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The Post-Earthquake Village

The Post-Earthquake Village

Monday, 23 March, 2020 - 11:30
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

You wake up to find despair waiting for you. The open-ended series of deaths surpasses your tolerance level. In the morning news, you can smell the scent of funerals prepared overnight by the Kitchen of Death in Italy, Spain, Iran and elsewhere.


The numbers the phone transmits are not final. Most probably, someone died while you were checking figures of those who died in the past hours. Don’t trust a number and consider it final. Bodies are continuously joining the processions.


The feeling when you are writing about death in the midst of an open massacre, and without being able to bet on any savior of any kind, will overwhelm you with a profound sense of defeat.


You search for solace when you see the will to live expressing itself. Italians go out onto the balconies at night, playing melodies and songs as though deliberately defying the monster, who is knocking more doors and hunting those hiding fearfully behind the walls. This deep desire to challenge the serial killer haunts you, but also reminds you that, for the first time, the “global village” citizens are exposed and left to their fate. It is painful to feel that one will not be able to take shelter if the black visitor decides that the time to hunt has come. There is no point in calling anyone. Redundant phrases of encouragement will certainly not change destinies.


The “global village” was promising despite its differences and conflicts. It was overwhelmed with questions. Did we slip into the Chinese era, or are we headed towards it? What kind of America will rise if the Asian tiger pounces on everything else? Will beautiful Europe retire under the burden of age and wrinkles and the whiff of museums and memories? What about Russia, whose current master dreams of surpassing Stalin in the length of stay in the palace of seals and sentences? What about the terrible Middle East that was coughing up blood even before the pandemics broke out?


Despite the foregoing, the village looked forward to the coming days, armed with giant leaps in scientific and technological progress, and with the receding injustice in different parts of the world. Life in the “global village” was not a honeymoon. Its conflicts are real, its competitions fierce and its arsenals await opportunities to express their might and hatred. A furious race for mines, resources and markets, and a violent exchange of blows that is not deterred by graceful smiles and diplomatic agreements.


Despite the challenges, and sometimes the horrors, there was a feeling that the world was advancing and that technology was providing people with a weapon that they lacked while shaping the future of their children.


There was also anxiety. Experiences taught the people of the village that developed neighborhoods could not forever resign from the fate of the miserable communities. Selfishness of some islands is no longer sustainable. Your neighbor’s stability is a condition for your continued strength. Miserable communities are those with high rates of poverty, myths and delusions and where the past weighs heavily on their schools, books and lifestyle.


This is without forgetting failed governments, whose crimes are almost equivalent to the killings perpetrated by murderous governments. In spite of all of this, the world seemed confident in its ability to confront problems, from poverty to global warming and others.


Tough tests have also impacted the world in recent decades. The fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Soviet Empire, without a single shot being fired. The eruption of identity crises, the escalation of terrorism and increase in migrations, in addition to many countries’ inability to catch up with progress as a result of their attachment and addiction to outdated ideas.


One does not exaggerate in saying that the world has succeeded, albeit in varying proportions, in confronting the security and economic crises that have hindered its march. But it is certain that it is currently facing the toughest test.


What the world is experiencing today is definitely more dangerous than what it witnessed in past decades. The coronavirus is even more dangerous than the attacks of September 11, the emergence of ISIS, the breakup of Yugoslavia and African collapses. It is also more dangerous than the global financial crises, including those of 2008 and 2009.


We definitely don’t want to undermine the storms that have gripped the world in the past decades. They were costly and left their marks on the international scene and countries’ economies, security and stability. Today, however, we are confronted with a different event, with its gravity, costs and repercussions. We are not dealing with a violent storm. We are in the midst of an unprecedented earthquake. We can say that the coronavirus earthquake has exposed the fragility of the “global village” and shaken its foundations.


The village could not shape a united response to the earthquake. The only superpower has failed to lead the ranks for unified international action. China has engaged in the battle that started on its soil and has managed through harsh measures, enabled by the strict security and technologically-advanced single-party system, to achieve results that may later boost its image and status. Countries of the Old Continent have not succeeded in organizing a unified response. European sentiments quickly broke out, and borders, fears and selfishness prevailed. Neither did the West respond by suggesting the introduction of a global force that can lead the world, nor was Russia able to take advantage of the earthquake for its own interests as it had done with previous crises. Countries have retreated to their borders and mounting burdens have weakened their institutions and budgets.


We are in the midst of an unprecedented earthquake that has put the world on mandatory terror leave. The earthquake hit stocks and oil prices, shook the foundations of the financial empires, and closed markets, restaurants and streets throughout the “global village”. It is a comprehensive catastrophe that will inevitably impact internal and external relations. Historic precedents reveal that this type of calamity alters political and economic systems, crushes sacred ideas and theories and imposes radical changes in lifestyle.


A terrible earthquake has struck the “global village.” It is too early to tell what direction it will take. Perhaps we will witness more calls for isolation and populism and a desire to curb globalization and cut its arteries. What is certain is that the crisis will produce millions of unemployed people, cracked economies and terrified governments.


It is clear that a page has been turned and a new chapter will begin. A more difficult and obscure one. The task at hand will be nothing less than the reconstruction of the “global village” that has been struck down by the coronavirus earthquake.


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