CHINA, INDIA AND BURMA: ISLAMOPHOBIA’S NEXT FRONTIER

ARE THERE ANY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN ISLAMOPHOBES IN THE WEST VERSUS ISLAMOPBHOBES IN CHINA AND INDIA?

A key characteristic of being an Islamophobe in the West is to be as controversial, outrageous and wildly provocative as possible, by making statements that create immediate shock value so as to cut through the many voices in the mainstream and online media today. This much is quite obvious.

In China however, there is almost zero interest in participating in broad, sweeping, and ridiculous generalisations of ordinary Muslims and Islam nor does the government peddle opportunistic misinformed notions to generate media attention (although the latter point could be technically argued given the nationwide propagandist attitude of the Chinese government against Islam and ordinary Muslims).

Nevertheless (in China), there is an entire government apparatus that is responsible for keeping media attention on Muslims to as little as possible so that they can simply get on with their persecution of ordinary Muslims in China, old and young.

In India meanwhile, the purpose of faith-baiting and peddling misinformed notions about ordinary Muslims and Islam on TV, online and in print newspapers is just as much opportunistic.

However in India this has little to do with advertising and TV ratings as in the West but more to do with the swaying vote-bank political parties salivate after.

By alarming ordinary Indian citizens with exaggerated fears and wholly decontextualized theses about ordinary Muslims and Islam, religious tension stoking politicians make mountain out of moles or out of issues with arch-rival Pakistan and territorial issues related to Kashmir by relying on right-wing populism, sourced directly from the concerted radical Hindu majoritarian playbook.

BUT INDIA TREAT ITS MUSLIMS WELL.

“Nearly 100,000 people, mostly Muslim civilians, have been killed and thousands have disappeared during the armed revolt and subsequent military operations since 1989 in Kashmir”. (Source: Hundreds arrested in Kashmir ahead of Modi visit by Baba Umar, 4 November 2015, Aljzeera.com) India is also in violation of at least 18 UN resolutions on Kashmir that has promised right of self-determination to Kashmiris.

In a report published by the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) made public in May 2016 which caused an uproar, India was placed on a Tier two ranking, which is where it has been since 2009, USCIRF noted since “the largest democratic country of the world “is on a negative trajectory” in terms of religious freedom.

It added, “Minority communities (in India), especially Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs, experienced numerous incidents of intimidation, harassment, and violence, largely at the hands of Hindu nationalist groups”, according to the findings in the report.

From the destruction of the Babri Mosque by Hindu nationalists and their saffron-clad terrorism that led directly to the 1992 Bombay Riots to the state-sanctioned Gujarat massacre in 2002, many ordinary Indian Muslim citizens feel disillusioned about the “Indian government’s willingness to tolerate, even encourage, the Hindu hard-liners within the ruling administration” (Source: The Costs of Hindu, Extremism, The Editorial Board, 3 November 2015, New York Times), much to the detriment of other minorities (including Christians) and not just Muslims living in India today.

In fact, in 2007, award-winning Tehelka magazine released “The Truth: Gujarat 2002,” a report which implicated the state government in the violence, and claimed that what had been called a spontaneous act of revenge was, in reality, a “state-sanctioned pogrom”.

According to Human Rights Watch, the violence in Gujarat in 2002 was pre-planned, and the police and state government participated in the violence. (Source: Violence against Muslims in India – Wikipedia)

 Then there is the systematic social and economic discrimination Muslims face daily on TV, online as well as at work so much so that some are forced to assume fake identities especially when it comes to securing menial jobs where worker’s identity documents are not usually sought.

Muslims face discrimination in finding homes in mixed colonies and in finding work . . . and often still encounter barely disguised bigotry in the workplace (The challenges of being Muslim in India, 6 June 2015, Humaira Ansari, Hindustan Times).

In a separate article that goes into somewhat more detail about further challenges Muslims face from a young age, the writer explains how, “As a group, Muslims have fallen badly behind Hindus in recent decades in education, employment and economic status, with persistent discrimination a key reason.

