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PostPandemics and Xenophobia: Then and Now (Massoud Malek, USA, 05/21/20 3:59 am)
On November 17, 2019, China's Inner Mongolia reported a fresh, confirmed case of bubonic plague. A 55-year-old man was diagnosed with the disease after he ate wild rabbit meat on November 5th. Bubonic plague is the most common form of plague globally, and can advance and spread to the lungs.
A mysterious disease erupted in the mid-14th century called the Black Death. The disease, caused by a bacteria, began in Mongolia and spread quickly to China. It spread to Europe following a battle between the Mongolians and the Genoese army on the Crimean Peninsula. In 1347 a Genoese ship from Caffa, a city in Crimea, came ashore at Messina, Sicily. The crew of the ship, what few were left alive, carried with them a deadly cargo, a disease so virulent that it could kill in a matter of hours.
When the disease's virulently fatal nature became clear, mainly in 1348 to 1349, it was accepted as fact that the Jews were to blame. And this was, in a way, the first Holocaust, when Jews were persecuted and put to death, not just by crowds, but also the bureaucratic apparatuses of political authorities were used to torture Jews into submission, to confessing crimes that of course they had never committed, and then they were judged and burned alive.
There are many possible reasons why Jews were accused to be the cause for the plague. One reason was because there was a general sense of anti-Semitism in the 14th century. Jews were also isolated in the ghettos, which meant in some places that Jews were less affected. Additionally, there are many Jewish laws that promote cleanliness: a Jew must wash his or her hands before eating bread and after using the bathroom. Moreover, it was customary for Jews to bathe once a week before the Sabbath, a corpse must be washed before burial, and so on.
Some blamed the Jews for poisoning the wells of Christians. Ordinary people hated the Jews because they had served the merchants and aristocrats, and with their loans and with their capital, exploited Christians "with loans at very high rates." These reasons gave the impoverished debtors the motive to kill the Jews.
As the plague waned in 1350, so did the violence against Jewish communities. In 1351, the plague and the immediate persecution was over, though the background level of persecution and discrimination remained. Twenty years after the Black Death the Brussels massacre (1370) wiped out the Belgian Jewish community.
The coronavirus outbreak that started in Wuhan, China, has killed more than 300,000 people and infected over five million people on every continent except for Antarctica. The vast majority of cases are in the USA.
But the disease isn't the only thing spreading. Many people are already dealing with another kind of flare-up: xenophobia and racism, with the idea that the coronavirus is a Chinese disease. It's a foreign disease, we're told, and therefore borders are shut against "Chinamen." There have been reports of blatant verbal and physical attacks around the world against people of Asian descent.
As bigots blame Chinese for the coronavirus and President Trump labels it the "Chinese virus," many Chinese Americans say they are terrified of what could come next. First, he blamed the Chinese.
In South Korea, more than 760,000 South Korean citizens have signed a petition lobbying the government to ban Chinese tourists from entering the country. The Daegu Lantern Festival posted a notice in English that no foreigners are allowed to visit their festival.
In Israel, more than 1,000 South Korean tourists were instructed to avoid public places and remain in isolation in their hotels. Many South Koreans were rejected by hotels and were forced to spend nights at Ben Gurion Airport.
JE comments: Plus ça change. Fear requires some sort of outlet, and this often takes the form of attacking the "Other." As for pandemics, they always have to come from somewhere else, as how else can you explain the presence of something that didn't exist before?
A philosophical question: Does "social distancing" contribute to general xenophobia? Isn't the latter just a nastier form of the former?