THE Covid-19 pandemic has halted life as we know it but has also brought the world closer in facing a common enemy. Most of us follow similar routines — marked by fear, anxiety and frustration that are almost unprecedented in their intensity.
New global sensibilities are coming to the fore; the emotions and concerns we feel now may stay with us for longer than what would be expected by many. In fact, one of the starkest manifestations of our growing emotional imbalances is evident in the increasing hate and divisions that we see around us.
Covid-19 is not the first global pandemic. However, faster modes of transport and greater intermingling means that the contagion has spread in no time at all and its effects are being felt across the world. Modern technology has made it possible to bring news and warnings to our screens, tablets and handsets. What is interesting is that despite the rapid flow of information, humanity has still not been able to forge a common front for the fight against the pandemic. In fact, technology’s darker side is that it has become a source of spreading hate and xenophobic views.
Most global strategists agree that the coronavirus has so far posed two major challenges for the world; the first challenge is linked to the projected economic recession, and the other entails hate and hate speech.
Despite the flow of information, we have still not been able to forge a common front against the virus.
The economic challenge is quite critical and has already caused a reduction in production and the loss of millions of jobs across the world. As projected by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the global economy could shrink by up to one per cent in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. In particular, the UN Conference on Trade and Development has painted a gloomy picture of the effects of the virus on Pakistan’s economy. It said in a report that Pakistan is among those nations at risk of experiencing a “frightening combination” of factors, including mounting debts, a potential deflationary spiral, and a disastrous impact on the health sector.
While economies will recover sooner or later, the spread of hate can be prolonged for years, especially in societies that are already witnessing hyper-nationalism, extremism and communal hate. The challenge can become complex for weak economies because hate thrives on crises, conflicts, disasters and pandemics.
New sensitivities are coming out in deceptive ways. While on the one hand, there is a sense of global citizenry, on the other, there is an adverse reaction to globalisation. The concept of global citizenry, however, has not matured enough and people have yet to emerge from their comfort zones and learn how to adapt to new experiences. Indeed, many collectively reject globalisation, often spewing hate. A UN expert has warned that states need to clamp down on hate speech that targets religious or ethnic groups by holding them responsible for the crisis. The UN has noticed that the pandemic has caused an upsurge in the already prevalent religious intolerance in many countries.
Global politics has also triggered serious debate among the intelligentsia and policy circles about the future of populism, nativism and the political question of healthcare. Unfortunately, world leaders are contributing little towards the collective good. They are avoiding the very crucial question of whether healthcare should primarily be a subject of public good or a personal choice.
Geopolitical strategist Philippe Dauba-Pantanacce has noticed that the policies of many global leaders have become inward-looking, and issues which should have been postponed for post-pandemic politics have taken centre stage. For example, the question of the origin of the coronavirus outbreak is consuming much of the energy that ought to be used to develop a global response against the pandemic. Sadly, the debate that started with terming the coronavirus the ‘Chinese virus’ has become a source of hate against Asian communities in the US, Australia, Europe, and even India.
While xenophobic terms such as ‘Kung Flu’ have been doing the rounds on social media, a similar stigmatisation of Muslims is under way in India. Indeed, an organised hate campaign is going on against Muslims in India, where hatemongers are not only using social media but also television channels to disseminate their toxic views, and using terms like ‘corona jihad’.
Hate incidents have also been reported from China where there are complaints about the racial profiling of African nationals; there were instances where they were denied entry into restaurants and hotels and were manhandled. The Middle East is no different. Public opinion has turned against the Jews; the Israelis, in turn, are blaming the Palestinians.
However, India has emerged as the worst example of religious extremism, where the state is patronising Hindutva groups, radical elements within the government, and a segment of the media; all are using the hate card against Muslims and other religious minorities in India. The world is now taking notice of the growing anti-Muslim hatred in that country. Public opinion about it is changing in the Gulf states, where India has invested a lot to secure its geopolitical interests. This will have political and economic consequences.
Incidents of hate against religious minorities have also been reported from parts of Pakistan, where some charities have denied relief goods to Christians and Hindus. A campaign against the Ahmadi community is in full swing on social media, which is a true reflection of the collective hatred that the Muslim majority harbours against this community. Similarly, banned sectarian groups have also found an opportunity to make themselves relevant again, mainly by employing hate speech.
These testing times are also exposing internal vulnerabilities. Hate is a convenient escape route for our inner fears, as is stigmatising others at a time of misery for all. It is interesting how our collective consciousness does not remember pandemics for long, though wars, conflicts and similar crises are a continual source of worry. At least man-made crises can be resolved.
The writer is a security analyst.
Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2020