From Islamophobia to Sinophobia | Sunday Observer

From Islamophobia to Sinophobia

12 June, 2021

Although it is not the time to talk about 9/11, this is certainly a valid point of reference to the discussions of the many kinds of phobias we witness today.

A phobia can be described as the extreme dislike or aversion to things which could be irrational at most times. Phobias come in different forms and sizes, be it for spiders, birds, heights, thunder or lightning and the like that many would perceive as silly fears.

However, it is very real for those who experience it. It could create extreme anxiety and panic, leaving a person numb or traumatised for years, especially if encounters have been close.

Most people live with their phobias for their entire lives. Fighting it may seem futile as they fear the mere thought of the matter.

Sometimes, phobias could be quite harmless. For others, it is just a tolerance of a scream once in a while when someone sees a spider, be someone’s guide in tall buildings etc.

But it can be quite a nuisance when you have to avoid a moth or an ant or even water for that matter! The matter goes beyond the personal space when others have to intervene to put someone out of their trauma, and especially when the phobia is of a global scale, affecting human relations, international relations, politics and diplomacy.

Beyond the personal space

The significant phobia that caught on at a global scale in the recent past was Islamophobia - hence the reference to 9/11 at the beginning of this article.

This kind of phobia leaves the personal space, goes beyond our fences and beyond borders, pitting a group of people against another. It creates deep fear as any other phobia, but affecting a section of the society at large.

Islamophobia is a very real fear, especially in the West and specifically in the US.

Countless are the times we hear about mistreatment at airports, schools and supermarkets at the hands of the police and the white supremacists including children.

“Anti-Muslim bigotry and Islamophobia have become pervasive features of American public life. Whether in formal politics or national media, it is common to see and hear negative stereotypes and fear-mongering messaging about Muslims and their place in society,” says the Counter Islamophobia Project.

But it certainly goes beyond that for Islamophobia to translate as hate crimes, violence against the Muslim community and blood shed at a larger scale due to the belief that this community is inherently violent.

In Sri Lanka too, we saw Islamophobia at a concerning level, after the Easter attacks when communities turned against each other.

However, things happen fast in Sri Lanka where there are enough events happening one after the other to grab public attention.

Islamophobia lies dormant for now amidst other events with the Covid-19 pandemic being predominantly featured in Lankan life. Still, a shipwreck and an actress’ lament manage to capture public eye although unfortunately, the latter still manages to go viral more than the news of environmental pollution.

More phobias

Another kind of phobia that seems to be taking over the world is Sinophobia. Although the term was in existence for some time, in Sri Lanka, the concept seems to have caught on quite recently with the Port City Colombo project.

Sinophobia, according to the Collins Dictionary, is a fear or dislike of China or Chinese people, their language or culture. It can also mean the fear of goods made in China or goods labelled as made in China.

Discrimination against China and the Chinese people is nothing new at a global scale. Yet, it seems to be replacing the previous phobia to become the new Islamophobia.

In the US, the Covid-19 recorded another kind of virus that is Sinophobia, with reports of anti-racial threats and violence reported from all over the country.

It made matters worse when the then US President termed Covid-19, the ‘Chinese virus’.

Before anti-Chinese sentiments heightened along with the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a general degradation and suspicion of China and Chinese products, which on the one hand, could have more or less been originated in the West and propagandised by the West. The intensity of Sinophobia in the US mainly depended on the trade relations between China and the US, escalating to trade wars between the two countries during the Trump administration.

The Western propaganda was intense during this time to position itself on the anti-China bandwagon, placing narratives to discredit the Chinese and Chinese products at every opportunity.

Now, the Covid-19 pandemic had become a golden opportunity for mainstream western media to point fingers again at China despite global campaigns carried out to show that a ‘virus has no nationality’. Historically, China was feared in many ways, but the recent fear was with the pandemic.

Chinese footprints

As Sinophobia gains intensity at a global scale, in Sri Lanka it lends a different meaning with the Port City Project that is coupled with nationalism and colonialism with the fear of China leaving its footprints on the Sri Lankan economy.

This could be reasonable fears of a once-colonised mindset that suspects all external forces. But the fear and jeer extends to all kinds of Chinese-related products including the Sinopharm vaccine as we saw from the gamut of degrading social media memes recently.

Earlier, the jeering was for Chinese technology and mechanics while the cheer was for Western products. This begs the question whether all this fear and jeer are Western made to win global markets, as is the case of Sinopharm.

It took many a hurdle for Sinopharm to get World Health Organization (WHO) approval while China was being accused of ‘vaccine diplomacy’ - an accusation that China uses its vaccine to boost perceptions as a generous and responsible power. This generates another set of doubts of the West, whether they too are carrying out a similar campaign.

Whether Sinophobia is a just another irrational fear is a matter of contention for Sri Lankans nowadays.

With the Port City project moving forward and increased Chinese presence, Sri Lanka is no doubt set for changes in its economy, polity and society. However, what matters is that Sri Lanka maintains its sovereignty, recognises its potential, and upholds human rights and human values in dealing with all external forces, be it China or the West.