Thursday, November 27, 2014

'Tis Thanksgiving. Remembering the year that was ...

As we sit down for the Thanksgiving meal with friends and family, perhaps all of us can be thankful for one thing—the year with strange and unexpected developments is coming to an end.

Who would have thought that this country would ever end up panic stricken about Ebola? So panicky we became that the photograph of a nurse biking in a small town in Maine caused quite a few, who were thousands of miles from the Pine Tree State, to worry that they, too, caught the dreaded virus infection. We became so involved with the panic over nothing that we even forgot the thousands in West Africa who continue to suffer from the illness.

Ebola came in time for us to worry about the state of the world just when the Israel-Gaza conflict ended. Of course, the end of the bombing campaigns does not mean that peace has descended upon that troubled geography. Not far away, a ruthlessly barbaric outfit that grew out of the ashes of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has quickly become a force to reckon with. And the number of name changes this outfit has had in a matter of few months—Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Islamic State (IS)—has made the casual observer feel like there are multiple versions similar to the number of Agent Smiths in “The Matrix” movie series.

The big European story is, of course, about how Russia swallowed up the Crimean Peninsula. One day Crimea was a part of Ukraine, and the next day it became a Russian territory. Russia is not done with gobbling up Ukraine’s land, with more military incursions expected.

The perils of Pakistan continue, with the same old formula of a weak and ineffective government that is constantly trying to keep the powerful military away. The story of its life ever since its birth in 1947! Meanwhile, suicide bombers continue to strike, with a recent one near the border with India killing nearly sixty and injuring another estimated hundred. Terrorists have warned that the next incident will be in India.

If you are like me, every once in a while you wonder whatever happened to the more than 300 girls who were kidnapped in Nigeria. Remember all that Facebook and Twitter activism to “bring back our girls”? But then that was such a long time ago and Ebola has completely taken over our panic-stricken collective consciousness.

The global economy continues to be in a state of flux. Economists keep warning about the Euro area on the verge of a recession and, perhaps, deflation as well. An economic contraction while prices keep falling is one awful combination, which will surely be worrisome to the millions of unemployed youth, especially in the southern countries of Spain, Italy, and Greece.

While we in the US might feel sheltered from such an listing—however incomplete it is—of less than pleasant developments around the planet, the Ebola virus was a nasty reminder that we live in an interconnected world and that what happens in a remote part of West Africa will not necessarily stay in West Africa. The military conflicts around the world will force the US to act—a burden that comes with being the sole global superpower. Economic slowdown in Europe will affect us, given the highly interdependent economic web that links us to countries that we might not even be able to identify on a world map.

An old idea that is often mentioned, especially in academia, is that “war is God's way of teaching Americans geography.” We need to update that for the contemporary contexts. Now, any crisis is apparently how we Americans learn geography. Thus, thanks to Boko Haram, we were forced to look up Nigeria on a map. With Ebola in the news, there is a good chance that a few Americans were suddenly thrust with narratives about the historical connection between Liberia and slavery in the US. But then, if history provides any guidance, we perhaps passed on all the chances to learn geography.

Whether or not we learnt anything, not unlike my students, we are thankful that the tumultuous and eventful year is coming to an end. But, of course, just because the calendar year is ending, all those problems won’t simply go away. It will be a long while before the public health professionals declare an end to the current Ebola outbreak. The geopolitical tensions in the Levant, Ukraine, and Pakistan, will continue irrespective of the month and the year. Above all, there is really no respite from one certain scary development—when the calendar flips to 2015, the campaigning for the November 2016 elections will begin!


Ramesh said...

The year wasn't as bleak as that. Sure all those happened. But equally, ebola has been reasonably contained, China did not have a hard landing, the optimism in India is palpable, there has largely been peace and growth in Sub Saharan Africa, all countries in Southern Europe are in better shape than one year ago, and even Mac and Cheese have been pardoned (I was expecting a post from you on that)

There is much good in the world, that we often tend to overlook. Thank the Lord for that. You can say Thank luck for that :)

Sriram Khé said...

Sure ... you go ahead and drink that Koolaid--somebody has to ;)

Optimism is sometimes nothing but an euphemism for wishful thinking and denial ... hehehe ;)

Anne in Salem said...

I am with you, Ramesh. One can appreciate the good happenings without being a Pollyanna or an ostrich, so I will include being thankful for medical breakthroughs, peaceful transitions of government, reduction of polio cases worldwide, and much more. And I will be thankful if a few Americans learned where Sierra Leone or Nigeria is, even if it took crises to inspire the learning.

Sriram Khé said...

Ok, ok, ok ... there are some good things happening. Happy now? ;)

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