Playing the COVID-19 blame game may feel good, but it could come at a cost — the government’s credibilit


Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Robert Hoffmann, RMIT University; Ananta Neelim, RMIT University; Meg Elkins, RMIT University, and Peyman Khezr, RMIT University

Fingers have been pointing all over the place as the country searches for answers to the stubbornly high coronavirus cases and rising death rates in Victoria.

While Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has been fronting an increasingly hostile media — as well as a parliamentary inquiry looking into the state’s handling of the pandemic — the federal government has been under fire for its neglect of the aged care sector.

At the same time, Andrews has frequently chastised the Victorian public for not following the rules of social distancing and mask wearing.

Amid all the rancour, it’s worth asking, why are we so quick to assign blame during a crisis, particularly to those in positions of power? And could doing so be counterproductive if the government starts to lose credibility in the public’s eye?

Premier Daniel Andrews and his health team have been in the firing line for weeks over the state’s coronavirus response.
Erik Anderson/AAP

Scapegoating has a long history

As the folklorist Jon D. Lee explains in his book, An Epidemic of Rumors, blame is a normal reaction to epidemics or other calamities. Fear activates powerful psychological mechanisms that allow us to cope. And blaming others is a common coping strategy.

It is not just those in authority who bear the brunt of scapegoating. Foreign powers, unseen conspiracies and minorities have all become targets in the past. During the bubonic plague in the 14th century, Jews faced persecution as the supposed carriers. More recently, older women in Tanzania were accused of witchcraft during a period of extreme drought.




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In the current COVID-19 crisis, our own marginalised groups have been targeted. The temporary contract workers employed as security guards in the hotel quarantine program and young Queensland women who dodged mandatory quarantine are recent examples of this kind of scapegoating. Asian Australians have also been taunted, threatened and spat on.

But in Victoria, the government has become the main villain. COVID-19 has come at a time when trust in government has never been lower. As a result, compared to other countries and other times in our history, government has become an easy target.

Why do we feel the need to point the finger?

Some of the reasons are entirely justified and well-intentioned. Freedom of expression, for example, is an essential part of functioning democracies. Our institutions can only remain strong and effective as long as people stay engaged in public life — and hold the powerful to account.

The World Bank has also listed “voice and accountability” as one of six dimensions it examines as part of its worldwide governance index. The index looks at the perception of citizen engagement in selecting their government, as well as freedom of expression, association and media.

The management of the pandemic has highlighted weak and strong governance systems around the world. Norway and New Zealand rank at the top of the “voice and accountability” index, so it’s no surprise they have received high praise for their COVID-19 responses. Australia is also very high, in 10th position.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been praised in New Zealand for her handling of the pandemic.
DAVID ROWLAND/AAP

Other countries that have not done so well on the pandemic are further down the list. The US is 37th and Brazil is 74th.

When done in the right way, casting blame also has an important social function. Holding perceived transgressors, including those in positions of power, to account for their failures and mistakes reinforces society’s rules and acts as a deterrent against those who would flout them.

Blame can alleviate stress, grief and guilt

Blaming is also a normal psychological process that allows individuals to manage stress and fear when faced with life-threatening upheavals.

One of the most powerful human needs is to feel we have some sense of control over our environment – and COVID-19 has undermined this in spectacular fashion.

Control includes the ability to explain why things happen. And pointing fingers at an easy scapegoat, such as the government, can sometimes provide the answers we need to regain control.




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Loss of control is also frequently accompanied by grief. In psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ famous “five stages of grief” from the 1960s, anger is identified as one of the emotions people need to confront in the grieving process. And anger is often associated with finger pointing.

As Kübler-Ross’s collaborator, David Kessler, said this year, people are grieving in a completely new way due to the coronavirus, and part of this is manifested through anger at authority figures, as in, “you’re making me stay home and taking away my activities”.

This is a normal emotion, but one that people need to get past:

You can also think about how to let go of what you can’t control. What your neighbour is doing is out of your control. What is in your control is staying six feet away from them and washing your hands.

Some people may also feel partly responsible for Australia’s inability to contain COVID-19, yet unable to personally make a difference.

Blame helps reconcile these feelings. If someone else is at fault for the pandemic spiralling out of control — for instance, our leaders — that absolves the rest of us from blame and the burden of responsibility.

When blame strips the government of credibility

Rallying around a common cause, even an innocent scapegoat, can bring people together. But this should never be a reason to participate in a witch hunt. Generations of wrongly blamed minorities are a powerful reminder of how social injustice can become entrenched.

