Two things happened in January. First, the United Kingdom left the European Union. Second, the coronavirus took grip of the world. Both these things have highlighted how racist and insular the world still is.Brexit divided the UK, with Scotland and Wales voting to stay in the EU and the majority (oddly with the exception of London, the capital) voting to leave. The situation in Northern Ireland is far more complicated and outside of my ability to analyze. Needless to say both the citizens of Northern and Eire (Southern Ireland, which remains in Europe) and the newly formed coalition Stormont Executive in Northern Island are waiting to see what the transition period (from 1 February till 31 December 2020) brings. Meantime, even here in Kathmandu there has been disagreement between expats on the Brexit deal.
What has surprised many, me included, is how anyone living voluntarily in a country which is not their own, and not being a naturalized citizen of that country, can support the division of a continent and the loss of freedom of movement (people and goods). We thought, perhaps naively, that if you are living in another country by choice— that is not being an economic migrant or having been trafficked—you are more open to inclusion and less open to racism and everything associated with it.
Oddly, in very recent years, we have also seen the world turn to egotistic, sexist and wealthy men. We have been dazzled, it would appear, by their supposed charisma and loud talk. Some of us thought, wrongly it seems, that sense and sensibility prevailed in the world. Is it the strength of social media where the loud and brash hold center court that is beguiling us? Someone said that through Hollywood we have confused real life with the screen. They questioned who would watch a film about the good guys—the Angela Merkels and Justin Trudeaus of this world. Much more entertaining are the likes of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson. Rich bad boys with a tendency to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. And, more worryingly, get away with it.
On 27 January was the 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz (the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp). We should reflect how a whole nation was mesmerized by one charismatic man to participate in or simply ignore the killing of over six million people. Here we see both the power of the alluring, compelling, captivating and powerful speaker and how the nasty worm that is xenophobia can take hold of the masses. Have we forgotten that the reason behind the EU was the ending of wars between neighbors and unification of European countries economically and politically to secure peace?
And how does China and the coronavirus fit into all this? While I fully agree with the drastic steps to take this virus under control, would airlines be so fast (two weeks) to cancel flights in and out of ‘ground zero’ if that country was, say Switzerland or France? Are decisions being made tinged with bigotry and bloody mindedness? We hear of Chinese origin people being shunned in public, regardless of whether or not they have recently been to China. We are hear of how hundreds of people are stranded on cruise ships (with coronavirus onboard) as countries shut their ports. And yet, China has huge financial and political weight. Will some countries be faced with little choice but to continue accepting Chinese tourists and goods through their borders? Even through a pandemic? Are some countries taking this too lightly while others appear over-cautious?
There are no answers here in this column but only more unasked questions. I leave you to reflect and come up with your own conclusions