The Belarusian president claims the Covid-19 whistleblowers of his country are hallucinating while some religious missionaries claim that the ongoing ethical decline of the world is the prime cause of the pandemic. Controversial Islamic preacher Ilyas Sharafuddin said that Allah punished the Chinese for persecuting Uighurs by unleashing Covid-19.
Such are the mindless claims floating in the ether across the globe. Apart from the medical and health concerns, the virus has now paved the way for geo-pandemic-politics which has already appeared in different diplomatic decisions and actions like the withholding of
WHO funding by the USA, threatening Iran with further sanctions, and so on.
Hence, Covid-19 is no more a global health crisis, but rather, is a potential diplomatic playground.
Academician Jasbir Puar terms her understanding of American so-called neo-liberal yet Islamophobic politics – where a novel nationalistic agenda is formed by strategically incorporating certain homonormative attitudes – as "homo-nationalism."
She argues that the incorporative strategy has a flip-side which excludes, stereotypes and stigmatises. It is an instrumental strategy in the American political landscape where ethnic or communal stereotyping function well in manipulating different policies regarding immigration.
Say, if homonationalistic praxis is effective in stereotyping the Muslims as potentially hostile towards the "white" LGBTQ communities, then why would preaching that homofavouritism not exclude immigrant Muslims and put native Muslims in stigmatized discomfort?
Puar understands homonationalism as an act of fusing gender-queer communities along with heteronormative ideology to serve nationalism and an imperialist agenda. Thus, national identity can be forged in terms of religious exclusion and based on a homo-inclusive manifesto.
Though, proposed within a critical gender framework to interpret US national politics, Puar's conception reaches across the seas with its adaptive capacities to understand nationalistic trends of global politics. It reverberates across multiple political landscapes and social realities as well as academic tropes.
However, my borrowing of Puar's term underscores not the gendered dimension of her discussion, rather it is used to critique a homogenous nationalistic agenda that I call homo(genous)nationalism.
On 31 March, a Tablighi Jamaat religious congregation that had taken place in Delhi, emerged as a new virus hotspot after numerous cases across the country were traced back to the event. Now, Hindu Nationalist rhetoric in India is spreading the idea that foreigners and Muslims caused the outbreak, referring to the Delhi Tablighi Jamaat case from where around 1,400 contact cases were reported out of the then 4,500 cases.
Thus Muslim religious pilgrimage has become, like it or not, one of the epicenters of Indian Covid-19 geography. This comes after almost two months of its first Covid-19 positive results, in Kerala, and 19 cases among students coming from Wuhan and foreign returnees and tourists.
Before the Tablighi Jamaat case came to the forefront, we came to know of another "super-spreader," Sikh preacher Baldev Singh. He returned to India after visiting two global hotspots- Italy and Germany – and caused 40,000 quarantine cases just in Punjab (28 March 2020, The Telegraph).
No matter what the number is, it is undeniable that the above-mentioned agents were responsible in contributing t0 the virus' surge in India. The point I am trying to make is how Nizamuddin Tablighi Jamaat has added impetus to India's ongoing exclusionary politics and attempt to play the undercover "homogeneity" trump card.
Following the Delhi Tablighi event, reports cascaded in regarding the ensuing (communal) violence following (in many cases) the state-sponsored-turned-popular anti-Muslim discourses.
The New Indian Express (8 April 2020) reported Karnataka BJP MLA Renukacharya's proposal to shoot Tablighi attendees if they avoid testing though he does not accuse the whole community for the outbreak; popular news host Arnab Goswami calls the attendees "dangerous people," some call them "anti-national," some "harmful to humanity," while some, like Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi (BJP) minister, calls the Tablighi Jamaat "Talibani criminals."
Meanwhile, the administration has asked the police to file a case of criminal intent against the jamaat attendees – causing a massive manhunt across the country. Added to that, a Wikipedia page was opened titled "2020 Tablighi Jamaat coronavirus hotspot in Delhi" designating this event a landmark of the Covid-19 apocalypse; hashtags like #CoronaJihad, #NizamuddinIdiots, #Covid-786 (a number that carries religious meaning for Muslims) began trending across social media; and memes showed China as the producer of novel coronavirus and Muslims the distributors of it.
The New York Times reports of a Muslim youth beaten up while he was offering food to the poor (12 April 2020) as a result of Nizamuddin outrage; the same outlet reports of several other cases of Muslims being mercilessly lynched by reactionary mobs. Again, reports came out of a mob beating a Tablighi attendee called Mehboob Ali – a boy now severely injured.
It is to be remembered that there is solid ground for filing cases against the some of the worshippers since they were on tourist visas – which does not allow them to observe a religious pilgrimage in India – while the Tablighi head Kandlawi should be made accountable for violating social-distancing protocols during a time of national emergency and risking millions' lives.
