people of the US. The entire world as demonstrated year in, and year out, in the UN General Assembly —- with the exception of the US and Israel — wants the sanctions against Cuba lifted. And yet the US government arrogantly perpetuates the blockade even in the midst of the Coronavirus that has killed more than 10,000 Americans. It is worth noting that Cuba with its limited resources has done more than most other countries in trying to assist other virus stricken countries in various parts of the world. Venezuela is a third country under severe mainly US sanctions that has been forced to pay a huge price for its legitimate desire to protect its independence and sovereignty. As with Iran and Cuba, it is not just sanctions that are employed to suffocate Venezuela. There was a coup in April 2002 against then Venezuelan president, the late Hugo Chavez in order to affect a regime change which failed because of people power. Now in 2020 the adversaries of the Venezuelan people have hatched a bizarre tale of current president Nicolo Maduro’s involvement in international drug trafficking with the aim of flooding the US market with cocaine. An utterly baseless and ludicrous charge if one knows anything at all about drug routes and production centres in the region, this is the latest attempt to oust the democratically elected president in Caracas in the midst of a health pandemic. It is obvious that the US elite’s geopolitical machinations are as malicious as ever in spite of a crisis that has brought so much devastation and death to so many. It is because human suffering is so rife and rampant even in the US and the Western world that many of us are hoping the US elite will show some 23


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compassion and eliminate sanctions which have also caused so much pain and misery and loss of life to hundreds of thousands of human beings in almost every continent for decades. It is the same concern for human suffering that prompted some NGOs to call for a global ceasefire as the Coronavirus took its toll. The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Gutteres has endorsed the plea. Many governments have also supported the call but they have not translated rhetoric into action. The Coronavirus pandemic demands action. And many have acted to demonstrate global solidarity. In geopolitical terms, lifting sanctions and observing ceasefires in all the conflict zones would be convincing proof of our common humanity. They would reflect the truth of the wisdom embodied in the immortal lines of the 14th century poet Sheikh Saidi: The human race is a single being Created from one jewel If one member is struck All must feel the blow Only someone who cares for the pain of others Can truly be called human.

7 April 2020.

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AN INVASION IN THE MIDST OF A PANDEMIC By Chandra Muzaffar In the midst of a massive global pandemic that has killed tens of thousands of people and wrecked economies all over the world leaving millions jobless, some terrorists and mercenaries allegedly backed by certain governments had on 3rd May 2020 attempted to invade the independent, sovereign state of Venezuela. Organised and trained in neighbouring Colombia, they had landed on the coast of Macuto close to the Venezuelan capital of Caracas. The invasion was foiled by the Venezuelan military and police with the support of the people. Several of the invaders were killed and a couple captured. The captured, both Americans, confessed on Venezuelan TV, that their aim was not only the overthrow of the legally constituted government but also the assassination of the president, Nicholas Maduro. Though the invasion has been thwarted, the captured Americans made it clear that the ouster of the Maduro government was an on-going operation. It will be recalled that a year ago, in 2019, there was a coup attempt led by an opposition political leader which failed miserably. In April 2002, a coup against the then president, the late Hugo Chavez succeeded momentarily but the people through mass mobilisation restored Chavez to his seat of power. It was the most dramatic expression of genuine ‘people power’. Coups against leaders who are determined to preserve the independence of their nation and defend the sovereignty of their people orchestrated and engineered by the Deep State in the United States often with the connivance of their allies in the region is the sad saga of Latin American politics. A number of governments have been subjected to this manipulation over the decades. One of the most infamous was the ouster of president Salvador Allende of Chile on the 11th of September 1973. The most recent was the overthrow of the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales in November 2019. There is no need to repeat that the Cuban revolutionary, Fidel Castro, was the target of numerous such attempts during his long stewardship all of which failed spectacularly. Cuba, like Venezuela, is also the victim of all-encompassing economic sanctions initiated and imposed by the US. As a result, both economies and the people have suffered immensely. It is remarkable that in spite of the sanctions, both Cuba and Venezuela have managed to protect their people in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Indeed they have done a million times better than the nation that has punished them with sanctions which incidentally has the highest number of fatalities and infections in the world. Cuba has not only maintained a low number on both scores but has also extended generous medical assistance by way of medical personnel and equipment to numerous countries including those in Europe to enable them to fight the pandemic. In the case of Venezuela it is important to observe that as of 4th May it had only 10 deaths and 357 infections. Apart from help from Cuba, Venezuela has also benefitted from the supply of equipment and the cooperation of medical personnel from China and Russia. The success of this cooperation is one of the factors that has emboldened president Maduro to propose at the recent virtual Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) chaired by the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, that NAM help to organise the distribution of medical equipment and medicines among its member states. NAM he suggested could even set up an international 25


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humanitarian fund for this purpose — an idea first mooted by Chavez years ago. A humanitarian fund whose primary goal would be financing not only the purchase of medicines and equipment especially for NAM’s poorer members but also sponsoring doctors and nurses if the need arises. When NAM is directly involved in a concrete programme of this sort in an emergency situation, it would have a tangible role. The citizens of NAM would be able to identify with the movement. The Venezuelan proposal should be pursued until it becomes a reality. It is actual manifestations of cooperation that will bring people together in the post coronavirus era and establish the basis for a new just and compassionate global civilisation.

7th May 2020.

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COVID CRISIS: LIFTING PEOPLE By Chandra Muzaffar At this time of crisis the people are most concerned about the just and effective implementation of the 250 billion ringgit Prihatiin Economic StimulusPackage. (PESP). They would like to see the PESP benefit directly those who are most needy in our society. While Malaysia as a whole has done better than many other societies in Asia, Africa and Latin America in ensuring that development reaches the targeted groups, we have also had our share of deviations and distortions. If we had performed better than others especially in the first 19 years of Merdeka, it was partly because we had as our Deputy Prime Minister and then Prime Minister an extraordinary visionary-administrator who was totally committed to the effective implementation of people oriented policies and programmes. Tun Abdul Razak Hussein not only strengthened processes and procedures that delivered the goods to the people but also nurtured a generation of multi-ethnic civil servants imbued with knowledge and skills and a deep sense of dedication to the public good. Unfortunately, over the decades the quality of the civil service core has declined and mediocrity reigns today. This is why so soon after the launch of the PESP, allegations are emerging of wrongdoings. Aid recipients are being short changed, according to some sources. It is said that in some rural communities there is pilferage. Complaints about the wrong people benefiting from assistance programmes it is said are not being investigated by the authorities. There are also videos showing rice bags with portraits of certain political leaders emblazoned on them being distributed to the poor in certain parts of the country. In some instances, the name of the leader’s political party is also highlighted. This is crude and vulgar if it is authentic. Aid for the people even if it is funded by a certain individual or party should not be exploited for cheap publicity. The identity of the person or the organisation should not be put on display. Civil servants may not be responsible for such misdeeds but they should try to discourage such practices among politicians. They should also advise political leaders, ministers included, not to don on personal protective equipment which are in short supply in any case just for the cameras at a time like this. It is the sort of posturing that we can do without if we are serious about concentrating upon the people’s well-being. To ensure that both politicians and civil servants display good behaviour as required by the Rukunegara, the panel that has been established to oversee the implementation of the PESP should be given the necessary powers to act. It should not only look into the various programmes under the PESP but also recommend action against errant implementers. This means that the panel should not just comprise politicians and civil servants from the government. At least 3 independent members should be appointed to sit on the panel. One could be a representative of a small and medium enterprise (SME) outfit who can speak with authority on behalf of his/her constituency; the second could be a representative of the Malaysian Medical Council (MMC) since the current crisis has a strong health dimension; and the third could be the leader of some respected 27


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consumer body. Since the three proposed representatives will be in a panel overseeing implementation of the PSEP they can alert the government to problems at the outset itself. More important, the panel should present a preliminary report on issues of implementation to parliament when it convenes on the 18th of May 2020. It should be a ‘no holds barred’ report revealing all the challenges faced by the government in two months of the PSEP’s implementation. Both sides of the Dewan Rakyat should contribute towards finding solutions. It could well be the beginning of the process of the government and the opposition working together for the larger good of the nation in the midst of one of the most complex national emergencies we have had to face in our 62 year history.

1st of April 2020.

