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Far-Right focus on Muslims During COVID-19

Far-Right focus on Muslims During COVID-19

Categories: Latest News

Tuesday May 05 2020

Amidst the COVID-19 crisis, the virus has been used as a tool by the far-right to peddle Islamophobic hate by spreading stereotypes fuelled by conspiracy theories, memes, and fake videos, leading to a rise in Islamophobic sentiment online. 

Since the beginning of the outbreak, abuse directed at those of East Asian heritage has been particularly acute. As but two examples, a woman was punched in the head for defending her friend of Asian heritage from racist abuse in Birmingham, and a 24-year-old of Thai descent was violently assaulted and robbed by two teenagers shouting “coronavirus” in West London. Incidents such as these led to reports of  a number of Chinese students at UK universities “fleeing back to China” amid an increase in racist attacks.

COVID-19 has since become increasingly used by far-right groups to propagate hatred against Muslim communities. While international conspiracies connecting Muslims to the spread of the coronavirus continue to abound, groups in the UK have given these conspiracies particular momentum on social media, with counter-terrorism police recently investigating far-right groups accused of “trying to use the coronavirus crisis to stoke anti-Muslim sentiment”.

Several fake stories and images have circulated online depicting Muslims as flouting social distancing measures by attending mosques for congregational prayers. One picture, taken outside a Leeds mosque showed Muslims breaking the rules of lockdown by gathering in large groups. However, the photo in question was taken two weeks before the official lockdown even began. Such misinformation has led to police being inundated with false complaints by duped members of the public, with some posting messages online calling for the demolition of all mosques to “cure” COVID-19.

These conspiracies have been given further impetus by far-right voices and commentators, including Daily Mail commentator, Andrew Pearce, who suggested that “If families gather for holy month of Ramadan will there be a huge spike in Covid cases. Doctors are very worried”. Similarly, Katie Hopkins suggested that the UK police should follow the example of India in deploying violence against Muslims during lockdown, and Tommy Robinson shared a video allegedly showing British Muslims attending prayers at a “secret mosque”. According to the Guardian, the West Midlands police subsequently dismissed these claims.

However, contrary to the depictions by the far-right, Muslim communities have indeed been abiding by the government measures. Three hundred seventy-five mosques and prayer facilities in the UK suspended prayers and encouraged people to remain at home even before the nationwide lockdown was announced, while the remainder complied after the restrictions came into place. During Ramadan, mosques in the UK have been live-streaming sermons and fundraising for charities online, as well as using platforms such as Zoom to host iftar parties. 

Despite this, the far-right has continued to spread disinformation which has the potential to lead to broader retribution against Muslims, making them susceptible to hate crime and abuse. 

The dangers of far-right violence directed at minority communities should not be underestimated. The murder of Jo Cox by Thomas Mair in 2016 and the murder of Makram Ali by Darren Osborne in the Finsbury Park attack in 2017 are reminders of the need to radically recalibrate the ways in which far-right violence is understood and tackled within security discourse and strategies. Indeed, any government response should be mindful of the potential for misdirected frustration regarding the inevitable socio-economic repercussions of the crisis to be targeted at minority communities.


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