Muslims are more likely to live in villages without schools or medical facilities and less likely to qualify for bank loans”. (Source: For India’s Persecuted Muslim Minority, Caution Follows Hindu Party’s Victory by Gardiner Harris, May 16 2014, New York Times)

 In a brave investigative report by the Guardian in October 2016, the journalist produced an in-depth article highlighting the gross human rights violation by the so-called largest democracy in the world:

Since July [2016], when the killing of a young militant leader sparked a furious civilian uprising across the Kashmir valley, the Indian state has responded with singular ruthlessness, killing more than 90 people. Most shocking of all has been the breaking up of demonstrations with “non- lethal” pellet ammunition, which has blinded hundreds of Kashmiri civilians . . . In four months, 17,000 adults and children have been injured, nearly five thousand have been arrested, and an entire population spent the summer under the longest curfew in the history of curfews in Kashmir . . . Indeed, the Indian state, aided by a near-militaristic TV news media, has used the Uri attack and its aftermath to cover up a surge of killings, maimings and blindings in one of the longest-running conflicts in the world . . . These weapons discharge hundreds of small metal pellets, or birdshot, capable of piercing the eye . . . As the uprising continued, the armed forces, by their own admission, red nearly 4,000 cartridges at stone- throwing demonstrators, crowds protesting against police brutality, and even onlookers. This means that they sent, by one recent estimate, 1.3m metal balls hurtling towards public gatherings predominantly made up of young unarmed people . . . Children as young as four and five now have multiple pellets in their retinas, blinding them partially, or fully, for life. At the start of September, doctors at Kashmir’s main hospital reported that on average, one person had their eyes ruptured by pellets every other hour since 9 July. “It means 12 eye surgeries per day,” one doctor told a local newspaper. “It is shocking.” . . . On 12 July, the fourth day of the protests, the state government, which is run by a controversial coalition between Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and a local ally, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), finally issued its first official statement on the use of the so-called “non-lethal” pellet guns. A spokesperson for the government, representing the PDP, described its position to the media: “We disapprove of it . . . But we will have to persist with this necessary evil till we find a non-lethal alternative.” . . .There is no recorded instance of a modern democracy systematically and willfully shooting at people to blind them . . . At the end of August, according to data obtained by one of India’s national newspapers, nearly 6,000 civilians had been injured, and at least 972 of them had suffered injuries to their eyes . . . According to official records at SMHS, the main hospital in Srinagar, 570 people sought treatment after their eyeballs were ruptured by metal pellets. Ophthalmologists at the hospital performed more surgeries in three days – from 10 to 12 July – than they had in the past three years. Many of the wounded were protesters, but not all. Not one of them deserved to be robbed of their sight . . .

In the 1990s, India came down hard on a wide-spread uprising in the Kashmir valley – killing, torturing, disappearing, and imprisoning thousands. Some estimates put the number of people killed since 1989 at 70,000. Some 8,000 non-combatants are thought to have been disappeared, and 6,000 are believed to have been buried in mass graves. Human rights reports have identified thousands of cases of torture, including shocking techniques such as “simulated drowning, striping flesh with razor blades and piping petrol into anuses” . . .

In 2011, months after the uprising in Tahrir Square that toppled an Egyptian dictator, a young police lieutenant, Mohamed el-Shenawy, became infamous for ring pellets into the eyes of protesters against Egypt’s military government. His exemplary skill at blinding civilians earned him the nickname the “Eye Sniper”, and his notoriety as a symbol of ongoing state brutality eventually led to a three-year jail sentence . . . Will India prosecute its own eye snipers? Or outlaw the use of these weapons? . . .The secessionist Kashmiri, the impure Dalit, the traitorous beef-eating Muslim, the woman who speaks her mind, the anti-national journalist, the dissenting writer. Any voices who might call for a ban on these “non-lethal” guns are certain to be ignored . . . The wanton demonisation of the Kashmiri Muslim, a project that some media organisations in India take particular pleasure in, was perhaps fully realised even then. It certainly is now, when thousands, fed on a daily diet of nationalist fury, take to social media to celebrate the killing, maiming, and blinding of young Kashmiris . . . How did India get here? How is it all right for a constitutionally democratic and secular, modern nation to blind scores of civilians in a region it controls? Not an authoritarian state, not a crackpot dictatorship, not a rogue nation or warlord outside of legal and ethical commitments to international statutes, but a democratic country, a member of the comity of nations . . .The harsh repression of Kashmiri protests, the Nobel prize-winning Indian economist Amartya Sen declared in July, is “the biggest blot on India’s democracy” . . . (Source: India’s crackdown in Kashmir: is this the world’s first mass blinding?, by Mirza Waheed, 8 November 2016, The Guardian)

