Is the Umma Shatter-Proof? (Part 3)

A third example of a split in the Umma has to do with the reaction of Muslims, and non-Muslims, to the savage repression of the Uighurs and the campaign against Islam in China. Here is some of what the Chinese government has done:

The government in 2017 passed laws requiring all restaurants to stay open during Ramadan. Further, it has forbidden teachers, civil servants, and all those working in the public sector from observing Ramadan, and if any are caught doing so, “they will be dealt with.”

Muslims have been required to hand in their own Qur’ans to the government if those copies were published before 2012. The reason for this is that in 2012, the Chinese government prepared “new” Qur’ans, heavily censored, with the “meaning’’ of the verses that remained annotated by government experts so as to lessen their anti-Infidel message, and the commands to wage Jihad carefully “contextualized.” The only Qur’ans now legal in China are the versions published by the government.

Muslims in Xinjiang must request government permission to make the hajj. They are asked to register their age, job, health, and economic status. Strict guidelines are put in place for applicants, who must be aged between 50 and 70 and have lived in Urumqi, the region’s capital, for at least five years. They are thoroughly investigated by the government for their political views; anyone who has displayed the slightest hint of being politically unreliable is denied permission to go on the hajj.

Furthermore, all those who apply to go on the hajj must also pledge allegiance to the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and to national unity (and therefore against Uighur independence).

Indeed, Muslims who travel abroad for any reason, not just for the hajj, upon their return are subject to particular scrutiny, especially if they have spent any time in Muslim countries. More than one million Uighurs — recent reports claim a figure of two million — have been placed in reeducation centers, subject to anti-Muslim propaganda, and forced constantly to express their loyalty to the Communist Party, lest they have been exposed to “subversive” ideas about Islam, especially if they have traveled abroad and met with non-Chinese Muslims, or have been exposed to dangerous Islamic websites online.

As for other restrictions on Islam, in Xinjiang, imams have been subject to public humiliation by being forced to dance en masse in public, and at the same time, have been forced to make an oath to keep children away from religion, and as public servants, paid by the state, the imams have been forced to brandish the slogan that “our income comes from the CKP, not from Allah.” Many of the imams were forced to wave Chinese flags during their ordeal. Speeches were made — it’s unclear from the reports if these were by Chinese government officials or by government-approved imams — in which young people were told both to stay away from mosques and that prayer, wherever it was said, was harmful to one’s health. Teachers throughout Xinjiang have been instructed to teach children to stay away from religion; retired teachers have been posted outside mosques during Ramadan to prevent students from entering.

Mosques have been required to push Communist propaganda, swapping inscriptions about Muhammad for red banners that declare, “Love the Party, Love the Country.”

Muslim men have been required to shave “abnormal” or “religious” beards. Punishment is strict; one man was sentenced to six years in jail for refusing to do so. Names given to children must not be “religious.” Twenty-nine names have been banned so far, such as Islam, Saddam, Mecca, Quran, Jihad, Medina; all are now strictly forbidden. Women may not wear any veils that cover the face; even women wearing only the hijab have been prevented in some parts of Xinjiang from using buses. Muslims are required to listen to the official state television (that carries anti-Muslim and pro-Communist propaganda), and cannot prevent their  children from attending state schools, where anti-religion messages are strong.

And now we hear stories of those reeducation camps, where at least one million Uighurs are confined, and subject to non-stop anti-Islam and pro-Party propaganda. There were protests, all right, against this “reeducation.” A letter, signed by 22 nations, was sent to the president of the U.N. Human Rights Council and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, calling on China to end its massive detention program in Xinjiang, a group of 37 countries submitted a similar letter in defense of China’s policies.

In this letter, the signatories express concern about “credible reports of arbitrary detention” in Xinjiang and “widespread surveillance and restrictions” particularly targeting Uighurs and other minorities. The signatories call on China to uphold its national laws and international commitments, including those it has made as a member of the Human Rights Council, and “refrain from the arbitrary detention and restrictions on freedom of movement of Uighurs, and other Muslim and minority communities in Xinjiang.”

Those who signed that letter criticizing China include: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK.

Then a second letter was sent to the same people — the president of the U.N. Human Rights Council, and the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights — supporting the right of China to treat the Uighurs as it is doing. The signatories expressed their opposition to “politicizing human rights” and reiterated China’s defense of what Beijing calls “vocation education and training centers” and critics call detention centers or “reeducation camps.” Reuters quotes a passage in which the signatories justify China’s efforts: “Faced with the grave challenge of terrorism and extremism, China has undertaken a series of counter-terrorism and deradicalization measures in Xinjiang, including setting up vocational education and training centers.”

This second  letter in support of China was signed by 37 countries: Algeria, Angola, Bahrain, Belarus, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Comoros, Congo, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Gabon, Kuwait, Laos, Myanmar, Nigeria, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Togo, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.

