Hot take: Public health has no place in identity politics, and comparing public health measures to the Holocaust won’t prove your point.
Since early March, when the WHO officially declared the novel coronavirus disease a pandemic, public opinion evolved drastically. Most notably, the issue has found its way into identity politics.
Leonard Cohen best said it: “There is a war between the ones who say there is a war, and the ones who say there isn’t.”
At this point in time, we’re somehow in dispute about whether there is a virus, and whether that virus is as dangerous as our government and health officials say it is. To that end, we’re in dispute about the unprecedented measures our government is taking to protect the health of its citizens by balancing the health of the economy and the health of the people.
Here’s a hot take: mandatory mask laws are actually not political, they’re medical. A mandatory mask regulation is not the mark of a political coup. It’s akin to banning smoking indoors or a “No shoes, no service” sign.
Meanwhile, our economic system continues to plunder the lower classes of our society, pushing them to more and more dire living conditions, while the elite few make a casual $8 billion earnings in one day.
It comes as no surprise that, with such a disparity in wealth ever growing, discouraged people experiencing exploitation are at their wits end, and are not about to take one more assault on their liberty. In this cultural landscape, I understand that a mandatory mask is just one more thing you have to do, while you risk your life in order to afford your life. But it’s also a low hanging fruit, and it doesn’t reach the actual issue at hand.
Compounded with a government that’s inconsistently transparent, and cases continuing to climb in Quebec, it really does feel like our democracy is in crisis.
We, like Nelly, have a dilemma, and it’s getting undermined when we centre mask regulations as a human rights violation.
Despite what the old man yelling at the clouds would have you believe, it is incomparable to relate mandatory masks with the forced branding of Jewish people during the Holocaust. It also acts to undermine a very real issue in our society by misplacing the focus of people’s fears.
I first noticed this comparison in June during the internationally covered Palm Beach County commission meeting on a mandatory mask order.
At this meeting, one resident, Theresa Roberts said, “I’m also the daughter of somebody who lived through Germany. I know a lot of stories. And this is sounding very familiar to me. You’re forcing people to wear masks. They were forced to wear a star.”
Another resident and Republican candidate for Congress, Reba Sherrill, said at the meeting, “Discriminating against certain groups of people while exempting others is a violation of our civil rights. Following World War II, we Jews said ‘Never again.’” She continued, “We were forced to wear a gold star. Told to get [in] a box car to be taken to a safe place. In reality, what happened?”
I know there is a lot of fear, especially for people in the Jewish community. Throughout history, Jewish people trying to assimilate to new societies have been met with violence, and I understand that the fear of history repeating itself is very real. We also lose credibility when we make leaps like this.
We have genuine cause for concern about the safety, privacy, and freedom of people in North America. In Quebec, the Legault government passed a law that entitles police officers to obtain search warrants via the telephone, enabling quick legal access to private residences, for the intended purpose of enforcing COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings.
In my opinion, this law poses greater issues for human rights violations and discriminatory policing than a mandatory mask law. We have to be smart about where we cast our attention and criticism.
“There is a war between the ones who say there is a war, and the ones who say there isn’t.” Lately, I wonder whether there is a war between those of us who say chaos is a conduit of war and those who say a mask is.
Feature graphic by Taylor Reddam