WHAT ABOUT CHINA? WHY WOULD THE MEDIA IGNORE MUSLIMS IN CHINA?

No one today talks about Muslims in China as much as we should, in part due to lack of media interests from global news giants and in part because of the draconian stranglehold by the Chinese atheist government that ensures as little as possible news trickles out, on matters related to Uighurs (pronounced “wee-ghur”) in China by restricting journalists access in the region via ubiquitous checkpoints as well as other means.

In the rare event a news report leaks outside China and goes viral, journalists are accused of political bias for “reporting on Beijing’s efforts to equate ethnic violence in the Western Muslim region of Xinjiang with global terrorism”. (Source: China says new restrictions to come on terrorism reporting, 28 December 2015, Associated Press).

Alternatively, the visa accreditation is not renewed and journalists are accused of “violating unspecified rules and regulation”. (Source: Al Jazeera shuts English bureau after China visa denial, 8 May 2012, Reuters)

HOW ARE MUSLIMS TREATED IN CHINA?

In Xinjiang, China, government officials, public servants, teachers and students are told in clear terms to be “unyielding Marxist atheists”. They are not allowed to fast and forced fed if necessary. Men are not allowed to grow beards while their women are told not to wear the Hijab.

The rationale provided by the Chinese government too, seems like a watered down version of what one would astonishingly hear in France today:

“The ruling party says religion and education should be kept separate and students should not be subjected to ‘religious influences’, although this rule is rarely enforced for children of Han Chinese, who – if they have a religion – are mostly Buddhist, Taoist or Christian. (Source: China bans Muslims from fasting during Ramadan, say Uighur community by Aftab Ali, 17 June 2015, The Independent).

 In March 2017, a new draconian law was passed, banning a wide range of acts including wearing veils or “abnormal” beards, without specifying the term. It will also be illegal to refuse to watch state television and listen to state radio, or prevent children from receiving national education – activities deemed “manifestations” of extremism, according to state run media, illustrating the inhumane stranglehold of religious rights in China.

WHO ARE THESE XINJIANG MUSLIMS?

Xinjiang has a large Uighur Muslim population estimated to be in the region of 20 million and is located in the resource rich region at the far West of China. In recent years if not decades, a great deal of unrest has emanated from the region. It all started when the central Chinese government tactfully started encouraging Han Chinese who were mostly non-Muslims to migrate to the region titling the geography in its favour.

In fact, the geographic manipulation started as long as seventy years ago: “In 1949, when the Communist Party swept to power in China, Han Chinese made up less than 7 percent of Xinjiang’s population: today, that number stands at 40 percent. Uighurs, at 43 percent, are [today] a minority in the region, with other, mainly Muslim ethnic groups making up the remainder”. (Source: China’s campaign for mixed marriages spreads to troubled Xinjiang by Simon Denyer, September 1, 2014, The Washington Post)

 HOW ARE MUSLIMS PERSECUTED IN CHINA?

Knife and bomb attacks in China are often planted and meticulously staged and the alleged Uighur Muslim perpetrators are stupendously rounded up within hours and instantaneously killed in a form of justice that would make anyone but the Chinese government, with a conscience cringe.

