Geopolitics

George Floyd, Coronavirus And The Dawn Of The Chinese Century

Beijing is stepping in to fill the leadership void left by a United States distracted and hobbled by its deep, structural divisions.

Black Lives Matter rally outside US consulate in Hong Kong
Black Lives Matter rally outside US consulate in Hong Kong
Santiago Villa

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — Crises accelerate trends. For almost 20 years we have been hearing about China's "awakening" and its imminent challenge to United States hegemony. But it's now, in the months since the coronavirus pandemic began, that we're really seeing the hegemonic transition happen — in real time and before our eyes. If the 20th century was the American century, it seems the 21st will be Chinese.

The U.S. is in flames because the coronavirus, instead of bringing out the country's leadership capacities and strength, has deepened its rifts and isolated it from the world. Facing humanity's gravest crisis in a generation — after climate change — the U.S. has neither led nor built bridges. Instead it has abandoned multilateral bodies created to fight epidemics like this one, and focused rather on its own, deep-seated divisions, which have everything to do with the lost leadership roll.

The murder of George Floyd is the latest in a long series of deaths at the hands of the police. They're the sinister tip of the iceberg of abuses against the non-white population and African Americans in particular. U.S. laws are designed to favor the police, and it is very difficult for policemen to be convicted of homicide.

The wave of protests against the killing will probably boost coronavirus contagion and push an already heaving health system toward collapse. It is a system, furthermore, that could not be reformed due to antagonisms between the Republicans and Democrats. The country may soon experience the most convulsive electoral year of its recent history.

Manila_Bonifacio_protest_fires

In Manila, burning effigies of Presidents Duterte, Xi Jinping and Trump. — Photo: Sherbien Dacalanio/ZUMA.

But even if Donald Trump loses, the divisions will persist. That's because Trump himself is not the problem. The issue, rather, is the people who support him. Increasing inequalities, failed promises of prosperity and the manufacturing drain to foreign countries have fueled an anger that is real. It will not go away after four years, and is motivating the electoral decisions of at least half the white, Republican-voting population.

This population is anti-immigration, racist or quasi-racist, opposed to multilateral institutions and foreign alliances, and anything else that smells of globalization. It is anchored in the idea of a dominant United States in international affairs, which needs not respect multilateral institutions nor submit to any treaty whose terms it did not set.

That is a United States that no longer exists, if it ever did. And yet, the Republican Party must answer to this voting public, whether or not it agrees with such notions. Otherwise voters will seek out eccentric figures like Trump, and the phenomenon will recur with another such figure. The Republicans must move further to the right because their voters have, and this positioning is precisely what is ending the country's international leadership.

We need one of the world's great powers to be focused on attacking some of humanity's principal problems.

China, meanwhile, has the stability of a one-party state. It has the advantage of being able to pursue state policies over a decade. It also has far more leeway diplomatically. Almost all governments in the world have good relations with China, and its president can sit and talk on good terms with the presidents of Colombia, Venezuela, Sudan, Syria, Iran, Russia, Mexico and others. It is difficult to think of a world power that enjoyed such a range before.

Is this good or bad?

The United States in its present state of crisis is definitely not good. We need one of the world's great powers to be focused on attacking some of humanity's principal problems, not sinking into its fractures. But for the United States, whose fractures are structural, that's unlikely to happen in the short or medium term.

China, for its part, seems bent on fortifying a multilateral world and its institutions. At least one of the two superpowers, in other words, is exercising some form of leadership and extending bridges. Let us hope this is the case and that it will fight the many, valid reasons why people are wary of Chinese leadership in the world. Especially because, like it or not, that leadership will be there.

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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