Monday 24 July 2017

Where does Chinese Islamophobia come from?

I am sitting with a small group of Chinese and Westerners on the dried-out grass in Beijing’s Chaoyang Park, in a prosperous part of eastern Beijing. Suddenly the conversation turns to China’s Hui Muslims, a minority of some 10 million people who live throughout the country. “Stupid cunts!” (傻屄 shǎbī) shouts Wang Zhen, a Chinese IT graduate and avid Trump supporter.
“What about the Uyghur?” somebody asks, referring to the predominantly Muslim group in Xinjiang, the far western province where the Communist Party stands accused of imposing draconian restrictions on religious freedom. “They are the biggest shabi,” says Wang, launching into a Jack Daniel’s-fueled tirade against both the Hui and the Uyghur, while his French fiancé tries to change the subject.
Wang is from Lanzhou, the capital of the north-central province of Gansu, which is home to a large Hui population. Historically, Lanzhou was an important stop on the northern Silk Road, where for centuries goods and ideas passed through Central Asia, linking East and West.
Wang is an extreme example, comparable with many individuals in America’s “alt-right.” But throughout my time in China, I have noticed an alarming prevalence of Islamophobic views at every level of society. And I was curious as to why these views, often directly imported from the West, seem to have found traction among so many Chinese people. After all, these same people were often quick to criticize Western intervention in the Middle East; they also surely had good reasons of their own to support attempts to counter Western political and cultural dominance.
Chauvinism of the “Great Han” majority
In China, as in other parts of the world, Muslims and other minority ethnicities have always faced some discrimination: A particular type of prejudice favoring the majority Han ethnicity, called Han chauvinism (大汉族主义 dà hànzú zhǔyì;literally Great Han-ism), has reared its head throughout the country’s history, and violence has erupted sporadically in places such as Yunnan, the southwestern province that is home to several substantial Hui communities.
So, is Chinese Islamophobia just a more pronounced extension of Han chauvinism? Certainly, in the arid northern regions where most Hui live, there is evidence of suspicion toward Muslims. Just south of Gansu Province lies Ningxia, a Hui autonomous region, where one week earlier my Chinese colleague had been urged to “be careful on the streets, [because the Hui] try to meet a ‘three-kill quota’ every year.” But hostility to Islam is being voiced beyond these regions.
As in North America and Europe, in China, proximity to Muslim people isn’t a prerequisite for Islamophobia. And Chinese Islamophobes don’t confine their outbursts to the Hui or Uyghur. A tour of Chinese social media turns up regular currents of hatred and suspicion, directed (in Chinese) at Islam and Muslims within and beyond China’s borders:
“Whether in China or abroad, Islam is essentially an evil cult — just take a look at some of the countries in the Middle East, then it’s clear.”
“When I look at a map of Muslim countries, I feel very scared…the threat is coming from the west, and also the south; apparently, Islamic terrorist organizations are actively trying to establish Islamic states in Malaysia, Indonesia, southern Thailand, and the southern Philippines.”

No comments:

Post a Comment