In the international arena, Pakistanis are never out of the ring, be it War on Terror or the fight against polio. So, how can we be irrelevant during a global pandemic of unprecedented proportions?
Not to be out-done by American science-denying, gun-toting anti-maskers, our own, and well-known, conspiracy theorists like Zaid Hamid have joined the “anti-vaxxer” brigade—albeit with their own twist on the theories. As is customary, they assure us they have joined this campaign “voluntarily and being in the interest of Muslim Ummah.”
On Pakistani WhatsApp groups and Facebook pages, two personalities are emerging as the harbingers of anti-vaccine propaganda: Zaid Hamid and Faisal Raza Abidi. Both are fire-brand nationalists who are quick to present their own takes and theories about every happening in the world, from the comfort of their homes, through the miracle of social media.
Zaid Hamid released a video on November 24, 2020 on YouTube and Facebook, challenging the reality of pandemic. In the 23-minutes long video, Hamid propagates theories which claim coronavirus is just a flu, and the entire scare is nothing but a big conspiracy. During his monologue he clearly says that there is “no virus, no death, no pandemic.” [The complete video is embedded at the bottom of the article]
Like most other anti-vaxxers, Zaid Hamid claims that the vaccine is a ploy to change the human DNA across the world and make them slaves to some shadowy overlords.
“COVID stands for Certification of Vaccine ID, which means no one can travel without having this digital certificate.”
Conspiracy theories alleging digital IDs and hidden microchips in the bloodstream are not new—they are as old as microchips themselves. But such theorists forget that the social media platforms they upload their ruminations on are a more complete tracker of their digital footprints than any microchip could ever be. They forget that every ID card and passport today carries digital identification, while their mobile sims, their phones, and even their smart-watches contain more ‘chips’ than they can fathom.
Zaid Hamid kept saying the vaccine is a new form of slavery, designed to target Muslims, but ignored the fact that this vaccine will be used by every non-Muslim country as well. The holes in his logic shouldn’t surprise us; non-Muslim anti-vaxxers use the same narrative, only to claim that their particular faith is under attack.
One wouldn’t have though it possible – but from here it gets even more absurd.
Zaid Hamid claims this is all part of a grand plan to change the human DNA and make human slaves to machines, a famous plot line which can be seen in several Hollywood movies as well. Mr Hamid has found a perfect enemy to blame for this plan. He claims Bill Gates is behind this evil scheme, and he is in fact “Dajjal” himself.
Zaid Hamid is not the only one who has been on the front line of anti-vaxxers. Faisal Raza Abidi, the former member National Assembly known for his strong opinions, has also recently spoken against the COVID-19 vaccine. His video clip, in which he is seen addressing some religious gathering, has been shared on many WhatsApp groups. He has a unique take, even among anti-vaxxers. Here he declares the COVID-19 vaccine a conspiracy to change the beliefs and social values of Muslims. He claims that this vaccine will manipulate human beings to the extent that people will stop respecting traditional norms of families.
It is easy to laugh these claims away as harmless rantings of delusional men, but their effects are real, and dangerous.
The COVID-19 vaccine is not the first vaccine in Pakistan to face such resistance. The Polio vaccine is still being targeted with conspiracy theories. Many anti-polio vaccination campaign workers have been killed in Pakistan, to the extent that it is mandatory that police escort workers who are on vaccination drives.
The result of these theories is that Pakistan is one of two countries in the entire world that still suffers from polio. Pakistanis are still required to take their polio vaccination certificates with them before traveling to many western countries.
Conspiracy theories against vaccination are not new. Records show that the first known campaigns against vaccines were reported in 1885 when the smallpox vaccine was introduced. Time proved them wrong, but those who shunned vaccines then still suffered.
Healthline has discussed this phenomena in the article, “Understanding Opposition to Vaccine.” A detailed work was done by “The Conversation” in its article “Covid-19 anti-vaxxers use the same arguments from 135 years ago.”
History repeats itself indeed. About 135 years ago, the same arguments were presented which are now being presented during the COVID-19 pandemic—the first and foremost argument discounting the seriousness of the disease. Sceptics today smugly say that more people die because of the flu each year than by the coronavirus; anti-vaxxers used this logic 135 years ago and declared that more people are dying because of other diseases compared to smallpox.
The government needs to act
Zaid Hamid and Faisal Raza Abidi have huge followings among the people of Pakistan. In a country which has a low literacy rate, and increasing mobile phone usage, such theories can create havoc and undermine the government’s effort to control the coronavirus just when it seems that the cure is around the corner.
Such theories can affect Pakistan’s standing in the international community as well, which is currently praising the government’s smart lockdown policy.
Just as governments across the world had to combat misinformation about the spread of COVID-19 pro-actively, it has to now combat anti-vaccination propaganda in the same way. The videos are still up on social media, and doing rounds among the populace.
The government, armed forces, and health workers have joined hands to steer Pakistan out of this crisis. But such theorists can throw us back in the pit of virus infected countries.