More important is to hold those in power to account through social activism, as epidemiologist Jonathan Quick argues in the End of Epidemics. Bureaucracies can suffer from inertia, he argues, and ignore the long-term strategies needed to make us better prepared in the future.

But a government that has lost credibility because of unjustified finger-pointing will struggle to marshal the collective resources needed to effectively fight the pandemic.

Victorians have largely complied with the latest lockdown orders, even as criticism of the government picks up steam.
James Ross/AAP

Research shows credibility is hugely important when it comes to the power of persuasion — and this is the main lever the government has right now to get people to behave the right way.

Previous pandemics have seen riots and civil unrest. In his book The Psychology of Pandemics, Steven Taylor describes how health professionals and local officials were attacked when visiting communities in Africa and Asia during the Ebola and SARS outbreaks. He argues civil disobedience happens when people share a belief that the authorities are to blame in some way.

We have not yet reached that stage in Victoria, despite the public outrage over the government’s missteps.

The reasons for the pandemic are complex and evolving. No simple scapegoating narrative can change that. But if we hold onto anger and continue to point fingers, it could prevent society from doing what is necessary to win the fight.The Conversation

Robert Hoffmann, Professor of Economics and Chair of Behavioural Business Lab, RMIT University; Ananta Neelim, Lecturer in Economics, RMIT University; Meg Elkins, Senior Lecturer with School of Economics, Finance and Marketing, RMIT University, and Peyman Khezr, Lecturer in Economics, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Pakistan court releases 18 Muslims held for Gojra violence


Eighteen Muslims arrested in the wake of Gojra violence under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), were released from their local district jail on Saturday, September 19, Pakistan English Daily “Dawn” has reported, reports Dan Wooding and Sheraz Khurram Khan, special to ASSIST News Service.

Gojra, a small town in Punjab province of Pakistan exploded into the international limelight when miscreants on August 1 set ablaze over 50 Christian houses that resulted in killings of seven Christians. Scores of Christians left their houses, fearing further trouble from extremists.

The newspaper said the Muslim men were booked under Section 7 of the ATA on the charges of attacking Christian community on July 29 and August 1 following an incident of alleged desecration of the Holy Quran in Chak (village) 95-JB, Adda Korian, and Christian Colony, Gojra.

They were declared innocent by a joint committee of Muslims and Christians formed to reconcile between both the groups, said the Dawn report.

The committee recommended to the police to delete the names of these 18 people from the Police First Information Report on which they were set free, it said.

Reacting to the release of the Muslim men, Mr. Joseph Francis, Director of the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), has alleged that the Chief Justice Lahore High Court, is “anti-Christian, biased and a fanatic.”

Francis alleged that the Chief Justice had granted bail to the Muslim men without serving notice on the lawyers of Catholic Church, therefore they could not appear in the court the day the accused were granted bails, he said.

He said CLAAS was going to protest against the decision by setting up a hunger strike camp outside Lahore Press Club.

When ANS asked him how Christians could have reservations on the release of the Muslim men when a committee comprising of Muslims and Christians declared them innocent, Mr. Joseph said he doubted the “credibility of the committee.” He went on to say that a Catholic priest of Gojra Shafique had given a pardon to the Muslim men without consulting with the victims.

“How could the Muslim men in question be granted bail when the findings of the Inquiry Commission led by Justice Iqbal Hameed-ur-Rehman have not come to the fore?,” he questioned.

Francis maintained the police in the wake of Gojra violence mentioned names of some 129 Christians in a cross version. Out of 129, he said, 100 Christians are unidentified where as 29 Christians have been named.

He also revealed that a Bishop of the Church of Pakistan, John Samuel and his son have also been named in the cross version, which means these people were not originally named in the FIR but police added their names later as accused.

The CLAAS director said the police arrested two Christian brothers named Naveed and Nouman and claimed to ANS that Nouman had opened fire on miscreants, which he said saved lives of so many Christians as it enabled them to flee the scene.

He said Nouman was in Karachi when the Gojra violence took place but the police have arrested him.

Francis said he lodged a petition against arrest of the two brothers in Lahore High court. Mr. Francis said that when the high court asked the police in a hearing on Friday, September 18, they said the pair was not in its custody rather they have been taken by the law enforcement agencies.

According to Mr. Francis, the court has ordered the Station House Officer, Rasool Ghulam, District Coordination Officer and District Police Officer to explain the court about Naveed and Nouman on October 1, 2009.

Asked to comment on the recent statements by Pakistani religious hardliners and conservative politicians opposing the repeal of Pakistan blasphemy laws, he said he was going to present a memorandum demanding the repeal of Pakistan blasphemy laws to the United Nations in Rawalpindi.

