England’s Lockdown Causes New Wave Of Virus-Related Racism

England’s recent decision to lockdown several Muslim-populated communities in the north has sparked a new wave of virus-related racism in Europe. The lockdown was put in place a day before Eid al-Adha, one of the holiest Muslim holidays of the year. Its conditions prohibit different households from mingling with one another. While the government policy is not specifically addressed towards Muslims, those practicing Eid al-Adha have felt targeted by the lockdown’s timing. The lockdown has given far-right extremists further reason to blame Muslims for the pandemic, as they have since March of this year. While it is true that ethnic minorities such as Muslims are more likely to contract the virus, this likelihood comes from the fact that many minorities live in poor, overcrowded urban areas and work in essential, front-line jobs. Unfortunately, the government’s message is less a way to help poor Muslims and more a way to further isolate them from society.

Local Politician and Muslim Rabnawaz Akbar explains how the timing of the lockdowns supported conspiracy theories. As Akbar explains, “[The government] have done it without thinking but of course, they’re highlighting a particular demographic. And people are angry and now that anger is focused on a particular community.” Because the British government has focused its policies on Muslim groups, they have allowed the perpetuation of racist stereotypes. Such biases are even upheld by members of the British Parliament, such as Craig Whittaker, who has insisted that the rise in cases among Muslim communities has resulted because “it is the BAME [Black, Asia, and minority ethnic] communities that are not taking it seriously enough.”

The fact that even members of Parliament have demonstrated a bias against England’s minority communities is very disturbing. In a time during which Muslim communities are already suffering due to the pandemic, to place further burden on them in the form of racism is unacceptable. Certainly, far-right groups are to blame for being the main accusers of these innocent minority groups. However, the British government must also take responsibility for their actions. Whether or not they intended to do so, they have allowed Muslims to carry the blame for the ongoing virus. The government must vow to protect its citizens, including minority communities. Rather than shut these communities out from society through a lockdown, Parliament needs to find ways to support victims of the virus, through healthcare benefits and subsidies. Not only will this help decrease the numbers of cases in England, but it will also demonstrate a compassion for Muslims, a lack of which has caused systemic violence to continue.

Using minority communities as scapegoats has been a pattern of blame throughout the coronavirus epidemic. In early spring when the British lockdown had first started, there were rumors spreading that Muslims were secretly gathering at mosques. Far right groups were sharing pictures of religious gatherings from previous years and using them to indict Muslims. But Muslims are not the only groups being blamed for the virus. In Italy, Catholics and refugees have been targeted for spreading the virus. According to The Center on International Cooperation, Asian-Americans have similarly experienced a rise in prejudice due to President Trump’s nickname for the coronavirus: the Chinese virus. While minority groups do tend to contract the virus more often because of their socioeconomic status, they also receive less consideration in national and international coronavirus plans. Many minority groups throughout the world, like Muslims, are put at risk because of their low economic position and the way in which they are exploited for front-line, low-paying jobs. It seems that in many nations, the needs of minority groups are being ignored in favor of majority needs.

Because there is so much uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus, government officials need to take action to stop rumors that harm minority groups. It needs to be made clear that Muslims and other minorities tend to contract the virus not because of their disregard for rules but because of their vulnerable position in society. Suppressing minority groups for the “good of the whole community” will fail to produce results. The coronavirus cannot be fully controlled until the voices and needs of these minorities are heard. The British Parliament and governments around the world must challenge themselves to put aside their biases and recognize the right of all citizens to access support in the midst of this pandemic.

Lily Gretz