Contemporary and Social Issues Democracy

Covid, Race & Islamophobia – Are World Leaders Solving, or Creating More Problems?


Meliha Hayat, UK

As the world has been engulfed by the Covid-19 pandemic, another issue has also risen amid its roots. It’s been reported that the crisis has sparked an increase in the number of racial and religiously aggravated offences throughout America and parts of Europe. 

According to UN news, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has listed some of the troubling examples of discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities, such as attacks on people and religious sites, and hate crimes targeting populations because of their religion, race or belief.

In order to counter this discrimination, Mr. Guterres called for more action to address the root causes, by encouraging respect for diversity, and for the culprits to be held accountable. [1]

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In the United Kingdom, it’s been reported that patients are asking not to be treated by doctors or nurses of Asian ethnicity. [2] According to reports published by The Guardian, NHS staff front liners have been subject to racial slurs, such as ‘Little China Girl’, and ‘Paki Doctor.’ It’s significant to point out that one in three NHS doctors are not from the UK.

Representatives of BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) healthcare workers, argue that ‘systematic discrimination’ and social inequality may have contributed to the increased risk of BAME communities contracting and dying from Covid-19. [3]

Many commentators are speculating the possible reasons behind this sudden resurgence of overt discrimination. Most fingers point to the government’s anti-immigration rhetoric, which continues to legitimise discrimination at the frontline. Prime Minister Boris Johnson used a big portion of his campaign to push a rhetoric that drove the nation towards the Brexit vote as vocal nationalists paraded the streets with signs to end free movement and to tighten the borders.

Across the pond, America has been experiencing a more escalated scenario. To date, there have been a total of 9,581,747 reported cases of Covid-19, with 237,244 reported deaths. [4] These numbers are the tragic outcome of the US President’s relaxed approach to this crisis. Many commentators believe President Donald Trumps’ relaxed approach to the pandemic, along with his obscure views towards cures and protection, has caused the American people to suffer more so than any other developed nation. 

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But it is not just his absurd cures that have taken over social media, but his views on immigration, ethnic minorities and Islamophobic rhetoric have stirred an even greater crisis within the United States. Despite the fact that President Trump has continually stated he is ‘the least racist person anywhere,’ endorsements from former KKK leader David Duke further reinforce his image as the face of white supremacy. [5]

The convergence of the pandemic and the impact on people of colour, the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, among others, and the president’s policy decisions and ignorant proclamations have laid the problem bare. [6] Beginning with his hateful rhetoric towards Mexicans and his plans to ‘build a wall,’ to the travel ban on Muslim countries, separating migrant children from their parents at the border, to criticising cities with a large black and brown population. The rise of the pandemic has now seen Asian Americans as the new targets of discrimination and prejudice. 

France is also not far behind – the headline of French Magazine the Courrier International published a recent headline stating in France, racism has become more contagious than the coronavirus. [7] Racist acts and comments against people of Asian origin are spiralling in France. Not to mention the recent rising tensions and Islamophobia rhetoric is also another hot point issue. Many commentators are questioning whether Macron and his government are resorting to diversionary tactics to divert attention from the other political shortcomings. 

Studies and polls conducted by IPSOS [8] in September 2020 revealed that the people of France had a negative view of the current government and felt they handled the 3 key issues poorly; the Covid 19 pandemic, the declining purchasing power and the future of the social security system. It’s believed the government was unable to make the correct decisions to protect the French people, with particular negligence towards wearing masks in the initial stages of the pandemic.

But France is only a recent example, most countries share a history of political scapegoating during a crisis to divert people from the main issues. But Covid 19 has had a reverse effect, and in turn it has shed a light on the greater shortcomings of governments throughout the world. 

In parts of China during the pandemic, many black people have faced serious discrimination and racism in Chinese cities. Reports from Guangzhou are saying that immigrants and expats of black ethnicity have been driven out of their houses and forced to self-quarantine. [9]

There has also been a resurgence of Islamophobic sentiments in India. It’s been reported that religious tensions between Hindu nationalists and Muslims has escalated due to Covid-19. Hate speech has erupted all through social media with hashtags such as: ‘Coronajihad,’ or ‘Bio Jihad,’ being widely circulated. [10]

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The fact that fear has brought about this resurgence is telling of the underlying issues many of us had hoped had been somewhat resolved, but where the government has fallen short it seems religious leaders are doing their best not only in the fight against Covid-19 but are also proving essential in reducing racial tensions. 

The Global leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba) has spoken openly about the need for unison and kindness during this pandemic.

During a Friday sermon delivered in March 2020, after emphasising the significance of the precautionary measures that should be adopted, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba) said:

‘The ultimate tool we have at our disposal is that of prayer. We should all pray for the entire world that Allah the Almighty may save mankind from the harmful effects of this virus.’ [11]

In an article published by the Review of Religions, Abid Khan noted that His Holiness further stated the following: 

 ‘Our response lies in the righteous example of the noble Prophet (sa) who proclaimed in his Farewell Address that a black person is not superior to a white, nor is a white person superior to a black, and that an Arab is not superior to a non-Arab, nor is a non-Arab superior to an Arab.

‘Our response is guided by the Holy Qur’an, which from the outset has condemned slavery and called for the emancipation of those who have been subjugated and oppressed. Allah’s Word has unequivocally laid down that all people are born equal.

On many occasions, His Holiness (aba) has stated that unity is mankind’s greatest strength, the global pandemic has given the world an opportunity to revaluate where the future should be heading. 

His Holiness, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V (aba) with Respected Justin Trudeau (2016)
© Makhzan-e-Tasaweer

Using the example of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, His Holiness commended Trudeau’s statement, which reinforced the importance of religious sensitivities, stating if other world leaders were to follow this example, nations would be able to reduce conflict amongst people of different faith and races. His Holiness commented: ‘Here it is also necessary for me to commend the Prime Minister of Canada, as he recently made a very wise statement where he said that comments that explicitly injure the religious sentiments of others should be abstained from. If only other leaders would learn from these comments made by the Prime Minister of Canada in the interests of the peace of the world.‘ [12]

It seems as though the western world is pivoting towards change, during his victory speech President elect Joe Biden stated: ‘I pledge to be a President who seeks not to divide, but to unify. Who doesn’t see Red and Blue states, but a United States.‘ [13] This may be a turning point for America, but what of the rest of the world? Only time will tell, but it seems religion could certainly play its role in unifying the world. But that is only when politicians and global leaders stop using religious and ethnic minorities as scapegoats to create division and discord. 

About the Author: Meliha Hayat is a freelance writer and has been featured in The Times, Guardian and Huffington Post. She also serves as a religious correspondent and producer for the Voice of Islam radio station in London, and Deputy Editor of the women’s section at The Review of Religions.