Listening to our Anger and Angst

The family of a killed protester demand fair distribution of bread (Credit: Tolo News)

COVID-19 is clarifying a significant source of global anger and angst: inequality.

At the start of the COVID-19 crisis, Afghanistan had 300 ventilators, only one ventilator for every 110,000 Afghans.

As a medical physician, I gasped, my heart racing at the dilemma of who gets the ventilator. What if I was near death with serious COVID-19?

The head of a global vaccine alliance advised that “nobody is safe unless everybody is safe”, saying, “This is a global problem that needs a global solution and we have to all work together.”

But in many countries, the pandemic has stripped naked our systems, revealing how our economic and political elite value profit and power over human lives.

Though the Afghan government has been reporting higher GDPs over the past years, COVID-19 has exposed how GDPs don’t reflect the sort of economy all citizens need to survive with dignity.

GDPs say nothing about how governments and corporations treat their people and workers. COVID-19 has.

During Afghanistan’s lockdown, angry and hungry folk in Ghor province protested that corrupt government officials had redirected foreign food aid to themselves. They clashed with the police. Seven persons were killed.

During Minneapolis’ lockdown, George Floyd was stopped, and under the forceful knee of a policeman, he was suffocated and killed. Like the people of Ghor, the people of the U.S. are braving the virus to protest.

These incidents shock us into grieving at our outrageously meaningless systems. Yes, Hans Anderson, even the children can see that the emperors have no clothes! We all wish to echo Floyd’s “I can’t breathe!”

Our inter-connected human spirit responds. Some of us sigh heavily. Some cry. Some scream. Others slow down to take deep breaths. All of us wish for close friends who understand.

It helps to be present with one another, listening until our rage begins to transform into systemic change.

Rising Inequality, Anger and Angst Everywhere

Likewise, in people protests across the world over recent years, citizens have shouted, “Enough!” People have had enough of their political elite taking their money, then giving excuses, lying, berating the people, threatening them and imprisoning them.

People are demanding an end to the outdated premise that the “kings and rulers” are superior and all-knowing. They no longer wish to submit to the obsolete narrative that governments are always good, and the people are always bad.

We’ve seen through the illogical math of one President or Prime Minister behaving as if he or she is more intelligent or more moral than 34 or 340 million or 7.7 billion other human beings.

I think this unequal disparity is one reason why in 2018, Afghans reported the lowest positive experiences in the world, and why that year, anger seemed ‘contagious’, with more than one fifth of adults across the planet admitting to feeling angry, the highest percentage recorded by the Gallup Emotions Report since 2005.

And now, COVID-19 has given us the unique opportunity to share this anger as a human family.

Afghan Peace Volunteers distributing COVID food relief in May 2020 to 96 of the APVs’ “Borderfree Street Kids School” students (Credit: Dr. Hakim)

We Can Heal Together By Insisting On Equal Treatment For All

Primatologist and conservationist Jane Goodall said, “One of the lessons learnt from this crisis is that we must change our ways. If we do not do things differently, we are finished. We can’t go on very much longer like this.” She was referring to how we treat the environment and animals with absolute disrespect.

So, learning from COVID-19, we can each resolutely insist on equal policies for all members of our human family, whether in our personal lives, through protests, writing, art, music or other creative ways.

When the late Stephane Hessel was 93 years old, he called us to “Indignez-vous! Cry Out! Time for Outrage!”

To help Afghans, Americans and every human at the wrong end of the police or militaries, global citizens can insist on de-militarization, disarmament and the diversion of annual war trillions to take care of the climate, food, water, shelter, healthcare and education.

When a recent UN report showed that the Taliban and the U.S.-backed Afghan government forces had killed Afghan civilians in record numbers, we can respond by insisting on the same for Afghans as for George Floyd: arrest the Taliban and the U.S.-backed Afghan government, rather than allowing them to negotiate “peace deals” for power.

A banner in an alley as a memorial to the APVs’ Sajaad and two other youth killed in the explosion (Credit:  Dr. Hakim)

On the evening of 27th of February in a residential area where I live in Kabul, explosive devices attached to two bicycles exploded in a small alley, killing Sajad, one of our street kid students who was selling vegetables. Ironically, Sajaad’s death was just two days before the U.S. and Taliban signed their touted “peace deal”, not in Afghanistan, but in Qatar, with no Afghans involved, not even their acquiescent President Ghani.

I heard waves of wailing from my neighborhood, which were cries from the relatives and family members of Sajaad and other children who were killed.

That night, COVID-19 was already moving rapidly across the world, as I journaled my feelings below:

Death is my neighbour in Afghanistan,

a living hell for mourners nearby,
screaming,
unable to separate themselves away from love.
They raged with torrents of regret
over words said and unsaid,
deeds done and not done,
struck by unacceptable grief.
On this life-draining evening,
I was heating up leftovers for dinner
when I heard two blasts.
They were ‘small’ compared to others I’ve heard before,
so I dismissed them
as “gas cylinder incidents”??
This is the 5th night
of a 7-day ‘reduction in violence’ agreed upon
by the Orwellian1 US/Taliban ‘peace-makers’.
But, such deals have never created a people’s economy
where teenagers like 16-year-old Sajaad,
one of our Borderfree street kid students,
needn’t sell vegetables
along the alley where he was killed tonight.
The Mother of All Bombs2 and her bomblets
are provoking revenge,
everywhere.
In furious retaliation,
across deforested and climate-changed swathes of dust,
multi-national opponents buy, improvise, plant and trigger
all warps of explosive devices.
No ‘bomb’ is small,
because every weapon is manufactured
and paid for by us the human species,
Every munition is a pre-designed coffin
sold at a handsome, psychotic3 price,
fuelling wails.
While we heal from our grief,
we can daily dismantle
our ‘normal’ ways of making money,
protecting ourselves,
and obeying our status quo or symbols.
In our being and feeling,
thinking and doing,
studying and working,
quietly or out in the streets,
we can decisively choose
to recover meaning.

  1. Stars and Stripes had reported, “Talks between the two sides continued for most of 2019 as American bombs (a record 7423) were dropped.” []
  2. In 2017, Trump threw the “Mother of All Bombs” over some caves and tunnels of Achin, a bomb that experts said would “vaporize anyone within 300 meters, while those in a one kilometer radius would be left deaf.” []
  3. When Trump met Pakistan’s Prime Minister, he thought he sounded merciful when he taunted, “I could win that (Afghan) war in a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people.” []
Dr Hakim, (Dr. Teck Young, Wee) is a medical doctor from Singapore who has done humanitarian and social enterprise work in Afghanistan for more than 10 years, including being a mentor to the Afghan Peace Volunteers, an inter-ethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building non-violent alternatives to war. He is the 2012 recipient of the International Pfeffer Peace Prize and the 2017 recipient of the Singapore Medical Association Merit Award for contributions in social service to communities. Read other articles by Dr. Hakim.