About the Authors:
Amarnath Amarasingam is an Assistant Professor in the School of Religion at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada. He is also a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, an Associate Fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, and an Associate Fellow at the Global Network on Extremism and Technology.
Shweta Desai is an independent researcher and journalist based between India and France.
This piece is a part of a series of exploration by the SCN into how COVID-19 is exacerbating community tensions across our membership.
As our members endeavour to understand and monitor how the impact of misinformation, polarisation and extremism interact with COVID-19, we examine the trajectory that has led the world’s largest democracy to scapegoat Muslims for what has been termed #CoronaJihad.
Across India, the mainstreaming of Islamophobic rhetoric has spread nationwide, cutting across urban, rural, elite and poor communities. Social media in particular has been a major factor in the spread. WhatsApp for instance, with 400 million users in India alone, is the largest source of COVID-19 misinformation, with content that is easily and quickly spread among contacts, followed closely by Facebook and Twitter. Alongside online targeting of Muslims, explicit calls for hate has resulted in the exponential increase of fear among Muslim communities.
While anti-Muslim rhetoric is not new to India, COVID-19 has compounded the rift between Muslims and Hindus. From segregated treatment areas in hospital wards and viral messages to a sharp increase in violence, hatred towards and othering of Muslims is rapidly evolving from rhetoric to physical action.
As our guest authors, Amarnath Amarasingam and Shweta Desai note, some Indian states such as SCN member Maharashtra have been able to prevent further stigmatisation of Muslim communities through their public communications by adopting a more empathetic tone. However, more can be done.
We are witnessing an increasing trend within cities and societies around the world in which COVID-19 is exacerbating existing tensions and divisions amongst groups across a range of spectrums, from geographic, political and healthcare divides, to workplace, gender, racial and social inequalities. This is demonstrated in dramatic increases in the levels of xenophobia, hate and exclusion, but also of physical violence.
City leaders can help by calling out and confronting hateful rhetoric when they see it alongside maintaining connectivity and trust to communities most affected during the pandemic. We have published guides on how city leaders can help to prevent the spread of disinformation and how cities can safeguard their communities. We are also continuing to publish monthly summaries of COVID-19-related resources, tools and data for city leaders.
Have your communities suffered from misinformation? Are you worried about a rise in community divisions? Have you found a way to minimise tensions throughout the pandemic? If yes, we would love to hear from you at [email protected] and help your city weather this storm.
Download the full report #CoronaJihad: COVID-19, Misinformation, and Anti-Muslim Violence in India here.