global media’s relentless news coverage of the Coronavirus pandemic, a number
of media outlets have emerged with questionable output, seemingly making
implicit and explicit connections between the spread of the virus and
individuals who are visibly Muslim.
to U.S. President Donal Trump’s ban on travellers from the EU, the New York
Times conspicuously accompanied their front-page reporting on this with photos
of mosques from the infamously non-EU, and only partly European city of
Istanbul. The Spectator and BBC news also utilised photos of visibly Muslim
women in their articles on the pandemic.
lack of hijab-wearing voices within the mainstream media, this sudden surge of
representation was all the more questionable. Most controversially, The
Economist published a now deleted story that was entitled, “The arrival of
covid-19 was expected. The spread of radical Islam has been more of a
loosely related incident arose when the BBC invited former UKIP leader Nigel
Farage onto Newsnight to talk about the virus.
might not initially appear to be a connection between pathogen pandemics and
Muslims, or the expertise of an individual who has built a career around
xenophobia and the expertise required to discuss viruses, two scientific
theories can highlight connections between them.
Foundations Theory’ (MFT) proposes that there are five core moral values:
caring, fairness, authority, loyalty and purity. These can be demarcated into
two subgroups, one group focuses on how individuals treat each other (caring
and fairness), while the other is concerned with group level dynamics
(authority, loyalty and purity).
A raft of
group level differences are found regarding these traits, for example, when
comparing political groupings of Right and Left wing. Typically, left leaning
individuals score highly on caring and fairness, but low on the others, while
those with right wing tendencies score highly across all five.
MFT across this plane can help us understand why conservatives tend to be less
welcoming of outsiders; the importance they place on in-group loyalty, and
respect for tradition and culture can temper the care they express towards
others in a way that is less typically seen among liberals. The most relevant
moral value to this discussion is purity.
which is also referred to as sanctity, is believed to have evolved specifically
to defend communities from pathogens. It is also associated with drives to
maintain community sanctity from outside pollution and protection from harmful
microbes and parasites, but also fuels concepts such as taboo. It is one
explanatory variable in understanding why resistance to outgroup members can be
so aggressive, and phenomena such as xenophobia and racism can prove to be
the reaction to people deemed to be “outsiders” can be governed by
repulsiveness to foreignness, akin to the reaction stirred when the sanctity of
one’s own body is violated by a foreign pathogen.
Theory’ (PST) posits that pathogenic threat greatly shapes many aspects of a
society and the way in which its members interact with one another.
Significantly, in-groups that develop stricter norms and more prominent values
reduce pathogenic transmission, in-part because they are more likely to
maintain strong relations with in-group members, while avoiding outsiders.
reflects on the marriage of PST, and the moral value of purity/sanctity, the
potential impact that the Coronavirus might have on social cognition and
behaviour becomes apparent. It also might explain why stories pertaining to the
coronavirus pandemic might have triggered the use of images of Muslims by media
outlets; the value of purity could see both the Coronavirus and Muslims as a
foreign threat, amongst those with salient or latent, conscious or unconscious,
unequivocally claim that an editorial decision was made to marry the two would
be controversial. Less controversially, it could be suggested that an
subconscious process took place amongst decision makers within these media
outlets, softened by years of relentless and pointed media messaging, ever
framing Muslims and Islam as foreign, threatening and parasitic; Islamophobia
Noam Chomsky is one of those who propose individuals working in the media go
through a self-censorship process, wherein they adopt desirable positions that
allow them to progress within the field. Where this becomes even more
problematic is when we consider the reinforcing potential for the consumers of
these media images; the bias within the newsroom will be streamed out into the
wider world, impacting on all who consume these stimuli.
connections are infamous precursors to acts of genocide, and indeed, featured
in the years that preceded the Holocaust, and the genocide of Bosniak Muslims.
Painting the other in terms of vermin is a feature of the dehumanisation phase
of this tragic process. In the shorter and more immediate term, it can play a
role in the already burgeoning rates of incidence of Islamophobia and
likelihood that the Coronavirus pandemic will increase outgroup hostility seems
strong. As well as processes such as the extenuation of xenophobia in times of
economic decline and resource scarcity, MFT and PST inform values such as
sanctity being made salient can lead to troublesome times for outgroups.
being used by prominent mainstream media outlets is indicative of the readiness
of significant voices to connect their fear of the virus with their fear,
suspicion or dislike of the Muslim other, knowingly or unknowingly.
messaging employed by the media outlets mentioned in this piece reflects a more
explicit and indisputably conscious connection being pushed in relation to
Islam, Muslims and virulence. Given the increasing rise of Islamophobia,
antisemitism, and other variants of out-group hatred, these insights do not
bode well for religious and ethnic minorities in the west.
Some western media outlets could not resist linking COVID-19 to Islam and
Source: Five Pillars UK