A Reuters illustration.

The new enemy

It is the impact of Corona and how it will shape our society that I feel is very much comparable to that of 9/11

Hussain Nadim March 16, 2020
In recent past, our societies are coming to be shaped less on our values and more on our threats, imagined or otherwise. For instance, the terrorist attacks on 9/11 defined the new world order based on new threats and enemies that shaped the global society, economy, and our way of living. Almost twenty years later, today, as the War on Terror is coming to an end with the Afghanistan Peace Deal, a new threat has emerged that will again re-structure the global society and the future of our human civilisation as we know it.

This threat is not a country or a mindset but a virus that has the tendency to take down the global society, especially the wealthy West and its status quo in more ways that terrorism could possibly ever. This is why we stand at critical juncture of change.

As it was with terrorism that had transnational element to it, this new threat in the form of diseases and epidemics is even more dangerous in its ability to bypass borders. The problem with Corona is that unlike terrorism it is not ideological or discriminatory in terms of its attack, which is what makes it more contagious. It may sound unfair to compare terrorism with an epidemic but in terms of the security threat that they pose, both require a similar set of responses from the government and have a radical impact on the global society. Therefore, it is the impact of Corona and how it will shape our society that I feel is very much comparable to that of 9/11.

One thing that is now imbedded in the global policy community, especially after the Corona outbreak is that global society is too interwoven to be not be affected by the events happening in other parts of the world. In other words, there is recognition that lack of security and underdevelopment in global south directly affects the security and prosperity in the global north. The West is only as safe as those poor countries that have faced centuries of colonisation and continue to be ravaged by imperial wars.

However, as much as this recognition would require a collective response from the international society to come together as a singular community against this new threat, there are good chances that it may go in the exact opposite direction. Given that there are right wing populist governments in key regions including the US, the UK, Brazil, India and elsewhere, there is going to be a temptation for more isolationist policies and war mongering over the coronavirus.

As it was with terrorism after 9/11 where the US divided the world into “us” vs “them” and denoted terrorism to be “Islamic”, there is a potential that Corona could make China the new “them”. The media discourse coming out of the Western word especially the US and Europe racialised the coronavirus and peddled a dirty political campaign to attack China. Since then, China has also responded by giving life to a conspiracy that the coronavirus was injected into Wuhan by the American military as part of the larger plot to take down China.

At the moment of global emergency, these are not ordinary allegations coming out right from the top of the government officials. As soon as the situation is under control, we may start to see a more aggressive approach in the international diplomacy. What is clear is that the Western world is likely going to redraw the global society based on its security protection needs from diseases and epidemics like Corona.

This essentially means that there will be new restrictions and rules on travel, immigration, trade, educational exchanges and global cooperation. This could also mean a reverse on globalisation that the world had gone in the last 30 years. More problematically though from a postcolonial lens this could mean an emergence of a new form of racism based on ethnicity and nationality that we witnessed against Muslims after 9/11.

It is yet to be seen how much damage is Corona likely to cause but what is certain is that this epidemic has given the global community a new threat to redesign our way of life and society.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 16th, 2020.

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