Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, SOAS, University of London comes up with ‘Bani Adam: the 13th-century Persian poem that shows why humanity needs a global response to coronavirus’ to tell us that this novel pandemic per this poem is not locally that much of a novelty, not different from its predecessors and it is all about human connectivity.
Coronavirus is all about human connectivity. From a philosophical perspective, I’ve been thinking about how this virus is forcing us to confront our common fate, highlighting our connections in the process. The novel coronavirus defies geography and national borders. There is no escaping it – exactly because humanity is inevitably interdependent.
In a beautifully emotive poem called Bani Adam (human kind), drafted in the 13th century, the Persian-Muslim polymath Sa’adi used what can be employed as an analogy to our current challenge in order to visualise this common constitution of humanity. It reads:
Human beings are members of a whole, in creation of one essence and soul. If one member is afflicted with pain, other members uneasy will remain. If you have no sympathy for human pain, the name of human you cannot retain.
These verses from Sa’adi’s Bani Adam decorate the walls of the United Nations building in New York and the poem was quoted by US president Barack Obama in his videotaped New Year (Nowrouz) message to Iran in March 2009 to open up a new chapter in Iranian relations with the US. More recently, the British band Coldplay used the poem as the title of a song in their album Everyday Life. It’s a poem that speaks to the inevitability of a common fate of humanity, that unites us into an intimately shared space.
A common fate
This effort of conjoining what has been artificially divided through nationalisms, religious doctrines and other forms of ideology, was equally central to a poem by the German genius Johann Wolfgang Goethe. He was very much influenced by Persian/Muslim philosophy and poetry, in particular by the 14th-century poet Hafez-e Shirazi.
In his magnificent work West-Eastern Divan, a very early manifesto against cultural essentialism – viewing one’s own culture in complete separation of others – Goethe wrote:
When people keep themselves apart in mutual disdain. A truth is hidden from the heart. Their goals are much the same.
As a communicable disease, the coronavirus compounds our inevitable common fate. Our existence cannot be safeguarded in isolation, we can only survive together: my fate is yours, ours is theirs. Social media, for instance, has adopted terms such as “viral” to describe particularly successful Tweets or Facebook posts, which demonstrate the dialogues between our bodies and minds that are ongoing at every second of the day on this global canvass. This interconnected reality of ours merges (rather than divides) categories such as “us” and “them”, “self” and “other” which are at the heart of problematic ideas about today’s eternal cultural wars.
Our leaders continue to speak about the coronavirus in distinctly martial and psycho-nationalist terms. Even in a staunchly secular liberal-democracy such as France, president Emmanuel Macron described the crisis in war-like terms. US president Donald Trump used similar words when he likened himself to a “wartime president” in order to describe his fight against the virus.
And yet at the height of the pandemic, Trump’s administration pushed through more unilateral sanctions against Iran, which has been badly hit by coronavirus, and Venezuelan officials . At the time when countries such as China and Cuba are sending specialists to the epicentres of the crisis, Trump has punished the most vulnerable members of Iranian society for the sake of nationalistic power politics.
In search of a global response
In the meantime, many of us are concerned because we are finding out, tragedy by tragedy, that there is a lack of multilateral cooperation. Our elected leaders are incompetent or helpless and rampant capitalism has focused much of our resources on profit, rather than on institutions that serve the people.
The coronavirus transmuted into such an all-encompassing pandemic for two simple reasons. First, our common biology does not respect any of the mental and physical borders that were created to keep us apart. Second, coronavirus revealed how globalised our contemporary world is. Our lives are so closely interlinked and networked that this outbreak travelled all around the world within weeks.
The speed at which the virus spread demonstrates quite clearly the contracted space that we are all living in on Earth. Yet our politicians speak about national remedies and continue as if nothing has happened, as if we can insulate ourselves forever. It should be the World Health Organization and other UN bodies which take the lead to coordinate global policies for global problems.
Yet, in clear contradiction to what is needed, politicians continue to speak of coronavirus in terms of mere national emergencies. This approach compartmentalises what is conjoined, and contributes to the current crisis which can only be faced properly with global coordination and within multilateral organisations. But the UN and its auxiliary network is despised by the new breed of hyper-nationalist leaders all around the world. It is these leaders who have stunted our ability to resolve borderless challenges such as this current pandemic.
There is a common fate inscribed in our lives which demands global answers to global challenges. “No man is an island,” wrote the poet John Donne in 1624. It’s time that we act upon the science, with the empathy of a poet, and institute a new form of internationalism that acknowledges and celebrates our common humanity.
