Ebola I Hardly Knew Ya
Dr. Margaret Chan, the World Health Organization director-general, has said that disruptions in commercial air travel to West Africa would impede the efforts of international health organizations to contain and combat the disease.
"We must be careful not to characterize Ebola as an African disease," she said in a teleconference on September 3, warning that the stigmatization of the disease with any racial classification would be detrimental to the U.N. effort to control it. "This is an international issue, a global threat. We need to make sure Ebola patients and Ebola-affected countries aren’t stigmatized and isolated."
Part of this is certainly right: it isn't a racial issue, and groups should not be stigmatized. It is, however, a geographical issue, and a biological one. Quarantine is the oldest technique for preventing contagion, and it used to be the only one. Luckily, we now have other tools, but to deprecate the simplest and most cost-effective is idiotic.
If the geographical area affected by Ebola were white – Provence, say – I doubt that anyone would have any objection to keeping the locals isolated, and we would have no reluctance to refer to it as a French disease. We might even avoid Frenchmen from other unaffected parts of France, but only unofficially and by individual preference. We certainly wouldn't avoid Frenchmen from, say, Canada, or French-speakers generally. Pas du tout.
As it is, the French government has just agreed to the demand of the pilots' union that members be allowed to refuse to fly to affected areas on the west coast of Africa.
In this case, "combating the disease" is problematic because we don't have an antiviral (herpes), we don't have a vaccine (smallpox), and we don't have an antiserum (rabies). So it must require an unusual amount of intellectual effort to believe that quarantine and isolation are "detrimental to our effort to control it." When the antiviral, the vaccine, and the antiserum arrive, and they're on the horizon now, there will be time for pleasantries.
It must remind us of the effort required to insist that the lesser jihad is not an Islamic problem, but attributable to poverty, poor education, and exploitation.