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COVID-19: Bigoted Racism and Xenophobia

Civilized societies around the globe recognize such a thing as “The Rule of Law” as the fundamental premise of human rights and democracy.

by Ruwantissa Abeyratne
Writing from Montreal

“What a sad era when it is easier to smash an atom than a prejudice.” –Albert Einstein

It was Mahatma Gandhi who said: “Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.” Besides the inevitable apprehension and fear of a pandemic spread of the Coronavirus, another misfortune that befalls humanity – racism and xenophobia – has again raised its ugly head against the backdrop of the disease. Vox reports: “The panic has exposed a deep-seated xenophobia, and with it, a symptom of its own has surfaced: hostility toward East Asian people”. The Los Angelis Times reported: “Viruses often spark panic. But the coronavirus has spread something else besides misinformation and false rumors: xenophobia and anti-China sentiment. People have fielded vitriolic attacks in public spaces, including suspicious looks and nasty comments; they’ve seen others scrambling to avoid them”.



An article written by Laurie Chen in the South China Morning Post says: “Social media campaigns like “JeNeSuisPasUnVirus” (“I am not a virus”), a hashtag originated by Asians in France to combat xenophobia, have emerged in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak”.

The era we live in is one where people are willing to overlook bigotry. Racism is often brought to bear in society through hatred and hate speech that is prompted by a sense of superiority and entitlement that is calculated to exclude those who are subject to the scourge of racism. Inasmuch as there would be no peace if normalcy in daily human intercourse were not restored, it is incontrovertible that there will be no lasting peace if the attendant hatred that goes into human conflict is not eradicated and obviated. In this context, the classic meaning of the word “obviate” (which is to make unnecessary) is intended. Inherent in any process of racial or national hatred is a certain intellectual abdication of the values instilled in a society, through a democratic process, encompassing legal, philosophical and epistemological principles. Also endemic to hatred from a national perspective, is the preeminent role played by hate speech. It is therefore imperative that a peaceful society brings to bear an irrevocable resurgence calculated to apprehend this social phenomenon both in its individual and collective incarnations. Above all, the issue must as of necessity be addressed with an openness to unforeseen questions which may divide nationalities and races and estrange them from their foundational bases".

A nation is not measured by its successes and achievements but by its compassion. Antithetical to this premise is the fact that, because the virus originated in China, is called by some a “Chinese virus” where all Chinese (and other East Asians) are jeered at as “bat eaters” and with similar epithets. Moreover, children should not be shunned in school or banned from school with no infection present in the premises. This is both arbitrary and capricious for a civilized nation. CBS has reported: “An Ontario school board is urging parents to not make assumptions about the new coronavirus that could stoke xenophobia and racism against the Chinese community.

Following the discovery of two cases of the virus in Toronto, thousands of parents signed a petition calling on the York Region District School Board to keep students whose family have visited China home from school for 17 days. (The virus outbreak began last month in Wuhan in the country's Hubei province).

The petition also demands that schools keep track of these students' travels and inform other parents so they can decide whether to pull their kids out of class”.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in its Preamble states that the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family should be recognized as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. The Declaration cautions against disregard and contempt for human rights which would result in barbarous acts that could and have outraged the conscience of mankind. It entreats humankind to make way for a world that would have human beings enjoying freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want. The absence of these aspirations could well provoke the victims to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression.

Article 2 of The International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination requires States parties, at all levels, to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination and to prohibit any form of racial discrimination by any persons, groups or organizations and, Article 4 requires States to adopt measures to prohibit any forms of dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred, incitement to racial discrimination and acts of violence and incitement of such acts, and any form of assistance to such activities.

Article 1of The Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination - a human rights proclamation issued by the United Nations General Assembly - states that discrimination on the basis of race, colour or ethnicity is "an offence to human dignity" and condemns it as a violation of the principles underlying the United Nations Charter, a violation of human rights and a threat to peace and security.

Civilized societies around the globe recognize such a thing as “The Rule of Law” as the fundamental premise of human rights and democracy. This is embodied in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - that no one is above the law – and that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in the Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

It was Dr. Martin Luther King in his speech I have a Dream who said: “I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.” I am sure all of us would like this famous quote now to apply to little Latino girls and boys, and little Chinese boys and girls as well. Of course, all little Asian boys and girls should also be included. I m sure Dr. King would have fought equally, for all of them.

Nelson Mandela supported Dr. King by saying: “ Let it never be said by future generations that indifference, cynicism or selfishness made us fail to live up to the ideals of humanism which the Nobel Peace Prize encapsulates. Let the strivings of us all, prove Martin Luther King Jr. to have been correct, when he said that humanity can no longer be tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war”

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