After days of deadly ethnic clashes in China more than 180 individuals from the minority Muslim Uighur community located in the northwest region of Xinjiang China have been killed and thousands more injured or arrested. Rebiya Kadeer, representative of Uighur Muslims, in an interview with al-Sharq al-Awsat pleaded with Muslims across the world to support the Uighur people.
Rebiya Kadeer, whose plea was sincere, was misguided to believe that given the gravity of the situation the Muslim world would come to the rescue. Perhaps Rebiya Kadeer expected the plea for support would be answered with angry protests, mobs setting embassies on fire, a fatwa from the Mullahs, or even a declaration of Jihad against China from Bin Laden. The “war”, after all is between Islam and its enemies, or so would the radicals and dictators in the Muslim world like people to believe.
A week or so ago, Egyptian Marwa Shirbini was killed in Germany by an individual representing rightwing extremists. The killer supposedly targeted Marwa because she was veiled. This story dominated headlines and comment forums in most Arab media outlets. This solitary case received unprecedented attention that overshadowed the death of hundreds of Muslims in China at the hands of “communist infidels”. Saudi Arabia did not summon the Chinese ambassador, nor did Iran lift a finger or utter a word to support those fellow Muslims in China. Nor even when Chinese authorities shut down mosques for Friday prayers did anyone representing the Muslim world condemn the order. By contrast, I have no doubt that if the United States banned Friday prayers in one mosque there would be shockwaves of anger and condemnation throughout the world, just like when Sarkozy said the chador is unwelcome in France.
The conflicting reactions (to act or not to act) within the Muslim to these cases demonstrate the issue is not between a religion and its rivals but between systems; freedom and human rights on one side and totalitarian oppression actors on the other. The Uighrs are at a disadvantage because in their case the oppressive enemy, Government of China, happen to be an aligned with oppressive state and non-state actors in the Muslim world. This is why the regimes and media in Muslim countries have largely turned a blind eye to the Uighurs’ plight.
The Government of China is similar to those in the Middle East in their oppression of their people and human rights violations that are in defiance of international laws and norms. No wonder then that the Chinese are supportive of similar regimes such as those in North Korea, Saddam’s Iraq and Iran.
The conflicting differences in Muslim reactions to the two cases I mentioned above demonstrate that the issue is not the act itself (i.e. cartoons, veil) but the using of the situation to enable the accomplishment of the greater political and/or military goal. The angry mobs we see in the streets are the tools created by political state and non-state actors with supporting media becoming the delivery mechanism. The reactions are not guided by a moral cause, the number of victims, or the type of atrocity.