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COVID-19 Makes Manifest the Danger of Sectioning Off Humanity into Various “Races” and Various “Worlds”

All of us are trying to adjust to the unforeseen changes brought about by the onset of COVID-19.

The transition to the virtual world has not been a cakewalk for everyone. Several people, particularly of my parents’ generation, are not technology friendly but are now having to adapt to talking with friends and family via SKYPE or ZOOM.

And uncertainty looms large. No one knows what tomorrow will bring. In the midst of the unwieldy fear caused by the pandemic, bigotry continues to run rabid. Some governmental agencies as well as vigilantes brazenly conflate COVID-19 with a particular religious community or racial group.

While economies are plummeting and the world is shutting down, fundamentalist interests have resurfaced as well as the political interests related to them.

Instead of emphasizing preparation, vaccines, and education in an attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19, right-wing governments deploy disease to fuel their morbid agendas and vilify entire communities.

At this point, we need a global response not just to COVID-19 but to humanitarian disasters that have followed in its wake. A lot of us focus on BIG achievements, forgetting that the small moments count as much as the big ones.

I have several students who are trying to make ends meet in the midst of this unforeseen crisis. Some of them are now working two jobs, so they can pay their bills.

Others are working hard to support those of their family members who have been furloughed. There are some who don’t have WIFI access or erratic internet connections, and cannot participate in ZOOM meetings as efficiently as they would like to. A couple of days ago, one of my students participated in a ZOOM meeting from her car, because her entire family was in the house and she couldn’t concentrate. I see determination and perseverance in these kids. Several of them are pushing themselves to meet deadlines and step up to the plate. They are learning to see their challenges as opportunities to grow, and, as an academic, I am here for them.

I want to be present not just for the big moments, but for the small ones as well. There is potential for meaning in every moment. COVID-19 compels me to rethink perceptions that some of us thought were unquestionable and self-axiomatic.

I question political and cultural divides that were reinforced by imperial discourse.

I question politics that divide the world into the homogeneous categories of the “Muslim World” and the “Christian World.’

I question the rationale of reducing nations to rubble, supposedly for the liberation of their people.

I question alliances forged with dictators responsible for pogroms in their nations.

I question the rhetoric of hate that engenders mass hysteria and incites communal riots.

I question the construction of the “first world–third world” dichotomy, which befouls politics and cultures.

I question those that hamper progressive political and social change. I realize more than ever that political leaders who section off humanity into various “races” and various “worlds” rob us of our power to prevent disease from destroying the world.

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Nyla Ali Khan is the author of Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. Nyla Ali Khan has also served as an guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. She can be reached at nylakhan@aol.com.

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