“The religious parties are making a political capital by reiterating their inflexible posture on repeal of the blasphemy laws,” he claimed.

Report from the Christian Telegraph 

TURKEY: EFFORTS TO TIE MALATYA MURDERS TO ‘DEEP STATE’ FIZZLE


Alleged ring-leader retracts testimony implicating suspected link to ‘masterminds.’

MALATYA, Turkey, May 28 (Compass Direct News) – Prosecution efforts to tie the murderers of three Christians here to state-linked masterminds were set back on Friday (May 22) when the alleged ring-leader unexpectedly contradicted his previous testimony implicating a suspected “middleman.”

As the suspected middleman between the murderers and “deep state” elements, Huseyin Yelki, was testifying at Friday’s hearing, Emre Gunaydin – whose previous private testimony led to Yelki’s arrest – stood up and said, “Huseyin Yelki is not guilty, he’s being held in prison for no reason.”

The prosecuting team and judges at the Malatya Third Criminal Court froze at the statement, and then demanded to know why he had previously implicated Yelki. Gunaydin said he did so because Yelki was a Christian missionary.

Gunaydin has also implicated Varol Bulent Aral, a journalist allegedly attached to a far-reaching political conspiracy known as Ergenekon. Aral is the second suspected middleman.

For his part, Yelki testified during the court hearing that he had met Gunaydin only once prior to the murders. According to Gunaydin’s previous testimony, Yelki’s brother facilitated various meetings between Gunaydin and Yelki in which they planned the knife attack on the three Christians at a Christian publishing house. During a private hearing this past winter, a judge showed Gunaydin photos of different people, and he immediately identified Yelki’s brother.

Gunaydin’s retraction raised suspicion among the judges that in recent months he has received visits in prison from those behind the murders who have pressured him to change his statement.

“Tell me the truth, have you spoken to anyone?” the judge barked at him.

“I swear to God, I have not!” said Gunaydin.

The judges requested a list of everyone who has visited Gunaydin and the other four suspects – Salih Gurler, Cuma Ozdemir, Hamit Ceker, and Abuzer Yildirim – while they’ve been in prison over the last two years. Further questioning of Yelki failed to yield clear and incriminating answers, and the judges released him.

Lead prosecuting lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz told Compass that records of the jail visits to Gunaydin may be inconclusive.

“These visits might be off the record [unofficial], we don’t know,” Cengiz said. “But we have a tiny hope that we may catch something through these records.”

Yelki, a former volunteer at Zirve Publishing Co., was taken into custody in February on suspicion that he had incited the five young suspects to kill the three Christians, Turkish Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel, and German Tilmann Geske, in April 2007.

Cengiz called Yelki’s testimony a “disaster.” Even though it is apparent to the court that Yelki has had many contacts with gendarmerie intelligence, Cengiz said, he was not able to explain the nature of his calls, claiming that he wanted to speak to them about the Bible.

“We are very suspicious about him,” Cengiz said. “Everyone is suspicious.”

As a result of the last hearing, the court also asked for a record of all of Yelki’s bank statements over the past few years to see if they point to ties with gendarmerie or other suspicious activities.

“To us it is obvious that Yelki is one of the links that connects these youngsters to upper levels,” said Cengiz. “But he refused to cooperate, and in my view it is also obvious that Emre was pressured to change his statement, because in his earlier statement that he gave the prosecutor, he accused Yelki of instigating them to commit this crime. But he changed after that.”

Cengiz said that Yelki made other misrepresentations, such as his claim in court to have stayed in bed for two months recovering from leg surgery, when telephone records showed he hopped between different southeastern Turkish cities during that time.

“It was obvious that he was telling a lot of lies, because he said that after the release from the hospital he rested for two months,” said Cengiz, “but according to his telephone he was traveling and very intensively, actually.”

Missionaries as Criminals

An undercover gendarme who works in drug and gun enforcement, Mehmet Çolak, also took the stand on Friday (May 22). Phone records show that he may have been one of the communication links between alleged masterminds and others, and his name was mentioned in an informant letter sent to the court.

His testimony, however, yielded no information helpful to prosecutors. When defense lawyers asked him which bureau of the gendarmerie follows missionary activities in Turkey, Çolak replied, “Counter-terrorism.” The response typified the defense argument that the Christian victims brought the murder upon themselves by undertaking missionary activity.

In their concluding statements, defense lawyers requested that the court conduct a thorough investigation involving police, the army and gendarmerie to establish whether missionary activities are a crime. The judges rejected their request.

Prosecuting lawyers said that the lawyers have been trying to vilify missionary activities from the beginning of the case in an attempt to gain a lighter sentence for the five young men and also to make a nationalist political point.