The death toll created by the Chinese security forces is also often understated by the local state controlled media, while local mosques are barred from broadcasting the call to prayer and remain under 24-hour surveillance for “hidden security threats”.

As a further example of suppression to any form of reports on the region, “Thirteen American academics were banned from China after contributing to a collection of essays about Xinjiang in 2004”. (Source: Ursula Gauthier: foreign media must fight China censorship, says expelled journalist by Tom Phillips 31 December 2015, The Guardian)

All this within a single region in China that has repeatedly blamed separatist Uighurs, citing dubious evidence for a string of terrorist attacks on civilian targets, but the group has consistently denied involvement, raising warranted questions as to who is actually behind these attacks.

The goal of the atheist government, according to the Uighur separatists in China, is to “ferment racial violence and rally public support for its suffocating security controls, illegal detentions, persecution and extra-judicial killings among Uighur Muslims in China”. (Source: Human Rights Watch)

 In the words of Brad Adams, the Asia Director of Human Rights Watch: “The Chinese are very good at putting things down and keeping a lid on them when they really want to,” (Source: 156 dead as Muslim uprising hits China by Claire Soares, 7 July 2009, The Independent), using its phalanxes of police and armored vehicles rumbling through the streets of the regional capital.

In a separate report, Sophie Richardson, China director of Human Rights Watch, has written: “Since 2012, law enforcement forces have killed hundreds of Uighurs in what authorities claimed were counter-terrorism operations. But whether those killed or convicted were actually responsible for the violence . . . will remain unknown to the outside world”. (Source: As China joins the anti-Isis brigade, must we keep quiet about the Uighurs? by Peter Popham, 21 November 2015, The Independent), exacerbating an endless series of repression and violence in the region.

WHY ARE WESTERN NATIONS AND MUSLIM- MAJORITY COUNTRIES SILENT ABOUT MUSLIM PERSECUTION?

Rarely will we hear any form of formal condemnation from the centers of power in the West let alone from any Muslim-majority countries, as everyone understands we are today dealing with none other than the twin-Asian equivalent of the Roman empire that is, China, which executes thousands of people each year but considers the number of death sentences to be a state secret and never releases them; and India which has banned over 11,000 NGOs from operating in the country including the likes of Greenpeace on dubious charges – and thus, political morality takes a backseat in the dungeons of eternal obscurity, especially given the massive trade flows involved from China and India.

Given such, no Western leader or let alone Middle Eastern autocrat in his or her right mind would risks the severing of economic and diplomatic ties for the voiceless ordinary Muslims who have themselves been sidelined in their own countries, let alone China and India which are increasingly hostile to ordinary Muslims and other minorities.

Most worryingly and curiously not as extensively covered, the only voice that ironically called for change is none other than the deranged, irrational and misguided leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (as of July 2017, presumably dead). The man responsible for contributing to the ever-growing anti-Muslim bigotry in the West, declared in July 2014 that China is a country where “Muslim rights are forcibly seized”. Twisted irony indeed.

Most remarkably and as part of its ingenious hiring strategy and appeal, ISIS released for perhaps the first time in its short blood-thirsty history a statement void of bloodshed and instead of focusing on its infamous series of beheadings, public executions and irrational killings, it (ISIS) tactfully expressed public concern for their so-called, co-religionists in China, calling on Hui and Uighur Muslims in the country to “wake up” to overcome “a century of slavery”, a feat not a single Muslim-majority country has managed to achieve to-date, and yet we have self-anointed “foreign-policy experts” in the West today scratching their heads as to why some misguided Muslims fall prey to the strategic yet devious recruiting techniques at ISIS?

HOW WOULD ONE SUM UP THE SITUATION IN BURMA?

Burma (Myanmar) is one place, which everyone talks about in passing but no one does anything constructive about the genocidal situation in the country. Needless to say, zero airstrikes or Iraq-like invasion to be expected but more donor conventions and conferences by Muslim and non-Muslim countries to discuss the plight of the Muslim minorities in Burma and wooden statements vapourising into oblivion.