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THE EVOLUTION OF ZOOM AS A COMMUNICATION PLATFORM DURING THE PANDEMIC: AT A RATE OF KNOTS By Jaspal Kaur Sadhu Singh Readers may be familiar with the idiom “at a rate of knots”. This aptly describes the pace in which a video conferencing platform evolved into a vital tool of expression,communication, and to China, a tool for dissidence and assembly. When we have truly emerged victorious in managing the pandemic and when we have reverted to the “old” normal, if ever such a time will ensue, we will reminisce about the pandemic as the ubiquitous age of Zoom. As I write this, a new ailment has been discovered – Zoom fatigue, and in the context of platform governance – Zoom censorship, since in a manner of speaking, Zoom’s evolution from a video conferencing platform into a lifeline for the continued survival of businesses, educational institutions, and communities during the pandemic has been phenomenal. With an astronomical spike in users and its domination as a video-chat app, the effusiveness turned to disdain when Zoom blocked three accounts of activists in the US and Hong Kong on the back of requests made by China. The accunts were to facilitate the commemoration of the 4th June 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown anniversary. Although the accounts were restored, the action on the part of Zoom did not go unnoticed. With claims that it was merely complying with local laws, the move has highlighted the struggle between communication platforms and governments in balancing countervailing interests of free speech and state control of opposing voices. Zoom rather swiftly paid the price of growing into a global communication giant beyond its familiar experience of being merely a video conferencing platform by transforming into a medium for assembly and speech. To ensure that it continues to respect national laws, it introduced a blocking feature based on geographical location. China and tyrannical states will be pleased to hear this news in order to silence dissent, discourse and assembly. It is undeniable, as Zoom itself claims, that it is not in the business of changing national laws of states that oppose free speech. Whilst Zoom may take its comforts where it can, it cannot ignore the fact that this will not be the first time it will have to decide which government it will submit to and in response, the stentorian vitriol it will attract for doing so. The latter resulted in Zoom dovetailing, aligning itself with the position taken by other communication platforms to pause the processing of data requests for user information made by the Hong Kong SAR following the enactment and implementation of the controversial security law in July 2020, claiming that it “supports the free and open exchange of thoughts and ideas”. In comparison to other platforms, particularly social media and messaging platforms owned by tech giants such as Google, Microsoft and Facebook, Zoom is a neophyte to platform governance. Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp and other content platforms has evidenced the rise of these communication platforms acting as tools for freedoms, representing the Fifth Estate, and acting as platforms for democratic discourse. This is particularly seen in terms of how citizens are engaging with each other and the world in the realm of socio-political discourse. The initial euphoria surrounding these platforms as advocates of freedom of expression and speech for individuals, communities, and civil society has been replaced with dysphoria of the hegemony these platforms possess in gatekeeping content and speech.

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The gatekeeping is as a result of a filtering and moderating process guided by internal policies known as community guidelines which have the effect of censoring information, news and commentary. In terms of internal policies imposed on users, their impact may impinge on speech and expression, and in the case of Zoom, on the assembly of people. There are instances where these policies have been enforced by platform administrators in cases of violations either as a result of moderation or reports from other users. In a sense, the exercise of enforcement of these guidelines creates bottlenecks and choke-points for the dissemination of information, expression, and speech. The arduous task facing administrators when moderating content and users’ activities is further exacerbated when they have to take cognizance of competing interests of speakers and the global community – a rather complex situation which cuts across differing value systems, cultures, laws and the added pressure from governments for these platforms to accommodate their requests. Community standards or guidelines that form part of the terms of use of these platforms are rationalised on the grounds that a degree of accountability and responsibility is imposed on users to uphold a set of values determined by the said platforms to preserve a degree of civility by a process that involves other users reporting violations, moderation by the administrators of the platforms, and possible action of suspension or blocking of accounts. The additional dimension of this accountability and responsibility to the “requests” of governments appear to be an equally worrying situation when communication platforms are seen as pandering to states. Whilst commentators may argue that the use of these guidelines has resulted in a plethora of incidents which appear to result in a form of unilateral censorship, there is no denying the fact that balancing the interests of governments, citizens, free speech advocates, and Internet content providers would present a challenging and complex conundrum. Whilst communication platforms face a herculean task, these platforms expect their actions to come under global scrutiny. Facebook, for instance, has been held accountable in recent years for allowing misinformation to flourish on its platform and has had to face constant scrutiny on the effectiveness of its algorithms in filtering and controlling misinformation. A recent ad boycott of Facebook for failing to combat hate speech demonstrates the constant pressure that communication platforms are confronted with and are held to account by an extremely high standard of answerability. This type of backlash on indiscretions results in continued tweaks of policies and community guidelines. The gestation of communication platforms from providers of space for socialising and networking to tools of speech and assembly have resulted in their transformation into “guardians” of speech with the enhanced role as gatekeepers. To ensure a healthy marketplace of ideas and a functioning public sphere, these platforms are mindful that their evolved role as the Fifth Estate is not to be taken lightly and that the exercise of balancing opposing interests is a delicate one. As Zoom accedes to the altar of the great tech-giants that control communication platforms who made exorbitant profits at the back of the pandemic, it will learn that its rise at the rate of knots will see its unpredictable metamorphosis from a tool to convene meetings to its progeny as a space for assembly of 30


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causes that may not ingratiate tyrannical states. In the realm of platform governance, Zoom’s indiscretions will be unprecedented lessons for the novice.

18 August 2020

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RELIGION & REASON CAN GO HAND IN HAND/SEARCHING FOR THE HEART AND SOUL OF RELIGION By Shad Saleem Faruqi • •

Any place on earth can be a mosque and prayer is wherever there is the presence of God. The movement restriction order is preventing us from going outside but it does not prevent us from going within the recesses of our soul to discover the untapped forces within.

Religion is one of the most potent forces of human civilization. It satisfies our innermost needs and reflects our deepest yearnings. Nearly 84% of the world’s population claims adherence to some faith or the other. Whether this faith is used as a force for good or for evil is, of course, another matter. Much depends on how the adherents use or misuse their religion. Like all laws and norms, religious doctrines are capable of whatever interpretation we wish to clothe them with. The character of the interpreter often gets superimposed on the character of a religious doctrine. With the covid-19 pandemic swirling all around us, institutionalised religion is facing several challenges. First, is the issue of what is at the heart and soul of religion? Despite the covid-19 pandemic and its imperative of social distancing, some religious leaders around the world continue to emphasise rituals, mass ceremonies and gatherings. Most religious services emphasize collective worship, close contact, hand-holding, sharing communion, and touching or kissing religious objects. These practices have to be avoided till normalcy returns. It is respectfully submitted that such avoidance will not weaken religion. Most religions have teachings that profess the importance of assisting others, saving lives and not harming oneself. The Holy Qur’an tells us: “If anyone saved a life it would be as if he saved the life of the whole humanity.” The Bible says that “thou shalt not test the Lord thy God” (Mathew 4:7). This means that one should not take unnecessary risks and that “God helps those who help themselves”. In Judaism, the Talmud emphasises the preservation of human life and this takes precedence over all other commandments. It is respectfully submitted that despite the covid-19 prohibitions, there is nothing to prevent us from emphasising the spiritual part of religion, giving importance to substance over form and embracing the importance of love, compassion, tolerance, sacrifice and peace.

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I am reminded of Surah Al-Baqara 2:177 (Yusuf Ali translation): “It is not righteousness That you turn your faces towards East or West; But it is righteousness - To believe in God, And the Last Day, And the Angels, And the Book, And the Messengers; To spend of your substance, Out of love for Him, For your kin, For orphans, For the needy, For the wayfarer, For those who ask, And for the ransom of slaves; To be steadfast in prayer, And practice regular charity,; To fulfil the contracts Which ye have made…” I am reminded of the inscription on the Kamal Lazar Foundation that “All the world is a mosque”. I am reminded that Islam has no clergy and no mediators between man and God. We can in all places, in and outside the mosque, establish a connection with the divine. Any place on earth can be a mosque and prayer is wherever there is the presence of God. I am reminded of Khalil Gibran: “Is not religion all deeds and all reflections.” “Your daily life is your temple and your religion”. The movement restriction order is preventing us from going outside but it does not prevent us from going within the recesses of our soul to discover the untapped forces within. Second, the constitutional right to freedom of religion is being used as an excuse by some religious leaders and religious communities around the world to defy the government’s severe but unavoidable restraints on collective expressions of faith. In Italy, the USA, South Korea, Indonesia and India there are clear acts of defiance against Covid-19 restrictions. In the long range these foolish acts and counter productive attitudes will bring a bad name to religion. Malaysians have generally maintained a commendable discipline. But with the fasting month, the religious tradition of sharing and caring at the break of fast, nightly terawih prayers in the mosque, the celebration of Eid on 24 May and the Hajj pilgrimage from 28 July to 2 August, there is bound to be sadness and even some desperation. We must be reminded, however, that the Hajj has been suspended about forty times since the first pilgrimage in 629 CE, including for cholera outbreaks and plagues. Third, some political and religious leaders in India, Europe and the USA are exploiting the covid19 tragedy to foment hatred against racial and religious minorities. Fourth, Covid-19 is a challenge to the authority and the self-anointed eminence of religious leaders in society. The pandemic is a threat to their lucrative sources of income. Some fear that the impact of the epidemic on faiths could be similar to that of the 14th century bubonic plague on the Catholic Church in Europe.

