You are reading this column on the last day of 2020, a year that will go down in human history as a memorable and historic landmark. A year that redefined humanity, being human and human interaction; a year that catapulted our interaction with disease, medical science and research, demonstrating the absolute inadequacy of our scientific progress to meet the challenges unleashed by mother nature or Allah Almighty, as we call Him; a year that forced a dead reckoning on inter and intra-state relations, unhinging the moorings of the existing world order; a year that redefined religious beliefs, forcing a rethink on humanity about the might and provenance of that Super being, who through an ‘unseen being’ decided to be seen; a year that stopped planet Earth in its tracks, making its inhabitants conscious about the damage human race has inflicted upon our only home.
The year 2020 cannot be mentioned without mentioning the deadly coronavirus. A lot has been written about its ravages and it is sufficient. The pandemic has altered being human. Human interaction is henceforth arrested, subject to SOPs and curbs. Places of usual human interaction are witnessing scaled-down human activity. The workplace has shifted to the virtual domain. Marriage… the happiest of human activity is without the usual presence of humans or conducted under a risk-guilt combine. Death, if under the disease — though not stigmatised any more — does not evoke the urge for a eulogy in person. Kids don’t socialise — a key attribute of growing up — during this era of online schooling.
A life with masks, sanitizers, social-distancing and washing hands endlessly, calls urgently for other smart alternatives, as these cited measures are not sustainable in the long term. The shape and format of an altered human society, likely to show early signs during the New Year, are uncertain; as human interaction is adjusting to the new normal, with yet to be studied consequences.
Economy has shifted to the virtual world and unskilled/semi-skilled labour has to fend for itself within national and mostly rural borders. Global commerce is in slow recovery and supply chains re-oriented to meet human needs. Human prosperity has taken a massive hit, creating unemployment leading to social unrest and potential lawlessness. However, the indomitable human spirit and enterprise has created local, inexpensive and viable alternatives to economic challenges. The virus did unleash human creativity in unseen ways.
We are not new to pandemics; but this is the first pandemic since the invention of the microchip under the full blast of social media, that has hit our global village, creating more scare and panic than the actual damage in its wake. The course of the pandemic has laid bare and accentuated human inequality. Vaccine nationalism and politics would deepen that divide. The rich and powerful North would try and consolidate its pharmaceutical dominance in the New Year.
Although the virus with its much touted mutations is yet to be tamed and brought under control, there seems to be some light at the end of an unusually dark tunnel. Uncertainty and inconsistency in scientific findings, however, would continue to define the New Year. An improved human health — most certainly — may be the pleasant by-product of our emphasis on medical research and enhanced knowledge of virology in 2020.
International relations would get a face-lift after four disruptive years of Trump. However, Joe Biden would be dealing with a vastly different world. With China on the rise and in a trade war with the United States; Europe economically stressed except for Germany and forced to lock down during the second and probably third waves; Russia intent on reclaiming its lost grandeur, especially in its erstwhile Soviet backyard in Central Asia; the Middle East consumed in the tripartite competition between the Saudi camp, Iran and Turkey; the Subcontinent and South Asia reeling from the nationalistic and racist politics of Narendra Modi; Afghanistan on the slow boil; Latin and South America experiencing an exodus of unseen magnitude towards the North/US; the year 2020 saw it all. Most of these developments would run their full course and move towards some form of settlement in the New Year. Global leadership is likely to pivot towards China — the Middle Kingdom — given her size, reach, resources and ambitions as articulated in flagship projects like the BRI/CPEC.
The year 2020 also forced humanity to take seriously the challenges that we as a species pose to planet Earth. Climate change, unsustainable growth, over-population and over-consumption were highlighted when the Earth went through the necessary repairs during lockdowns. Although competition for global commons — high seas, atmosphere, Antarctica and outer space — is still a potential source of friction.
Faith and religiosity faced the twin dilemma of resurgence and revisionism. Recourse to religion in a personal capacity surged with social media acting as an important enabler. However, group practice of religion was subdued due to restrictions for fear of infections in mosques, temples, churches and synagogues.
The Creator forced a rethink on humanity. Human helplessness and hopelessness encouraged recourse to the All Powerful and Almighty. In Islamic terms, Allah claimed His realm through more compelling signs during the year. First by ushering-in the ravages of the unseen virus and later by guiding humanity towards a solution. The past year demonstrated the poverty of human knowledge and inventiveness, and its utter subservience to the will of God, re-establishing the supremacy of the All-Knowing in no uncertain ways.
On the bright side, 2020 also brought to light newer dimensions of life on Earth. Scientists, researchers, astronomers, archaeologists, geneticists, and others made some 34 amazing discoveries and breakthroughs in 2020. The highlights include discovering plastic-eating super enzymes, new types of black holes, water to host life across our solar system and launching the first-ever crewed commercial spaceflight. Despite the pandemic, China and UAE launched missions to Mars in addition to China’s lunar landing. NASA sent a record-setting probe to the sun. Scientists produced corona vaccines in record time.
However, 2020 was an epoch beyond anything similar in recent human history. Humanity, compassion, a can-do human spirit, resilience, patience and recourse to the Creator would remain its enduring legacies. And it is under this mix of dogged determination, optimism and wide-eyed expectations that we welcome the New Year.
May the New Year bring greater harmony, happiness and hope to a humanity, that badly needs these attributes. Happy New Year.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 31st, 2020.