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Islamophobia in China China links the attacks of its ethnic group Uighurs to Islam and Muslims but the truth is that the Uighur populated Xinjiang region is rich in resources and is a strategically placed region that borders eight countries. The anti-Muslim sentiment in addition to cultivated ‘Islamophobia’ is being politicized. For long, China was facing a series of separatist violence. Uighur separatists were known to exist way before the beginning of the ‘war on terror’. The extremism and terrorism in Asia is more of a supplementary concept to global political standoffs. On a positive note,China’s HQJDJHPHQWZLWK;LQMLDQJSURYLQFHLVEHQH¿FLDOIRULWVIXWXUHLQYROYHPHQWLQ&HQWUDO Asia rather than falling prey to the Western notion of ‘Islamophobia’. Shandeepan Ganapathy


n 17th November, 2013, in the northwestern region of Xinjiang of China a police station was attacked leaving 11 dead which included two policemen. Government of China held the Xinjiang

Uighurs-native Turkic Muslim ethnic group to be responsible for the assault. In another attack in the Forbidden City on 28th Oct last year, Uighurs were suspected of unleashing the violence. The Chinese authorities labeled these incidents as ‘terrorist attacks’ linking WKHP WR UDGLFDOV RYHUVHDV RXW¿WV But is blaming the occurrences to

,VODP OLQNHG WHUURULVP MXVWL¿HG" ;LQMLDQJRURI¿FLDOO\;LQMLDQJ8\JKXU Autonomous region is a prominent region with abundant oil reserves and the largest natural gas production in China. Though the region has enormous economic potential and capabilities, it is negatively linked to terrorism and extremism, which in turn is nurturing the fear of Islam and Muslims (Islamophobia) in China. A Cultivated Islamophobia The word “Islamophobia” meaning ‘irrational hatred and fear of Islam and Muslims’ was introduced by Runnymede Trust Report in 1991. Though the concept originated from the West, it soon spread across all the continents in the aftermath of 9/11. The negative interpretation of Muslims and Islam, worsened the ‘us’ vs the ‘other’ debate in Asia, especially in East Asia, where the states are dominated by large nonMuslim population. In South Asia, the spread of Islamophobia was comparatively sluggish. After 26/11, Islamophobia took momentum in India. One can debate that these threats are not January 2014 ƒ India-China Chronicle |9|


real and are just an over exaggerated impact of a phobia that has spilled over from global North. Islam is not a new religion to Asia. It has been in existence for centuries. There is a considerable Muslim population in Asia including India and in most of these regions Islam dates back to 14001500 years. With the long history of trade and co-existence, why is there a sudden shift of opinion and skeptiFLVPRYHU0XVOLPVLQWKHUHJLRQ"7KH answer to the question isa mixture of both sub-regional politics and intricate cultural divergence. Traditionally Xinjiang is described as a resource rich and strategically important region bordering eight countries. Xinjiang lies in the heart of the Silk Road, connecting China with the Central Asian countries. Currently six pipelines are planned to be constructed which would in turn connect the central Asian oil and natural gas reserves to the mainland markets and the other eastern countries, which would provide huge revenues in the form of transit to China. Control over the Central Asian hydrocarbon resources and China’s future involvement in Central Asia are inextricably associated with China’s engagement with the Xinjiang |10| India-China Chronicle ƒ January 2014

XINJIANG LIES IN THE HEART OF THE SILK ROAD, CONNECTING CHINA WITH THE CENTRAL ASIAN COUNTRIES. CURRENTLY SIX PIPELINES ARE PLANNED TO BE CONSTRUCTED WHICH WOULD CONNECT THE CENTRAL ASIAN OIL AND NATURAL GAS RESERVES TO THE MAINLAND MARKETS AND THE OTHER EASTERN COUNTRIES, WHICH WOULD PROVIDE HUGE REVENUES IN THE FORM OF TRANSIT TO CHINA. province. When it comes to India, it is completely a different complexity. Muslims who constitute 14.4 per cent of the Indian population are spread a lot more diversely in all the states. Being a secular state and accommodating multi-culturalism in India, the Muslim population not only contributes to the Indian economy, but has a larger stake in national politics as well.

