Ahmad Rizky Mardhatillah Umar By: Ahmad Rizky Mardhatillah Umar
Doctoral Student, Political Sciences and International Studies
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17 Aug 2020 : "Pandemic-Mongering": On Disinformation, Fear, and Discrimination

If you watched Kingdom of Heaven (2005). you might be familiar with the story of King Baldwin IV - King of Jerusalem - who were affected by leprosy and was reigned under heavy political pressure by politicians in his court. King Baldwin was not a weak King, anyway; he was decisive and wises. But his physical condition means that he can't get to rule very well; something that his ambitious advisors (such as Guy de Lusignan and his rude ally, Reynald de Chatillon) take to extend their influences.

Jerusalem at that time was threatened by the rise of Salahuddin Al-'Ayyubi (renowned in the West as King Saladin) and his movement to claim back Jerusalem. But King Baldwin's court was not united. The ambitious Guy and Reynald, as well as his sister Sybilla, the marsall of Jerusalem, Tiberias, all conflicted. The story goes on: King Baldwin died, Guy ambitiously attacked Salahuddin's forces, and was defeated; Reynald de Chatillon was executed, and after a siege, Jerusalem fell to Salahuddin. 

I don't want to talk about the film anyway - many reviews do that. But the story of King Baldwin and his disease brings us an important story about how a disease could affect social and political life. The leprosy that KIng Baldwin dealt with paved the way to the spread of disinformation and falsely perceived threats. Guy de Lusignan and Reynald de Chatillon used this to fear-monger the 'Muslim/Saracen threat'; attacked caravan and traders under the guise of 'national security'. It was met with setbacks. Salahuddin Al-Ayyubi overpowered the crusaders, capitulated de Chatillon in the Battle of Kerak, and Jerusalem fell more easily than previously thought.

Pandemic creates not only fear, but also disinformation and discrimination. Many people were tested positive due to coronavirus, or was told to quarantine due to close contact Some people responded by giving solidarity, help and care; but some others responded by spreading disinformation. This is something that happened when we are not yet ready to tackle the social impact of the pandemic. With the rise of media and communicative technologies, pandemic disinformation became real and hard to tackle.

Let me give an example: someone knows that a group of people were told to quarantine because one member of the group was tested positive when travelling to a particular country, just for a precaution. But then there was a news that the group of people were positively tested! In certain countries, this happens especially if the trust to health authority are low and no attempt to tackle disinformation through, for example, reliable official information in the grassroot level. It could be also a matter of 'cultural' behavior: gossips spread quickly because society have lack of sufficient knowledge and information about what the pandemic is and how to respond to it. 

It's not actually merely government responbility to tackle with this; it should also be grounded in community. We need to tackle such 'pandemic-mongering' by collective efforts. As someone who come from a country that tries to deal with not only a high number of cases but also high-level of fear due to pandemic, the pandemic-mongering could be devastated. Someone who are returning from abroad could fell victim to this only because he/she was tested positive during a rapid test. Someone who obtained positive test could be fear-mongered by his/her institutions because the positive test means more rapid tests and quarantines.

What is the consequence of such problem? Discrimination. We will face numerous discriminatory practices after the pandemic only because of the test results. This should not happen if we don't fear-monger the pandemic. And this is a social effect of pandemic that needs to be mitigated alongside the pandemic itself. Discrimination walks alongside the pandemic because we respond the pandemic with fear, not medical solution.

Thus, what should be done to tackle this? One aspect that needs to be keep in mind, and need to be socialised as well, is that that disease is not a crime. This is collective, globak medical problem that we all face nowadays until the vaccines are ready (or even further than that!). And this is the role of not only official communication channels to talk of, but also the problem that grassroot instituitions need to taclke through community campaigns and so on. MPs need to talk with their constituents with this, and city/county councils need to begin collective attempts to tackle disinformations. 

One colleague of mine says that disinformations could only  be tackled by two activities: give the truths, with clear message, or just ignore it. But some of us could not just ignore and shut up. We need reliable information to be available regarding the pandemic, so everyone can just read and know what to do. We need, on the other words, truth and knowledge to battle pandemic-mongering.

Isn't it something that we are supposed to do - as an academic?

Brisbane, at the day of Indonesia's Independence, 17.8.20
A.R.M. Umar

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