Today Muslims in India, like Jews in Medieval Europe, are being scapegoated for spreading COVID-19. History has repeated itself.
COVID-19 Scapegoating Victims: Unite And Fight Back
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for an “all-out effort” to end the “tsunami of hate and xenophobia” sparked by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“The pandemic continues to unleash a tsunami of hate and xenophobia, scapegoating and scaremongering,” Guterres said in a statement on May 8th. “Anti-foreigner sentiment has surged online and in the streets. Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories have spread and COVID-19-related anti-Muslim attacks have occurred.”
The media must expose all scapegoating where ever it occurs. As the Prophet Muhammad said, “The best form of jihad is to speak a word of truth (haqq) in the face of an oppressor.”
Economic Downturns and Scapegoating
The economic shutdown in the US caused by COVID-19 has led to mass unemployment and the US jobless rate has risen to 14.7% – the highest level since World War Two.
Globally, more than 4.5 billion people – half the world’s population – have been living under social distancing measures. Those restrictions have had a big impact on the global economy, with the International Monetary Fund saying the world faces the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Unfortunately, as history shows, economic distress frequently leads some people to look for a scapegoat to blame.
Scapegoating refers to the human tendency to blame someone else for one’s own economic, social or personal problems, a process that often comes from already existing feelings of prejudice toward the group that one is blaming.
Scapegoating serves as an opportunity to publicly vent one’s own frustrations, rage, and hate, while ignoring one’s own failures or misdeeds and maintaining one’s positive self-image.
What makes otherwise rational people buy into unfounded rumors about those they consider to be outsiders? One thing is that your own mortality becomes very salient. Then add to that a fear of the unknown. You know you could die, but with no idea when or how. So there’s all this uncertainty, and uncertainty is paralyzing.
One way to tame your fear—especially if some leaders make it available—is to blame another religious or ethnic group for the origin of this fear.
It is important for all members of minority groups to realize for themselves, and also teach others, that the victims of hate-filled scapegoaters are completely innocent of all responsibility for the actual problems that the scapegoater has.
Do not ever let children fall for the hate virus that claims the victims somehow brought this hatred upon themselves.
A History of Plague and Scapegoating
The Coronavirus pandemic may be novel, but Jews have had a long and tragic history of being accused of spreading deadly viruses. During the Black Death which started in 1348, hundreds of Jewish communities in Western Europe were attacked, despite the intervention of Pope Clement VI, who pointed out that Jews were dying from the plague just like everyone else. Needless to say, all that Jewish blood spilled did nothing to stop the plague.
As the plague swept across Europe, killing one third to one half the population, people had no scientific understanding of the disease and were looking for an explanation. Jews were often taken as scapegoats and accusations spread that Jews, in league with the Devil, had caused the disease by deliberately poisoning wells.
Nothing like this happened in the Arab or Muslim world, although the bubonic plague swept through it as well. But today Muslims in India, like Jews in Medieval Europe, are being scapegoated for spreading COVID-19. History has repeated itself.
Two weeks before the Indian lockdown began, between March 8th and March 10th, members of the Muslim missionary organization Tablighi Jamaat gathered from across India and Southeast Asia in Delhi for a long-scheduled meeting. Hundreds of these missionaries then left Delhi to visit villages and towns around India to preach, mostly to Muslims, and some of them unknowing carried the coronavirus with them.
Despite their innocent, now a slew of fake videos are being shared showing Muslims plotting to spread the coronavirus, including one video allegedly capturing Muslim men intentionally sneezing on others to infect them, and sadly some Hindu nationalist politicians are beginning the publically-scapegoating Muslim process.
We must not buy into this scapegoating, and we must learn from the past with the tragic case of Jews in medieval Europe during the Bubonic plague – we cannot let those in fear of their economic and physical wellbeing blame those most vulnerable. We are all susceptible to this virus, and we must, therefore, all come together and stay united.