By Dr. Asoka Bandarage
According to the Center for Systems Science at Johns Hopkins University, as of November 29th, there have been 62,150,421 COVID-19 cases, including 1,450,338 deaths. According to the latest ILO reports, as job losses escalate due to lockdowns, nearly half of the global workforce is at risk of losing livelihoods, access to food and the ability to survive. The World Economic Forum states that ‘With some 2.6 billion people around the world in some kind of lockdown, we are conducting arguably the largest psychological experiment ever.’ As governments and corporations tighten political authoritarianism and technological surveillance, curtailing privacy and democratic protest, much of humanity is succumbing to anxiety, depression and a sense of powerlessness. Countries with some of the harshest lockdowns, such as India, have seen significant increases in suicides.
Pandemic Narrative and Dissent
Dominant global political and economic institutions and the media present their pandemic narrative as based on scientific authority. However, there is increasing dissension on the origin and prevention of the virus within the biomedical profession. Many physicians and scientists are questioning if COVID-19 is a natural occurrence or the product of a leak from a lab experimenting with coronaviruses and bioweapons. There is concern over the accuracy of PCR tests and false positives, as well as the classification of deaths simply as COVID-19 deaths when an overwhelming number of deaths are related to pre-existing illnesses or comorbidities, such as diabetes and heart disease. Even according to November 25, 2020 CDC statistics, COVID-19 was the sole cause of death mentioned in only 6% of the deaths. The disproportionately higher rates of Covid deaths among American Indians and Alaska Natives, for example, are due to higher rates of obesity, diabetes, asthma, and heart disease than among more privileged U.S. communities.
The Covid pandemic has not been the ‘Great Equalizer’ as suggested by the likes of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and members of the World Economic Forum. Rather, it has exacerbated existing inequalities along gender, race and economic class divides across the world. Just as unemployed and uninsured Americans are pleading for support, the combined wealth of U.S. billionaires ‘surpassed $1 trillion in gains since March 2020 and the beginning of the pandemic,’ according to a study by the Institute for Policy Studies. The top five U.S. billionaires – Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett and Larry Ellison – saw their wealth grow by a total of $101.7 billion, or 26%, during this period.
Among the pandemic profiteers are CEOs of companies like Zoom and Skype providing video conferencing, and Amazon providing online shopping to citizens under lockdown. Yet the success of these companies has not translated into better wages and safety conditions for their employees. However, the political and ideological power of the billionaire class and their influence over domestic and global policymaking are increasing. Relevant in this regard is billionaire Bill Gates’ central role in the development and marketing of vaccines and interest in use of vaccines as a method of population control.
The pharmaceutical industry, i.e. Big Pharma, (including vaccine manufacturers) are known for inflating prices, avoiding taxes and manipulating the political process to maximize profit. Unfortunately, this corrupt industry is a key player in the race to end the COVID-19 pandemic. The incoming Biden administration in the US has received extensive funding from the pharmaceutical industry, yet they have not agreed to cut the cost of a possible coronavirus vaccine developed with federal research dollars. Rather, the Biden administration, also heavily funded by the big tech, finance and defense sectors, is poised to facilitate ‘The Great Reset;’ the initiative to remake the post-pandemic world order by the World Economic Forum.
The ‘Great Reset’
The World Economic Forum (WEF), which identifies itself as ‘the international organization for public-private partnership,’ (i.e., like the Council on Foreign Relations, a geopolitical corporate power agency) sees the social and economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic as a ‘unique window of opportunity to shape the recovery.’ Speaking at a conference organized by the WEF in June 2020, former US Secretary of State, John Kerry expressed concern:
“Forces and pressures that were pushing us into crisis over the social contract are now exacerbated….The world is coming apart, dangerously, in terms of global institutions and leadership.”
The ‘Great Reset’ envisioned by the WEF seeks to address these challenges by radical global restructuring. It seeks to reinvent ‘the priorities of societies, the nature of business models and the management of a global commons…to build a new social contract…,’ with sustainable development and resilience as its ultimate objectives.
