JEDDAH: Fear and anxiety are common side effects of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, but some researchers warn that racism may also be on the rise as the illness takes a global toll.
Mohammed Al-Hajji, an academic researcher in social and behavioral sciences, has discussed the threat of racism during the crisis in a documentary by Thmanyah, a Saudi production company.
Explaining the relationship between the pandemic and racism, Al-Hajji said: “The problem has been present throughout time. Why? Because during epidemics, you try to find the source of the problem, blame someone and pin the problem on them.”
In some countries, migrants have been targeted for allegedly being “the reason for the virus,” he said.
Racism stems from the concept of “racial purification,” Al-Hajji said.
“It is only natural that I do not blame myself ... and that my tribe and I, or my community, cannot be the cause of the problem. Therefore, we must find an alternative or another group to blame for the problem.”
Recently a prominent Kuwaiti actress Hayat Al-Fahad caused an uproar when she called for the expulsion of expatriates from the country. During a TV interview, she said: “We should send them out ... put them in the desert. I am not against humanity, but we have reached a stage where we are fed up.”
Later Safaa Al-Hashim, a Kuwaiti politician and member of the parliament, echoes similar views on Twitter: “In these circumstances, the presence of expats now has become a threat to Kuwait, and their harm has become greater than their benefit as they are one of the main reasons for the spread of the epidemic. For this reason, sending them back to their countries greatly reduces the risk of spreading the virus and largely solves demographic problems.”
Al-Hajji said that some people in the US, for example, had blamed the spread of the virus on the entire Asian population, ignoring the fact that the pandemic that reached all countries in the world.
“Again, we need a scapegoat to make sense of the problem,” he said.
The Saudi researcher said while it is important to stay well informed about the virus, it is also essential to limit the consumption of news and information in order to safeguard mental health.
“In crises, natural disasters and epidemics, rates of anxiety, post-traumatic stress and depression increase,” he said. “Now the challenge to protect mental health is difficult because of the terrible flow of information regarding coronavirus.”
People must stay informed, but should also restrict the time they devote to the issue and ensure their sources of information are reliable.
Whenever a problem arises, and people see that others are different from them, this behavior will appear.
Rehaf Jambi, a Saudi social media influencer
“It is important to avoid being overwhelmed psychologically by this pandemic,” he said.
Al-Hajji advised people to find alternatives and distractions to help overcome the crisis.
“Something that distracts us from chronic thinking and the anxiety of the coronavirus, which drains our physical and mental strength. We have found in research that disasters continue to affect our health for years afterward because of what happened during the crisis,” he said.
Using technology carefully can also help minimize stress. “Delete unnecessary groups in WhatsApp because these are a great source of rumors and fake news, which may induce panic.”
Rahaf Jambi, a Saudi social media influencer based in Dubai, said that racism is based on ignorance.
Two French doctors caused a storm of controversy with their discussion to create a vaccine for the novel Coronavirus in Africa on a television program last week.
One of the doctor’s employers, however, said an edited clip of their discussion had led to “erroneous interpretations.”
Now the challenge to protect mental health is difficult because of the terrible flow of information regarding coronavirus.
Mohammed Al-Hajji, Saudi researcher
The head of research at the National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Lille, Camille Locht was asked by the head of intensive care at the Cochin hospital in Paris, Jean-Paul Mira, about a coronavirus shield using the well-known BCG tuberculosis vaccine.
“If I could be provocative, shouldn’t we be doing this study in Africa, where there are no masks, no treatment, no intensive care, rather as was done with certain studies on AIDS, where things are tested on prostitutes because it’s known that they are highly exposed (to HIV)?” Mira asked. “What do you think?”
Locht said: “You’re right, we are thinking in parallel by the way about a study in Africa with the same kind of approach, (but) it doesn’t prevent us from being able to think about a study in Europe and Australia at the same time.”
Ivorian footballer Didier Drogba shared his outrage on Twitter, saying Africa is not a testing lab.
“It is totally inconceivable we keep on cautioning this. Africa isn’t a testing lab. I would like to vividly denounce those demeaning, false and most of all deeply racist words. Helps us save Africa with the current ongoing COVID-19 and flatten the curve,” he said.
“Whenever a problem arises, and people see that others are different from them, this behavior will appear,” Jambi told Arab News.
She added that racist behavior can sometimes be seen among other influencers with a large number of followers.
“I am disappointed that they would see a Chinese person and insult them, saying ‘this was all because of you’ or ‘go back to your country.’”
Such behavior is seen in Western countries also, she said, not only in the Arab world.
“There was an incident where a Chinese person was assaulted in Britain. I think people will look for any group to blame,” she said.
Jambi said that the UK and Italy are now relying on help from China. “The tables have turned.”