October 2020

Too much to lose

Your September editorial perfectly underscores the counterproductive nature of the ‘zero-sum’ mentality displayed by both the US and China. It would be so even at the best of times, but with the coronavirus laying waste to economies and stoking a mood of fear worldwide, it is a real and present danger.

Ideological one-upmanship will serve no one’s interests as the pandemic continues to intensify the already deep mistrust that exists between Washington and Beijing in every sphere.

And any attempts at playing a blame game will surely generate lasting resentment on both sides that could adversely influence policies for years to come –especially if Trump gets a second term in office come November.

The notion that one system of governance is superior to another might hit an emotional nerve with many people, but it is not helpful politically or diplomatically, especially in a continent of such disparate cultures and political models as Asia. Even the race to develop a vaccine against COVID is being politicised in this way now, with both China and America vying to exhibit scientific supremacy.

We do not live in a world of black & white absolutes, and those in power should be more aware of this than most. If these two superpowers do not desist from their zero-sum thinking, we may all be losers in the end.

Philip McLoughlin


Cuts both ways

Professor Riyaz Punjabi’s article on re-conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque is heartfelt and informative, and he makes fair comment when he says the modern world should shun conversion of religious places. However, it is important to look at the whole picture over a longer period, and not to have double standards.

Concerns that Hagia Sophia is now a mosque are understandable, in light of wider concerns over Turkey’s increasing Islamisation and nationalism of the Erdogan government. But it should be noted that, even though Sophia is no longer a museum, outside of prayer times the site will still be open to everyone, of all faiths and none, and the Christian icons and mosaics will remain in place and undamaged.

Also, history shows us many examples of conversions in the other direction, when mediaeval mosques were converted into churches – for example, Spain’s Mezquita Catedral, at one time the Great Mosque of Cordoba – or, as happened with the Hamza Bey Mosque in Thessaloniki in Greece, the mosque was changed to a shop and a cinema screening ‘adult’ films, which was not very sensitive to its religious roots.

Nor should it be forgotten that secularist societies do not necessarily equate with tolerant ones, as can be seen in the West’s ‘cancel culture’ today.

Ultimately, I share Professor Punjabi’s belief that, to allow the ‘slow march of the civilised world towards peace, brotherhood and human development’, it is vital to keep nurturing ‘tolerance and respect for all religions and places of worship’, as well as for those who do not have any religious faith. But I also believe that it works both ways.

Fatima Mirza



A well-balanced webinar

Regarding The Democracy Forum’s September 22 webinar, ‘Understanding China’s challenge to the international order”, I would like to say that  I think this was one of the most balanced and informative discussions on China and its international role I have ever heard.

Many thanks

Baroness Frances D’Souza

Former Lord Speaker of the House of Lords of the United Kingdom