By Minnie Wiggins, René Cassin intern
This year’s National Hate Crime Awareness Week (10-17 October) seeks to bring people together to stand in solidarity against all forms of hate.
As opposed to other years, this year’s Awareness-raising week, dedicated to stamping out all forms of hate, is taking place against the backdrop of the current Coronavirus pandemic. With certain groups taking advantage of the atmosphere of fear and instability stoked by the virus, we are witnessing the escalation of certain human rights concerns, such as discrimination and hate speech towards particular groups.
Intolerance and hostility towards any community is unacceptable and stands in stark contrast to the values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Declaration), co-drafted by our namesake Monsieur René Cassin. As reports circulate of rising hate crime across our society, it is important to remember the basic human values embedded with the 1948 Declaration: solidarity, equality, tolerance, and respect. The vision and legacy of the Declaration must be protected and form part of our response to and recovery from COVID-19. A human rights-based approach presents us with an opportunity to rethink how we want to live and treat one another. This approach can help ensure our communities are built on equality and dignity rather than hostility and prejudice.
COVID-19 Related Hate Crime
The advent of the Coronavirus pandemic brought with it a wave of solidarity within and between communities, as people came together to support one another through this difficult time. We clapped for our carers, we showed kindness to strangers, we helped our elderly neighbours and we supported local businesses. However, the pandemic has not been the only challenge to face our communities this year; a ‘virus of hate’ has emerged alongside it.
The stigmatisation and ‘othering’ of certain groups in times of crises is not new, and COVID-19 marks no exception. Since the pandemic first emerged, there has been a significant rise in COVID-19 related hate crimes, particularly those targeting South and East Asian communities, who experienced a 21% rise in hate crimes during the crisis. We have also witnessed the revival of historically recurrent conspiracy theories which have seen Jews, Muslims and other minority groups blamed for the spread of the virus. This has fueled widespread stigmatisation towards targeted individuals, many the subject of verbal and physical attacks.
In more extreme cases, placing the blame of the virus on minority groups might risk deterring them from accessing healthcare and other essential services, in turn contributing to the disproportionate impacts of the virus on certain communities and restricting peoples’ rights.
A recent Community Security Trust (CST) report revealed that online anti-Semitic hate incidents in the United Kingdom (UK) have risen during the pandemic, with conspiracy theories accusing Jews of creating and spreading the virus. Alongside this, Tell MAMA reported a rise in anti-Muslim incidents since COVID-19 – with one Muslim woman reporting that a man had coughed in her face and claimed he had coronavirus. These statistics highlight that hate crime does not discriminate, it affects all marginalized groups, whether based on race, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity or disability, it always seeks to further division and hostility.
There are concerns that another dimension of hate has emerged from the pandemic. Hate crime in the UK doubled from 2013 to 2019. However, different to other years, 2019 and the 2020 pandemic has provided a unique and new opportunity for online extremists to sow division. Hateful extremists have exploited the shared feeling of isolation and fear among many during the pandemic to recruit and divide communities. As work-from-home culture becomes more commonplace and our reliance on the digital world grows, there is a greater need to safeguard and protect online users, particularly minority groups, from online hate speech and the spread of (COVID-19 related) ‘misinformation’ and ‘disinformation’.
A Hope-Based Approach
The rise in COVID-19 fueled hate provides us with an opportunity to ally and eliminate hate in all forms, together, as a united community. We must look to our response during lockdown, how in a time of crisis we came together, and harness that same goodwill and community spirit to challenge hate.
As the Jewish voice for human rights, René Cassin acknowledges the insidious threat of damage and destruction that harmful and discriminatory narratives pose when left uncontested. Expressions of hate, acts of hostility and prejudice all form part of the pyramid of hate, which ultimately leads to conditions conducive of atrocity crimes and genocide.
Now is the time to stand together, with the Jewish community and beyond, against hate in all forms, to make our communities safer places for everyone. We must build our communities on the shared values of dignity, equality, respect and inclusivity, which promote relationships of solidarity and mutual understanding, whilst calling out those who continue to perpetuate hostility.
The words of Rabbi David Mason resonate in these challenging times: “We can imagine our society as a knitted together mass of communities, many diverse and different, but still able to work together”. We must let these words guide our actions and encourage us to create a more equal and inclusive future for all.