China fails to address Islamophobia’s ‘real time bomb’

Washington: Islamophobia’s rise inside China is both due to government action and its failure to act, according to an expert in China’s affairs.

In an op-ed titled ‘Censorship, Geopolitical Time Bombs, and China’s Islamophobia Problem’, written by Matt Schrader of The Jamestown Foundation, a US-based institute for research and analysis, the writer opined that China is grappling with a serious and worsening problem of Islamophobia.

According to Schrader, there has been a “normalisation” of online hate speech campaigns against Chinese Muslims, despite the fact that the relations between the minority group and the Han majority have been anxious and tense, after the deadly inter-ethnic riots between the two communities happened in 2009.

To support the claim, the writer cited an example of a prominent imam, whose recent death sparked a string of online hate messages following an incident at a Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) plenary session in 2014.

Ma Changqing”>Ma Changqing, a leader among the Muslims of China’s far western province of Qinghai, gained nationwide attention when he did not stand during a moment of silence to pay their respects to the victims of a fatal knife attack done by homegrown Islamic terrorists, The Jamestown Foundation report says.

Although, it was revealed later that he had age-related problems and was reportedly sitting in a wheelchair, the moment was not forgotten or overlooked by the Chinese citizens.

When Ma died on July 16 this year and reports of huge crowds attending his funeral service surfaced on China’s internet, many responses shockingly consisted of “blatant” hate speech against the 83-year-old-imam.

Schrader said: “Ma was, by all accounts, a compliant member of the party-state structure. That netizens would attack him and his fellow Muslims on such slight grounds reveals the degree to which the CCP’s campaign to stamp out Islamic terrorism in China’s far west has turbocharged latent xenophobic tendencies.”

He added: “That campaign has seen hundreds of thousands of Uighurs, a Muslim minority group rounded up and interred in ‘re-education camps’ meant to purge them of ‘extremist’ behaviours. It has also increasingly affected the Hui, China’s other large Muslim minority, despite Hui communities having co-existed peacefully alongside China’s Han majority throughout the country for hundreds of years.”

China’s ruling Communist Party has failed to publicly denounce Islamophobia expressions caused due to the state-run media’s habit of linking and mixing China’s Muslim minorities with terrorism and extremism respectively, as per the report.

Schrader asserted that this “shortfall” is not due to the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) harsh policies or Islamophobia among the Han community, but mainly due to the incapacity of some of the Chinese Muslims to adhere to “acceptable, state-sanctioned and modern expressions of Islamic faith.”

To support the above claim, the writer espoused an example of a Chinese professor of Arabic, who is the secretary of the China Arabic Literature Studies Association and a lecturer at one of China’s top universities, who recently gave a speech on “Extremism and Islamophobia” in Arabic to the officials from 16 Arab countries.

The professor, Xue Qingguo, hailed the accomplishments of Islamic civilisation, and admitted that “Islamophobia has gotten some traction in China in recent years”.

However, he put the blame on Chinese Muslims saying that those who would “distort a civilisation that produced significant advances in all fields of scientific endeavours, a civilisation steeped in humanism, into a mass of trivial minutiae about beards, veils, and clothing”.

Schrader explained: “Xue’s speech is emblematic of a party-state that preaches ethnic unity, but abhors any self-reflection that could be interpreted as criticism of the party line, or as support for greater political autonomy for China’s minorities. The problem is exacerbated by the way the CPC’s online censorship apparatus functions.”
The writer says that CPC’s failure to condemn the Islamophobic rhetoric has led to a situation, where anti-Islamophobic voices are at a disadvantage in public debate.

Also, speaking in defence of the Chinese Muslims could also be read as an “implicit criticism” of the Chinese government’s negligence to address such problems on their behalf, The Jamestown Foundation reported.
“Since CCP leaders brook no criticism of their hardline policy towards Muslim minorities, all but the most anodyne expressions of support for China’s Muslim citizens have a difficult time gaining purchase in wider discourse,” Schrader opined.

However, China’s external factors could spell out more hope, even if the internal policies of the country have little prospects for change. For instance, the Gulf is a key market for weapons and supplier of oil for Beijing.
Despite the turmoil in China’s far west, there are no signs that the rulers and the citizens of the Gulf region will not turn against the Chinese government.

Recently, Chinese President Xi Jinping made a whirlwind visit to the region, wherein he was welcomed warmly, with the Gulf countries rolling out a perfect welcome mat for him, the report says.

The Gulf rulers expressed optimism over President Xi’s speech at the Arab League, where he stressed Beijing’s willingness to serve as a “keeper of peace and stability in the Middle East,” thereby expressing his country’s keenness to take on a larger security role in the Gulf region.

Schrader concluded by saying: “For China, the ‘real time bomb’ may not be the way it treats Muslims at home, but how that treatment is perceived abroad.” (ANI)