Silly antics in times of crisis


  • Letters
  • Friday, 31 Jan 2020

THE 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCov) is making the headlines globally. We should all know what it is by now and understand that it is not dissimilar to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus (also a coronavirus which was less easily transmitted but more lethal).

I am not going to delve into what the coronavirus is. I am primarily taking issue with the mass hysteria and proliferation of racially tinged reactions to the news.

A number of memes have been shared online, increasing the “debate” on the outbreak. This is normal, however, as it is human nature to turn to humour in times of trouble.

It is entirely normal to voice out an opinion that no one asked for; we all want to be heard, and we all want to feel important.

However, what I find to be distasteful (even rather disgusting) is the way in which the news is being taken in Malaysia. There have been needless attacks on Chinese culture and food traditions, and even a call for an overall travel ban on visitors from China (Malaysia has already imposed a ban on travellers from the affected areas in China).

Is this really how something as serious as this should be handled – by “channelling” inane biases and stereotyping a culture?

In the face of a growing pandemic, why are racial stereotypes suddenly acceptable? Seeing as Malaysia is a multicultural nation, I would think that we would have more sensitivity, be more rational in analysing the consequences of sharing so-called jokes (which are really attacks), and stop ourselves before contributing another malignant tumour of a meme.

Instead, what we have is a country-wide trivialisation of a health concern without thought for the effects and proper regard for the source and, of course, the sharing of fake news.

It is important to reiterate here that all these reactive clicks of the keyboard are seemingly racially charged.

It is almost funny to see how many people become “experts” when there is a pandemic. “Don’t eat food from China”, “Stop buying animal products”, “Time to go vegan now” – all words I have come across these past few days. Why don’t we all just stop eating? That would be better!

It feels almost as if we have all turned into that dreaded aunt at family functions; you know the one – always borderline racist and somehow all-knowing (or so she thinks). We should be better than this, really.

The bigger problem I think is the hysteria over the virus and not the virus itself. There is an undeniable sense of déjà vu in our reaction to the Wuhan coronavirus.

There was the AIDS pandemic in the 1980s, when homosexuals were targeted (a by-product of homophobia). Then there was the SARS pandemic, and recently the H1N1 outbreak as well as the Ebola virus (where the country of origin was also attacked and stereotyped).

See what I mean about how the reactions are always somewhat driven by ignorance that then manifests into fear?

Back in the 80s, the likelihood of one fake news item being traversed across the world was less likely (although I do think the AIDS misconception is still one that is embedded in some ignorant minds).

There was a sense of tragedy but not catastrophe. But with the advent of social media, catastrophe has become the norm. Rumours become the truth, ignorance becomes the fashion and full-blown discrimination replaces subtle racism (although both have equally devastating effects).

The Internet is vast and fast (perhaps this unintentional rhyme might bring the message home), hence it is not difficult, in fact it is very easy to fact-check what we’re sharing. We should be referring to credible sources like the Health Ministry and statements from relevant government officials, and stop being a part of the problem.

Before you share that “news” or meme, remember the consequences. Ibn Rushd (Averroes) once remarked that “Ignorance leads to fear, fear leads to hatred, and hatred leads to violence. This is the equation.” Let’s absorb this and endeavour to educate ourselves instead of inciting more fear.

PARVEEN KAUR HARNAM SINGH

KL-based lawyer

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