Have you ever felt as if you had woken up in an alternative reality? Or that you might be trapped in the twilight zone? For those of us who are self-proclaimed sci-fi geeks, it would probably be the most plausible explanation. For others, it may just feel like being the silent participant in an ongoing nightmare. How else do we explain the current state of the world that we live in? If there are any aliens out there trying to make contact (with hostile intentions), it would be advisable for them to wait it out as we are already well on our way towards economic, political, social and environmental self-destruction.
There are currently more than 65.6 million people worldwide who, due to violence, persecution or war, have been displaced and forced to leave their homes. Of these people, 22.5 million are refugees and 10 million are stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement (UNHCR). The figures are unprecedented and unconscionable. It begs the question whether we, as a society, have become so desensitised to the suffering of fellow human beings that apart from paying lip service and going through the motions of expressing condemnation and horror, we have nothing else to offer.
We need look no further than Bangladesh's neighbour, Myanmar, to see the effects of religious and racial discrimination. The horrors that the Rohingya Muslims have, and are still facing are unimaginable with villages being razed to the ground, systematic rape of women by the Myanmar military, babies being burnt alive and men and children being slaughtered. The victimisation of this ethnic minority has resulted in the exodus of almost 650,000 Rohingya who have crossed the border from Rakhine state to escape. This combined with the existing Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh brings the total number to approximately 900,000. This represents a significant burden for a country with one-third of the population living below the poverty line but, given the circumstances, it was the right thing to do.
But apart from a proverbial slap on the wrist, no action has been taken by the international community. Some countries have provided aid towards the crisis but nothing else has been done to help alleviate the suffering of the affected and no sanctions imposed to discourage or hold the Myanmar military accountable. In our alternative reality, we obviously have not learned from the consequences of historical genocides such as the Holocaust, Rwanda, Cambodia, Darfur, Bosnia to name but a few. Even if action were taken now, it would still be “too little too late” for the victims of what appears to be another deliberate, calculated and racially motivated act of genocide. Europe could also take a leaf out of Bangladesh's book and re-evaluate their position on the Syrian refugee crisis which has been unfolding over the last few years.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, with Donald Trump at the helm of the United States, the political and economic scenario could not be more different than it was under the enlightened but hamstrung Barack Obama. Bellicose and bombastic speeches under the slogan “America first” or making “America great again”, given during his campaign and repeated subsequent to becoming president, seem to have resonated with his supporters and enabled a form of nationalism that rejects globalisation and free trade. However, this version of America is insular, xenophobic and regressive.
Far from taking the country forward, the President of the United States appears to have taken the country on a journey back in time to an era where racism, sexism and bigotry were part of the social landscape. His appeal is that he is an outsider notionally campaigning for those who were left behind by globalisation. The fact that he is an erratic billionaire whose achievements to date are a litany of failures gets lost in the posturing.
Over the last year, the world has watched in astonishment at the extraordinary antics of Trump. His most recent action has been to jeopardise peace in the Middle East by unilaterally recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in an uncalled-for act almost designed to cause maximum disruption. During his presidency, he has managed to antagonise his neighbours by trying and failing to get Mexico to build or pay for a wall; trigger a trade war with China; consort with Russians alleged to have meddled in the election; indulge in racism and ignorant oratory which incites religious discrimination; reduce taxes on corporations and the rich; tried (and manifestly failed) to bully the tiny but resolutely defiant nuclear rogue nation that is North Korea. He has also been accused by at least 15 women of sexual harassment and sexual assault and been caught on tape making lewd and derogatory remarks about women. Despite the above, in this twilight zone-esque scenario, he is somehow still the President of the United States.
Unfortunately for the planet, Donald Trump is also a climate change sceptic. With more and more countries pledging to combat global warming and protecting the environment, the United States has not only pulled out of the 2015 Paris Agreement but has also taken climate change out of its National Security Strategy. France and Germany have stated they will make up for the shortfall generated by the US withdrawing from the agreement. Even China, the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases (the USA is the second) is actively committed to reducing their carbon footprint by launching an emissions trading system—one of the largest mechanisms in the world. In the last 20 years, Honduras, Myanmar and Haiti have been identified as the most affected countries with Nicaragua, the Philippines, and Bangladesh following closely. The sad reality is that it is the poorer and less developed countries that have actually done the least to cause global warming, that will be the ones suffering the most. China, North America and Europe will fare far better despite being responsible to a large extent for the current state of the environment. To put things in context, a three foot rise in sea level would submerge 20 percent of the country and displace almost 30 million people in Bangladesh. This is a reality that no one should have to face.
There is always the hope that one can wake up from this nightmare or do a Rip Van Winkle and sleep it out and by then somehow the world will have righted itself. However, unless something is done or we all collectively take a stance, it is more likely that we will awaken to a post-apocalyptic world given that both Trump and Kim Jong Un have their fingers on the nuclear buzzer.
Nadia Kabir Barb is a writer and columnist. Her book Truth or Dare has recently been published by Bengal LightsBooks.