City of Brass

City of Brass

The Uyghurs and the Ummah

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

Color me unsurprised – the plight of the Uyghurs hasn’t received much attention from the muslim world:

A leading Uighur rights activist has criticised Muslim-majority countries for not speaking out against decades of alleged repression and persecution from the Chinese government.

Speaking in Washington on Monday, Rebiya Kadeer, a businesswoman who was jailed for years in China before being released into exile in the US, hit out at what she said was decades of “brutal suppression” of Muslims in China’s western Xinjiang region.

Speaking after a day of unrest in Xinjiang left at least 150 people dead, Kadeer pointed to the lack of response from Muslim countries to the violence and the situation faced by the Uighurs.

“Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and a number of other Muslim countries as well as the central Asian states like Kazakhstan Kurdistan and Uzbekistan – they all deported Uighurs who had fled Chinese persecution for peacefully opposing Chinese rule, for writing something, for speaking something,” she said.

Kadeer’s opinion on why the Ummah isn’t interested is interesting, too:

Kadeer attributed the lack of action from Muslim countries to what she said was the success of Chinese “propaganda” to the Muslim world.

“So far the Islamic world is silent about the Uighurs’ suffering because the Chinese authorities have been very successful in its propaganda to the Muslim world.”

That propaganda, she said, sent a message to the Muslim world “that the Uighurs are extremely pro-west Muslims – that they are modern Muslims, not genuine Muslims.”

At the same time, she said, to Western countries the Chinese government “labelled Uighur leaders as Muslims terrorists with links to al-Qaeda – so the propaganda has been pretty effective on both sides.”

She certainly reads the Western terrorist-paranoia attitude correctly, but her analysis for the muslim nations’ apathy relies on a false dichotomy between “modern” muslims and “genuine” muslims. It’s actually kind of insulting, and more of a Western stereotype than an Eastern one.

I’ve always been skeptical of the (political) concept of Ummah, considering it to be more of a romantic idealization than anything that has any material impact or benefit to muslims worldwide. The fact that most of the muslim nations in the world are still struggling with modernity, reform, post-colonialism, and autocracy suggests that the reservoir of energy for pan-Islamic causes is pretty much absent, with the exception of Israel and Palestine. That is a unique case, representing a projection of all the colonial resentment into a single focus, and tainted with the European export of anti-Semitism. Other than that, is there pretty much any issue on which muslims worldwide can be roused to actually care?

That said, what attention can be expected? If Saudi Arabia were to lecture China on human rights, the result would be farce. This is in some ways akin to the griping that Obama wasn’t doing enough to “support” the Iranian protestors. Is there any real action that muslim states can take on an official basis that would not be a purely symbolic and rhetorical gesture?

Kadeer further complains that Uyghurs who fled Chinese persecution are deported from muslim countries, but is fleeing to Egypt really any better? Of course Uyghurs are persecuted in China, just as Baha’i are persecuted in Iran and Shi’a in Saudi Arabia. I don’t see Shi’a fleeing Arabia for Xinjiang, either. While America remains a haven of religious freedom for its muslim citizens, it’s also clear from the treatment of the Uyghur detainees from Guantanamo that there are no welcoming arms here for foreign muslim refugees, either.

In addition to calling for support from the muslim world, Kadeer also demands rhetoric from the United States:

“We hope the White House will issue a stronger statement urging the Chinese government to show restraint, and also to tell the truth of the nature of the events and what happened, and to tell the Chinese government to redress Uighur grievances.”

If only it were that easy! Such rhetoric would assuredly have zero impact on the Chinese government’s policy, of course. Further, it would also make things worse by giving China the excuse to trot out the “interfering with our sovereignity” argument and thus change the subject from scrutiny of Chinese domestic human rights to scrutiny of American foreign policy.

Ultimately the problem of freedom of religion and preservation of culture in an autocratic society is one that each muslim community will have to figure out on its own. There’s no Ummah to save them.

(via Thabet at Talk Islam)

  • Jonathan

    Right on- particularly regarding the silliness of expecting mere words from the US mystically accomplishing things, as if the POTUS is Jesus or something- only say the word!
    I’m not terribly hopeful, actually not hopeful at all, about the situation of the Uighur nationality, or any other nationality in China. The Chinese propaganda machine is remarkably efficient, even in the face of break-downs such as we’ve been (just barely) seeing the past few days. Just in terms of cleaning up the messes they’re terribly efficient. A few years ago I was in a town in southwestern China when a local guy, irate over divorce proceedings (or at least that was the official story) blew himself up outside of a bakery. It was pretty nasty; I had some friends who came by the scene an hour or so after it happened and were pretty shook up by the gore and all. I walked by the very place a day or two later; the sidewalk was scrubbed down, the window of the bakery repaired, and but for some empty shelves hard against the window and a few gashes in the trees along the sidewalk, you’d have been hard pressed to guess anything had happened. There was virtually no mention of it, no talk around town, nil. Cleaned up and swept out of memory, for whatever reasons the authorities had.
    This incident is, I think, an encapsulation of the Chinese state’s way: clamp down hard, clean up, and make sure everyone’s smiling. It works most of the time, but sometimes things blow up- literally and otherwise- anyway, which is probably not a good thing for any of the parties involved, as recent events have shown. And sometimes the clean up crews have a hard time fixing things. God knows best how hard the clean up for this one will be.

  • Abambagibus

    Sir Poonawalla, pragmatically principled and maybe even more so than those whose principles are veiled in the reticence of humility, would have us believe that the terrorist-paranoia of the West is founded on poppycock. I can go into my church of Presbyterian persuasion and openly show to its parishioners my English edition of the Quran. There I can speak of Muhammad and His word, by way angelical conduit, and of the power of Islam, whose principles, albeit obfuscated by a totalitarian mindset, are aboriginally quite humanitarian. And thus I have shown them and thus I have spoken, eagerly heard and wondering. If I were to enter a Mosque, or even a busy pedestrian thoroughfare, in a predominantly Muslim country, and openly speak of Jesus, His Word, and the power of Christianity, would I be committing an act tantamount to suicide or worse? I have been told and I have heard that, no matter how humanitarian the intent behind it, such a deed in such a place is extremely dangerous indeed. I’ve known Christians who’d gone on Christian missions into the heart of Islam, where they tried to keep warm in the cold of it, tried to keep safe in spite of their foolhardy aims, and tried to go on and did, protected as they were by the cross of their belief, which, to most of those around them, had to be poppycock or else.
    Or maybe I’m just being paranoid.
    Progrediamur Abambagibus.

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