WESTERN NATIONS HAVE FOR DECADES APPLIED SANCTIONS ON BURMA. ISN’T THAT ENOUGH?

While that was true in the past, the European Union suspended all non-military sanctions against Burma in 2010. In May 2013, the Obama administration decided that a 1996 ban on granting U.S. entry visas to the former Burma’s military rulers, their business partners and immediate families was no longer necessary after two years of reforms”. (Source: U.S. lifts more sanctions on Myanmar to support reforms by Paul Eckert and Peter Cooney, Reuters, May 2, 2013)

The fact that these sanctions were being lifted during the height of violence, firmly backed by the then-government, directed at Muslims in 2012 and 2013 was all the more shocking. Myanmar’s rebrand monk Ashin Wirathu, who rose to prominence following his anti-Muslim rhetoric led the deadly riots in 2012 and 2013, in which hundreds died and an estimated 90,000 people were displaced by the violence.

In a statement from the group’s Washington headquarters, Jennifer Quigley, executive director of the advocacy group U.S. Campaign for Burma said: “The Burmese military and security forces continue to carry out serious human rights violations against ethnic minorities in Burma” and called for further investigation into “the Burmese government’s system of impunity and security forces’ role in the ongoing escalation of anti- Muslim violence and ethnic cleansing”.

WHO ARE THE ROHINGYA MUSLIMS?

The Rohingya Muslims are the indigenous people of Southwestern Myanmar, eking out a living in the Rakhine State. Members of the 1.1 million group, who identify themselves by the term Rohingya, are seen by many Myanmar Buddhists as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Today they have been herded into detention and internment camps, stripped of their valuables, denied freedom of movement and left impoverished and lack even basic healthcare.

Rakhine State, one of Burma’s poorest regions, is home to an estimated 500,000 stateless Rohingya Muslims, the majority of whom remain confined to temporary camps following waves of deadly violence in 2012 between Buddhists and Muslims that left at least three hundred Rohingya Muslims dead and whole towns razed. Thousands of lives were destroyed. Astonishingly, no one has ever been prosecuted.

Ostensibly separated “for their own safety” behind barbed wire and checkpoints, a de facto apartheid exists in Rakhine – a state where the Rohingyas (or “Bengalis” as they are pejoratively labelled and were required to self-identify as in last year’s census) make up a third of the population. The state capital Sittwe is now totally Rohingya-free: more than 140,000 have been forced into squalid refugee camps – open air prisons in all but name – on the city’s fringes. The UN describes the camps as “some of the worst it has seen”. (Source: The Most Persecuted Minority in the World by Damian Collins, 26 June 2015, Huffington Post)

 Construction of mosques and religious schools in the region was banned in 1962, when military rule was first established in the country. Twenty years later in 1982 the Citizenship Law was amended that effectively led to the Rohingyas losing their citizenship, rendering millions who were born and raised in the country stateless, nameless, and protection-less. (Source: Mosques, Madrasas to be Razed in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, 21 September 2016, Voice of America)

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a June 2016 report the Rohingyas are excluded from a number of professions and need special paperwork to access hospitals, which has resulted in delays and deaths of babies and their mothers during childbirth.

AT LEAST MUSLIM PERSECUTION IN PLACES LIKE BURMA AND CHINA ARE REPORTED.

It is impossible to imagine our attention requiring such a high thresh- old were it a Christian minority group suffering a similar threat of imminent ethnic destruction . . . Compare for example how energised the commentariat and wider public became last year [in 2014] when Iraq’s Christian Yazidi’s entered ISIL’s barbaric sights. Under no circumstances would it be tolerated. The denunciations of “never again” that followed Rwanda and Srebrenica were dusted o and received a thorough airing. (Source: The Most Persecuted Minority in the World by Damian Collins, 26 June 2015, Huffington Post)

Then again, the same could be said of other governments (Muslim and non-Muslim alike) that do little else for the victims of anti-Muslim violence and persecution in China and Burma, no doubt the next frontiers for Islamophobia, albeit of a different kind.

