2011 has been a year like no other in living memory.
There have been other recessions and economic downturns; markets have collapsed; wars have erupted; civil unrest and ethnic cleansing have ravaged individual countries, and natural disasters have decimated entire states. But for the most part, these have taken place in specific parts of the world while the rest of us have watched the news from the comfort of our secure living rooms and offices.
Not so this time round… Hardly a country, continent or economy has been spared, not even the mighty USA. Months before Standard&Poor cut the world’s largest economy credit rating to an unprecedented and unthinkable AA+ down from AAA, the Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman wrote an article in the NY Times cautioning about the austerity trends that have since triggered a massive wave of unrest across Europe (‘Confidence fairy won’t save us from the deficit hawks’, NY Times, March 25, 2011).
When we visited Athens in the summer, the permanent protesters’ village outside the Greek Parliament building was a poignant harbinger of the shape of things to come elsewhere. In terms of economic debacle, Ireland followed suit as did Spain and Italy. France’s growth is at a standstill. Meantime, England has been rocked by riots, ostensibly staged to protest the police killing of a coloured man in the London suburbs.
So far, few publications have dared mention the fact that there may be other underlying factors for the widespread discontent. The rioters didn’t do themselves any favours by setting small businesses ablaze and looting, and were branded opportunistic thugs rather than disenfranchised people with little or nothing to lose.
The riots were a gift to the Murdoch empire and those who went ‘to bed’ with its high ranking executives. The phone hacking scandal that had hitherto gripped both the UK and the US was able to simmer down to a comfortable temperature nearing oblivion.
It did, however, put in relief the uncomfortable reality of realpolitik: the all powerful alliance of mainstream media and politicians.
Another distraction from economic woes was the Norway shooting of close to 100 people, mostly youngsters, by Anders Behring Breivik, a self-styled latter day Christian crusader. The other hot spot of discontent has been brewing up, erupting every so often, for the entire year and a bit, to the extent that our exhausted radar of what is newsworthy is no longer responding.
The Arab Spring has dominated the news and seems to have become perennial, as has been the civil war in Libya. The Gulf has been enGulfed by protests, governments have fallen, blood is still being shed and the West, ridden by its
own domestic problems is still funding the fractions it considers righteous.
All the while, austerity programs on the home front are threatening to pull the rug from under the least affluent who have no media platform and no voice.
The middle class is being squeezed through VAT hikes, extended pension age, higher living and education costs.
Alleviating poverty and social iniquity is often left to proactive philanthropic organisations that are only equipped to address regional or national problems.
Some of them have been trying to cut through the ‘noise’ and attract sustained attention to the famine in Somalia. I say ‘sustained’ because with so many disaster news claiming us, we find it increasingly difficult to focus on a single issue for any length of time.
Yes, it has been quite a year and, at the time of writing, it isn’t over yet! Should we be running for cover to some faraway promised land? Nowhere to run to, says a Wall Street grandee – the economic meltdown is a systemic worldwide issue.
But for sheer escapism this issue offers unrivalled tips on island hopping around the Caribbean and crossing Asia.
Readers who live by the Carpe Diem motto should enjoy our travelogues, including a stopover to the allegorical land of Twoface, courtesy of Pearl Lam and illustrated by Justin Forbes.