#StopCOVIDIslamophobia: COVID-19 Appeal Letter

To Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook

Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization (WHO)

RE: Stop the rapid spread of COVID-19 Islamophobic hate speech and disinformation

We write this urgent letter as members of concerned international organizations who work collectively on the issues of human rights, internet freedom, racial justice, religious freedom, feminism and caste liberation.

This is a time when the entire world is reeling under the pressure of dealing with the devastating impacts of COVID-19 (known commonly as coronavirus). As a result, we are appalled that despite the calls to end disinformation and hate speech targeted at minorities, we are seeing a virulent form of coronavirus-related Islamophobia, through hashtags like #CoronaJihad, #CrushTablighiSpitters, #MuslimMeaningTerrorist, and #BioJihad, among others.

These hashtags originated following a religious gathering of Muslims in India, and have been opportunistically deployed on multiple social media platforms. Far right Twitter users have weaponized the gathering of the Tablighi Jamaat to both demean and demonize millions of India’s Muslim minority community members, leading to many upper caste Indians asking for ‘shoot at sight’ orders, as well as the denial of healthcare. For some, these conditions have resulted in death, including a case of suicide by a Muslim man in Himachal Pradesh who was bullied by community members, despite testing negative for COVID-19. The snowballing impact of the aforementioned provocative hashtags is that they normalize the stigmatization of minorities, particularly as some newshouses, like Zee News and Republic TV, are amplifying and mischaracterizing these polarizing claims as unequivocal fact.

The devastating reality is that COVID-19 does not and will not distinguish between faiths, castes, race, or geographical location. It is a relentless pandemic that requires national, and even global unity. Public health, in turn, requires us to build national trust so that the broader public can feel comfortable with government-issued recommendations. Using the pandemic to justify hate-based communal and religious politics will not solve it; only scientific rigor and global cooperation will help turn the tide of this deadly disease and its ever-growing impact.

That is why, until this crisis passes, we need to do better. Throughout human history pandemics have bred misinformation, hysteria, and scapegoating, ultimately leading to a surge in discrimination and ostracization against minority groups.

Muslims represent nearly 24.1% of the world’s population (1.8 billion people as of 2015) and we cannot allow the normalization of dangerous speech against any community. This is especially relevant, since the pandemic is occurring against the backdrop of India’s frightening turn towards genocide. In January of this year, the Indian Parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which lays the legal foundation to start denationalizing Muslims, and subsequently target other minorities. During the fervor of months of protest that on February 23, while US President Trump was visiting India, New Delhi experienced a horrific pogrom that killed over 50 people (the majority of whom were Muslim) and made thousands homeless, compounding their vulnerability to the global pandemic. Hate speech is the forerunner to atrocity, which is why we need to act immediately to prevent a larger loss of life.

To that end, we have the following recommendations:

To PM Modi and other Indian Parliamentarians,

We urge you to immediately stop targeting Muslims and other caste-oppressed communities in speeches, social media and other public communications. Per the WHO’s guidelines, refrain from using geographic locations or groups of people when addressing COVID-19. Much of the incendiary coronavirus-related Islamophobic content is shared from sites affiliated to or followed by Modi and Hindu nationalist factions. That requires accountability and immediate action.

India can only be unified in its fight against the virus if the hate speech and relentless targeting of Muslims and caste-oppressed minorities ends. Sowing communal distrust at a time when Indians need to join forces is misguided and will ultimately end in only prolonging the pandemic and result in a greater loss of life.

We need you to consider the legacy of what it will mean to have been a divisive and communal world leader at a time of a global pandemic. We urge you for the good of all Indian people to change course before it is too late.

To Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey,

As the CEOs of Facebook and Twitter respectively, we, the global community, remind you of the critical corporate responsibility you have at this time. When genocidal hate speech ran rampant on social media in Myanmar, the lack of action in dealing with it led to untold suffering, as millions of Rohingyas were rendered stateless and were abandoned to violence.

Mr. Zuckerberg, we would especially want to remind you that despite Facebook making a pledge to never repeat this, we are seeing genocidal hate speech stemming from coronavirus-related disinformation, hosted and promoted prominently on your platform. This is a lethal combination. You have a significant responsibility to the Indian population and the global religious community to address this violence before it is too late.