NOBEL LAUREATE AUNG SAN SUU KYI IS REALLY KEEN ON HELPING MUSLIMS.

Despite the well-known atrocities and media reports about such decades-long injustices, nothing in diplomatic circles has led to any meaningful progress. Yet the merry-go-round continues. Even the inexplicable silence of Nobel laureate and current State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi, otherwise a “champion of the dispossessed and distressed” has been eerily deafening.

On the first anniversary of her taking “power” in November 2016, some media reports went too far defending her, saying the military in Burma retains a leading role in national politics, appointing the three most important ministers – defence, home a airs and border a airs and controls a quarter of all members of the country’s parliament and local assemblies. Given such, there is only so much Suu Kyi can do, they claimed.

How would one however explain her display of discomfort in 2013 when interviewed by a leading BBC journalist who courageously raised more than a few uncomfortable questions about the violence against Muslims: According to an excerpt in the book by Peter Popham, The Lady And The Generals: Aung San Suu Kyi And Burma’s Struggle For Freedom, Suu Kyi was so incensed about being challenged by renowned BBC presenter Mishal Husain in October 2013 about violence against Muslims in Arakan state and her refusal to endorse the reports by Human Rights Watch, she was reportedly heard to say angrily o -air, “No-one told me I was going to be interviewed by a Muslim.”. (Source: “No one told me I was going to be interviewed by a Muslim”: Aung San Suu Kyi’s Rohingya problem by Max Fisher, 28 March 2016,Vox)

 More recently in late January 2017, a key Muslim adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi, was shot and killed point-blank by an assassin at the airport in Yangon, Myanmar. Not only was Ko Ni’s death celebrated on social media by some conservative Buddhists, Suu Kyi did not attend the lawyer’s funeral or meet with the family, demonstrating her conspicuous silence time and again.

Therefore, it remains an outrage the Nobel committee hasn’t yet criticised Suu Kyi (as she was once celebrated) by rescinding the medal let alone demand the return of the prize money.

BUT MUSLIM PERSECUTION IS A PROBLEM IN MUSLIM-MAJORITY COUNTRIES TOO.

Muslims do face various forms of hardship in practicing Islam in ironically, some Muslim-majority countries but this is more of a case of religious rights or religious persecution than Islamophobia. In the case of Turkmenistan like most other parts of Central Asia for example, mosques and Muslim clergy are state-sponsored and financed and therefore sermons are controlled. In Kyrgyzstan, Muslims are prohibited from wearing the Hijab. In Tajikistan, female students and teachers are expelled from school for wearing the hijab and women are prevented from praying in mosques.

Worse still in Uzbekistan, police are known to plant narcotics and ammunition on citizens with “outward signs of religious observance, such as traditional clothing or beards” to justify their arrests and torture, despite being a 90 percent Muslim-majority country. Eerily put in simple terms, Trump can seem moderate by comparison to some living in certain Central Asian countries or Muslim-majority countries.

MUSLIM-MAJORITY GOVERNMENTS ARE DOING THEIR BEST TO FIGHT ISLAMOPHOBIA.

Utterly false. Not a single Muslim-majority government is doing anything substantial beyond standard rhetoric – condemning violence, diplomatic initiatives through dialogue, publishing reports and organising international conferences to promote interfaith tolerance. Toothless Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) workshops to formulate “Media strategies in countering Islamophobia”, expert meetings aimed at defining means of “combating negative stereotyping and violence against persons based on their religion” and releasing final pledges and declarations at the end of high pro le conferences to “. . . work harder to make sure that Islam’s true image is better projected” are all useful but nowhere near enough what Muslim-majority governments and individual Muslim philanthropists are capable of doing to counter mounting waves of widespread and growing Islamophobia today.

(Note: This section was written in early August 2017, a few weeks before the Burmese government carried out its genocidal atrocities (burning villages, shooting fleeing refugees and laying landmines at the border, killing well over 400 Rohingyas and causing over 600,000 Rohingyas to seek refuge in Bangladesh and elsewhere)

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