Katima del Mar Hernández Domínguez, cultural anthropologist for social cohesion and innovation; founder of abunDance.
In these times of Covid-19, we are witnessing deep polarization and social fragmentation. We can clearly observe the emergence of two different movements: one is based on hatred, individualism, resistance, and a deep wish to return to life before the pandemic; the other is based on strengthening community bonds and building social safety nets.
Extremists Capitalize on the Pandemic
Within the first movement, far-Right narratives are on the rise. Recent research from The Insitute of Strategic Dialogue (ISD) — a London-based think tank that monitors extremism and disinformation — shows that white supremacists are using Covid-19 as a weapon against ethnic minorities, particularly against Muslim communities. “We have seen a number of cases of people suggesting that they should deliberately spread it (coronavirus), making themselves into a bio weapon,” Jacob Davey, senior research manager at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, said.
According to ISD, Telegram channels associated with white supremacy and racism grew by more than 6,000 users in the month of March. One white supremacist channel which specifically focused on COVID-19 grew its user base from just 300 to 2,700 users in March alone — an astounding 800% growth rate.
The manifestations of this movement are spreading worldwide. In India, the spread of the virus has been dubbed a “corona jihad” by supporters of the far-Right BJP government, claiming the pandemic is a conspiracy by Muslims to infect and poison Hindus. As a consequence, Muslims have seen their businesses across India boycotted, volunteers distributing rations have been called “coronavirus terrorists” and other Muslims have been accused of spitting in food and infecting water supplies with the virus. As a result, Muslims have been attacked, beaten and even lynched by Hindu mobs.
Meanwhile, in the United States, on March 24, a man was shot and killed by the FBI as he prepared to attack a hospital in the Kansas City area where coronavirus patients were being treated. According to the FBI, he considered attacking a mosque, a synagogue, and a school with a large number of black students before settling on the hospital.
In the UK, a man who claimed to have coronavirus coughed in the face of a veiled Muslim woman. In Spain, politicians are deliberatly creating fake news against Muslim communities as transmitters of the virus by intentionally showing videos of Ramadan gatherings from previous years as if they were happening today, feeding into the purity cultural imaginarium and the foreignization of Islam.
As Southern Poverty Law Center expert Cassie Miller states, “white supremacists have welcomed coronavirus because it means that we might get pushed closer to civilizational collapse, which is their goal because only after that happens can they build their white ethnostate.”
As philosopher Marina Garcés explains, if fear and suspicion between neighbors win, we would be moving a step forward towards an authoritarian society where there would be tighter social control against percieved external threats.
Life After the Pandemic
In my opinion, Covid-19 has both inflicted and exposed a systemic crisis that allows for the emergence of the new. This crisis is teaching us a humanitarian lesson that has exposed our vulnerability, interdependence, and ecodependence. We can no longer continue to place the interests of capital before those of life—since even on those terms, capitalism cannot thrive when everything around us is destroyed.
“The scientific aura of economics has helped cement a highly ideological way of ordering society around the key idea that an individualist meritocracy is an evidence-based way of delivering social justice, of making sure there is fairness and balance in the world”, says Andreea Petre-Goncalves, the president and cofounder of Flare Governance, a Brussels-based NGO focused on sustainable living. “The evidence base was always thin at best … Economics has helped enforce an individualist, competitive worldview by meting out disdain and derision on any alternatives, [which are] deemed unscientific, backward, ideological, and, frankly, stupid.”
The only way to recover is to move away from this paradigm and focus on what is truly essential. The disruption caused by coronavirus is showing us how much impact one person can have and how powerful we are as individuals. We now understand that any one of us who fails to take responsible measures is directly harming the whole community by risking the spread of the virus and increasing the national death rate. The truth is, we have always had this power, but the coronavirus has made it clear to all.
I believe we should harness this sense of individual power to push for a new world centered on the sanctity of life. The earth is self-balancing and we are with her because we are a part of her. Some of the damage to the system that we have ourselves inflicted is being repaired. The next phase is an unprecedented opportunity to build a more cohesive and safe world for everybody. “Beyond … the man and woman, beyond Hindu or Muslim, beyond black and white, there is a field which we need to access”, says Manish Srivastava of the Presencing Institute, a research centre focused on innovation. “We need to prepare whatever it takes to uncover that field.”
European Eye on Radicalization aims to publish a diversity of perspectives and as such does not endorse the opinions expressed by contributors. The views expressed in this article represent the author alone.