The following article titled Oliver Wyman: MENA youth’s perception of the private sector by Georgia Wilson – Leadership is worth reading to comprehend the peculiar situation of the MENA youth. In effect, the region despite having the highest youth population shares in the world, as well as the highest rates of youth unemployment, there seems to be still some sort of freedom of choice between private and public service employment.
Business Chief looks at Oliver Wyman, and INJAZ Al-Arab recently conducted research on the youth perception of the private sector.
Across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, over 2,400 young people between the age of 16 and 36 were surveyed to gain insight into the youth perception of the private sector.
“It is critical to capture the perspective of the youth and assess what they require to bolster the private sector of the future. We see a healthy inclination towards entrepreneurship, and a clear idea of what factors can facilitate lifelong learning. These are both indicators of their perception of the private sector, which is key to sustainable economic growth of their countries and the region. The youth are a key driver in the realization of economic stability, and we are proud to support INJAZ Al-Arab in helping the youth to fulfill their economic potential,” commented Jeff Youssef, Partner at Oliver Wyman.
Key findings of the youth survey:
79% feel positive about the private sector’s contribution to the economy – a 41% increase from 2018
75% expect the private sector to grow in the next five years – an 11% decrease from 2018
55% are discouraged from working in the private sector due to lack of opportunities and lack of competitive benefits – an 8% increase from 2018
50% perceive the “who you know” favouritism within organisations, to be the primary obstacle when seeking private sector employment
78% see themselves working in the private sector in the near future
84% feel inspired to start their own entrepreneurial venture in the near future
53% see leadership, creativity and communication as the most important skills for the private sector
“For young people today, it is extremely important that they are well equipped with skills, knowledge, and sense of entrepreneurship to enter the workforce. INJAZ’s collaboration with Oliver Wyman will further allow us to tackle the issue of youth unemployment in MENA, as we are certain that the findings are of great benefit to multiple stakeholders and that our initiative reflects on their potential to impact policy reform, program creation, and educational institution transformation,” added Akef Aqrabawi, CEO at INJAZ Al-Arab.
The value of a liberal arts education has become a pivotal discussion within the global higher education sector over the last decade. No longer confined to the hallowed halls of ivy-covered American colleges, this multidisciplinary approach, which focuses on developing creative thinking skills, has begun to transform the curricula of institutions worldwide.
To examine this further, the Times Higher Education MENA Universities Summit 2020, taking place at NYU Abu Dhabi on 10-12 March, will explore the benefits and challenges of broadening the liberal arts educational model across Middle Eastern and North African countries.
Fostering discussions on how to prepare students for a variety of career paths after graduation is high on the list of the summit’s objectives. Hoda Mostafa, director of the Center for Learning and Teaching at the American University in Cairo, will share useful practices to facilitate the leap between an interdisciplinary education and careers both in and out of academia.
Wasif Rizv, founding president of Habib University, Pakistan’s first liberal arts and science institution, will provide an instructional model from south-east Asia to demonstrate how a liberal arts education can develop talent to meet the demands of a global workforce.
Another key focus will be enhancing the research culture in countries where talent attraction has faced challenges. Rana Dajani, associate professor at Hashemite University, who established stem cell research ethics law in Jordan, will debate with other panellists which tools are needed to support the next generation of researchers in the MENA region.
Safwan Masri, the current vice-president for Global Centers and Global Development at Columbia University, who has written extensively on the role of Tunisia in the Arab Spring, will deliver the summit’s closing keynote, underlining the power of research and knowledge transfer in the region to ultimately promote a greater cultural understanding and bridge political boundaries.
The summit will include an exclusive THE rankings masterclass that will dissect the methodology behind the World University Rankings, giving an analysis of the MENA region’s successes and future opportunities. Additionally, delegates will enjoy a deep-dive into THE’s new University Impact Rankings, which are based on universities’ successes in working towards the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.
John Gill, editor of THE, said: “We are at a crucial moment for the world on numerous fronts – from how to respond to global threats such as climate change, to how to navigate a path to greater understanding and collaboration. Higher education and research will play crucial roles in finding the answers.
“At this summit, we will discuss the role of liberal arts education, at a time of debate about how best to prepare students for the new economy, and how to support societies in transition. We will consider how a global perspective can transform the impact of education, and address the interplay between education and research in the MENA region. These topics touch on every aspect of what universities do, as institutions that educate, create new knowledge, and drive economic and social progress, so we are delighted to have such a diverse programme of speakers, and to be meeting at NYU Abu Dhabi, itself a great example of innovation.”
The Times Higher Education MENA Universities Summit 2020 will take place 10-12 March at NYU Abu Dhabi. Find out more.
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