In his 1948 classic novel “The Plague,” which tells the story of the fictional outbreak of a rat-borne plague in the Algerian port city of Oran under French colonialism, French writer and thinker Albert Camus explores the way the plague and ensuing crisis taps into the very best and worst of the human condition.
The current coronavirus crisis, which certainly is not fictional, is doing the same in our time — only not when it comes to the actions of people in response but instead when it comes to the actions or inaction or indeed base cruelty of national governments.
In this respect, if cruelty and barbarity were Olympic sports Washington would be the permanent holder of the gold medal. Because what does it tell us when even in the midst of a global pandemic this neocon infested administration and hegemonic political order refuses to agree to sanctions relief for Iran — a country that is among the hardest hit by the virus — in response to pleas from Tehran to do so?
Using the above as an analogy, let us imagine Iran as our “less well-appointed outer district” and the U.S. as the world’s “business center.” Do so and we grasp the fact that just like Camus’ fictional plague in Iran, coronavirus is no respecter of borders, cultures, religion, ideology or geopolitical agendas. In other words, if President Donald Trump and the clutch of fanatical neocons surrounding him believe that condemning the Iranian people — not its government, its people — to suffering and death is coterminous with anything other than the depraved actions of a debased and diseased culture, they are even sicker than originally thought.
The proper measure of a state or nation’s health in any given time is how said state or nation treats its poorest and most vulnerable citizens. And by this metric the most powerful and richest country there has ever been is also a contender for the most barbaric, despite the ocean of propaganda to the contrary.
I’m writing here as a non-American who spent a number of years living there and who came away politically radicalized by the experience. Because in America the abandonment of the poor and downtrodden to their fate has forged not a society worth living in, but a growing dystopia to be escaped, one in which the entrenchment of cruelty as a virtue rather than a vice has long been complete.
The brutal actions of Washington on the global stage when it comes to its engagement with poorer countries and regions merely reflects the brutality meted out to its poorest and most vulnerable at home. And as Malcolm X sagely once put it, “You can’t understand what’s going on in Mississippi if you don’t understand what’s going on in the Congo.”
What’s going on in “Mississippi” — in other words, the U.S. — today is that millions continue to exist without healthcare and who in the midst of this global pandemic find themselves reduced to the human equivalent of skittles in a bowling alley waiting in trepidation for a coronavirus ball to come hurtling in their direction.
Compare and contrast the barbarism of Washington in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic with the international solidarity demonstrated by the likes of China, Cuba and Russia.
China, where the outbreak of the virus originated, already has it under control and contained and is now sending medical aid and experts to Italy, Iran and South Korea. Cuba, meanwhile, has likewise sent a team of doctors to Italy along with supplies of Interferon Alpha 2B, a powerful antiviral developed by the Cuban pharmaceutical industry that has proved effective in treating coronavirus. Finally, as for Russia, Moscow is sending Iran 50,000 testing kits.
Based on this, if there is one positive thing to take from the current crisis it’s the reaffirmation of internationalism as the acme of human solidarity and progress. For there is no national solution to pandemics only international, with the current crisis proving that nationalism begins where human connectedness ends. Precisely here is where Washington’s engagement with the rest of the world is to be understood.
Putting it bluntly, America is home to a culture and political order so removed from reality it no longer knows its land of the free arse from its home of the brave elbow — to the point where the self-appointed leader of the free world is the leader of nothing and nowhere.
Returning to Camus:
‘“However, you think, like Paneloux, that the plague has its good side; it opens men’s eyes and forces them to take thought?” The doctor tossed his head impatiently. “So does every ill that flesh is heir to. What’s true of all the evils of the world is true of plague as well. It helps men to rise above themselves. All the same, when you see the misery it brings, you’d need to be a madman, or a coward, or stone blind, to give in tamely to the plague.”’
Our world is suffering less from a coronavirus crisis and more from an America crisis.
John Wight is an independent journalist based in Edinburgh, Scotland.
This article was first published on Medium.