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In the initial days of the plague, religious leaders contended that the disease was a punishment from God for people’s sins. Prayers and penance were seen as ways to protect oneself from the epidemic. But when the catastrophe continued despite all these pious exertions, people slowly started losing faith in the religious hierarchy. This culminated in one the biggest revolutions in religious history: the reformation movement in Europe. Religious leaders must, therefore, reinterpret their articles of faith, avoid resistance to civil authority, adopt a world view in which science and religion can go hand in hand and avoid fomenting religious intolerance and scapegoating of minorities, disbelievers etc. We all also have a role to play. As people of faith we should turn attention to the beautiful tapestry of doctrines, principles, and beliefs in our religion that embrace the interconnectedness of life, the importance of love, compassion, tolerance, sacrifice and peace. The youth amongst us can supply their digital know-how to build good communication during the crisis. The youth can work with the clergy to promote digital, theological discussions about the protection of human life and the need to halt gatherings and implement social-distancing guidelines. Religious leaders of all persuasions must come together over covid-19 and support government efforts to control the coronavirus. They must re-analyse religious practices and provide theological opinions on how faith practices or rituals can be adapted to meet the response of Covid-19. Religious leaders must take to the media, email and radio to conduct daily prayers and worship, mobilize individual volunteers to serve the elderly and those at risk, collaborate on charitable initiatives and serve as a reinforcement mechanism of government messaging. Religious leaders have an urgent role to oppose scapegoating of other religions and incitements to bigotry or violence. The government in turn must engage with religious leaders and religious organisations and must not ignore the factor of religion in its handling of Covid-19. Involving official and unofficial religious organizations in mitigating this pandemic is important because enlightened religious leaders can rebut fatalistic understandings of the Covid-19 crisis and explain to the community what must be done from a religious perspective.

28th September 2020

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A SUPERPOWER IN CHAOS By Chandra Muzaffar Minneapolis could not have happened at a worse time for the US elites. While violence perpetrated against African Americans by White police officers has happened a number of times before, its occurrence right in the midst of a huge health emergency that has already claimed more than a 100,000 lives and a related massive economic disaster that has robbed 30 million people of their jobs, is truly unprecedented. The mayhem and chaos accompanying the violence have spread to a number of other cities right across the United States of America. What has sparked outrage among thousands of Americans (and not just those of African descent) was the way in which an unarmed Black civilian, George Floyd, suspected of using a counterfeit banknote was killed by a White police officer. The officer had pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for 5 to 9 minutes forcing him to plead that he could not breathe until he went silent and limp. The officer has now been charged with third degree murder though a lot of the protesters are demanding that three other police personnel who were with him at the time of the incident should also be punished. If there is a lot of anger among thinking, caring Americans about the Floyd incident, it is mainly because they know that discrimination against African Americans is still pervasive and is a manifestation of the larger marginalisation of the community. True, through education there has been some mobility for groups within this minority especially in the decades following the civil rights movement but large segments remain trapped at the bottom of the heap. The current economic devastation has underscored the vulnerability of these segments just as the coronavirus pandemic has also revealed how the poor and disadvantaged in the US and elsewhere are more likely to be the victims of the scourge than others. That the US is not really able to protect the well-being of the poorer and weaker segments of society is obvious when we look at the situation of yet another minority, the Hispanics. In the last few decades their economic and social burdens have been exacerbated by an irrational fear of their alleged demographic challenge to the White majority. This fear was exploited successfully by candidate Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election as it will be manipulated again in the forthcoming November 2020 election through issues such as building a wall to protect the US’s southern border. There is a third minority, better positioned than the first two, which is also the object of racist attacks from time to time. Broadly classified informally as ‘Asians,’ they are often equated with Americans of Chinese origin. Since the coronavirus crisis and president Trump’s attempt to pin the blame upon China, the harassment of Chinese and Chinese looking Americans has escalated. Indeed, verbal and even physical abuse of members of the community has been going on for a while given the constant negative targeting of China by some US elites on a variety of issues ranging from trade and technology to alleged human rights violations and suppression of minorities. Though independent research has shown that there is a great deal of distortion and exaggeration in these allegations, they appear to have impacted upon ordinary Americans through community and social media. 35


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Why China is subjected to such vile treatment, it is not difficult to understand. The US elites and a section of the media see the ascendancy of China as a challenge to US dominance and control of the planet, or US hegemony, and are therefore determined to tarnish and subvert China. Other countries which are independent-minded and unwilling to submit meekly to US power are also often targeted. Sometimes, prejudice against a particular religion or specific ethnic communities — this is true of the prevailing attitude of certain segments of American society towards Islam and Muslims — tends to warp inter-community relations. The US pursuit of global hegemony has affected adversely the rights and interests of millions of Americans in a number of ways. By spending so much on the military — in 2019 it was 732 billion US dollars — and maintaining some 800 military bases encircling the world, the US has sacrificed the essential needs of its people such as well-equipped hospitals and schools. Gross neglect of the economic and social rights of the people has emerged as a tragic reality for everyone to witness when the nation is confronted by a twin health and economic crisis of gigantic proportions. Indeed, given its wealth, the US failure to enhance the rights of millions of its citizens including the underclass within the White majority is simply criminal. In the domestic arena, as in international politics, it is the height of hypocrisy of the US political elite to present itself as a champion of human rights and democratic rule. In fact, on a number of occasions in international politics —- Iran 1953; Chile 1973; Palestine 2006; and Egypt 2013 —– the elite had directly and obliquely participated in the suppression of democratic principles. Today, through the two crises that have overwhelmed the superpower and the righteous anger vented in the streets of the nation by ordinary citizens of all shades —- anger that stems from centuries of contempt and scorn heaped upon a people —- the truth about the elites’ lack of respect for human rights and human dignity is exposed for all to see. Will this lead to some sincere soul-searching especially among young Americans?

31st May 2020.

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SOCIAL PROTESTING PRE AND POST COVID-19

By Elma Berisha ‘Global Protest Wave of 2019’, is a term used to describe the unprecedented global phenomenon of prolonged anti-government mass protests occurring throughout 2019. From start to the end of “the year of street protests”, more than 60% of countries across the globe saw millions of people taking to the streets. On the surface, protests were about causes as widely diverse as the vast number of countries involved. Then the Covid-19 outbreak hit, which was first reported in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. As the Covid-19 virus spread across borders in early 2020, for a while, it seemed like the squares and streets had been deserted of anti-government protesters. In response to the coronavirus emergency crisis, most countries forced their populations into major lockdowns. Dramatic measures have ensued, among them closing borders, imposing curfews and travel restrictions, closing down public spaces and banning any social gatherings, including street protests. Hence, the immediate effect of Covid-19 was to quell the 2019 civil mobilization storm across the globe. More than nine months into the crisis, Covid-19 does not seem to have ended the ‘age of the mass protests’, quite the contrary. Pre Covid-19: The global tide of mass protesting Social unrest during 2019, from peaceful marches and minor skirmishes to violent clashes with the police, peaked not only in terms of scope and intensity, but also for its crowning achievements. Reminiscent of the Arab spring in the early 2010s, several old-timer heads of states were removed, most notably Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algeria, Omar al-Bashir in Sudan and Saad Hariri in Lebanon. Driven by decades-old, unbearable socio-economic grievances and rampant corruption among the political leadership, these grassroots movements seemed unstoppable. The rising cost of living and a sense of being shut out of country’s economy have been among key underlying factors. A proposal to tax WhatsApp calls on the part of the Lebanese government sparked mass protests that in many ways have not been subdued. In numerous cases, the rise of prices for basic public services such as utilities, or lack of it due to governments’ state of bankruptcy or negligence, played a role in triggering protests. Popular protests were reignited in Egypt and in October 2019 street protests re-emerged in Syria. In the age of social media, with increased visibility access and the instantaneous information sharing, the protesters seem to inspire each other from one corner of the world to another. The prodemocracy demonstrations in Hong Kong acted in solidarity and support with the Catalonian protesters, exchanging messages of courage and tactics of resistance. Major protests took place in countries including the UK, Italy, Germany, Austria, New Zealand and more. Nationwide uprisings mark 2019 for France, with the Yellow Vest movement continuing to protest against Macron’s controversial pension scheme. Across the board, an overlap of protest reasons enlisted rallies against austerity programs and the demand for political freedom from direct and indirect political repression. In addition, concerns over eroded democracy via technology interference have played its role. At one point in October 2019, up to one million people took to London’s streets, according to organizers of the “People’s Vote march”, to demand a “final say” on Brexit. 37