Eighteen of those countries are Muslim-majority, and they include several of the most important ones — Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE.

What does it mean when 22 non-Muslim states criticize the persecution of the Muslim Uighurs, while no Muslim states do, but 18 Muslim states are willing to support, by denying, that same persecution of fellow Muslims?

Why did these Muslim states do this? They have weighed in the balance their supposed loyalty to fellow members of the Umma, the Uighurs, with what good relations with mighty China can mean for them. They know the Chinese will not take kindly to those who criticize its policies. Muslim states are a particular worry for China, because their opposition might especially hearten the Uighurs.

What can the Muslim nations lose by criticizing China’s crackdown on the Uighurs? China is now the biggest importer of oil in the world; it carefully spreads its imports among more than a dozen states, and it could  easily drop a few of its current suppliers — Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman come immediately to mind — were they to have been critical of its Uighur policy.

As for Egypt, it is heavily dependent on Chinese aid, investments, and tourists. China has invested more than $20 billion in Egypt in recent years. The China State Engineering Corporation has been contracted to build 20 towers in New Cairo, including what is billed as the tallest tower in Africa, in a separate contract. The Chinese conglomerate TEDA-Suez is expanding its industrial zone near the Red Sea port of Ain Sokhna.

The number of Chinese tourists visiting Egypt more than doubled in 2017 to 300,000, from the year before, and in 2018, 500,000 Chinese tourists went to Egypt. In 2019, the Egyptians expect a similar increase from the year before; these visits are encouraged by the ever-expanding number of charter flights between the two countries.

All of that — the investments, the aid, the tourists — could have been lost had Egypt criticized China’s Uighur policy. The decision was easy.

Had the Pakistani government  criticized the Chinese over the Uighurs, that would have had a catastrophic effect on the country. For China and Pakistan have forged a close military connection. China has far surpassed the US as the biggest weapons supplier to Pakistan. In 2018, Beijing declared its largest defense export deal, one worth $4 billion, to supply eight new submarines to Pakistan. China now calls Pakistan its “iron brother”; China is its main weapons supplier, as well as Pakistan’s preferred training partner for complex military exercises, including the use of modern technology for air battle. If Pakistan had dared to criticize the treatment of the Uighurs, it could have lost its most important arms supplier, and military ally.

In Turkey, resentment of the Syrian migrants has led to attacks by Turks on Syrian-owned stores; half-a-million of the one million Syrians in Istanbul have been given a month to return to the provinces where they are officially registered. Some Syrians have even been “escorted” back to Syria. The new mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, has described the Syrian refugee situation as a “severe trauma”; Erdogan has publicly noted, with chagrin, the huge cost to Turkey of funding these Syrians — $37 billion and counting.

In Lebanon, the Lebanese, weary of playing host, would like both the Palestinians and the Syrians to leave. They have just passed legislation requiring non-Lebanese to obtain work permits for any employment; the Palestinians promptly protested, hysterically describing this as “racism.” The Lebanese lack of enthusiasm for enduring the refugee presence has become palpable. The 1.6 million Syrians are also being urged to return home, now that the civil war has essentially ended. On May 9, Lebanese president Michel Aoun declared that Lebanon would never survive if half a million Palestinian refugees and 1.6 million Syrian refugees remained in the country. Many Lebanese, not only the Christians, agree with him. And meanwhile, the Syrians and the Palestinians in Lebanon vie for the menial jobs that are open to them, a competition that only increases the hostility they already feel for each other.

The last example of a splintered Umma is the failure of a single Muslim state to make common cause with the Uighurs. Not a single Muslim state signed the letter denouncing China’s mistreatment of the Uighurs, while 18 Muslim states supported China’s policy. Up until February, Ankara condemned China’s “reintroduction of internment camps in the 21st century.” But then, in July, on an official visit to China, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that Uighurs lead happy lives in China. He went on to say that some governments were seeking to “abuse” the Xinjiang crisis to jeopardize Turkey’s economic relationship with China. The Chinese knew that the Turks, closely related by ethnicity to the Uighurs, were the most important to convince not to criticize China’s policy. Chinese economic threats must have been enormous and in the end, Erdogan capitulated. Raison d’etat prevailed, with him as with every other Muslim leader.

These three examples suggest that in the end, despite all the talk of the unbreakable bonds among Muslims, those bonds can and do break, quite easily in fact. We have seen in Turkey, between Turks and Syrian refugees, in Lebanon among Lebanese, Palestinians, and Syrians, and in all the Muslim lands, where China’s economic power is felt and feared, and loyalty to fellow Muslims — in this case Uighurs — crumbles into dust. The Umma is not shatter-proof. If you are an Infidel, that’s comforting to know.

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