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‘Christmas important for everyone’ Hancock defends criticism over Eid lockdown

25th Dec 2020
‘Christmas important for everyone’ Hancock defends criticism over Eid lockdown

Health Secretary, Matt Hancock during a Covid-19 Presser, June 1
(Credit: Freddie Mitchell/No 10 Downing Street)

Harun Nasrullah

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, has hit back at claims relaxing coronavirus rules for the Christmas period could be seen as “unfair” to those forced to celebrate Eid Al-ʾAḍḥā and Diwali under strict lockdown measures.

Speaking during a joint session of the Health and Social Care Committee and Science and Technology Committee on November 24 Hancock said, “Christmas as a national holiday is the biggest national holiday that we have. Of course, it has particular importance for Christians, but it is an important national holiday for everybody in this country. So while of course, we considered the impact on those of other faiths, Christmas is a special time for everyone in this country.”

In October, the government was criticised by its own Islamophobia adviser, for refusing to publish data behind Hancock’s claim that people were, “not abiding by social distancing” as he imposed lockdown before the start of Eid Al-ʾAḍḥā.
Tweeting on July 30, Hancock said that the rise in Covid-19 infections was, “largely due to households meeting and not abiding (by) social distancing.”

With only 3 hours notice he then imposed a lockdown on large swathes of highly Muslim populated areas of northern England. The timing and manner of the announcement received cross-party condemnations as well as criticism from police chiefs and Muslim leaders who described it as “shameless scapegoating of Muslims.”

Imam Qari Muhammad Asim, Deputy Chair of the Parliamentary Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group, told the Guardian that Hancock’s claim added to “hateful narratives” that indicated Muslim communities were not following government guidelines or adhering to social distancing.

Asim, who is also Chair of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board, urged the government to release the data that supported the claims, saying that the announcement “gave the impression that Muslim communities were not social distancing and were ignoring the government guidelines. Therefore, it’s only right that full data is made public to make things clearer.”

The Health Department refused to publish evidence supporting Hancock’s claims claiming doing so would jeopardise “the internal deliberative process as it relates to policy-making.”

In a statement to The Muslim News, a spokesman for the department said, “We have been clear from the outset that public compliance with self-isolation rules and social distancing measures is absolutely crucial to preventing the spread of the virus.

“Test and Trace data showed the spread in these areas was largely due to households meeting and not abiding by social distancing, which is why the lockdown measures were implemented.

“We recognise these restrictions were difficult for many people, including the Muslim community, and the whole nation has a role to play in keeping transmission rates down. Our message is clear – get a test if symptomatic, follow social distancing rules, and think hands, face and space.”

The lockdown sparked a frenzy of Islamophobia on far-right social media, with many extremists seizing the opportunity to blame Muslims for the spread of the coronavirus. Asim said, “We saw a rise of Islamophobia online [in the aftermath of the announcement] and the Muslim communities were seen as the cause of another lockdown.

Some people felt that the timing of the announcement was very poor. The way it was made showed disregard for a faith community.

“We don’t want to give rise to hateful narratives and the authorities must ensure that such hateful narratives are not supported.”

Hancock’s announcement had come just hours after an advisory group to the British government said that localized lockdowns could lead to a “divided nation” and be “exploited by extreme right-wing groups.”

Wajid Khan, Mayor of Burnley, one of the towns placed under lockdown, said the manner of Hancock’s announcement led Muslims to feel “scapegoated and blamed” and “used, confused and abused.”


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