Trading handguns for hand wipes

Several armed groups have heeded a U.N. call for cease-fires to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. The move reflects an emerging “conscience” to see “the folly of war.”

A girl walks past members of the Syria Civil Defense Forces who are sanitizing a camp for internally displaced persons in Azaz, Syria, March 26.

In a plea last Monday, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres asked armed groups around the world to call an immediate cease-fire in their hot conflicts. “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war,” he said. Indeed, the urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic does put a clarifying perspective on all human differences. 

By Thursday, rebel forces in at least four countries – the Philippines, Syria, Yemen, and Libya – had heeded the call. The coronavirus has reached most conflict zones in the world’s poorest countries, putting everyone on a level playing field.

In effect, these militia groups decided to trade handguns for hand wipes and don humanitarian hats for military helmets. Some also welcomed outside medical aid for both themselves and the noncombatants around them.

At a deeper level, the change of heart reflects what Mr. Guterres calls “a clear conscience emerging.” By continuing to fight, armed groups are aiding the spread of the virus. The health emergency compels a “lockdown” on war, he said, so that everyone can “focus together on the true fight of our lives.”

U.N. humanitarian programs reach some 100 million people, many of them stuck in conflict areas and living in crowded camps. Arranging local cease-fires is part of the job of international aid groups so they can deliver food, water, shelter, and health services. The U.N. call for a global cease-fire in all conflicts may be a first. It reflects both the widespread health threat and an international norm to protect innocent life in the midst of war.

Armed groups often must bend to the ideals of the people they claim to represent. A poll of Palestinians, for example, shows that two-thirds support cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. In Gaza, Hamas has released a video of its fighters using hoses to spray disinfectant.

Besides seeking a cease-fire, Mr. Guterres also asked wealthy countries to provide $2 billion to aid in fighting the virus. In addition, the crisis has led a few countries to temporarily set aside their differences. Colombia and Venezuela had the first official contact in over a year during a teleconference on a joint health response. The United Arab Emirates has airlifted aid to hard-hit Iran. President Donald Trump has offered aid to North Korea.

“The scale of the outbreak creates room for humanitarian gestures between rivals,” states a brief by the International Crisis Group. Or as Mr. Guterres put it, a clear conscience is emerging among people bent on conflict.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Trading handguns for hand wipes
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today