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2019 was also the year of the ‘climate strike’. Millions of people took to the streets around the world, demanding that world leaders address the threat of climate change by taking concrete action. Some of the first marches began in Australia, and then spread westward to Asia and across Europe. What was unique about these protests was the youth climate strikers led by the 16-year-old Greta Thunberg who captivated the world’s attention, as well as, the eleventh hour sense of urgency to address the imminent threat of global warming. These September protests were likely the largest climate strikes in world history. Needless to say, these were not merely an impressive series of synchronised marches driven by youthful idealism. The year had already been marked with some of the most extreme climate change related events. July 2019 is reported to have been Earth’s all-time hottest month in recorded history, bringing two extraordinary heat waves to Europe. Australia suffered its hottest year on record in 2019, creating some of the most apocalyptic fires ever seen locally and beyond. Meanwhile, the world stood in shock witnessing the burning of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil and the nearby forests in bordering Bolivia. Similar apocalyptic fire bursts were faced in California. The emergency pollution in Mumbai, the outlandish flooding in Venice and in Jakarta, the deadly landslides, hurricanes, typhoons, cyclones, and the list of extreme climate change related events in 2019 went on, leaving thousands of people stranded. The heavy monsoon rains caused devastating flooding to India, marking it as Earth’s deadliest weather-related disaster of 2019. Echoing in unison, the message of climate strikers blamed governments as having failed to take timely and weighty measures to tackle the climate change. The political leadership has let the people down. Some have seen this as symptomatic of a broader and deeper crisis of leadership at both global and country level. It reflects an ever intensifying trust deficit on political elites and feeling of resentment on how they are handling vital issues faced by societies today. A sense of detachment between selfabsorbed and negligent leadership and the pressing concerns of the masses prevail, be it at climate front, political, socio-economic or cultural. This sceptical attitude of the masses towards political elites has also manifested itself in the widespread discontent of how governments are handling the Covid-19 crisis. In any event, voices have been heard accusing the governments of not giving the true number of cases during the initial weeks of the pandemic. In countries where the reported numbers were relatively high, the people were adamant that the government was exaggerating the statistics, to leverage for whatever imagined political reason. In countries where the reported numbers were relatively low, the people were adamant that the government is covering up the dire situation. In this vein, the Covid-19 crisis has expanded the dropdown list of reasons to street protesting, ranging from deeply serious social grievances to populist, ridiculous ones. The twists and turns of pandemic protesting For a significant period of time, the global economic affairs have been operating in bad faith. In this sense, the global economy was already heading to a recession even before the Covid-19 crisis hit. To many, the pandemic crisis has only widened the inequality cracks in the system, putting a magnifying glass on socio-economic inequality and governance failures. And to some, the sentiment is that Covid-19 has validated the case of the 2019 tide of protests. The crisis has highlighted the need for more government investment in vital public services and healthcare systems, to reform them by eliminating corrupt practices and be made more efficient, reinforcing the protesters’ case for the need for reforms. 38


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Moreover, the pandemic has incurred significant financial costs and losses to individuals and businesses across the board at a societal and global level. Lockdown orders and widespread business closures have thrown millions of people out of work, swelling the ranks of the unemployed. This has contributed to impoverishing further middle classes and pushing the working poor and borderline poor further to the existential edge. The crisis has brought into the limelight the vulnerability of large swathes of informal workforce without social security of any sort. Lacking savings and health insurance, these workers need to keep their daily jobs to make ends meet month-to-month. Countless people do not have the option of working from home via Zoom. Hence, with Covid-19, there has been new waves of mass protests against top-down imposed restrictions. “We Want to Work” and “End the Lockdown” read signs that some of the recent protesters display. As the pandemic reality sank in, protesters complied with physical distancing measures and began to make much of their statements through altered face mask looks and messages. The Black Lives Matter protests have been going on for more than 70 days across the cities in US since the May death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis. This tragic event sparked another iconic wave of global protests across the world. It spread with such speed and vengeance, almost rendering the pandemic crisis into oblivion for a while. Early June, as tens of thousands marched to demonstrate against racism, authorities warned of a surge of another wave of COVID-19 infections in the following weeks stirred by protesting crowds. Antiracist protests were held in London and cities across Britain, as well as Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, Sydney, Auckland and elsewhere. The rallying was consciousness-shattering when it comes to revealing the reality of racial discrimination plight, highlighting the deep social divide and the institutionalised racism. The rallying was almost earth-shattering for in the weeks that followed considerable number of statues of slave trader and colonial figures fell to the ground at the feet of protesters. Since then, the demands for racial equality have become louder, amplified by social media and millions of people in lockdown, observing the event. Given the interim ebbing of pandemic waves, and indeed, despite of it, countries are seeing growing protests against the governments for its handling of the pandemic. Protesters do tend to go on defying the imposed coronavirus related SOPs. In western societies the motivating factors are rebellion against top-down imposed restrictions. Mask-wearing and tightening of other coronavirus prevention measures is seen as infringement on citizens’ individual liberties. As more societies adopt mandatory mask orders, supporters of an ‘anti-mask’ rally find the luxury to question official narratives of pandemic crisis and its realities. Rallies against imposed restrictions in direct breach of rules are held across Europe, the Americas and Australia. Of course, some of these libertarian concerns are amplified by conspiracy theories pointing to ‘mind control’, ‘sanitary dictatorship’, “vaccination fascism” and more, implying that the virus is just another ‘political stunt’ of the global elite and that the virus is in fact harmless. Across the board, while all protests are equally discontent with governments’ handling of the crisis, the discontent is directed towards opposing ends of the spectrum. In the US, the ongoing protests reflect the divided public opinion on school opening as the infection rates are climbing across the country. Parallel rallies, both pro opening of the schools in September, and against opening of the schools are organized. In some countries protesters call for looser measures, in others they call for tighter measures. In Sweden, for instance, people have come out to express dissatisfaction at their government’s failure to 39


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impose stricter measures. The level of desperation venting has reached such heights that, in some places, it is unclear what the protesters’ dissatisfaction is about, or what are the protesters demanding of the government to implement: start a complete lockdown or end an ongoing one? The pandemic has proven to be a fertile ground for populism. In some countries, the coronavirus conspiracy theories may have closed the gap between far-right populists and the left-wingers, as it has fuelled common fears of top-down imposed measures and increased social control. Hate mongering against elites, immigrants, minorities, and against any ‘others’ at all, both vaguely and bluntly-defined, is now being re-cast in terms of all sorts of coronavirus conspiracies. One could say that, populism is some sort of inverse quixotism, in the sense that, the challenges faced in this day and age are objective and real (the pandemic, climate change, rising inequality, ‘secular stagnation’, democratic deficit, rampant corruption, religious extremism, etc.), but populism seeks to fix them through self-aggrandising collective illusions (all sorts of mushrooming supremacist grand narratives and taglines), and discursive constructing of antagonistic ‘others’. The leadership often goes with the populist flow as and when it suits their political expediency. In this scheme of us versus them, the corrupt and lethargic elites and lack of global leadership is both cause and effect of a crisis made worse. It is therefore high time to act for those who reject both the realities of institutionalised discriminations and populisms as a means to solve any of the problems in vogue. Contrary to self-entitled claims, populists are not the people. The people are not the populists, neither are the elites, although they encompass both. The latter are the fringe of reality of the people. Both the elitists and the populists are part of the problem, not part of the solution. The people are the defining reality and they have the power to define the course of events in a more rational, inclusive and progressive way, in order to pragmatically mitigate and resolve the problems we confront. Undoubtedly and fortunately, the majority of the protesters during and before the pandemic fall on this side of the fence.

