By Mass L. Usuf –
“Having COVID-19 is not anybody’s fault. Every case is a victim.” ~ WHO Emergency Programme Director Mike Ryan.
One is non-human and has no face. Not vicious nor vengeful. Behaves naturally and without prejudice. Not visible to the naked eye. The other is human and has a face. Vicious and vengeful. Behaves irrationally and with prejudice. Clearly visible. One is the corona virus which is a pandemic globally and, the other is, racism which is endemic locally.
With regard to an India specific question on 6th April 2020 regarding racial profiling, little wonder that WHO responded as follows. “Having COVID-19 is not anybody’s fault. Every case is a victim. It is very important that we do not profile the cases on the basis of racial, religious and ethnic lines.” The Sri Lankan media must learn from this.
Face Cover Comedy
Remember the dramatics about the burqa last year post 21/4 bombings. The former President and the then government were the enactors of that farcical drama. They hastily gazetted the ban on Burqa, an attire which had no connection or relevance to the 21/4 bombings. The opposition parties sheepishly tagged along with the irrational popular sentiment of that time neglecting their responsibility to uphold the civil liberties of the citizens. The mainstream media and the social media were quick to pick on it and like the corona virus made it a contagion which infected the minds of many people. (See: Burqa, Nikab Or Hijab – Dangers Of Hasty Law Making, Colombo Telegraph 09/05/2020).
Funnily, today, everyone including the street urchin who acted violently against the Muslim woman for wearing the Burqa/Niqab are themselves wearing the face cover (mask). The idiomatic expression, ‘eating one’s word’ is appropriate here. This comment is obiter.
The point to note is not the action of those who were against burqa/niqab wearing the face mask now but, importantly, the fall out of their unjust, hostile and bigoted campaign against it. This had the domino effect inter alia of creating vigilantism within the society which was far from what is called civilised behaviour. The highly biased Goebbels approach of certain infamous media outlets contributed in great measure to make discriminating against and, harassment of, Muslim women the new ‘normal’.
Before long notices with the picture of burqa/niqab were ubiquitous. Banning the wearer from entering various premises. Taking this hostility to the next level were the spontaneous vigilante groups. They did take the law into their hands and harassed the innocent Muslim women in public. Muslim women who were not wearing these dresses but the normal shalwar were being harassed as well. There were also several reports of physical handling of Muslim women by men at various places. The extent of intimidation, threat and insult thrown at innocent women were absolutely unprecedented in the history of this country. Evidently, this was not by accident but by clear design. (See: Burqa Signifies Freedom To Wear & Not Islam, Colombo Telegraph 23.02.2020).
Brave and Courageous
Today, this country is having its fair share of the challenge of facing the global pandemic. The government, the tri-forces, police, doctors, nurses, essential services and all others are in the frontline. They are aware of the risks to their life but yet opt to be on the line of duty to save and protect the citizens of this country. We need to remember these brave and courageous souls with gratitude. We must salute them for their selfless service.
It is common sense that the corona virus does not infect a person based on caste, race, colour or religion. Thousands of people are in their houses under lock down. Many have lost their daily livelihood, those who were employed fear of being laid off, salaries are either not being paid or paid less, the sick are unable to seek treatment, those with terminal diseases are staring at the empty space hopelessly, those who are dependent on drugs are without their medicines and the distress list continues. These are sacrifices made by the many hundreds of thousands of our citizens in the rear-guard of this engagement. We must salute them too.
It is no secret that rabid racism is endemic in certain sections of our society. Very sadly, these elements opportunistically want to use this pandemic to further their disgraceful agenda of dividing the people and humiliating the Muslims. It is very clear that ‘purpose built’ social media platforms are strategically on hyperactive mode in their hate mongering campaign. In addition, what is inexplicable is the stubbornly active collaboration by some mainstream media outlets in ‘othering’ the Muslim community. Each function complementing and reinforcing the other. These media houses have consistently been accused by the larger segment of the society for sowing the seed of suspicion and discord among the communities. The public is well aware of the slanted interpretations, biased reportages, deceitful comments, pretentious honesty, ‘innocent’ ridicule and all other theatrics spewed by these shammers with that mocking smile. It seems that all the available tools for the onslaught targeting the Muslims are presently up and running.
Professor Chomsky in relation to media manipulation says that the Media uses the emotional aspect more than the rational aspect. The emotional aspect short circuits rational thinking. It finally opens the door for the implantation of ideas, fears, anxieties and compulsions.
Ideally, it is essential that any news given in whatever form radio, print or electronic is presented with due accuracy and done so impartially. Public interest should be foremost in the minds of the news provider. The Sinhala rural population who are innocent and vulnerable would naturally believe in these types of propaganda. It is very unfortunate, that some of our mainstream and social media are saturated with consistent populist hate mongering. Through these exercises, they mould deceptive and treacherous public opinion against the target community. Professor Noam Chomsky once said, “The general population does not know what is happening, and it does not even know that it does not know”. Imagine how easy it is for these degenerative elements to misguide the innocent and peace-loving people.
The burqa/niqab affair is related to a dress and is not life threatening. The negligent mishandling of the burqa/niqab affair by the previous government culminated in spontaneous vigilantism. In contrast, the corona virus is life threatening. It is incumbent on the government to take positive measures to control the racially profiled news reporting and to seriously clamp down on the spread of Covid 19 hate via the social media. The efforts of these evil minds are aimed at misleading the public to think that the Muslims are to be blamed for the corona virus or that they are deliberately spreading it.
The potential for the disintegration of the social structure looms large if the movement of Muslim people to areas of the majority communities are restricted by vigilantism. The same form of overt acts of discrimination, harassment and threat as elucidated above would then be seen in public. Legitimate resistance by the Muslims would be misinterpreted by the media as unsolicited violence and/or misinformed as unwanted aggression. All the ingredients for a racial conflagration would have then been set in place only waiting to be triggered. At a time when the country is just coming out of a disease outbreak will it be able to sustain an outbreak of racial violence?
Every civilised and democratic government is responsible to uphold and assure the internal security of the country for the welfare of all its citizens. Contextually, unless these unsocial elements in the mainstream and social media are brought under control, the State will only be sending the wrong signals to these perpetrators. They would think that the state machinery is encouraging one section of the people to act with impunity against another? Worst of all, the innocent public will be thinking that all what is being said to them through the media are nothing but the gospel truth. It is fervently hoped that the government would initiate appropriate steps to stem this growing threat to the internal security of the country.
“Until you realize how easily it is for your mind to be manipulated, you remain the puppet of someone else’s game.” ― Evita Ochel