Today, even as Mother Earth stands still, she is agitated. Even though life has come to a grinding halt, humankind's perseverance to survive, to endure, is being tested at each turn. Even as the world freezes with terror, does time ever freeze?
2020 the bleakest year?
January 1, 2020, had marked the beginning of a new year, a new decade, new hopes, new aspirations. With what was looked upon as a new lease of life with a ray of optimism, the tide soon turned. Today, as 2020 completes 6 months into its voyage, man has been left to ponder if it could get any worse and whether what has already passed could be a menacing marker of what's yet to come!
The 2020s started on a grueling road, you might even say frighteningly.
Ablaze since July 2019, the 1st morning of 2020 began with the traumatic, devastating news of the Australian bushfires having been fueled by record-breaking temperatures and months of severe drought.
On its path of unprecedented destruction, the fire is believed to have scorched 5.5 million hectares of land and massacred 1 billion animals with more than 100 species in need of emergency intervention in order to survive.
The fire destroyed 2,448 homes and claimed 25 lives, numbers unrivaled in the state's history. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres had at the time disturbingly said," Rising temperatures continue to melt records. Scientists tell us that ocean temperatures are now rising at the equivalent of five Hiroshima bombs a second! One million species are in near-term danger of extinction. Our planet is burning!"
Qassem Soleimani killed
In the far east when Australia was scorching, in the West, on 3rd January, U.S. President Donald Trump ordered a drone strike that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, intensifying already existing tensions between the US and Iran.
While Trump's verdict to assassinate the general has been critiqued for being miscalculated and that the US had little to gain by taking out Soleimani, the reality in fact was contradictory. Iran was already waging a shadow war with the West and its regional partners and therefore the fact that US leaders took the bolder step to protect America from Iranian mayhem, was definitely a reprieve.
At Soleimani's direction, Iran had built and supplied highly sophisticated explosive devices to militias targeting US troops in Iraq, killing 500 American service members and wounding many more.
His intervention to salvage the Syrian civil war for President Bashar al-Assad and planning the infamous campaign to retake the city of Aleppo from Syrian rebels in 2016, redefined carnage in today's modern era. The civil war had sent thousands of refugees fleeing to Europe, scrambling for their lives. Reality is often sad.
There comes a time when words fail, tough actions then become inevitable.
There came Covid
Subsequently, on January 11th, while the world was still marching into a new decade, fostering dreams, nurturing ambitions and while Chinese authorities were still scrambling to identify a mysterious virus that caused pneumonia-like illness, believed to have generated in a wet market in Wuhan, the country witnessed its first death linked to the virus. On January 13th, Thailand reported its first coronavirus case.
The virus had crossed borders and started penetrating nations outside China. On January 20th, a 35-year-old man in Washington became the first case in the US, the nation a long way from China, evidencing the swiftness with which the deadly virus was spreading, formulating plans to shroud the world, shroud mankind.
On January 25th, as the world celebrated the Chinese New Year, the year of the metal rat associated with wealth, surplus and prosperity, little did we know that the nation had just delivered a virus so lethal, an epidemic so perilous that mankind's very existence would be questioned.
While a new year marks the beginning of a new journey, unlocking opportunities, unsealing hopes and desires, China was busy sealing cities, placing citizens under quarantine. Inevitably, the WHO declared a global public health emergency.
On one hand, as the deadly coronavirus epidemic, what's now known as Covid-19 was ensuing, sluggishly snowballing into an enormous monster, a huge political movement was underway in the US.
For only the 3rdtime in history, an American president was on trial after being impeached. President Donald Trump's impeachment that had started on 18th December 2019 finally ended on February 5th, when he was found not guilty, ending the bid to remove him from office, a crusade that had bitterly divided the nation.
Prompted by a whistle-blower complaint alleging the President withheld congressionally approved aid to Ukraine in order to put pressure on President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate his political rival, Joe Biden, some called it monumental, some called it meaningless.
Mr. Trump remains in office at the moment which might also make him the first President in U.S. history to be impeached and run for re-election, and possibly even emerge a victor. What is left to see is if will the contempt that comes with an infamous designation stick?