5 September 2020 .

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2020: CORONA IN AN AGE OF TRANSITION By Junaid S. Ahmad It is obvious that the coronavirus pandemic will be front-page news for a good part of 2020. And for good reason, since its human toll and social dislocation has been devastating. Though not theorized in this way, this crisis can also be understood as yet another significant marker of our ‘Age of Transition.’ The world system of the past five hundred years plus, one of epistemic racistsexist-colonial-capitalist Western hegemony, has been undergoing profound tectonic shifts that have reduced the ‘White Man’ – as a Fanonian political category – to a drunkard unable to stand up straight anymore. In other words, the limits of the existing colonial planetary political economy have been reached, and now we are just buying time to manage a neoliberal casino capitalist militarism producing destruction and mayhem in all corners of the globe. There are indeed three nodes of these global ruptures that will map out the direction of the world ahead. It is instructive to clearly identify them, so we know the beast that we are dealing with. The first is the very obvious decline in American power. Years ago, analysts would laugh at such a thought. The Cold War had been won by the US and the ‘end of history’ had ushered in the unipolar kingdom of America. Since that time, the promised ‘peace dividend’ has of course been a fraud, since Washington has literally been engaged in nonstop war in all areas of the planet, especially West Asia, during this time. Though it’s hard to see if the most powerful military machine in the history of humankind has been able to obtain a single definitive victory during this time. On the contrary, since the declared ‘war on terror,’ we’ve seen more or less the opposite occur, wars dragging on forever and costing millions of ‘less-worthy’ lives and trillions of dollars. The emergence of the US now as the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic may indeed seem like a dramatic cause of the rapid decline of its economic and political muscle. But that would be a mistaken view. What this pandemic’s impact on America has exposed so nakedly are the weaknesses of an empire in decline for quite a while now. In fact, this precipitous turn toward the dark side has come much sooner than many of us thought. The scandals and obscenities of the sundry aspects of American society that its rulers have tried to conceal all these decades, the country’s broken health care system, its obscene inequality and utter indifference to the lives ordinary working Americans, its century of both state and private propaganda and policies that have ripped apart social solidarity in times of crises, its ‘American exceptionalism’ allowing its plundering elites to deflect blame for all of the country’s problems on non-white people and other countries that can be invaded and bombed at a minute’s notice – this is That is now glaringly being revealed to Americans on a scale that they have not experienced before. As opposed to the assessment of most analysts, I take the view of the most influential social scientist of the last half century, the late Immanuel Wallerstein, that American imperial decline started to begin in the 1970s when a rapidly reconstructed Germany-based Europe and a Japan-based East Asia became serious competitors to US economic hegemony. Facing this crisis of ‘profitability,’ the ruling elites began 41


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dismantling Keynesian welfare states and instituted the neoliberal ideological-economic project to restore the class power of the financial aristocracy. Their profits in the financialization of the economy may have continued and expanded, but American productivity slowed down enormously as the wages and wellbeing of ordinary Americans suffered year-after-year from that point on. It was precisely the realization of this economic decline over decades that had led to a variety of strategies by various factions of the American ruling elite. The neocon faction and its ‘chicken hawk’ civilian officials, especially in the Bush Jr. administration, felt that this economic decline could be reversed by reliance on the area in which the US remained utterly dominant: its military prowess. 9/11 offered the opportunity, and the plan was the reorder the Middle East (and the world) via the ‘shock doctrine’ and ‘disaster capitalism,’ as Naomi Klein puts it, so that Uncle Sam’s hegemony is smoothly restored. Things didn’t exactly turn out that way. Rather, we saw the acceleration of imperial misadventures and decline. And this is not unusual for ‘wounded tiger’ empires: they try desperately in their last gasps to demonstrate their ability to flex muscle, but the outcome tends to be humiliation and displaying for all to see, as the saying goes, that the emperor has no clothes. The Obama-esque faction of the American ruling elite also understands that the world has changed, that the US can no longer bludgeon everyone into submission the way it used to be able to. Though this faction also wants to halt or slow down the imperial decline, it also recognizes that may be nearly impossible at this point of growing multipolarity, especially the rise of China, a resurgent Russia, and other formidable countries like Turkey and Pakistan not being so predictable in their obedience anymore like the good old days of the Cold War. For them, at some point, it may just be a matter of providing a soft landing for the imperial war machine rather than the crash landing that the neocon hawks seem hellbent on pursuing. Since the turn of this century, we can see three events that signify precisely the final stage of both American supremacy, as well as coinciding with Western hegemony of the world system in general. 9/11, the disastrous war on Iraq in 2003, and now culminating in the supposedly richest, most advanced country in the world unable to cope with a virus – all of these point to the final death knells of the American empire. That doesn’t imply the reduction of American violence, both externally and increasingly internally. Ultimately, colonial and neo-colonial violence abroad always comes back home in one shape or the other. But it does mean that Uncle Sam’s hundreds of satraps, quisling and client regimes won’t be so keen to do its dirty work for it as they’ve done in the past. The second most evident node of the global rupture of the world system is the replacement of a single hegemon, the United States, by a world that looks like it will be without one for a very long time. That is, multipolarity seems to be on the horizon for decades to come, since powers like China, Russia, Turkey, Pakistan, and so on – don’t seem like they will be bullied around too easily anymore by the US or any Western power. An important point here is that this is not only a ‘de-centering of the West’ in political, economic, and political terms, but also in epistemological terms. That is, the shifting balance of power in the global system has already began the process of permitting the recovery of creative and alternative knowledge systems and paradigms of development and the ‘good life’ in contrast to five hundred years of Eurocentric colonial modernity, a civilizational project (of death) that went from “Christianize or we 42


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kill you,” to “civilize or we kill you, to “develop or we kill you,” to “democratize or we kill you” – and so on. With multipolar global system of nation-states and the collapse of a single hegemon, the third node of this systemic rupture will perhaps be the most important. While multipolarity can halt the excesses of imperial interventionism and militarism, which is not a small achievement, it certainly does not automatically translate into a more equitable global order for the social majorities of the planet. 2020 is a pivotal year in the struggle to define and shape the world to come. All of the multiple cascading political, economic, moral-spiritual, and, most importantly, ecological crises have been made so starkly visible by a single virus. What we have been witnessing, and will continue to do so, is intense pressure by elites to maximize state ‘socialist’ rescue of themselves from this crisis. That should lay bare what we are up against. What emerges from 2020 is entirely unpredictable. All of the objective factors are in front of us, including elite ruthlessness, scandalous inequality and apathy to the lives and deaths of ordinary working people. The Age of Transition had begun before 2020, but this year marks its definitive historical trajectory and direction. The world system as we know it is coming to an end, and the decentering of the West is certainly a positive aspect of it. But the bifurcation of the world system, as Wallerstein pointed out, can lead to one of two directions. The new world order can be worse than the previous one, more unequal and authoritarian. Or, if we take seriously the emancipatory ethos from both our prophetic religious and secular philosophical traditions, we can struggle to make it a relatively more just and egalitarian one.

21st April 2020

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POST CORONAVIRUS WORLD: COULD WE EXPECT A BETTER DOMAIN? By Abdullah Al-Ahsan The coronavirus pandemic is not over yet and anyone hardly knows when and how it will end, but many observers of international affairs are already expressing their views on the subject. The current situation is very worrisome and everyone wants to get out of it as soon as possible. Therefore, most professionals feel the impulse to participate in this discussion. Although there is a consensus that the world will be different in post-coronavirus atmosphere, there are sharp disagreements on the nature of those states of affairs. “Global trade will partly recover, but more of it will be managed by governments rather than markets,” says Richard Haas, president of the Council of Foreign Relations. He also believes that, “Civil liberties will be treated by many as a casualty of war,” and “Ideally, the crisis would bring renewed commitment to building a more robust international order.” Stephen Walt, a Harvard academic, thinks that since the 1918 “influenza did not change the big power rivalry;” this pandemic too will “strengthen the state and reinforce nationalism.” Another establishment strongman Henry Kissinger, a former US national security adviser who is famously reported to have said, “Depopulation should be the highest priority of US foreign policy towards the Third World,” believes that, “The Coronavirus Pandemic Will Forever Alter the World Order.” On the political front the French President Macron has said, “Many things that we thought were impossible are happening.” So, what should we expect in the post coronavirus world? “The day after when we have won, it will not be a return to the day before, we will be stronger morally,” Macron claimed. Really? Wouldn’t it be foolish to believe that one will come out strong when one does not even know what is happening? We need to examine possible scenarios in post-coronavirus world. Honestly, since no one knows when this pandemic will end and how it will end, it is almost impossible to expect what to expect at the end of the tunnel. Yet ignoring such enterprise will not serve the purpose of studying history. Such studies, however in our view, one should take in a broader perspective of history. Parallels in History The closest parallel to the current pandemic, in our view, are the 14th century Black Death and 6th the century Justinian Plague. Referring to an earlier similar world crisis, one history textbook – Worlds Together Worlds Apart – records, “people who had enjoyed prosperity and good government for centuries now lived in utter disbelief that the world had been turned upside down and that the wicked triumphed over the virtuous.” Interestingly, both the Justinian Plague and the Black Death, according to historians, originated in China, and resulted in millions of death all over the world. The first lesson that one derives from these two experiences is that it will be a mistake to expect that the crisis will be over in weeks or months. Some of the earlier epidemics lasted for years with aftershocks for decades and sometimes even close to a century! One of the aftershocks the current pandemic is already happening – the economic depression. Literally millions are lining up for unemployment benefit. It may soon lead to a food crisis. Economic depressions following pandemics are not new phenomena, however. We know very little about developments following the Justinian Plague, but historians generally hold the view that the Black Death “actually created opportunities for Europe’s poorest people.” According to one author “The end of feudalism, opportunities for entrepreneurs, and the rise of the middle class all occurred in 44


