In countries like India and Israel Muslims are being scapegoated for the spread of Covid-19.
When the Black Plague ravaged Europe in the middle of the 14th Century, killing roughly 50 percent of those infected and one-third of the continent's population at the time, rumours spread that Jewish people were poisoning wells to spread the disease.
It ultimately led to the massacre of thousands of Jews in several waves of anti-Semitic pogroms, leaving entire predominately Jewish villages wiped out.
Six hundred years later, Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party characterised typhus as the Jewish plague, which became the rationale for the delousing baths, a "camouflage for the gas chambers."
"When there are big epidemics, people get scared," Martin J. Blaser, a historian and professor of medicine and microbiology at Rutgers University told The Jewish News. "They often look to blame some kind of intruder or stranger. It has happened especially with the Jews."
In the age of a viral pandemic, specifically Covid-19, Muslims have replaced Jews as the world's most scapegoated religious minority. It's a clear demonstration of how anti-Semitism and Islamophobia remain inextricably tied, and also emphasises how the coronavirus crisis is not only a health issue but also one that poses an existential threat to social cohesion, given it's weaponised to exacerbate long-standing hatreds – but particularly against Muslims.
Pretty much wherever you find persecuted Muslim minorities, you find Covid-19 related conspiracies and fake news stories being weaponised to further their persecution, which has been the case in Israel, India, Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
In Israel, the Netanyahu government is laying the groundwork to blame Palestinians for the spread of Covid-19 by associating the virus with predominantly Muslim Palestinian Israeli citizens, and he said as much in a recent address, telling a delegation of doctors that "unfortunately instructions are not strictly adhered to in the Arab sector."
"I ask for the cooperation of all Arab citizens of Israel. I ask you, for your sake and for the sake of our shared future, please follow the orders, [otherwise] a lot of people will die, and these deaths could be prevented with your help," said the Israeli Prime Minister.
This was Netanyahu's subtle way of pinning an impending catastrophe on Palestinian Israeli citizens by suggesting they, and they alone would be held responsible for the deaths of Jewish Israeli citizens. It is a naked attempt to absolve his government of any wrongdoing or missteps in the event the Covid-19 crisis becomes measurably worse.
Elsewhere in the world, Muslims are already being blamed for the spread of coronavirus – and unsurprisingly it's producing violent and deadly outcomes.
In India, a 22-year-old Muslim man from New Delhi was lynched and viciously assaulted on Sunday after a mob of Hindu thugs falsely accused him of plotting to spread coronavirus in his home village.
Last Tuesday, a young Muslim man was beaten to death in Jharkhand after a mob accused him and two of his friends, who survived their injuries, of spitting on surfaces to spread Covid-19 to Hindus.
These attacks didn't take place in a vacuum but within the context of a well-orchestrated and sophisticated campaign by pro-government Hindu nationalists to blame Muslims for the spread of the virus. This claim of a concerted campaign is supported by an investigation conducted by Voyager Infosec, a New Delhi based digital lab, which identified more than 30,000 videos targeted at Muslims on the social media platform TikTok.
When ten Indonesian nationals tested positive for the virus on March 19 – roughly ten days after attending an annual gathering held by the Tablighi Jamaat, a Muslim missionary movement – Hindu nationalist groups and individuals seized the moment as an opportunity to falsely hold Muslims solely responsible for spreading the deadly virus throughout the country.
Hashtags like #CoronaJihad and #BioJihad were shared almost instantly across social media platforms, hundreds of thousands of times.
In the past week, dozens of videos and fake stories that allege Muslims are spreading Covid-19 have gone viral, translating to tens of millions of views, including; Muslim Man Spitting on Fruits to Spread Corona, Muslims Denying Hindus Rations in Karachi, Muslim Worker in Restaurant Spitting in Food to Spread Coronavirus, and Muslims Sneezing in Unison to Spread Corona.
These fake stories are doing what they're creators intended to do: incite violence and discrimination against Muslims, which they hope will make life so unbearable for adherents of the Islamic faith that they will have no choice but to self-deport eventually.
"Eliminating the greyzone of coexistence" between Muslims and non-Muslims has become the goal of all extremist ideological groups, including ISIS (Daesh) and the European far-right.
In the United Kingdom, British counterterrorism police are investigating far-right groups accused of using the coronavirus crisis to fuel anti-Muslim sentiment, after dozens of incidents of were recorded by Tell Mama, a UK based hate crime-monitoring group.
"These extremists are using coronavirus to get their pervasive message across that somehow the Muslim communities are to blame for the spreading of the virus," Iman Atta, director of Tell Mama, told Arab News. "It is mainly repeat offenders — individuals who are already known to hold anti-Muslim views — who are repeatedly seeing this as a way to cause community turmoil and tension."
Last week, Tommy Robinson, the former leader of the English Defense League who has built his fame on anti-Muslim bigotry, shared a video on Telegram that alleged Muslims in the city of Birmingham were meeting at a "secret mosque" in defiance of stay-at-home orders, inferring that the religious minority is somehow plotting to sabotage British society by spreading the virus. The video was shared more than 10,000 times, according to The Guardian.
The undeniable truth, however, is this – no Muslim anywhere has ever hidden in a mosque, spat or sneezed to spread the coronavirus. What's also true is scapegoating 'undesirable groups' has been a staple of pandemics.
Where most see crisis, others, particularly the bigoted, see an opportunity, and one that shouldn't go to waste. Demonising an already otherised cultural, religious or ethnic group remains a powerful weapon for those who profit from fear and uncertainty.
While the targets may change from crisis to crisis, the racist and xenophobic tropes remain constant. Yesterday it was the Jewish people who were demonised for spreading disease. Today it's Muslims.
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