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Tuesday, January 19, 2021 09:53:01 PM
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2021 A Brighter Year - If We Make It So

Baria Alamuddin

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Confined to our homes by a raging pandemic, we in the UK saw in the New Year with immense barrages of fireworks blasted out of gardens - presumably as an expression of enthusiasm to see the back of 2020 and welcome in 2021. New Year marked an additional moment of pathos, as Britain finally left the EU; a foolish and backward-looking act of self-harm, conferring few obvious benefits.
I've never been a fan of large and ostentatious New Year parties, so it was no disappointment to me that COVID-19 compelled us to celebrate this season as an intimate family occasion. Thanks to modern technology I was able to spend ample face time with loved ones. This enforced period of house arrest provided precious time to look inside ourselves, better understand who we are, and empathetically consolidate our relationships with one another.
These have nevertheless been traumatic times for those who are alone, victims of domestic violence, and the elderly. Although the vaccine offers a light at the end of the tunnel, much of the developing world finds itself at the back of a long queue. Yet as someone who has always subscribed to a "glass half full" world view, I believe there is much perspective that we can glean from 2020, in order for 2021 to be a much more rewarding year.
While it has been a tough year for the economy, experts are predicting a rapid rebound. The drastic reduction in consumption of fossil fuels, and the reduced use of motor vehicles and planes, have made 2020 a bumper year for the environment - a salutary lesson on how the evils of climate change and air pollution can be thrown into reverse.
The coronavirus death toll was tragic, but this wasn't the species-threatening pandemic that some people feared when we first heard about a terrifying new virus a year ago. Most of us had never heard of Wuhan, but in our densely connected world, almost every corner of our planet would quickly be afflicted. Our ability to cope with this crisis leaves the human race wiser and more resilient in preparing for future plagues, catastrophes and planet-wide threats.
Certain leaders who handled the pandemic disastrously have already been punished at the ballot box, and a number of discredited heads of state - Erdogan, Netanyahu, Litvinenko, Bolsonaro, Orban, Putin, Khamenei - look increasingly shaky on their thrones. This has to be cause for celebration.
This crisis offered copious examples of humanity at its best: Heroic health professionals and care workers on the front lines, those who devoted time to helping elderly neighbors, those who spent their lockdown time advocating for good causes or for developing talents and learning new skills. I must also make a special call-out for female leaders in states such New Zealand, Finland, Germany, Denmark and Taiwan; their calm, compassionate and competent management of the crisis was a wonder to behold.
My greatest 2021 wish is to see more dynamic and effective world leadership - where leaders are leaders. At the top of my mind are the perfect storms of economic and political crises in states such as Lebanon and Iraq, where political leaderships negligently sat on their hands while citizens starved, wages went unpaid, and foreign-backed militias ran riot.
We face too many long-bubbling conflicts and political crises to do justice to here: All evidence suggests that China will continue to be a huge challenge for Joe Biden, notably in fair terms of trade, creeping authoritarianism and massive human rights concerns such as Hong Kong and the Uighur genocide. After a year of attempted assassinations, cyberwarfare, and warmongering throughout the Middle East, 2021 will be the year when the world must unite to get tough on Vladimir Putin's Russia. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's divisive demagoguery has meanwhile wreaked terrible damage upon India's multifaith social fabric, with little attention so far from the outside world. Meanwhile, on the anniversary of Qassim Soleimani's killing, Iran's paramilitary proxies appear scarcely able to restrain themselves from provocations that could trigger conflict.
While I don't want to give undue space to Trump, his departure represents a repudiation of inward-looking populist trends that have bedeviled global politics for the past four years. We can hopefully look forward to a period defined by greater multilateral efforts to solve global-scale challenges, a greater emphasis on justice, human rights and good governance, and a more humane era in which the cries and laments of refugees and oppressed peoples don't go unheard.
2020 was furthermore defined by shocking social divisions, anti-science conspiracy theories, and hyper-politicized "with us or against us" attitudes. In 2021 we must put aside this political tribalism and demonization of those who think differently from us. Let's not race to denounce people until we have taken the time to understand the nuances of what they are trying to say, and to feel compassion and empathy for them as fellow human beings.
As a species I hope that we have learned the correct lessons from 2020: The need to invest time and intimacy with loved ones, but also the wisdom to view ourselves at the planetary level. Our collective actions have immense consequences: Are we content to pollute our planet to extinction, while allowing for the continued exacerbation of inequalities and injustices that leave half the planet on the precipice of starvation?
The human race either survives and thrives together, or we collectively face oblivion. My treasured recent days spent with my grandchildren have been a reminder of how precious human life is. Love is arguably the most universal and powerful human emotion. There are few of us who wouldn't sacrifice almost everything to protect the ones we love and see them prosper. So let our collective 2021 new-year resolution be to go that extra mile to protect and enhance the world around us, as an eternal gift and legacy to those we love the most.

(Baria Alamuddin, an award-winning journalist, is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state).

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