From Biblical times through the Nazi Holocaust, to the present suffering in northeast Nigeria, to our local emergency room, man’s reaction to innocents’ suffering has often prompted the same question: “Where is G-d?”
When it comes to COVID-19, no one can blame G-d. It’s people who have gotten us into this coronavirus mess, and it is people — with G-d’s help — who can help heal a world deathly ill from it.
We are beginning to see how we got here, and as we do, we must take our own medicine. That medicine is the truth. And you don’t have to look to the Heavens to find the truth, in this case.
While there is plenty of blame to go around for mistakes and failures made as COVID-19 spread, mistakes and failures made as the Coronavirus had spread throughout the United States and European Union, within some segments of our religious communities and beyond, we must call out two of the main culprits who helped it spread:
Beijing and Tehran.
The Chinese government is playing us all for fools and they need to come clean, owning their culpability in the pre-pandemic phases of COVID-19.
A few Chinese doctors identified the virus as early as November (though they were unaware of what it fully was at the time), and the mayor of Wuhan, before being fired, admitted in January that over five million people from Wuhan were allowed to leave the city before the travel restrictions had been enacted. The Chinese government then proceeded to weaponize medical supplies by importing — from countries that might need it — 20 million respirators. The Chinese leadership also initially downplayed the true extent of the threat — both to their own people and the outside world. These are facts.
It is also a fact that two spokespersons from its Ministry of Foreign Affairs have engaged in blood libel against the United States Armed Forces by claiming that it may have brought the coronavirus to Wuhan. The Chinese misinformation campaign might work with a few million of their own citizens and others who hate America, but there will be a day after this disaster when such behavior may very well put the nail in the coffin of the booming China-US economic pipeline. After all, multiple United States senators have already drawn a legislative line in the sand, demanding that we disentangle America’s economy from China.
And before we laud China for sending desperately needed medical help to Italy, let’s not forget that the Chinese actually sold some of that aid to Italy. It wasn’t a donation. All of this while the Chinese government threatened to withhold medical supplies from the United States.
Equally complicit in the spread of coronavirus is the inhumane regime in Iran, whose total disregard for human life was especially reserved for its own citizens in this health crisis.
Here is another fact: the Iranians allowed faithful pilgrims to continue to travel to the Holy City of Qom, despite the fact that the virus was already raging there. Now, every Gulf nation, and many beyond, are struggling to contain this pandemic.
Because Iranian leader Ayatollah Khamenei suffers from a more powerful virus than the coronavirus. He is consumed by hate: hate of America, hate of Israel, hate of Baha’is, hate of Hindus, of gays, and hate of atheists. What makes his behavior especially evil is that he appropriates the name of Allah when committing it. He is a clergyman who has sunk billions of dollars into the nuclearization of his hate in order to prop up terrorist operations in Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, and beyond. Just this week the Houthis in Yemen, which Khamenei controls, upheld a death sentence against an innocent member of the Bahai community.
On COVID-19, Khamenei’s hate runs so deep that he claims he would reject any thought of humanitarian help to fight the pandemic from the US.
What the extremist dictator of Iran didn’t tell his citizens is that he had already rejected help offered by the United States — help which was offered in February and was conveyed through the government of Switzerland. And just last week, Khamenei’s regime ordered Doctors Without Borders to immediately leave the country, and cease their efforts to establish an intensive care hospital in Isfahan.
As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has noted, Khamenei has also stolen “$1 billion Euros intended for medical supplies [while hoarding] desperately needed masks, gloves and equipment.” The Europeans recently pledged to provide another $20 million Euros they probably need to fight their own pandemic.
Let’s be clear: the Iranian leader doesn’t care about his people. He cares about exploiting this crisis in order to loosen the sanctions of the United States. Otherwise, he would utilize his own personal fortune to help his people, a fortune in excess of $200 billion.
If Khamenei cared, Iranian officials wouldn’t have continued to allow flights between Tehran and China while the virus was spreading on their Mahan Airline. In fact, he probably celebrated when he learned that one of the first reported cases of COVID-19 in New York City — now the global epicenter of the pandemic — came from someone who had traveled from Iran.
Should it surprise us that two of the world’s great violators of human rights have so little regard for human life?
No — but it should anger us that the head of the World Health Organization and the Secretary-General of the United Nations are being allowed not to make stronger statements on Iran. Moreover, Secretary-General Guterres has in effect joined Iran’s lobbying efforts to lift their sanctions on humanitarian grounds.
And, to be clear, these truths should not be used by racists, xenophobes, and conspiracy addicts to demonize Muslims, the Iranian people, Asian-Americans, Jews, or others. We can fight against that bigotry by defining exactly whom we are talking about, and standing arm-in-arm with our neighbors when they are subject to vitriol, whether online or in our neighborhoods.
We appreciate the president addressing this concern when he tweeted, “It is very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States, and all around the world. They are amazing people, and the spreading of the Virus is NOT their fault in any way, shape, or form. They are working closely with us to get rid of it. We will prevail together.”
He is right.
He is also right to hold accountable, with specificity, those foreign actors whose decisions have unnecessarily imperiled millions around the world.
So, this isn’t a time to blame G-d, our Compassionate Father in Heaven, who is protecting and guiding our medical heroes and comforting those who suffer. May He also give us the strength to show compassion to strangers and to nurture those in need.
He, like his children, sees the truth.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rev. Johnnie Moore is the president of the Congress of Christian Leaders.