The Code, the Jab and the Riots

The half-hearted response to the COVID19 pandemic in Europe, a continent that has not had to deal with such disasters for well over a century, continues to be something to behold. 

I mostly work in a part of the world that routinely deals with such phenomena and the response to the arrival of COVID19 in West Africa has been exactly what the European responses were not: swift, decisive, harsh and (mostly) effective. 

As a result it looks like (West) Africa may have been able to keep this particular pandemic mostly under control. We have tonnes of other sh!t to deal with on a regular basis so thank you for letting this particular nastiness pass our shores. (Incidentally, Robert Kaplan’s essay The Coming Anarchy has been wheeled out again, as an illustration of where the world is heading. The article continues to collapse under the weight of its bonkers hyperbole and in the light of the harsh but measured West African response to both COVID19 and Ebola it might be a good idea to bury Kaplan’s heated neo-colonial fantasy for good.)

West Africa did not face the large virus-related street riots like the ones that have been rocking several European countries including the Netherlands these last few days, with probably more on the way. You may not have noticed this but it’s worthwhile pointing out that the majority of those protesting and rioting against being ‘locked out of society’ because they refuse a jab and/or a code…are white. Incidentally, Rotterdam was the scene of race riots, five decades ago, pitting Dutch and Turkish workers against each other. Division was already doing its work and in the 1970s we witnessed the emergence of some pretty nasty extreme right wing political parties and movements. They have, essentially, never gone away and they stand to profit from the deep political confusion afflicting a worryingly large segment of Europe’s populations. 

More recently, we saw the emergence of social movements asserting the right of people of colour to be seen…as people. We saw movements in many parts of the worlds asserting the rights of people of colour not to be murdered or manhandled by police officers (from Black Lives Matter in the USA to EndSARS in Nigeria). We saw movements by people of colour for the right not to be treated as criminals for crossing a border with valid travel documents. We also saw a movement, specific to the Netherlands, in favour of the right not to be compared to some racist blackface caricature, an obnoxious habit a – fortunately dwindling – number of Dutch people still maintain around this time of the year

As Babah Tarawally, a perceptive column writer in a Dutch daily observes, the reality of being excluded from society is routine for people of colour in Europe. Exclusion becomes a problem now because it is starting to affect white people, who, on the whole, had little if anything to say about this exclusion, which was previously not available to them. 

Because let us be very clear here: there is a huge difference. Discrimination, exclusion, the two-tier society, exists for people of colour because of who and what they are and for this reason alone they have found themselves singled out for extra passport controls, having a knee planted on their necks , staring down the barrel of a gun or being compared to some stupid blackface caricature. The current looming two-tier society is the result of people making a conscious (one would hope) decision not to get a QR code or get themselves a COVID jab. In the latter case you choose to place yourself outside society. In the former case you already are excluded from society for traits you do not control. It is unbelievably depressing that this needs to be pointed out time and time again. 

The current European turmoil about The Code and The Jab is morbidly fascinating. Folks who never faced any difficulty in their lives because of inalienable traits they possessed find themselves inconvenienced as a result of some relatively feeble public health-related measures. They are screaming “Dictatorship!!” “Separation!!” and most of all “My Rights!!!!”…they are shouting for Democracy and Freedom when they were nowhere to be seen when these things were denied other people in their own country and in large parts of the rest of the world. 

The fact is this: for migrant workers, refugees, immigrants, exclusion has always been a massive hindrance. For the current crop of (again: predominantly white) complainers about The Jab and/or The Code, exclusion is a resource. 

Meanwhile, populist leaders whose barely disguised fascism becomes clearer with every passing day (even when I STILL hold the views I did in this column a few years ago) jump on the pro-COVID bandwagon by decrying public health measures, however weak and inconsistent, as Dictatorship or – in some insanely twisted irony – Apartheid, even Nazism. Some go so far as attaching Yellow Stars to their clothes with “unvaccinated” written on them, an act for which there cannot ever be enough contempt, especially when you realise how quickly these very same  populist leaders will start sending masses of people into deportation camps the minute they get into power because they campaign on an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-refugee, anti-Other agenda. 

Do we see a pattern emerging here? I think we do. I will be heading back to my slightly less deranged part of the world, hopefully before various corners of Europe go back into lockdown, thanks to the same crowd that turned some towns and cities into virtual war zones in these past few days and weeks. 

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