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the wake of the Black Death.” Therefore, if we are interested in learning from history, then we must try to empower the poor and the middle class. Are the rescue packages that are being declared by various governments directed toward empowering the poor or like 2008, these are only attempts to save large corporations? I am sure; the current lockdown has provided us with the opportunity to contemplate. One Forbes article claims that, “As the ripple of COVID-19 careens around the globe, it’s forcing humankind to innovate and change the way we work and live.” The articles makes nine future predictions – all technical – none philosophical or even structural. Will we learn from the Black Death experience? As noted above, our intellectual and political leaders would like to see stronger nationalist governments in post coronavirus world, but isn’t our current situation very similar to pre-14th century Europe? Aren’t certain elites manipulating both authoritarian and democratic regimes? Aren’t states trying to out-smart one another? In this connection, what comes to my mind is the story of Israeli spy agencies stealing coronavirus testing kits destined for another nation. Last March Israeli Mossad was reported to have “obtained coronavirus testing kits for the country,” for which the spy agency received messages of appreciation both from the Prime Minister’s office and from the director general of Health Ministry for acquiring “required and vital equipment from abroad to help with the coronavirus crisis.” Israeli media also reported that, “the Mossad haul included 100,000 kits procured from Gulf Arab states that do not formally recognise Israel but which have pursued low-level coordination on regional security challenges such as Iran.” The implication is that, since the country for which the goods were destined doesn’t recognize Israel, Israel had every right to “acquire” the equipment. I fail to understand how this conduct is any different from those of pre-14th century European feudal lords. Are we more Civilized than pre-Renaissance Europe? We ask this question because scholars have observed progress of Western civilization differently. While sociologist Robert Nisbet in his 1980 publication has expressed skepticism regarding Western progress, cognitive psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker in his Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress (2018) claimed that “the Enlightenment, science, reason, humanism, and progress, keep improving our world until today, making it a better place day by day.” Are we really making progress based on reason, science and humanism? On the eve of the last New Year’s Day, Pinker further supported his thesis with some statistical information that, “Though civil wars persist, the overall rate of deaths in wars of all kinds plunged a hundredfold between 1950 and 2005, from 22 per 100,000 people per year to 0.2. After rising to 1.5 in 2014 during the horrific Syrian civil war, it halved to 0.7 in 2018.” However, I fail to understand how Pinker could ignore almost half a million dead and millions more wounded and displaced in Afghanistan and Iraq during the early years of 2000s. Even if one considers these numbers simply as collateral damage, how can one disregard abusive behavior that came with this? However, on human casualties Pinker has a cautious remark – “pandemics that could hop continents and cyber-sabotage that could bring down the internet” in 2020s, but “safeguards for such possibilities have worked so far, which “must be strengthened.” Will the strengthening of safeguards ensure our civilizational progress? I am not sure whether Pinker would hold on to his thesis in view of the developments since the beginning of the year, could we still assert that we are still walking along the Renaissance humanism. In fact, an in-depth analysis may demonstrate that the current situation could be worse than that of pre-Renaissance Europe. 45


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We are all familiar with what nationalism brought to us during the first half of the 20th century. Witnessing developments in pre-WW1 Europe, Oswald Spengler came up with his The Decline of the West thesis. Historian Arnold Toynbee then followed the same approach, studied 26 different world civilizations, and concluded that: If there was any validity in the writer’s procedure of drawing comparisons between Hellenic history and Western, it would seem to follow that the Western society must, at any rate, be not immune from the possibility of a similar fate; and, when the writer, on passing to his wider studies, found that a clear majority of his assemblage of civilizations were already dead, he was bound to infer that death was indeed a possibility confronting every civilization, including his own. We all are aware of the failure of the League of Nations in preventing the WW2 happen. Isn’t the performance of the United Nations much worse than that of the League of Nations? Some UN member nation-states are nakedly using the concept of national sovereignty to suppress dissent voices as evidenced in the case of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Should one accept civil liberty just as a consequential casualty of reinforced nationalism when one reads reports of healthcare workers in many countries being punished only for highlighting fact that their governments were lying about providing them with adequate necessary kits for treating infected patients? Could we still call ourselves civilized! If the current situation doesn’t lead us to contemplate and looking for its causes and remedies, I don’t know what will! Why do Pandemics Happen? Contemplation on possible causes of the current pandemic! Our current knowledge of natural sciences seem to have failed the test of finding the origin of what President Macron calls “an invisible” enemy. As a student of humanities and social sciences, I am persuaded to look into history for possible clues, and interestingly I find plenty of evidences – the likes of the Justinian Plague and the Black Death in history of world civilizations. However, the question is – what does one understand from the stories of pandemics and other catastrophes in history? Were those simple natural calamities or those events might have any deeper meaning? Is there a connection between social upheavals and natural disasters? Religions generally deal with such questions and discuss ethical and philosophical matters that also involve questions about the purpose of life and human creation. The question of religion is a sensitive subject, however, for most natural and social science disciplines today. Could one venture into examining the question from perspectives of reason, science, humanism and progress? Most scholars today try to comprehend the human nature by only studying post-14th century European history. Although historians generally agree that religions permeated life in all civilizations in history, religious teachings are not generally given serious consideration when looking for causes of natural calamities. However, one should not forget that due to scant reliable sources about ancient civilizations, a great degree of misperception dominates our understanding of religion today. To complicate the subject, religion and science turned out to be opposing phenomena. George Sarton in his voluminous Introduction to the History of Science has demonstrated that until 18th century theology was a part of scientific enquiry, but in the 19th century social sciences developed different methodologies for 46


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comprehending religions from practices of followers rather than their declared ethical and philosophical standing. Today one witnesses diverse responses to the current coronavirus catastrophe. President Trump declared a day of prayers but in practice has been using the phenomenon for his political milestone. Some Buddhist, Christian, Jewish and Muslim clerics came forward with solace and recommendation of prayers and contemplation during this time of tests and explanations about how pandemics occur due to their perceived immoral practices. Some Hindus came forward with the recommendation of drinking cow urine to cure. While some have identified the pandemic simply as a divine punishment, others, mostly fervent followers, have sought miraculous cure of the disease; some faultfinders found scopes for attacking religions. According to a Bangladeshi writer when “human beings are in peril, gods flee first.” A Pakistani “scientist” has found reasons to accuse the Prime Minister Imran Khan for his alleged “denial” of Darwin’s evolution theory. In India, the Islamophobic mass media outlets have found a good reason to attack a small minority Muslim group for “spreading coronavirus” in the country. Thoughtful scholars, however, have made significant contribution in studying the subject. Based on his readings of earlier civilizations, the 14th century historian Ibn Khaldun identifies “moral decadence” or zulm as “one of the great threats to civilization,” while defining moral decadence as inequality and injustice in a broad sense. In his Muqaddimah or introduction to world history explained how ruling elite monopolize resources and deny the common people of economic opportunities that leads civilization or ‘umran to decline. The 20th century historian Arnold Toynbee is more specific. After studying world civilizations he explained “history as shaped by spiritual, forces,” and submitted that, “civilizations sank owing to the sins of nationalism, militarism, and the tyranny of a despotic minority.” Unfortunately, most policy makers and politicians today are either not familiar with pre-Renaissance history or they do not want to take so long view of history. Is the Pandemic a Divine Punishment? How does one differentiate between the explanations of researchers such as Ibn Khaldun and Arnold Toynbee and those of the Pennsylvania lawmaker, or the Israeli Rabbi or Al-Qaeda leaders? Academically it is not difficult to distinguish between the two sets of observations. However, the question is – how does one relate social upheaval with natural disasters? The Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant legitimized his “conjectural beginning of human history” with regard to the progression of the human actions related “their first beginning” with what he called “a pleasure trip sketched out in the Old Testament.” Could we also visit the Old Testament for our purpose? Prophets Amos, Isiah, Jeremiah warned their peoples against greedy wealthy moneylenders abusing and depriving small farmers of their possession and take them to bondage. The prophets, according to a history textbook, “denounced the pomp of the heartless rich and hypocrisy of the pious Jews who worshipped God in the prescribed manner but neglected their social obligations to their neighbour, and demanded justice.” One will find similar ideas in the Qur’an (107: 1-6). In fact, these teachings are common in every civilization in history. It is very difficult to establish connections between social upheaval and natural calamities. One major problem in comprehending this issue is that lay clerics try to relate every calamity with one or more 47