Media Propaganda in Maligning Islam Before analyzing the argument of Islamophobia being politicized, we need to consider that for long the Chinese were facing a series of separatist violence. Uighur separatists were known to exist way before the beginning of the ‘war on terror’. It is under 2VDPD%LQ/DGHQ¶VLQÀXHQFHWKDWWKH separatist wave unrevealed its presence to the world. Between 1990 to 2001 Uighur separatists were reported to have unleashed over 200 attacks. Following the beginning of campaign against global terrorism, the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) was placed in the United States terrorist Exclusion List. China claimed that ETIM had obtained funds and training from Al-Qaeda. Similar is the case with the Chinese neighborhood, where Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in south Philippine, the two prominent separatist groups were frequently alleged by the state to have links with Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG),the South East Asian arm of the Al-Qaida network. In Southern Thailand, ethnic Malay Muslims who contribute around

80 per cent of the total population in the southernmost provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat and Yalaare were involved in a series of violence against the Buddhist Thai state. Since 2004, the violence has resulted in the death of over 1900 people in all the three provinces. Though a mass violence was reported only as late as 2004, there has been a long history of resistance since the time of Thai occupation in 1785. India carries an intricate animosity from the time of India-Pakistan partition. The populist notion perceives the communal divide to be associated with the India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir. Though there had been a number of communal riots and violence recorded inside the country, it had never turned into phobia. The present developing phobia is a combination of construction of ‘the other’ based on the global media propaganda, native prejudices and Indian diaspora’s encounters. The major concern is the growLQJ VHFWDULDQ QDWXUH RI WKH FRQÀLFW LQ South and East Asia that had started attracting outside groups such as Al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). These external groups are usually networked for weapons and aids. There is also an high probability of spillover of the violence from Afghanistan and other parts of West Asia where the West is involved in the war on terror campaign. The terror groups have recently increased their involvement in these regions. Parallel to this debate, extremism and terrorism in Asia is more of a supplementary concept to the existing political standoff. Many scholars challenge the naming of ETIM as a terrorist organization. Socio-economic Disparities and Political Grievances The cultural assimilation issue of Muslims to the majority class in the East Asia is another major huddle. The lack of freedom of religion in China complicates the integration process. 7KH RI¿FLDOO\ DWKHLVW VWDWH LV RIWHQ very repressive towards any religious practices and thus Muslim grief is taking a more political stand. Compared to the Indian experience, East Asia has

limited cultural exchange with their Muslim population, leaving them with lack of knowledge about Islam and a wrongly interpreted meaning of jihad. This doesn’t mean that India does not have any misconception issues. The phobia against the Muslim minorities LV PRUH VLJQL¿FDQW DV D SROLWLFDO aspect than a cultural one and Indian political parties take great advantage of this. Indian media takes more of a nationalist stand, in a way siding with political parties in the case of 26/11 and other violence. For a majority of the Uighurs, insurgency and politics have been overshadowed by more mundane concerns OLNHLQÀDWLRQDQGXQHPSOR\PHQW7KH roots of violence in all these countries are a complex mix of bloody history, ethnicity, and differences over religion, fueled by socio-economic disparities and political grievances. The states have to engage and resolve the grassroot level issues rather than falling prey to the Western notion of Islamophobia. On a political note, maintaining an amicable relation with the Chinese Muslim population will only deepen China’s relation with Arab countries on whom China is deeply dependent for its energy needs. Asian economy is expanding with emergency BRICS economies and this

violence poses a direct threat to the expansion. The Muslim world and the West have reached a point where neither of them can back down. It’s a great opportunity for the two Asian giants to exploit this divide and expand their role. Being the largest consumers of energy, both have already become an intrinsic part of the energy market. If China wants to retain its double digit growth rate which it has been recording for the last three decades, it VKRXOGQRWRQO\¿QGDVROXWLRQIRULWVHOI but also for its neighbors as regional stability holds the key to mutual economic growth. The states have already realized the same and China is working on a development plan for the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. Though, there is a partial recognition of the need to engage, it still needs a much stronger political backing. As the region’s largest economy, India and China have a larger role to play in decimating phobia among their population. The economic growth of Asia would thus be dependent on their amicable engagement rather than on alienating the Muslim population. ‰ The writer is associated with O.P. Jindal Global University. He holds Master’s degree in Diplomacy, Law and Business from Jindal School of International Affairs

January 2014 ƒ India-China Chronicle |11|