To talk about the ongoing general-hatred-turned-communal-hatred towards the Tablighi mindlessness, first of all, it is not very unlikely that people will become enraged at such dangerous gatherings when a contagious pandemic is haunting the world.
People's senses of insecurity will transform into anger if their insecurity is provoked by an imprudent act. During such mental vulnerability, people tend to associate what is lurking in their minds – the foaming discomfort towards a religious minority – and thus we get a blend of hatred, fear and hegemonic stereotyping.
Second, if we closely look at some of the recent rhetoric about the Jamaat attendees, calling the Muslim pilgrims "human bombs" and their congregation as a "Corona jihad" or "Talibani Jamaat" has a certain stereotypical undertone to it – it tags them with unconscious yet spontaneous and to some extent, extremist texture.
Such name-calling is an added topping to the ongoing nationalistic agenda of the ruling party to establish "Hindutva," a kind of religious and spiritual homogeneity which betrays India's longstanding status as a secular democracy – a place of religious, ethnic, racial diversity.
Though the majority (around 90%) of the Nizamuddin Tablighi Jamaat were Indians, Muslim attendees from other countries are also frowned upon, especially those from Bangladesh, a country which is already on the India CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) blacklist.
Coming off of the fresh bruise of Delhi's communal riots – with dozens dying and thousands lynched or uprooted from their homes – Delhi (especially Indian Muslims) has encountered a new layer of injury.
Some have been hit by Covid-19, some by religious hatred, some by both. Such concerted otherism using popular media and social networks has taken its segregational toll on the major religious minority of India.
Such hatred – broadcast virtually and physically – forges the claim for a homo(genous)nationalistic entity which ultimately will vouch for selective secularism. Even the two Covid-19 patients refusing to eat food prepared by a scheduled caste cook enforces our skepticism about India's utopian secularism under the present ruling party (The Telegraph, 18 April 2020).
Indian Historian Rana Safvi calls for a "hate quarantine" instead of "corona quarantine." Selective tolerance creates injustice towards the others and attempts to streamline the so-called abstract concepts of humanity, tolerance and secularism in accordance with the power's political agenda.
Home(genous)nationalism reduces the range of normalcy thus reducing human rights – as a consequence of which we find different legislation rupturing social harmony. Right to kill (Michel Foucault's droit de glaive), as we understand it from the BJP minister's aggressive call to "shoot them," is what Cameroonian scholar Achille Mbembe calls necropower and the political system which nurtures it as a repressive tool, is what he terms as necropolitics.
Thus, following an instance, a popular hatred campaign might have dangerous consequences for a country's national integrity. The right to kill or control others' lives leads us to the urgent revisionism about the question of a sovereign body and the expendable body – a life which is stripped of its citizenship rights and which can be destroyed at the will of the body politic, the society.
The sacrificial status of a human body denies any modernist ethos in the 21st century. We do not dwell in the pre-Christian Roman reality of homo-sacer (sacred man), a man who can be killed by anybody. In line with Jasbir Puar it can be said that in modern society, unfortunately enough, configurations of sexuality, race, ethnicity, caste, etc. are realigning and renegotiating with the forces of nationalism, counterterrorism and securitisation.
This write-up is not meant to call for impunity (as we cannot ignore the fact that this congregation was held violating the Indian government's social distancing legislation) for the irresponsible act of the Tablighi pilgrims or argue that Tablighi congregations have not contributed to the spread of Covid-19 across India and even in Malaysia where the Jamek Sri Petaling Mosque Tablighi case contributed to the spread of Covid-19 in Malaysia.
Nor do I advocate for the alleged Muhammad Saad Kandhlawi (the Head of the Nizamuddin faction of Tablighi Jamaat) illegally and insanely summoning his followers not "to not abide by government or medical guidelines with regards to the coronavirus outbreak."
Rather, it intends to point to the upsurge of a nationalistic (Hindu) discourse in favor of the demonisation of Islam. Such a discriminatory blame-game fuels the politics of exclusion through naming and shaming. It makes any religious, ethnic, or caste minority susceptible to violence and segregation.
Any sort of homo(genous)-nationalistic agenda is subject to separation and exclusion, be it Hindu-nationalism, Bangali-nationalism, Islamic-nationalism, Brahmin-nationalism, or the Capitalist-nationalism (idea that only the rich are good citizens).
At this moment of crisis we need global empathy and national harmony – not a fractured social fabric. We need responsible action, sensible reaction and maximum inclusion. Additionally, what we need after the pandemic is over is the continuation of such social integration and a divorce from xenophobia.
The writer is Associate Professor, Dept. of English, Jahangirnagar University