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perceived social evils. It is important to bear in mind that warnings are not always followed by immediate calamities and not all calamities are punishment. However, if one takes the example of above-mentioned Biblical prophets, one finds the events occurring in a span of about two and half centuries. Prophet Amos lived in the middle of the 8th century BC; prophet Jeremiah lived during the earlier part of the 6th century who witnessed siege, occupation, and destruction of Jerusalem – an action that included the rage of the temple of Solomon that continued for almost two years. Historians have not recorded all natural calamities that occurred during the period between Amos and Jeremiah but the former’s messages must be considered a warning for a major disaster. Nevertheless, our knowledge of history suggests that one should not generalize all natural calamities into one category – some have been warnings, some punishments and some might have been normal events. The Qur’an utilizes history as a source of knowledge next only to revelation: It appeals its readers to travel around the earth and learn from the experience of earlier communities and from the ruins of earlier civilizations (6: 6; 10: 13; 10: 94; 10: 102 etc.) The Qur’an insists that its followers must seek guidance from history rationally and wants its followers to find signs of the Creator’s mercy and power in the transformation of lifeless earth to flourishing civilization (36: 31-34). What does the Current Situation Indicate? If we analyze the current situation in the light of our discussion above, we should not miss the point that influential politicians and policy makers are unwilling to draw any lesson from history. President Trump is not only politicizing the pandemic, his administration is also reported to be permitting federal loan indiscriminately to large corporations. However, the most dangerous is the growth of Sino phobia in US politics. President Trump is accusing China of concealing information about the outbreak of the disease although according to an Israeli media report the “US alerted Israel, NATO to disease outbreak in China in November.” One author wrote, “The Pandemic Won’t Make China the World’s Leader.” Another has claimed that, “China, America’s most powerful rival, has played a particularly harmful role in the current crisis, which began on its soil. Still another says that, “the diplomatic, economic, and military pressure that Washington can bring to bear on Beijing will put Xi and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) he leads under enormous strain.” Is the US considering a regime change in China? We have witnessed regime changes in Iran in 1953, in Iraq in 2003 with devastating consequences. This raises a question about the objective of social science research. Should the researches be directed toward finding the truth or directed toward promoting certain interests? Is it very difficult to identify certain elites within the nation-states promoting their group interests in the name of national sovereignty? Within the last three decades, we have witnessed how the former Harvard academic Samuel P Huntington had manipulated history to promote his clash of civilizations thesis. He said, “50 percent of wars involving pairs of states of different religions between 1820 and 1929 were wars between Muslims and Christians.” Even a primary student of history knows that these wars were not religious wars; colonial interests and nationalist ideologies motivated actors of these wars. In addition, more than 50 percent of the total world population during this period was either Christian or Muslim. Is it then surprising that these actors happened to have been either Christian or Muslim? In other words, the clash of civilizations thesis seems to have been contrived to promote certain interests, but 48


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unfortunately, the thesis became the cornerstone of US foreign policy during the first couple of decades of the 21st century. If an attempt is made to achieve a regime change in China, there is a strong possibility of the current situation deteriorating to a very low level. One opinion essay has already claimed “that China is pursuing—mainly cyberwarfare techniques and antisatellite weapons.” I do not know whether Pinker even conceived of the current pandemic situation when he wrote the article, a cyber-warfare will definitely lead our world to the Stone Age. This reminds me of Pakistan’s former president Pervez Musharraf’s statement that, “The US had threatened to bomb Pakistan “back to the stone age” in ’01 unless it cooperated in the US-led war on terror.” The clash of civilizations thesis soon brought the War on Terror that resulted in millions of death, wounded and displaced. The process of demonizing the people of Palestine and Kashmir had begun almost at the same time as the establishment of the United Nations and by the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century the Uyghurs and Rohingyas joined group of deprived and dispossessed. The rest of the world hardly saw this development as discrimination and injustice against innocent people. What we can do to Restore Normalcy Our knowledge of history convinces us with certainty that normalcy will return but nobody can determine a timetable for that. Our knowledge of history of the Black Death also tells us that the postpandemic Europe witnessed opportunities for the poor. Circumstances forced economically weak feudal elites give in to demands of time: Opportunities had to be opened to the public. Could we do the same this time? The current international structure will hardly allow such opportunities for common people very easily. Policy makers are already talking about “reinforced nationalism,” but our knowledge of history suggests that such solutions will be disastrous. The pandemic may slow down or perhaps be brought under control, but that is not going to take care of the ripple effects – the financial and perhaps food crises that are going to follow. The Trump Administration’s recovery packages look so superficial – most likely, it is simply printing notes, but this will definitely backfire. Gold or similar wares – not gun power – must support currency notes. Almost all civilizations in history teaches us that religions permeated creation of trust in securing cooperation of people through ideas of divine authority. The divinely selected chiefs were entrusted with the responsibility to treat every single human being with dignity, equality and justice. If we apply this principle today for recovery from the pandemic, we must free ourselves from the control of institutions such as the World Bank, IMF, and the UN Security Council etc. We must understand that these institutions are not just mid-20th century creation: their foundations are centuries old. Behavior of the elites that control these institutions is not very different from the “heartless rich and hypocritical pious” against whom the Old Testament prophet Amos had warned. The plunder of Bengal wealth at the end of the 18th century, confiscation of the Suez Canal in the 1870s, scramble for Africa are only some known events in this regard, but the suppression of Indian cotton industry to promote British cotton industry is not widely known.

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Are we in a position to challenge the ruling elite today? My understanding of history and world affairs today tells me that, we are. The Palestinians, Kashmiris, Uyghurs, Rohingyas and perhaps many more are perhaps under are artificially locked-down, but the rest of the humanity is capable to stand against arrogance, corruption and exploitation by a tiny elite. They are capable to bringing change – not Obama type change, but real change. What is needed is to come out of the corrupt financial system. It should not be difficult to begin with low-level barter trade and establish confidence and trust based on human dignity and mutual respect. This approach will build trust among participants – a criterion that Ibn Khaldun has pointed out as necessary for a flourishing civilization. The mutual trust will demand transparency in governance and in the process; common people will find opportunities that in turn generate economic growth and prosperity. It will be a slow process but it will be more dignified, durable, participatory and respectful.

2nd May 2020

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AMERICAN HUBRIS ROBUST IN A CATACLYSMIC GLOBAL PANDEMIC By Askiah Adam Few can deny that a perfect storm is brewing and the early foundations for war are being set up by the obvious protagonists. That China has cancelled the dollar peg, in its stock exchange transactions, opting for the Chinese Yuan is an ominous sign. If this unpegging to the US dollar succeeds China will divest itself of US dollar dependence, a move implemented to escape the weaponisation of the dollar. China is, also, developing its artificial intelligence (AI) and 6G for her People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Washington, meanwhile, is fast creating an anti-China sentiment among its population, blaming China for what President Trump calls the “Wuhan virus” aka Covid-19 now afflicting the US, fast and furious, because of President Trump’s initial complacency claiming that the virus will perish as the weather warms up. But in two short weeks thousands have died and nearly a million were infected. As of 16th May 2020, there are 1.52 million confirmed cases. Of these 281,000 have recovered. Unfortunately, there have been 89,939 deaths, the world’s highest. New York has endured some nightmarish scenes of bodies left piled up because the funeral homes are not capable of meeting the spike in demand for their services. China, for her part, is saying it is a US produced virus. According to experts it is near impossible to definitively prove this allegation. The economic scenario unfolding in the United States, indicates that unemployment will hit 30 percent soon, one that is broader when compared to that of the Great Depression of the 1930s. One in three will be without a means to life and needing to be saved. Of course, there are many, unwilling to see any other than a V-shaped economic recovery, one where despite a sharp economic decline there is a quick, strong recovery. This outlook is causing many to demand an end to lockdowns. Yet prudence suggests that lifting the lockdowns without the necessary care can result in 100,000 deaths by 1st June, according to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention. A massive economic disruption is already on the way. Bankruptcies of High Street businesses are up and with it unemployment. Retrenchments and layoffs by the thousands have been announced. Airlines are suffering almost without exception and all will benefit from the US 2.2 trillion dollars rescue package but the workers are not being given the means to keep consumption healthy as China has done by giving coupons to the population. And, regrettably the economic disruption is of a global dimension. Unless the domestic economy is resuscitated there is no other way. The pivotal factor is whether an economically ravaged America, hocked to the tune of trillions of dollars, can support a peace that requires immense financial resources. The recent US$2.2 trillion rescue package is coming off the printing presses of the Federal Reserve, an act made possible because the US dollar is not held against guarantees such as gold. Some experts argue that America’s economic strength will pull the country through. But with the world oil industry going negative the petrodollar, too, is under threat. In short it would be true to say the American economy is under severe strain. That there have been suggestions by some that China must compensate America by writing off its trillion dollar debt for the Covid-19 “invasion”, while definitely embarrassing is more revealing of a weakness. The US economy is unravelling under the lockdown ordeal with small businesses coming 51


