In the Middle East, the coronavirus triggers a “infodémie” the colors of islam

Beirut | Conversions mass to islam, muslims immunized in the face of the virus: in the unfurling of international disinformation generated by the pandemic of novel coronavirus, the conspiracy theorists in the Middle East have them immersed in an excess of religiosity.

Some experts see this phenomenon as the natural result of a society that tries to manage the anguish caused by the global health crisis of unprecedented magnitude.

“In times of crisis inexplicable and conflict, people look to their myths and their cultural beliefs to give meaning to what is happening,” said Nabil Dajani, a media specialist at the american University of Beirut (AUB).

“It’s happening everywhere, not only in the muslim world”, he adds.

In the world, the myths are propagated like wildfire on the Internet, with miracle cures against the novel coronavirus, or theories complotistes on its origins shared by thousands of users on social networks, among which political decision-makers.

The phenomenon is such that in February the world Health Organization (WHO) has warned of a “infodémie”.

The arab countries have not been spared: the fact-checkers of the AFP have observed a similar trend, dominated, however, by an excess of religiosity.

A video purporting to show Chinese convert to islam because the coronavirus “don’t touch the muslims” has been widely publicized on social networks in February.

It was in reality Filipinos converted in saudi Arabia in may 2019, or months before the onset of the epidemic in China.

Suicides of Italian

Another video claims to show of the Chinese, who receive copies of the Qur’an, after the lifting of a “censorship” on the holy book in their country, in the midst of the epidemic.

The video is actually a report on the distribution of bibles in China, which has been circulating since 2013.

And while the muslim Andalusia of the Middle Ages continues to inspire fantasies in some, another video has made the rounds of social networks. It asserts that the call to prayer has resounded for the first time since 500 years in Spain, hard hit by the epidemic, while it was never banned in the country.

“In our region, the claims of religious are sometimes in conflict with science and medicine”, points out Sari Hanafi, professor of sociology at AUB.

“But religion is also a key source of social solidarity, which is an integral part of the resistance to the psychological stress of the quarantine,” he said.

Beyond these fabrications tinged with religion, the auditors of the facts of the AFP have also identified several publications predicting the fall of western countries, mired in the fight against the pandemic.

“The Italians are committing suicide”, the headline read, and in Arabic a video shared on social networks, which shows a compact crowd gathered in a public square in Italy. It was in reality a protest against the far-right Italian, planned months before the spread of the coronavirus.

Of internet users have also shared erroneous statements attributed to the Prime minister of italy, Giuseppe Conte, according to which only a solution “come from heaven” could save Italy.

“Impotence”

Referring to the speech conspiracy, Dima Matar, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, refutes any “language exceptionnaliste” according to which the Middle East would be “different” from the rest of the world.

“Religion has always been used in political discourse, and not only in the Middle East, in the West also.”

The misinformation in the arab-muslim world must be perceived, according to dr. Matar, “in the same way as the other fake news and conspiracy theories that have emerged around the virus, and who have been promoted even by Trump”.

These disinformation theories and come to flatter nationalism, exacerbating the stigma and societal stereotypes racist, supported by Mr. Hanafi.

The sociologist points the finger at some of the theories that evoke the making of the virus in laboratories in the u.s. to hit China and Iran, or other theories blaming the refugees and migrants.

This phenomenon is symptomatic of a time when “one feels powerless in the face of reality and that we do not know how to explain something in a scientific way,” said Mr. Hanafi.

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