Now, more than ever the residents of every country are giving their trust up to their government and looking to them for guidance and answers. However, these uncertain times also allow governments to target marginalised communities as scapegoats. This discriminatory agenda spreads a virus all of its own amongst an already vulnerable group that must be protected, both from the virus itself and the hate spreading with it.
During this time of great uncertainty people are desperate for answers. Unfortunately, this leads to the blame being placed on those unable to protect themselves from this misinformation: the marginalised communities of the world. Governments have used minority communities as scapegoats for the spread of COVID-19 and/or to further their already prejudicial agendas against these groups.
Fernand de Varennes, the UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, has reported that politicians and their supportive groups are exploiting fears surrounding the COVID-19 disease, which has led to a surge in violence amongst the groups they have targeted. Across the world there has been an increase in physical attacks against Asians (specifically Chinese and those from the East Asian region), hate speech blaming Roma and Hispanics for the spread of the virus and some political leaders speaking of denying medical service access to migrants.
There has been a spike in violence as Trump nicknamed COVID-19 “the Chinese Virus” or “the Chinese Flu” in a formal address to the United States as well as when the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, blamed the spread of COVID-19 in the country on migrant workers. Mike Ainsworth, the Direct of London Services at Stop Hate U.K. reported an escalation in hate crimes and speech incidences against Asians in the nation. Marginalised groups are also being targeted, arguably indirectly, by their governments due to the lack of availability of information in minority languages. As we collect data that leads to few answers this information is being disseminated to the public governments of nations that may hold the mentality of “if we speak English so should you”, due to this, many minority groups are being excluded from some of the most important public health messages in generations. The translations of the information are not equally distributed, furthering the disparity and evident gap the marginalised already face.
As we have seen through the spread of information regarding COVID-19 since it first appeared in Wuhan in December, we know that much of what we are told can or might be false or fabricated. A pandemic plus a media frenzy creates a monster of its own and it can be false information, however, politicians are able to use these fabrications or “fake news” to their benefit. They can use this misinformation for their agendas against certain nations, religious minorities and races, through the virtue of blaming them for the catastrophe. Politicians may use tactics of scaremongering to get the people of their nation on their side and this is enhanced through the assistance of the media.
Take for instance the spread of the news of the death of a one-year old baby from COVID-19. Many news outlets reported that the baby died from COVID-19. However, although both the mother and the baby tested positive for COVID-19, the true cause of death was extreme prematurity, the baby was born three months premature. The story twisted from some truth to cause stress and hysteria amongst mothers everywhere on omitted claims of real events.
In the United States, President Donald Trump placed all blame on China early on in his handling of the pandemic in order to escape criticism of his weak and irresponsible control of the virus. His reference to COVID-19 as the “Chinese Virus” has led to other officials, such as in the U.K., to also refer to the disease as “the Chinese Coronavirus”. Officials references to the original “Coronavirus” had become too closely related to these racist connotations that the title “COVID-19”, with no prior associations, became prominent. It is up to us, the people of these nations, to reject this xenophobic speech. Now is the time to spread love and not hate.
This mistitling of the virus has led to a rise in hate and has given a stigma to the disease. In turn, it has also allowed terms relating to the pandemic to be able to be used in a hateful or derogatory way. It has led to a glossary of hate speech terms relating to COVID-19 such as: “the Wuhan Virus”, “the Yellow Virus”, “the Shia Virus”, and even “Corona”. These are all terms now being used in hate speeches and to spread animosity amongst groups nations have their own agendas against.
The media has played a heavy role in the spread of misinformation and further hate crime schemes of nations. Pakistan and several Arab nations, such as Iran, have become targets of hate campaigns started by the media, focusing on the spread and dealings of COVID in these nations. This has led to a false connection of the spread of COVID-19 being related to the Muslim Shia religion and its worshippers, a severe consequence due to false information for an already vulnerable group in many nations. In India there was a government generated campaign that blamed Muslims for the spread of COVID-19 in the country, this fabricated news was supported by numerous media outlets. Indian government authorities released information that dozen of COVID-19 cases were linked to a conference held in Delhi by a Muslim missionary group. This in turn sparked fear, hatred, attacks, and the spread of misinformation amongst the country, further dividing it.
This is not surprising when taking into account the politically dominant group in India, the Bharatiya-Jenata Party, and how they have launched multiple dog-whistling campaigns against Muslims in their country. The campaigns are the government’s way of setting up Muslims to appear as one thing (in their agenda as dangerous, as “the others”) to the public but it is to further the government’s own hate filled plan and move public opinion in their favour. This is evident in the emergence of the hashtag #CoronaJihad gaining popularity in India starting March 28th. The Islamophobia in India has now been transferred to the COVID-19 crisis as the government has to focus on the pandemic but can also use it to their benefit. This virus gives India’s government another opportunity to cast Muslims, already a susceptible group, in a darker light, as the enemy.
It is important to report crimes and protect all those at risk during these scary times. Minority and marginalised groups need our help and here at JAN Trust we are dedicated to helping, educating, encouraging, and providing necessary services to our women and community. Find out how to donate, get involved or find resources to educate, protect and get advice on what to do in the event of a hate crime or speech visit us at: https://jantrust.org.
As lockdown orders force us all to communicate online, we have a duty to combat the rise in hate against our vulnerable groups already struggling in other ways. We can resist this rise in these discriminatory tags, hate speeches and misinformation by reporting it online and using hashtags on social media to support each other. A trend has arisen for the marginalised and ethnic groups targeted by hate speech and false COVID news during the COVID-19 crisis and you can show your support there or contribute by using the hashtag: #IAmNotAVirus or #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus (etc.). We get through this #TOGETHER.