Sir Frank Peters: On September 1, 1939, World War II began.
It was the deadliest conflict in human history, involving more than 50 countries and killing more than 65-million people – man, woman and child.
Many countries including Switzerland, Ireland and Portugal remained neutral.
The war brought about unprecedented change unknown throughout history that people sadly remember to this day and are still trying to recover from. The world was never the same again.
Now World War III has begun without a single angry shot being fired or a sword drawn in response. For the first time in the history of mankind, nobody is safe from its destructive evil forces. There are no neutral countries or safe areas.
The prime concern today is Coronavirus, Covid-19, as it ought.
It all seems so surreal. It is as if we’re sharing a collective drug-induced psychedelic nightmare from which we hope we will awaken soon and all will be well. Or our eyes and mind are transfixed on an old black and white B-grade Sci-Fi movie of the 1950s in which, what’s happening now was deemed to be far-fetched and carried a disclaimer that read “for entertainment only”.
Every day we sorrowfully read of deaths in different countries, as we might read a scoreboard of Bronze, Silver and Gold medal recipients of an Olympic Games. Which country had the most deaths. Which one tops the macabre death list.
Its only weeks ago this nation was enthralled with excitement and bursting at the seams in anticipation of the 100th birth Anniversary of the Founder of the Nation, Sheikh Mujib Rahman.
It was going to be the anniversary of anniversaries Bangladesh ever celebrated and I had made up my mind much earlier that I was going to celebrate the occasion on the soil of Bangladesh, no matter what.
Famous Scottish poet Robert Robbie Burns (1759-1796) once wrote: “The best laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang aft a-gley, An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain For promis'd joy.”
In translation, it comes out: “The best laid plans of mice and men can go wrong” and over 200-years later the adage is as valid today as it was then. Nobody anticipated the arrival or devastating effects of Coronavirus Covid-19.
Coronavirus, however, has at least one redeeming factor; one lesson for mankind, one that humankind can and ought to appreciate and learn from and that is everyone is equal. We’re interdependent upon each other and everyone is equally vulnerable, despite the religious or political badges we might wear or the state of our bank balance.
Whether you are Christian, Muslin. Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist or whatever your spiritual beliefs are… Coronavirus doesn’t care. It isn’t hypocritical, nor is it prejudicial. It doesn’t discriminate against or it in favour of one or the other. It eyes all as equal.
We, ourselves, shouldn’t care about another person’s religious beliefs. Our only concern should be if we are living up to the highest standards of our own belief system and not being hypocritical or judgmental towards others.
Coronavirus is completely void of all forms of prejudice… King, Queen, Prince, trillionaire or pauper, it doesn’t care. Old, young, male or female, it doesn’t care. It’s quite happy to take shelter in any port in a storm, settle-in and be happy in its new accommodation without grouching about its interior, irrespective of the colour of skin that harbours it or the religious belief system that propels it.
In many respects the Coronavirus has been, as many may say, a Godsend. It’s hard to stomach and accept that right now, while the numbers of deaths skyrocket from its effects around the world.
The world will never be the same again. The humble handshake that has demonstrated friendship between leaders of nations, between Kings, Queens and subjects, clinched business deals, and sealed peace agreements that ended wars may be on Fast Track to oblivion; to be replaced by the bumping of elbows.
While shaking hands was never a hygienic practice; it was a language of friendship understood worldwide, as are smiles and laughter.
Coronavirus may change all that. Coronavirus has already changed how we perceive visitors arriving on our doorstep. Stranger, relative, friend... it doesn’t matter. We now ask ourselves are they friend or foe. Are they carriers or not.
We know many governments throughout the world will fall not because they are responsible for Coronavirus, but for endangering its people through its indecisive or slow activity and insufficient anti Coronavirus response.
The warning shots were fired, and ricocheted worldwide, in 2003-2004 epidemic when Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) exploded in Asia. Oddly, that too, began in China in Yunnan. South Korea, one of the countries hit worst by SARS became one of the best prepared to combat Covid-19. It learned.
This is not the time to point fingers or ask embarrassing, awkward, damning questions (but that time will come). I doubt if people really care if cricket greats like Shakib Al Hasan is being treated for acne, if Bollywood actors like Amitabh Bachchan and Salman Khan have purchased another $1-m. house, if Bangladeshi legend Musa Ibrahim (the first to scale Mount Everest) has new conquest plans.
Most of what people once thought to be important means absolutely nothing in the present grand scheme of things. Most never meant anything of any great importance, anyway. They were mere distractions and people went along with them under mass social hypnosis ‘to fit in’ and be accepted.
The only concern the majority of people should have now is the safety and well-being of their family and those whom they love. Getting through this Coronavirus Covid-19 hazy tunnel and emerging safely at the other side should be their only concern. Everything else either doesn’t matter or can wait.
While Coronavirus has brought death and heartbreak to many, it’s also brought love, affection, and camaraderie back into homes. Many family members have been reunited for the longest period in decades. Fathers get to see their children grow up, not just at Eid.
Even in the darkest cloud, there is a silver lining. Coronavirus has presented the world populace the opportunity to pause and question their real values in life; to realize how interdependent we are upon each other, irrespective of our skin colour, religion, or nationality.
Both in the eyes of God and Coronavirus Covid-19, we are all equal. A timely lesson for mankind.
(Sir Frank Peters is a former newspaper and magazine publisher and editor, an award-winning writer, a royal goodwill ambassador, humanitarian and a foreign friend of Bangladesh.)