Very recently, 403 pages of internal Chinese documents leaked to the New York Times show the severity of the clampdown on the ethnic minorities of the Xinjiang region. President Xi Jinping ordered the mass detention of Muslims under the pretext that it is for the struggle against religious extremism and terrorism. The targeted population are a Turk-speaking mostly Islamic population in Central Asia called the Uighurs, an ethnic minority. However, even he was quoted saying “round up everyone who should be rounded up.” This is indeed extremely vague and makes it easy to target Muslim communities as epicenters of “religious extremism”, even if they are not. It offers a great opportunity for marginalization and oppression from the Chinese authorities, and they have used this simple definition to detain the masses of Islamic peoples.
These detainees are sent to prison and internment camps that are described by the state as “job-training centers” that will allow the minds of those who have contracted the “virus” of religious radicalism to become healthy again and rejoin society. International and local students whose families have disappeared are being threatened to silence about matters of imprisonments on the basis that what they say and their behaviours will impact what happens to their families. This has been happening incessantly over the past three years. One cannot overstate the severity of the generalization of Islamic communities in the detentions made by Mr. Xi’s government.
How surprising is it that China organised the mass detention of Muslims? Surely, the Chinese government has committed many crimes against basic human rights, but this is not the point I am trying to make. I should rephrase the question: how surprising is it that Muslims are the ones being detained? Is China the only country doing this? The answer is no. There is an increasing global trend of “Othering” the Islamic community. Just last week in India, a massive student protest occurred because a professor was hired to teach Sanskrit in the faculty of Sanskrit Vidya Dharma Vijnan at the Banaras Hindu University. There was a student walkout and the protest is still going. All this simply because this professor identifies as Muslim and the students found it inappropriate that a Muslim was teaching Sanskrit, even though he was fully qualified to do so. So, China is definitely not the only one persecuting Muslims. However, the Chinese instance this is a very explicit oppression, while others, like Europe, take a more subtle approach to the othering and oppression of the Islamic community.
It has become more pronounced in the recent years that the historical tradition of the “east” as the “other” has become focused as Islam as the “other”. The EU devoting itself to the unifying of Europe under the prospects of humanism, equalitarian values and tolerance, yet this does not apply to Muslims inside Europe and to those that are wishing to come to Europe. Fatima El-Tayeb of the University of California outlines this issue in her article ‘Gays who cannot properly be gay’: Queer Muslims in the neoliberal European city. El-Tayeb shows that after the fall of the Soviet Union, Europe struggled to reunite the opposing sides of the eastern and western bloc in an increasingly interconnected world. There was a need to define a common identity for unification. How could they define what it means to be European, when Europe is so diverse? Surely it is easier to define what is not European. Thus, the “othering” became a unifying factor. So, the slogan of the European Union “Unity in diversity” becomes “Unity of the Eastern and Western European states against the Islamic Other.” Why? Because, as El-Tayeb argues, Islamic communities are viewed as a threat to the “European values” mentioned above (equality and tolerance) even though by adhering to the othering of Muslim communities, Europe is breaching its promise of the same equality and tolerance they vowed to protect.
So, I ask again: is it so surprising that China is also taking a blow at the globally marginalized community?