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unglued and unemployment rocketing within a fortnight of the virus’ arrival. In a nutshell, both the US’ domestic and global economy are being almost torn asunder. Further, the President is fighting for re-election. He has much to repair in the way of his public image. Nobody is even making a defence of his bungling in his initial handling of the Covid-19 virus. He had some 2 months to prepare for the viral onslaught but instead he remarked that it will go away with the heat. That he was prepared to take this risk is suspicious. Who told him this when the virus was already in the tropics and not any less virulent? Trump’s complacency parallels that of the British Prime Minister. The latter, Boris Johnson, was a victim and hospitalised. Once it became clear that Trump had erred the “blame China” strategy took a sinister angle. Taking China to court seems almost the better alternative. It preserves peace. But the global economy suffered from China’s economic shutdown caused by the Covid-19 infection. China is the world’s producer of far too many essential products. Even the global car industry was affected. And then as the world began recognising this global economic problem, the petroleum bombshell erupted. Today the price of oil per barrel has tanked. The shale oil industry is no longer supportable, dashing the US’ oil self-sufficient façade and leaving many firms bankrupt. Part of the recent trillion dollar rescue package was to bail out these companies. Boeing the aircraft producer, too, needed rescuing. The company’s 737 MAX was a dangerous lemon. And, Wall Street, too, was prioritised but not the Main Street. If this is the truth then the people will be left vulnerable. The US$2.2 trillion Covid-19 rescue package will be another quantitative easing. Printed dollars will be poured into the system by the Federal Reserve. And experts are not expecting the economy to be saved if the money is not accompanied by guidelines for its distribution as the 2008 rescue demonstrated. Unfortunately, it is looking to repeat. Furthermore, if it ends up in stock buy backs the trillions spent will not move the economy. What leaves the observer of the USA perplexed and frightened is that the movers and shakers are looking for profit-taking opportunities instead of beefing up the public health sector. Huge companies like Amazon have made billions in these few short weeks of the Coronavirus tragedy. There appears to be no real sense of national solidarity in the USA. Capitalism as a socio-cultural phenomenon remains pervasively a consumerist, profit maximisation phenomenon building a culture where the self centres the individual’s preferences. That lockdowns are viewed as an assault on the individual’s freedom is shocking when the aim is to save lives. This is the America that has been bred on crass materialism and even the Covid-19 death rate is proving unable to nurture a social culture of humane caring. An imagery made more heinous when the country’s own President is encouraging the people’s protest against lockdowns. This is today’s USA in a world facing a massive challenge. With its perpetual war policy still on-going, where regime change remains active, it is difficult to perceive of Washington as part of global solidarity. With an official psyche very much intent on hegemony and superiority, it is difficult to picture an altruistic America. It is easier to see a repeat of the Iraq invasion but China is surely no walkover in this respect, she is a nuclear power; she is ahead in 5G technology; she can communicate with the far side of 52


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the moon. China is not Iraq. But how desperate is the USA? Is she really being economically undermined by the loss of her global reserve currency position? Syria demonstrated the Russian ability to put a spanner in US military aspirations. Will this be the reality that will prevent a world war? After all even Tehran is able to get Washington to be more reticent. The missiles shot in Iraq may have not killed but it did cause damage to the mental well-being of many US soldiers. China has, too, demonstrated its military capability when in 2006, her Song-class submarine surfaced “within 5 miles of the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, apparently without being detected�. But a New York Times 21 April 2020 report says, US warships have entered disputed waters of the South China Sea.

22nd May 2020

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WRITERS PROFILE

Dr Abdullah Al-Ahsan: Dr Abdullah al-Ahsan was a professor of Political Science and International Relations at Istanbul Sehir University and before that he was professor of Comparative History in the Department of History and Civilization at the International Islamic University Malaysia. Dr Abdullah Al-Ahsan is a member of JUST.

Askiah Adam: Was a lecturer in philosophy at the Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) in Penang but moved on into policy research, broadcasting and the print media. She was a senior analyst at Malaysia’s first public policy think tank, ISIS (Malaysia), then leader writer with the New Straits Times, a columnist with The Sun, The Sunday Mail and the New Sunday Times. She started her media career at the BBC World Service in London as a broadcaster and producer. She was, too, the Head of News and Current Affairs at Malaysia’s satellite TV station, ASTRO, which she helped build as a Business Development Manager. Online, she was a contributor to The Mole. Se is a founding member of the Sisters In Islam (SIS) and today she is Executive Director of JUST.

Dr Chandra Muzaffar: Dr Chandra Muzaffar is the President of the International Movement for a JUST World (JUST). He retired as Professor of Global Studies at the Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) in 2012. He is the author or editor of 32 books mainly on Malaysian society and global politics. Among Chandra’s latest publications are A World in Crisis: Is There a Cure? and Reflections on Malaysian Unity and Other Challenges.

Elma Berisha: Elma Berisha is an independent researcher. In the past decade, Elma has worked with a wide spectrum of public institutions in Malaysia, including top universities, international organisations and professional bodies. Elma is involved with a range of industry research and case studies. She has been intensively focused in evaluation of public perceptions in Malaysia and Singapore, primarily monitoring issues of public safety, corruption and urban and urban development. Some of Elma’s publications include ‘Digital Banking: Measuring the Consumer Pulse in Malaysia’ and ‘Gen Y: Aspirations for the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC)’. Elma Berisha is a member of the JUST Executive Committee. 54


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Hassanal Noor Rashid: Hassanal Noor Rashid is the Programme Coordinator for the International Movement for a JUST World (JUST). He holds a Masters Degree in International Relations from Monash University and has written and spoken on various issues pertaining to International Relations, Geopolitics, Inter-faith Relations, Spirituality and Morality.

Dr Junaid Ahmad: Junaid S. Ahmad, J.D., Ph.D. Visiting Faculty of Islam and Decolonial Thought, School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds. He is a Senior Research Fellow at The Centre for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) -- Istanbul and Professor of Religion and Global Politics, GIFT University and Director of the Centre for Muslim World Studies -Islamabad. He is, too, Advisor on the National Security Unit of the office of the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Dr Junaid Ahmad is a member of JUST. Dr Jaspal Kaur Sadhu Singh: An academic with a predilection for treating the law as a living organism. Jaspal attempts to balance her interest in both traditional and emerging areas of law. Jaspal specialises Jaspal specialises in Law of Information and Communication Technology Law, particularly free speech and expression. Having completed her PH.D (Aberyswyth University, 2012) in the area of citizen journalism and social media, she has presented at numerous conferences regionally and internationally. Her current interest is in the area of online falsehoods, challenges and perambulating free speech and expression, and legal and ethical debates involving data governance, ethics and AI. In her capacity as a data ethicist, she has spoken at national conferences in this emerging area which intersects with her research on AI , Law and Ethics series published in the articles section of the Malayan Law Journal. Dr. Jaspal Kaur is a member of the JUST Executive Committee.

Professor Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi: Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi is a Malaysian legal scholar and professor of law at the University of Malaya, currently holding the Tunku Abdul Rahman Chair as Professor of Constitutional Law. He is, too, the occupant of the Tun Hussein Onn Chair at the Institute of International and Strategic Studies (ISIS), Kuala Lumpur. Dr. Shad Saleem Faruqi is the Vice President of JUST.

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