COVID-19: Reflections from Quarantine

Shiran Ben Abderrazak, NESA Alumnus and Executive Director, Rambourg Foundation, Tunisia

In light of these challenging times, writing is an outlet used to rid us of those feelings that clutter our mind and prevent us from experiencing peace and balance. Sometimes what has been written can also give readers food for thought and help anticipate the future.

Reversing the War – Making it happen.

For days, weeks and months, our daily life has been punctuated by lists of macabre figures, by curves comparing the speeds of contamination, by terrible images of areas converted into war hospitals. And these images are even worse because, not so long ago, such places used to be our living spaces, the symbols of international trade and the mobility of people that until then characterized our time. This is indeed the daily life of a population at war: number of casualties, speed of the enemy’s evolution, radical changes of life & habits and the transformation of ways things are used in order to best respond to the demands of the situation.

War: a story in the making

We are at war. And this war that we’re fighting is the first real world war, the first global war. For the first time in mankind’s history we are united, we are one, against a common adversary. And this elusive, invisible enemy has no emotion, no face, no feelings, no morals. At first glance, it would be possible to relate it to the enemies we have been facing since the beginning of humanity… If we were to imagine the drawings of the Lascaux caves, what kind of designs would we be able to leave behind from this tragic war (which has just begun)? What could we leave there for our descendants to see? Which representations could be left of the war we are fighting?

However, whatever the enemy we fight, the invariable principles that govern the course of a war are always the same. One of these principles relates to opinion, otherwise known as communication, propaganda and public debate… It is the positive speech of the side to which we belong, the rhetoric that states the victory to come, what will make us victorious, what will unite us. Napoleon said in this regard that “At the end of a lost battle, the difference between winners and losers is slim”, implying that whoever claims victory first will be the winner.

Our Current Story: Covid-19 leads the Way

For the moment, however, it must be said that our enemy is winning. For the simple reason that we have bowed down to him on the field of representation, of accounts of this war, of propaganda. Without the need for him to make his propaganda as we are building it for him. But did we have a choice? This war has taken us by great surprise and it is obvious that for the moment we are all, everywhere, seized by an instinctive, panicky reaction, constantly searching for indicators that could lead us to believe that the war is about to end, that this new state of our lives, of our countries, of the world, will soon come to an end. However, these indicators, these images of this ongoing health war are not yet empowering us and do not produce the necessary, vital effect of strengthening courage and strength that one would expect from war propaganda, but rather a deadly atmosphere that could cause psychological damage and provoke negative repercussions for the future.

Moreover, and we will have to measure the real consequences very soon, this war has only just begun and our new human situation in the world in 2020 is this state of confinement and of lockdown. A world at a standstill until further notice, we are told. Most experts, virologists, epidemiologists, and the people “who know what they are talking about”, tell us that for this pandemic to be controlled and to be only a (regular) risk of epidemic, it will take no less than two years.

Does this mean that these two years will be under the sign of containment and border closures? We can’t tell yet. In any case, what needs to be understood and said is that our lives, our logic of interventions in the world, the systems in which we live, the balances between the systems that existed until then, all have a very high probability of changing. This war, like any war, is going to bring about a major transformation of societies, economies, economics and, of course, politics. And the health battle that is taking place today is only the first phase of this global, planetary war that the virus has provoked.

A story to build: The Great Transformation

It is time for us to reverse the propaganda, to change the narrative of this war. The first thing to do is to start from the premise that our new state of affairs is the reality we are experiencing. We must no longer believe that this is a state of exception and that events will resume as a result of this crisis. We must grasp reality and the profound transformations that are underway.

How is it possible to affirm with such certainty that profound changes are at work? Simply because these changes were already potentially present, and this crisis is a revelation of the magnitude of these changes. A simple example to grasp is the extent of the divide in the face of today’s digital and online revolution. Two worlds are now experiencing in very different ways the consequences of this crisis, this lockdown, these generalized confinements. Those who have embraced the digital world and dematerialization and those who haven’t. And this distinction can be analyzed at a global level (nations, institutions, companies, public finances, administrations) and at an individual level (humans within the same society).

Tunisia is now facing a major future economic and social crisis that will be devastating and will leave a considerable number of those who were already the most fragile and precarious and whose survival was due solely to some efforts to maintain economic structures that were based on no other need than their survival (at the exorbitant price of the ever-growing weakening of the State and its institutions). The coming crisis will come rapidly and will affect all those whose professions, businesses and activities cannot be dematerialized or digitized. Moreover, the leadership crisis we are experiencing (and we are not the only ones) proves that governance structures are outdated. When we add these factors together and we witness the liveliness of civil society and the potential strength of private fortunes when real projects are proposed to them, it is easy to regain hope and to believe that if our leaders understand the world’s survival is at stake and accept the initiatives, we could, by structuring ourselves around this “outbreak science”, find innovative solutions to raise back stronger as a society. After all, isn’t that what the scourges are all about – purifying what was meant to be purified and strengthening the systems that have managed to survive them?