“It is a very poor tactic,” said Cengiz. “At the final hearing, they would like to make a defense that states, ‘This attack was provoked … You see these people [missionaries] are trying to divide our country.’ They want to say that this is an unjust provocation, and as a result these youngsters were very angry and lost their temper. But this is rubbish.”

Ergenekon Trial

Hearings and investigations of Ergenekon, a clandestine nationalist group believed to have sought to overthrow the government by engineering domestic chaos, continue apart from the Malatya trial.

Two suspects arrested in relation to the case, Aral and Veli Kucuk, a retired general, have also been implicated in the Malatya murders. They were both questioned by Ergenekon prosecutors and judges earlier this month.

Nearly 140 people have been arrested in connection to the case. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been criticized for allegedly allowing indiscriminate arrests of people who oppose his political line and who are not connected to the “deep state” cabal.

Kemal Kerinçsiz, a Turkish lawyer famous for filing court cases and complaints against dozens of Turkish journalists and authors for “insulting Turkishness,” has also been arrested in relation to Ergenekon. Kerinçsiz is responsible for the cases opened against Turkish Christians Hakan Tastan and Turan Topal, who have been on trial for two years for “insulting Turkishness” because they spoke openly about their faith.

In the next Malatya court hearing scheduled for June 19, judges expect to hear the testimony of Aral and others who have been implicated.

Frustrations

Although it was expected that the Malatya hearings would become part of the Ergenekon trials, Cengiz said that chances are slim if the thin evidence thus far does not become more substantial.

Yelki’s release, he said, showed that although his testimony tainted his credibility, there was not enough evidence that he is connected to the case.

“My conclusion is that we’re going nowhere,” said a tired Cengiz, “because the powers behind the scenes were very successful in organizing everything. They organized everything, and we’re going nowhere.”

In order for the Malatya and Ergenekon hearings to merge, Cengiz said, the court will need something more solid than implicated names.

“We don’t have something concrete,” said Cengiz. “All these names are in the air … all connections show gendarmerie intelligence, but there is no concrete evidence yet, and apparently there will be none. The trouble is that it’s very frustrating – we know the story but we cannot prove it.”

Report from Compass Direct News

EXECUTED: NO MARTYRDOM FOR THE BALI BOMBERS


Imam Samudra, Amrozi and his brother Mukhlas, the three men convicted for their part in the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people (including 88 Australians), have been executed in Indonesia. Scores more were injured in the terrorist attack carried out by the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist group. The executions were carried out by firing squad on Nusakambanan Island, off Central Java at 12.15am Sunday morning.

Reports from the scene of the executions tell of Mukhlas being the most defiant of the three terrorists, while the smiling Amrozi was clearly fearful as he approached his doom, his trademark smile gone.

Abu Bakar Bashir, the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah (who somehow escaped the same end as the three Bali bombers), addressed the assembled fundamentalist Islamic terrorist thugs in the Indonesian village of Tenggulun, the home village of Amrozi and Mukhlas, as their heroes were buried. Typically, the funeral gathering of extremist Islamists soon broke out into violence as Jihadists clashed with Indonesian police and the gathered media.

Indonesia is now on high terrorist alert following the executions of the three terrorists. The world’s largest Muslim nation is now a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalist anger, with Jihadists pledging revenge for the executions – a motivation completely void of logic. These men were, after-all, executed for being murderers and for taking many human lives. Certainly there is no room for commonsense or decency in the reasoning and behaviour of mindless extremist Islamic thugs.

However, Islamic leaders throughout Indonesia have condemned the three convicted bombers, declaring that they and their supporters have no basis for claiming martyrdom as they were simply behaving in a criminal manner and were guilty of cold-blooded murder. The criticism included that of Umar Shihab, the head of Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI), Indonesia’s top Islamic body.

From a Christian perspective, the Bali bombers fate is far worse than merely missing out on martyrdom – they now face an eternity in endless punishment, known of course as Hell.

Indonesia now has a major credibility problem – especially given the escape of Abu Bakar Bashir from the judicial fate he deserves. Jihadist and terrorist activity is clearly rampant in Indonesia and there are many locations that are clearly a breeding ground in Indonesia. Something must be done and soon if Indonesia is to be regarded as a nation that can rightfully take its place in the world at the United Nations.

If it does not take decisive action against terrorism it should be regarded in the same way as Syria and Iran, as a terrorist friendly country. Should this remain the case, Australia and our fellow peace loving countries, should withdraw all financial assistance given to Indonesia – which is quite substantial.

BELOW: Footage of the funeral processions and the Bali Bombing