M. A. Siraj
We are living through uncertain times. True the world is under an unprecedented lockdown severely blocking physical movement. But thanks to the social media, individuals have never been more accessible, be it through text, voice and visual. It is this characteristic that sets the current crisis apart from its predecessors.
We are up against a monster – the Covid-19 – that is unsparing in its depredations. It calls for an all-out war urging removal of all stops. But seriousness of the public initiative is not sinking in due measure in certain sections. All the three deaths in Karnataka and the ones in neighbouring Telengana have happened among Muslims. Viral videos have shown police brutally beating up people gathered for or coming out after namaz. Such statistics and images help boost narratives that a section of the media would like to project to further the hate campaign.
It also fosters the exclusionary trend within the society. It is not sufficient to reject all these as part of deliberate calumny. There is need for introspection as to what kind of myths, blind beliefs, untruths and falsehood get into the psyche of a section of people that make them defy the authorities and consequently fall victim to the catastrophe rather than joining the fight against it.
Ravages of Covid-19 are unmistakably huge and widespread. As told in uncertain terms, for any individual, self-protection should be the foremost concern. The contagion does not recognize the national borders. No matter who belongs to which faith, it, for sure, hurts and kills. Had it been otherwise, Haram at Makkah, Balaji Temple at Tirupati, and Vatican in the heart of Italy would not have shut their doors. It does not discriminate between the rich and the powerful, as well. Had it been so, Boris Johnson, Tom Hanks, Justin Trudeau’s wife, and above all Prince Charles would have been safe. It infects people in all regions regardless of climate zones. Look at the tally in Russia (563 +ve till March 25), Canada (4,689 infected and 53 deaths till March 27) and steaming Singapore (infected 683 till March 25).
Some of us would like to believe myths propagated by religious zealots who do not want to give up the coloured glasses even in matters of the omnibus strike of pandemics. Pandemic is a pandemic for it shows no partisanship in its march forward and while devouring lives. The myth prevalent is that Iran and China have been specially targeted by the virus. The plea trotted out is: Iran has been selected due to its hostility to the US and China owing to its emergence as a challenger to the US power. In the same breath, one would like to refer to safe-sailing of Turkey and Israel. These are home-spun myths, given the worldview in terms of Muslims vs. the forces inimical to them. It is self-delusion, to say the least. Google carefully and find for yourself. As of March 26, Turkey had registered 2,433 cases and 59 deaths. Israel has 3,460 cases testing positive (50 of them serious) and 12 deaths as of March 28.
One could be entitled to his/her religious beliefs. But when it comes to public health, law and order, the State has to have the final say. No matter what one may do to neutralize a virus on personal level, it is the State’s responsibility to contain and wipe out contagious pathogens. What lies beyond the tip of nose of an individual is public space and the State’s domain. No matter what an individual’s belief system prescribes, the ultimate responsibility to sanitize that domain is State’s. In critical times like this, the State’s authority must dictate as to the exercise of which personal liberties and in what measure, make the public space vulnerable, of course with due diligence from experts. It is something one ought not to resent and resist.
The challenge before the State is huge. As is well known, the contagion is new and knows no cure. Stalling its progress through social distancing is all that is in the realm of knowledge and the State is doing its best to checkmate it. And that is what most Muslim states are also implementing. It will be grotesquely unfair to interpret the measures as one targeting the freedom to worship, travel, dine in public or earn livelihood. Special times need special measures.
There are videos from the neighbouring countries peddling theories of bio-weapons, depopulation measures, curbing the rise of a new superpower and all that. Fertile minds are never at rest. Grandiose superpower plans and strategies and theories to that effect are best left to think-tanks to grapple with. If indeed such plans are afoot, discussing them in street corner tea shops and WhatsApp groups is to trivialize them. Such strategies emerge out of years of research by academicians endowed with great vision, ample learning, profound study and linguistic sophistry.
On yet another level, there is a whole lot of fraternity that comes up with simplistic solutions in remedies with roots in ancient text. Peddlers of such cures are not exclusive to a particular community or faith. They could be seen across the line dividing communities. One could be entitled to what he opts for to boost physical immunity. But to project them as panacea for all ills, all the time, is to mortgage all the wisdom to belief. This is not the time when obscurantist beliefs could be allowed to cloud the sound judgment. The State’s responsibilities are indeed onerous.
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