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China: The emerging islamophobia haven

The economic giant is also becoming a major player in global islamophobia. Siddiq Bazarwala* describes the situation in China.

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A key characteristic of being an Islamophobe in the West is to be as controversial, outrageous and wildly provocative as possible, by making statements that create immediate shock value so as to cut through the many voices in the mainstream and online media today. This much is quite obvious.

“There is an entire government apparatus that is responsible for keeping media attention on Muslims”

In China however, there is almost zero interest in participating in broad, sweeping, and ridiculous generalisations of ordinary Muslims and Islam nor does the government peddle opportunistic misinformed notions to generate media attention (although the latter point could be technically argued given the nationwide propagandist attitude of the Chinese government against Islam and ordinary Muslims). Nevertheless, there is an entire government apparatus that is responsible for keeping media attention on Muslims to as little as possible so that they can simply get on with their persecution of ordinary Muslims in China, young and old.

Intriguingly, no one today talks about Muslims in China as much as we should, in part due to lack of media interests from global news giants and in part because of the draconian stranglehold by the Chinese atheist government that ensures as little as possible news trickles out in China by restricting journalists access in the region via ubiquitous checkpoints as well as other means.  

In the rare event a news report leaks outside China, journalists are accused of political bias for “reporting on Beijing’s efforts to equate ethnic violence in the Western Muslim region of Xinjiang with global terrorism”, as per an article published by the Associated Press on 28 December 2015. Alternatively, the visa accreditation is not renewed and journalists are accused of “violating unspecified rules and regulation”, according to a separate Reuters report dated 8 May 2012.

“The ruling party says religion and education should be kept separate and students should not be subjected to ‘religious influences’, although this rule is rarely enforced for children of (non-muslim) Han Chinese”

Xinjiang province in China has a large Uighur (pronounced “wee-ghur”) Muslim population estimated to be in the region of 20 million, located in the resource rich region at the far West of China. In recent years if not decades, a great deal of unrest has emanated from the region. The roots of the unrest started seventy years ago when the central Chinese government tactfully started encouraging Han Chinese who were mostly non-Muslims to migrate to the region titling the geography in its favour. In a news report published by the Washington Post dated September 1, 2014, it said of the geographic manipulation: “In 1949, Han Chinese made up less than 7 percent of Xinjiang’s population: today, that number stands at 40 percent. Uighurs, at 43 percent, are [today] a minority in the region, with other, mainly Muslim ethnic groups making up the remainder”.

Muslims Treatment in China

In Xinjiang, China, government officials, public servants, teachers and students are not allowed to fast and forced fed if necessary. Men are not allowed to grow beards while their women are told not to wear the Hijab. The rationale provided by the Chinese government too, seems like a watered down version of what one would astonishingly hear in France today: “The ruling party says religion and education should be kept separate and students should not be subjected to ‘religious influences’, although this rule is rarely enforced for children of Han Chinese, who – if they have a religion – are mostly Buddhist, Taoist or Christian, according to a news report by the Independent dated 17 June 2015.

In March 2017, a new draconian law was passed, banning a wide range of acts including wearing veils or “abnormal” beards, without specifying the term. It has also become illegal to refuse to watch state television and listen to state radio, or prevent children from receiving national education – activities deemed “manifestations” of extremism, according to state run media, illustrating the stranglehold of religious rights in China.

Knife and bomb attacks in China are also often planted and meticulously staged and the alleged Uighur Muslim perpetrators stupendously rounded up within hours and instantaneously killed in a form of justice that would make anyone but the Chinese government, with a conscience cringe. 

“The Xinjiang province has also been the laboratory of high tech repression towards Muslims

The death toll created by the Chinese security forces is also often understated by the local state controlled media, while local mosques are barred from broadcasting the call to prayer and remain under 24-hour surveillance for “hidden security threats”. As a further example of suppression to any form of reports on the region, “Thirteen American academics were banned from China after contributing to a collection of essays about Xinjiang in 2004”, according to a news report by the Guardian dated 31 December 2015.

All this within a single region in China that has repeatedly blamed separatist Uighurs, citing dubious evidence for a string of terrorist attacks on civilian targets, but the group has consistently denied involvement, raising warranted questions as to who is actually behind these attacks. 

In fact, the goal of the atheist government, according to the Uighur separatists in China, in the words of Human Rights Watch is to “ferment racial violence and rally public support for its suffocating security controls, illegal detentions, persecution and extra-judicial killings among Uighur Muslims in China”. Brad Adams, the Asia Director of Human Rights Watch adds: “The Chinese are very good at putting things down and keeping a lid on them when they really want to”, using its phalanxes of police and armored vehicles rumbling through the streets of the regional capital.

The Xinjiang has also been the laboratory of high tech repression towards Muslims with required collection of “DNA samples, fingerprints, iris scans, and blood types of all residents in the region between the age of 12 and 65” as highlighted by Human Rights Watch China

In a separate report published by China director of Human Rights Watch, Sophie Richardson wrote: “Since 2012, law enforcement forces have killed hundreds of Uighurs in what authorities claimed were counter-terrorism operations. But whether those killed or convicted were actually responsible for the violence…will remain unknown to the outside world”, exacerbating an endless series of repression in the region.

Rarely will we hear any form of formal condemnation from the centers of power in the West let alone from any Muslim-majority countries, as everyone understands we are today dealing with none other than the Asian equivalent of the Roman empire that is, China, especially given the massive trade flows involved from China. Given such, no Western leader or let alone Middle Eastern autocrat in his or her right mind would risks the severing of economic and diplomatic ties for the voiceless ordinary Muslims who have themselves been sidelined in their own countries, let alone China which is increasingly hostile to ordinary Muslims and other minorities – the likely next frontier for anti-Islamophobia activism. 

* Siddiq Bazarwala, is the founder of Ordinary Muslim Productions, whose goal is to act as a catalyst so that millions of Muslims will rise up to the challenge and become eloquent activists for themselves and their faith. He is also author of the book, Q&A with an Islamophobe

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