Mr. Dorsey, Twitter has a crucial role in combating this Islamophobia: #CoronaJihad, as a hashtag, began trending on Twitter. In the time it went viral, it went on to impact nearly 2 billion conversations across all other social media platforms as well. We need Twitter to step up to the plate and create a response team to tackle the Islamophobic vitriol on the platform, as there is an even more urgent duty of care for your company to stop this hate speech before it snowballs into mass atrocity and casualties.

Every death that results from communal violence will be your doing, owing to ample awareness of the consequences of your lack of action. Underfunding and understaffing resources that combat violence is the same as doing nothing, particularly when civil society has been ringing the alarms to both Facebook and Twitter for many years. Ensuring that you have experts from this community, advising your position on these issues, is an effective way to approach the religious hatred being spread in the name of solving the pandemic.

If there was ever a time to act aggressively, it is now. Ensuring that you have experts from this community, advising your position on these issues, would be a way to address it. Think of this as your Christchurch 2.0 moment, where millions of users’ lives hang in the balance of your actions. The time to stop a genocide is before it happens.

And finally, to Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus,

We are asking for the WHO to issue firm guidelines against the demonization of religious communities, similar to the rapidly deployed guidelines against coronavirus-related anti-Asian racist hate speech. There is an urgent need to both condemn coronavirus-related Islamophobia and for it to come from the highest level of the UN. This hate speech severely impacts our ability to fight the global pandemic.

Over 200 million Indian Muslims are impacted by communal hate. However, social media is not insular in existence. Given its global reach, these Islamophobic hashtags have the potential of harming hundreds of millions of more Muslims around the world. We urge you to protect the millions who only want to shelter in place and weather this burgeoning pandemic.

Public health works best when it is centered in education and compassion. The rampant sharing of hate speech and disinformation directly impacts us all, and we need to come together to build unity.

Thank you,

Aarhus centar u BiH, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Action Center on Race and Economy, United States

Alliance for Justice & Accountability, United States

Alliance for South Asians Taking Action, United States

API Equality, United States

API Chaya, United States

Apna Ghar, United States

Asian American Writers Workshop, United States

Aspiration, United States

Atlanta Against CAA, United States

Azaad Austin, United States

Bay Area Against Hindu Fascism, United States

CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, United States

Centar za demokratsku tranziciju, Montenegro (Center for Democratic Transition)

Centar za mlade KVART, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Centar za promociju civilnog društva, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Center for Disability Rights, United States

Center for Empowered Politics

Chicago South Asians for Justice, United States

Cooperativa Tierra Común México

Council on American Islamic Relations — San Francisco, United States

Desi Queer Diaspora, United States

Equality Labs, United States

Fondacija Infohouse, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Forum Ziviler Friedensdienst (forum ZFD), Bosnia and Herzegovina

Indian American Muslim Council, United States

Islamic Council of North America Council for Social Justice, United States

National Center for Transgender Equality, United States

National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, United States

New Breath Foundation, United States

North American Indian Muslim Association, United States

Novosadska novinarska škola, Serbia (Novi Sad School of Journalism)

Meedan, Global

Media Justice, United States

Megaphone Strategies, United States

MPower Change, United States

Muslim Women Kreate, United States

Oštra Nula, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Omladinski pokret REVOLT, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Public Accountability Initiative / LittleSis, United States

Project South, United States

Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment, United States

SAKHI for South Asian Women, United States

Sarajevski otvoreni centar, Bosnia and Herzegovina (Sarajevo Open Centre)

South Asia Solidarity Initiative, United States

South Asians Building Healing and Accountability, United States

Southern Poverty Law Center, United States

Students Against Hindutva, United States

The Initiative for Equal Rights, Nigeria

WITNESS, Global

Women’s March Global, Global

Zašto ne, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Zemlja djece u BiH, Bosnia and Herzegovina

We work at the intersection of political organizing, community based participatory research, socially-engaged arts, & digital security. Follow us @equalitylabs

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