Will Trump's approval numbers still improve? Will he survive and complete a 2nd presidential term, moving on to a post-White House career that will relegate his impeachment of a mere biographical footnote?
CAA Law and Delhi violence
Farther away in India, from February 23rd to 29th, parts of New Delhi were engulfed in merciless violence. Amidst the media and office-bearers giving it the name of communal violence, abandoned roads, streets filled with pelted stones, destroyed shops and vehicles, 53 innocent lives were lost with hundreds heavily injured.
The reason for this deep-seated abhorrence and merciless violence lay in the declaration of the CAA Law, a new law that allows undocumented migrants from neighboring countries to seek citizenship in India – except if they are Muslim. With what kicked off as a trivial discord, a 'peaceful protest' between pro-and anti-CAA protestors, later took a gory turn with misinformed youth taking the law in their own hands that gave a free rein to carnage grounded on religious sentiments.
It's the first law since India gained independence that explicitly excludes Muslims, the announcement that engendered such extensive protests. A vibrant, exultant DilwalonkiDilli soon became a ghost town, mute witness to the ferocity and slaughter that took on a communal taint.
Even as the gory pictures of utter lawlessness in New Delhi left the world aghast questioning who was to be blamed, in an unprecedented step, in the now full-fledged coronavirus epidemic, Italy declared a national lockdown after becoming the world's 2nd worst hit by the virus after China.
On April 2nd, a little over 3 months after China identified the first coronavirus case, the pandemic passed a grim milestone, infecting more than 2 million people worldwide.
As I write in the article, the Covid-19 pandemic has eradicated millions, rendered thousands homeless, unemployed, and helpless. Governments are suffering, the global economy is in the trenches, and humans are anguishing. Mankind's very legacy is being questioned.
On 25th May 2020, between the Covid-19 pandemic wreaking havoc and a horrible economic crisis clenching the world in its tight clutches, came the unwarranted news of the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody after an officer handcuffed, pinned him to the ground and kneeled on his neck in Minneapolis as he gasped for breath and begged for help.
His last heard words were, "I can't breathe!" Since then, thousands of protestors have taken to the streets of major US cities over Floyd's death, resisting appeals by mayors, strict curfews and other measures meant to curtail them.
Joe Biden who stands a chance to be the next U.S. president come January made a speech addressing the protests and riots roiling the nation on what America truly stands for and rightly admonished, "There's no place for violence" as opposed to President Donald Trump's speech that made only a passing reference to the outrage at Floyd's death.
Although for years to come, leaders and their administrations will be judged for the effectiveness of their actions taken to address threats and get their countries steering forward again, pandemics and crises provoke extreme responses.
Yet another Great Depression?
The depression of 2008-9 produced both Barack Obama's infamous Tea Party, founded amid the upsurge of populist anger over government bailouts of failing banks, insurers and auto companies following the economic meltdown. Then again, who can forget the grand depression of 1929 and the birth of Franklin D Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler? I am not saying, we are such a junction at the moment, but, one thing is certain, the world is being drastically reshaped – politically, economically, socially.
Deadly wildfires, hurricanes, extreme weather events, and climate-influenced migration and hunger in many parts of the world are now regular occurrences. Ice caps are melting, sea levels are rising, and the very survival of island nations is being threatened. Borders may be sealed and security reinforced, but, when uncertain times befall us and threaten our very existence, strangers also become friends.
6 months into 2020 and the war that is ensuing between man and nature is far from over. The pandemic has blown out of proportion, the global economy is in shambles and we are living in a historic moment.
Today, you and I stand together. We need to pull together, support one another, and in this enduring fight against a common foe, we need to keep our prejudices aside and fight together.
I leave you to introspect and think that today in the face of an unseen foe, a virus that is not even visible to the common eye, where does capitalism, socialism, and fundamentalism stand? At times such as this, aren't we left to question, if prodigious discourses from social thinkers, economists and futurists even matter?
Think, think carefully, what kind of a world would you want to leave behind for your children and grandchildren, the key to our future?