Sectarian strife can seize India in the best of times — and these aren’t the best of times.
From the New York Times:
After India’s health ministry repeatedly blamed an Islamic seminary for spreading the coronavirus — and governing party officials spoke of “human bombs” and “corona jihad” — a spree of anti-Muslim attacks has broken out across the country.
Young Muslim men who were passing out food to the poor were assaulted with cricket bats. Other Muslims have been beaten up, nearly lynched, run out of their neighborhoods or attacked in mosques, branded as virus spreaders. In Punjab State, loudspeakers at Sikh temples broadcast messages telling people not to buy milk from Muslim dairy farmers because it was infected with coronavirus.
The anti-Muslim sentiment has a small basis in fact: India’s initial outbreak of COVID-19 emanated from a missionary Islamic movement, Tablighi Jamaat. Last month, throngs of members came together in the country, leaving the virus in their wake. I wrote about it here.
According to the Times,
It doesn’t help the explosive animosity that many within Tablighi Jamaat openly defied the government’s public-health directives.
On March 16, the Delhi government banned gatherings of more than 50 people. Several days later, [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi announced a nationwide lockdown. But instead of dispersing, more than 1,000 people stayed put at the [Islamic group’s] center. During a March 19 sermon, Maulana Saad Kandhalvi, a Tablighi Jamaat leader, told followers that coronavirus was “God’s punishment” and not to fear it.
About a week later, health inspectors found around 1,300 people still sheltering at the center without masks or other protective gear. Many Muslim leaders criticized the group’s center for not closing down.
A Muslim milk vendor in Delhi is constantly on edge, he told a Times reporter — and he’s not the only one.
“People need only a small reason to beat us or to lynch us,” he said. “Because of corona.”… In many villages now, Muslim traders are barred from entering simply because of their faith.
With hashtags like CoronaJihad and CoronaBombers appearing on social media — implying that Muslims have been deliberately spreading the virus — it’s little wonder that violence is bubbling to the surface. Indian newspapers carry reports of Muslims being severely beaten and displaced from the villages where sometimes they’ve lived for generations.
Khalid Rasheed, the chairman of the Islamic Center of India, sounded grim when asked about the future.
“Coronavirus may die,” he said, “but the virus of communal disharmony will be hard to kill.”
P.S.: Just the other day I came across stories of the 1349 massacre of Strasbourg. In that year, many people in Europe were delirious with fear of the Black Death, a pandemic that would soon be making victims by the millions. Rumors began to circulate that the illness was caused by Jews who had been poisoning the public water supply. Predictably, this wild accusation led to instances of mob violence. A historical account describes how
[Jews] were burnt in many cities, and wherever they were expelled they were caught by the peasants and stabbed to death or drowned.
Perhaps nowhere was the violence more shocking than in Strasbourg. In mid-February,
The city’s 2,000 Jews were given a choice of undergoing baptism or being killed. About half of them accepted conversion or left the city; the remainder were barricaded in the Jewish cemetery and burned alive.
(Image via Shutterstock)