New Delhi: Famous US talkshow host, political commentator and satirist Bill Maher unconsciously kindled a moment of bipartisanship between the Congress and the BJP as he defended the description of coronavirus as “Chinese virus”.
Addressing a segment titled “Virus Shaming” on his show Real Time With Bill Maher, aired Friday, the 64-year-old said coronavirus wasn’t the first disease to be identified with its place of origin, citing Ebola (Ebola River), Zika (Zika forest) and the Spanish flu as examples. He then went on to question the “liberal” argument that referring to coronavirus as “Chinese virus” or “Wuhan virus” is racist.
The argument found a fan in Congress leader Milind Deora, who retweeted the video with a pointed jab at “wokeness” — a term that describes one’s awareness about social justice, but which has come under criticism (including from Maher) for spawning too much political correctness.
— Milind Deora मिलिंद देवरा (@milinddeora) April 11, 2020
The tweet was immediately retweeted by BJP spokesperson Baijayant Panda, who said the video shared by Deora was “worth watching”.
👌 Worth watching.
He explains it succinctly, “Liberalism lost its way when…” https://t.co/hTHGz0KXni
— Baijayant Jay Panda (@PandaJay) April 12, 2020
Others who expressed support for Maher’s video included former foreign secretary Nirupama Rao.
And the international community must pressure China to close its wet markets which sell meat from exotic animal species. Such meat has often been a vector of lethal viruses that threaten human health and life. China cannot place humanity at risk. #CoronavirusPandemic https://t.co/G94tDBqKn7
— Nirupama Menon Rao, निरुपमा राउ, بینظیر (@NMenonRao) April 12, 2020
‘Not about vilifying a culture’
The Maher video, which is just over 5 minutes long, had been watched over 4.6 million times by Sunday afternoon.
“Seriously, it scares me that there are people out there who would rather die from the virus than call it by the wrong name,” Maher says in the video. “This isn’t about vilifying a culture. This is about facts. It’s about life and death. We are barely four months into the pandemic and the wet markets in China, the ones where exotic animals are sold and consumed are already starting to reopen,” he adds.
Maher was referring to reports from earlier this month that the city of Wuhan, where coronavirus is believed to have originated, was limping back to normalcy along with its wet markets.
He then cites research to question the Chinese practice of eating bats, which are believed to be the reservoirs of several coronaviruses.
“Eating bats is batshit crazy,” Maher says, adding that the world should blame China for coronavirus.
“We should blame China. Not Chinese-Americans. But we can’t stop telling the truth because racists get the wrong idea. There are always going to be idiots out there who want to indulge their prejudices. But this is an emergency — don’t we have bigger tainted fish to fry?”
According to a report in The New York Post, this monologue by Maher has put him “in line with President Donald Trump and many of his conservative allies who have sought to play up China’s role in the Covid-19 pandemic”.
US President Trump has referred to the novel coronavirus as “Chinese virus” or “Wuhan virus” many times. He has defended his statements, saying the virus “comes from China” and the description is “not racist at all.”
However, he later said he would not use the term, adding that he had a “very good” relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Trump is not alone. Calls have also emerged from the RSS affiliate Sadeshi Jagran Manch to officially rename Covid-19 as coronavirus.
Who is Bill Maher?
Maher is well-known for his sardonic style of political commentary, which often lands him in controversy. Last year, he said fat-shaming needed to make a “comeback” to help the US beat its obesity crisis.
In 2008, he co-wrote Religulous, a documentary that questioned controversial religious practices, including those from Islam and Christianity.
In 2002, his hit show Politically Incorrect was cancelled after he questioned the US’ reaction to 9/11. Arguing with the suggestion that the hijackers involved were cowards, he said the US had been “the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away”.
A self-proclaimed “apatheist”, Maher has also written many books, including When You Ride Alone You Ride with Bin Laden (2002), New Rules: Polite Musings from a Timid Observer (2005), and The New New Rules: A Funny Look at How Everybody but Me Has Their Head up Their Ass (2011).
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