Je suis Chinois

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Let me say upfront, I am not a fan of Xi Jinping or the Chinese Communist Party.

Neither am I a fan of Scott "keeping the boats out" Morrison, the current Prime Minister of the country of my birth and citizenship, or of any of the Australian Prime Ministers over the last two decades (and my expression of disappointment was read as a letter on Australian 60 Minutes after the 2010 Federal election), or of the political parties they led (with an intentional lower case "l").

I am certainly not a fan of Donald Trump or Vladamir Putin or Borris Johnson.

I could go on considering events surrounding politics and events in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and elsewhere.

But that is just it - politics - not the people, and I love people from all of these countries. I love people from all geographies, and there is absolutely no reason why I would not. 

To suggest there is a valid reason why I would not would be patently ridiculous!

In my early professional life as an internationally-known research scientist I had the privilege to mix with colleagues from throughout the world. (The photograph is the children of the other Alexander von Humboldt Fellows in Germany in 2002.) It was what I enjoyed most about my career, even more (just) than the research itself, and it is what I miss the most since I prematurely retired.

Ask yourself something honestly. When you read the title did you get a funny feeling of rejection or repulsion in your gut? And if you did, was your reaction the same when the title read "Je suis Charlie" in response to the Charlie Hebdoe terrorist attack. A similar sentiment was expressed 13 years earlier when a France 2 reporter uttered the words "Ce soir, nous sommes tous Americains" on the evening of September 11, 2001.

I do not want to presume what others felt, but at these times I felt strongly about the words, too - for me it was an expression of empathy and solidarity with those people who lost their lives and the people that mourned their passing, including the French and American people. 

At this stage please let me clear I am not a religious person. I have my own faith and beliefs, but they are my own business and I welcome diverse thought on faith and our raison d'etre.

I feel the sentiment expressed within "Je suis Chinois" whole-heartedly now with the Chinese people within China, and especially in Wuhan, suffering with the consequences of a natural disaster that has always presented a risk to all of mankind for the entirety of our existence even if scientific breakthroughs of the last century allowed us a growing underappreciation of the risks.

If you did not feel the same reading this headline as you did 5 years ago or 18 years ago, then I suggest you need to ask yourself some tough questions. Because you might not realise it, but humanity depends a whole lot more on coming to grips with xenophobia.

Now, I am not saying that you are xenophobic if you objected to this sentiment. But I am saying that it is worth your honest consideration.

Here is another question on which you can challenge yourself - is there any reason that you can think of why you would not be attracted to a partner from any particular region of the world or ethnicity? 

I can say with complete honesty that I, as a heterosexual male, find women of all ethnicities attractive.

Again, if you cannot say that honestly to yourself, then you need to sit down and consider why that is the case. It should not be. Sure when we are immature we might say that we prefer blond, or tall, or even intelligent partners, but that all goes out the window very quickly when we meet somebody with whom we make that special connection.

If you automatically reject the idea of making that connection with someone of a certain ethnicity, then I really think you should have the courage to challenge yourself on why that is your reaction.

The title of this piece has special poignancy for me for several reasons. Firstly I was living in France when the September 11 attack occurred and I was watching that France 2 broadcast. 

Now I have a friend who not only lives in Wuhan, but she is the head scientist leading the virological research team working on the outbreak. I worked for a brief period in the laboratory in France where she studied for her PhD - that is why I was in France in 2001.

I am worried for her for a lot of reasons - but I know that we all are very fortunate to have her, her team and all of the people sacrificing so much to work towards a containment for the benefit of all of humanity.

Even though my former training allows me to understand the grave crisis humanity now confronts with the emergence of this coronavirus outbreak, I have faith in people. 

None of us will ever be the same again. From now on we will all live with a much clearer understanding that we humans are far from invincible on this wonderful planet, and our existence is very much in a fine balance with nature. A balance that we have allowed to become utterly disrupted.

To respond to the serious challenges we face, we must be united. We have no alternative.

If you could not answer the questions I posed above in an inclusive fashion, you need to do the most work.

These questions, these challenges to how you see the world - they are directed to all people because xenophobia and prejudice is not restricted to any one group of people. We all need to challenge ourselves.

I am for a united humanity! 

Are you?