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China’s oppression of Muslims- The real threat to Islam

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America, Europe, India. If rabble-rousers in the Muslim world are to be believed, these are the biggest enemies of Islam. Extremists in Muslim countries, ranging from Iran to Pakistan to Egypt, often portray this triumvirate as oppressors of Muslims. They do this in order to whip up hysteria, build mass support for their own divisive agendas, and justify acts of terrorism.

Of course history and the current political situational provide a convenient context for this narrative of distrust and hatred, and that gets exploited to fullest. What is often overlooked is the fact that these are multicultural and pluralistic democracies where Muslims enjoy full freedom to practice their faith and express themselves. Yes there are social conflicts, but there is no existential threat to Islam and its way of life in these countries.

Under the Trump presidency, the US is going through a bit of a crisis with its multicultural identity. But this has made a lot of minorities feel insecure and not just Muslims. That still does not take away that the US has been a great host to Muslims for many years.

Across the US, Europe, and India, mosques and institutes of Islamic learning operate without restriction. In India, Muslim festivals are observed in all their spirit and many of them are public holidays. Muslim sensitivities are given due consideration, and some would argue, more than what is required. Ramzan is observed with all due respect and regard. Mosques are free to broadcast their daily prayers over loudspeakers. The government clears out major public spaces to make room for Eid prayers.

Madrassas are free to teach and universities like Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University are bastions of Islamic intellectual thought. Muslims in all these countries are productive members of society, contributing to it and enriching it in many ways, across all walks of life.

The fundamentalist rabble-rouser chooses to ignore these ground realities and paints a grim picture of Islam being under siege, exploiting the social divisions in these multicultural societies and using the sporadic instances of conflict to exhort the faithful to rise in jihad against these countries and restore Muslim pride.

And who are the Muslim countries, especially Pakistan, allying with in this quest to restore Muslim pride? On the face of it, China the emerging giant in geopolitics is precisely the kind of power the Muslim world needs on its side. It has something to offer to everyone. Weapons with no strings attached, cheap mobile phones, massive investment in infrastructure, and a UN Security Council veto are all the perks that can be had from a close relationship with China.

History is replete with instances of nations with diametrically opposing values and viewpoints allying against a common enemy. Capitalist America and Communist Soviet Union fought alongside in the war against Nazi Germany, only to fall out to become the bitterest rivals once the common enemy was defeated.

Unlike the US with its deep involvement in the conflicts of the Middle East and India’s close historical links to Islam, China comes with little baggage. The common people of countries like Pakistan therefore have little direct exposure to the Chinese way of life.

Of all the major countries in the world, China is the most repressive towards Islam. Unbeknownst to many, China quietly and silently works towards suppressing the voice of its small Muslim minority. Because it is a totalitarian society, unlike the US and India, it is able to keep this oppression under the radar with no human rights groups and liberal intellectuals rising in protest and highlighting the atrocities. In addition, the world community is also inexplicably silent on the matter. Islamic fundamentalists who rail against perceived injustices against Muslims in democratic countries are completely silent when it comes to China.

What China is doing to the Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang province, pales in comparison to anything Israel might be doing to the Palestinians. For example, China has banned beards and veils in the province. They have put in place laws that actively discriminate against the Uighurs. In fact, the Uighur population growth has been controlled through various policies and incentives offered to the Hans. Contrast this with India’s firm adherence to Article 370 that forbids non-Kashmiris from purchasing property in Kashmir.

In yet another act of selective violation of civil liberties, Muslims are now required to install surveillance apps on their phones. This allows authorities to monitor their online activity and watch out for any signs of dangerous behavior.

China has also banned Islamic names and instituted measures that make fasting virtually impossible during Ramadan. All these actions are pointers to China’s deep discomfort with Islam.

Pakistan is not merely looking the other way in the face of this oppression of Muslims. It is actively in bed with China. It is sad that enmity and mistrust of India, a country with which Pakistan shares deep cultural affinity and shared roots, drives Pakistan to maintain very close ties with China, a country that abhors Islam, a pillar of its foundation.

This is a grave injustice to its founding principles of Pakistan. After all, it is a nation that was created in the name of Islam. Islamic values are central to the country’s existence. It often regards itself as the defender of Islam, the owner of the largest army in the Muslim world and the sole Islamic nuclear power.

The whole world, especially the leading Muslim countries must take note of this systemic oppression. If they don’t raise their voice against it, a time will come when China will bring this oppression to their doorsteps. China is making deep inroads into Pakistan. It is already demanding special privileges and protections for its investments and citizens. The mistrust and “otherness” is amply evident. If its past conduct is an indication, as it strengthens its hold on Pakistan, it will inevitably start pushing back against Islamic ways and start enforcing its own values. That may bring some much-needed modernity to Pakistani society and economy, but at the very steep cost of the destruction of its centuries old culture and traditions.

An enemy’s enemy is a friend no doubt, but Pakistan would do well to determine where its real longer-term existential threat emanates from.

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