Fear of COVID-19 must not cause us to ignore the virus of a bigoted mind

White supremacy, racism and other lethal threats must not be forgotten while the world confronts the pandemic
Photo: Wet'suwet'en Solidarity Event - Queen's Park to City Hall, Toronto, Ontario - February 22, 2020 (Jason Hargrove / flickr)
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It was a sunny but chilly afternoon last Saturday, March 14. A perfect day for a rally at Surrey, B.C.’s Holland Park.

The Coalition Against Bigotry (CAB) had organized a demonstration in protest against the recent appearance of racist flyers close to the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple, Surrey-Delta, where a Sikh immigrant, Nirmal Singh Gill, was murdered by white supremacists in 1998. These flyers had understandably alarmed the temple officials, who have already reported the matter to the police.

CAB founder Imtiaz Popat, who made a documentary on Gill’s murder, gave a call for action. Though Surrey has a sizable population of Sikhs and other South Asian communities, only eight people, including myself, showed up to the rally.

This was disheartening, but not surprising, as even last weekend most people had begun to stay home in light of the growing threat of the new coronavirus, which has as of today claimed more than 10,000 human lives worldwide, including 19 in Canada. A virtual lockdown has now been imposed to prevent the spread of disease in B.C.

Focus still needed on hate and bigotry

While it is understandable that people are so concerned, the pandemic has eclipsed many important issues. What is more disturbing is to see how stories related to hate and violent white supremacists have taken a back seat in media coverage and public consciousness.

Another case in point is that the first anniversary of the Christchurch massacre that shook the world on March 15, 2019, did not elicit much public interest.

Fifty-one people died in targeted attacks on two mosques in New Zealand. Canadians joined the rest of the world in mourning the hate crime last year.

Similarly, incidents of violence against Muslims in India under a right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP government have been lost under the headlines about COVID-19.

Bloodshed in India

Not long ago, more than 50 people died during bloodshed in New Delhi when BJP supporters attacked peaceful demonstrators who were protesting against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act passed by the Indian government. The act discriminates against Muslim refugees coming to India from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Since it violates the secular principles of the Indian constitution, people have been mobilizing against it. Most of those who died in New Delhi were Muslims.

Notably, the BJP government scrapped the special status given to the Muslim-dominated state of Kashmir in August in the name of national security and polarizing the country's Hindu majority for future electoral gains. People in Kashmir have been fighting for the right to self-determination for years. Instead of listening to them, the BJP government has placed the state under a lockdown that has entered its seventh month. Thousands of people have been arrested while communication services remain disrupted. Canada, which remained indifferent to the situation of Kashmiri people in spite of many protests in Vancouver and other parts of the country, might now realize what it means to survive under such conditions. People who are now complaining about losing social contact in Canada following tough measures taken by the government should take a moment to think about Kashmiris who have been forced to live under even worse conditions.

Indigenous and anti-racist struggles continue

Here in Canada, the stories of Indigenous communities continuing to fight against fossil fuel mega-projects, like LNG Canada and the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, being pushed through their traditional lands without consent have been buried under the coverage of COVID-19. Another important subject buried under the pandemic headlines is the deadly spread of extremist, white supremacist groups in North America.

The coronavirus, like any other natural calamity, does not discriminate and affects everyone, rich or poor, whereas we human beings have learned nothing from nature and are discriminating against people of Chinese heritage because the pandemic originated from China.

It’s time to join hands and stand up for each other, both in our fight against the coronavirus and the virus of a bigoted mind, which is far more dangerous as it deliberately singles out communities and ethnic groups and create more divisions.

Let’s ensure that those sitting in power do not take advantage of the crisis and push everything under the rug and make people forget the other virus completely. We must keep our eyes open to these threats to our civil society.

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