Virus and vitriol: Are Muslims to blame for spreading?

Virus and vitriol: Are Muslims to blame for spreading?

Islamophobia has spread from Xinjiang to Germany, warns Faisal Devji, Professor of History at the University of Oxford: “From the mass incarceration of Uighurs in China, Rohingya terrorised and driven out of Burma, Indians hacked to pieces and burnt alive in Delhi, Germans of Turkish origin shot dead by a far-right activist in Hanau.”[1] Once sporadic and local, anti-Muslim attitudes have more recently acquired a global dimension.[2] The rise of COVID-19 has sped up this global spread of Islamophobia.

Don’t blame the virus
The first major reports of COVID-19 stirring anti-Muslim feeling came from India in April. The outrage over a Muslim mass gathering in Delhi sparked not only a new wave of COVID-19 cases but also a nationwide “Islamophobic turn”[3]. National news in the country blamed Muslims for spreading the virus, and Twitter trended with Islamophobic hashtags like #CoronaJihad and #COVID-786 (786 carries religious meaning for Muslims). This ‘turn’ created alarm within India. “Instead of corona quarantine, we should have a hate quarantine,”[4] declared historian Rana Safvi.[5] Two months later, in June, news broke out that half of the UK’s imported COVID-19 infections were from Pakistan.

Blame-and-ban
Headlined by the Telegraph[6], this news quickly spread to the Sun[7] and MailOnline[8]. Read by millions, it flamed far-right anti-Muslim propaganda that, like in India, blamed both the UK’s COVID-19 outbreak on Muslims and the renewed lockdown in Leicester. Professor of Journalism at Kingston University London Brian Cathcart warned that this was a case of “dishonest and distorted journalism”[9] spreading hate against Britain’s Muslim minority: “A disparate collection of half-baked whisps of information [turned] into a stick with which to beat Muslims.”[10] The Telegraph’s claim, he forensically explained, was entirely false. Far from 50 per cent, in fact, fewer than 0.05 per cent of all new COVID-19 cases in England came from Pakistan.[11] The Telegraph never gave evidence or confirmed any source for its headlined figure.[12] Despite this, and eerily evoking the Muslim travel ban, it called for stricter quarantine checks on arrivals from ‘high risk’ countries like Pakistan.[13]

Blaming behind evidence
On 30 July, just hours before Eid al-Adha – one of the holiest festivals in Islam – the UK government locked down communities across its ‘Muslim belt’: Greater Manchester, Burnley, Blackburn with Darwen, Bradford and Leicester.[14] While the government defended its actions based on evidence, it also left British Muslims worried about a new wave of blame. “It must be the Muslim community’s fault,” said Manchester Councilor Rabnawaz Akbar. “People are angry, and now that anger is focused on a particular community.”[15] Tellingly, Conservative MP Craig Whittaker suggested that England’s ethnic minorities were not adhering to pandemic guidelines.[16] Evidence shared with the government’s own scientific advisers, however, also warned of rising Islamophobia caused by lockdowns. Much like how lockdown measures have led to an explosion of online anti-Semitic hate incidents in Europe, the lockdown in Leicester had sparked “extensive racist commentary on social media,”[17] the evidence revealed. British Muslims now brace themselves for what may come their way after the Eid al-Adha lockdown.

Faisal Khalil

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[1] From Xinjiang to Germany: how did Islamophobia become a global phenomenon? | Faisal Devji
[2] From Xinjiang to Germany: how did Islamophobia become a global phenomenon? | Faisal Devji
[3] Coronavirus: Islamophobia concerns after India mosque outbreak
[4] Coronavirus: Islamophobia concerns after India mosque outbreak
[5] Coronavirus: Islamophobia concerns after India mosque outbreak
[6] Exclusive: Half of UK’s imported Covid-19 infections in June are from Pakistan
[7] Half of UK imported coronavirus cases since June 4 ‘originate from Pakistan’
[8] Pakistan was the origin for HALF of Britain’s 60 recent imported coronavirus cases
[9] The Telegraph, COVID-19 and Pakistan: The Making of Hate Propaganda
[10] The Telegraph, COVID-19 and Pakistan: The Making of Hate Propaganda
[11] The Telegraph, COVID-19 and Pakistan: The Making of Hate Propaganda
[12] The Telegraph, COVID-19 and Pakistan: The Making of Hate Propaganda
[13] The Telegraph, COVID-19 and Pakistan: The Making of Hate Propaganda
[14] In the latest sign of Covid-19-related racism, Muslims are being blamed for England’s coronavirus outbreaks
[15] In the latest sign of Covid-19-related racism, Muslims are being blamed for England’s coronavirus outbreaks
[16] In the latest sign of Covid-19-related racism, Muslims are being blamed for England’s coronavirus outbreaks
[17] In the latest sign of Covid-19-related racism, Muslims are being blamed for England’s coronavirus outbreaks