At its next annual gathering of the rich and powerful in Davos, Switzerland in January 2021, the WEF is expected to adopt the Great Reset and also incorporate youth leaders from around the world into the initiative through a virtual summit.
The stated goals of sustainability and resilience are laudable, but many are questioning the true objectives of both the WEF and the Great Reset. The pandemic simulation called Event 201, for example, was conducted in October 2019, about three months before the COVID-19 outbreak by the World Economic Forum in conjunction with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The simulation predicted up to 65 million deaths due to a coronavirus. Many are wondering why these powerful organizations, having apparently already run the exact scenario as a test, failed to prevent or at least prepare the world for the imminent viral outbreak.
The global political economy has been moving in the direction of increasing technological and market integration through social media, artificial intelligence and biotechnology. In the wake of COVID-19, the trends towards digitalization and commoditization of economic and social relations have increased. The ‘Great Reset’ seeks to accelerate and solidify these trends as well as expand corporate control of natural resources and state surveillance of individuals. In the post-pandemic ‘Great Reset,’ there would not be much life left outside the technological-corporate nexus dominated by monolithic agribusiness, pharmaceutical, communication, defense and other inter-connected corporations, and the governments and media serving them.
The proponents of the ‘Great Reset’ envisage a Brave New World where, ‘You will own nothing. And you will be happy. Whatever you want, you will rent, and it will be delivered by drones…´ But it is more likely that this elite-led revolution will make the vast majority of humanity a powerless, appendage of technology with little consciousness and meaning in their lives.
The mainstream media establishment tends to cast all critiques of the dominant Covid narrative and solutions as ‘conspiracy theories.’ Yet, more and more people are questioning the narrative on the origin and management of the pandemic and, instead, see the need to shift to a truly democratic, just and ecological civilization.
Many of the anti-lockdown protests around the world have had a limited focus on social restrictions and personal freedom, desires usually in tune with the individualism of globalized consumer culture. While these have gained some attention in the mainstream media by their acceptability, the more focused and progressive demands for social and economic rights by civil society groups have received scant attention.
These include demands by numerous groups, such as Oxfam International, to make COVID-19 medicines and vaccines free and fair for all. There is also a demand for a global public inquiry, to be led by independent scientists, to gather evidence on the origin and evolution of COVID-19. In addition, there is a call for an International Biowarfare Crimes Tribunal, to bring perpetrators of the pandemic to justice, whether they be from the US or China.
The overall objective of these demands is in greater transparency, ethics and accountability in the use of technology, especially biotechnology and vaccines against COVID-19 and other viruses. The demand for enforcement of the Biological Weapons Convention calls on the ‘nations of the world, China, Russia, the US, to come together to enforce better verification systems for preventing the production of biological weapons in the future, before the world is put through multiple pandemics to come’. These are concerns to be included in an alternative ethical, wise and compassionate ‘Great Reset.’
The Covid pandemic is a turning point, an opportunity to change. The reset we need now is not the creation of a ‘post-human, post-nature’ world defined by unregulated corporate-led growth of artificial intelligence and biotechnology. We need to balance digitalization and commoditization with an ecological reset, a way of living that respects the environment, promotes agroecology, bioregionalism and local communities.
We need to raise our consciousness and understanding of humanity as a species in nature, our connectedness to each other and the rest of planetary life.
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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development
There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.
The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.
To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.
Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.
It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.
All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.
Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.
If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.
In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.
However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.
It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.
The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.
It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.
A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.
Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.
Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka
By Sanjeewa Jayaweera
It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.
The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.
We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.
This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.
Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!
At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.
One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.
It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!
ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!
The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.
When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!
I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.
I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.
I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.
Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!
I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.
Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.
We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.
Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?
Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!
To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.
Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.
The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..
How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!
If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.
And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!
Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.
Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.
With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.
I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.
Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.
He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.
Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.
He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!
I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:
“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.
“There is no science to beat common sense.”
But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!