Let’s see how fast the Associated Press loses its media credentials for covering China. AP should understand that anti-Muslim hatred in China has nothing to do with internet chatter, but rather with Islamic terrorism from the Uighur Muslim-dominant region of Xinjiang in China, not to mention Islam’s barbaric methods of animal slaughter and other forms of religious extremism.
Breitbart The Associated Press’s Gerry Shih writes that China “has allowed Islamophobia to fester online for years” in a piece headlined “UNFETTERED ONLINE HATE SPEECH FUELS ISLAMOPHOBIA IN CHINA.”
Actually it isn’t. China’s ultimate goal is to make life in China intolerable for it’s Uighur Muslim population. And in doing so, they are creating an environment in which Islam, one day, will cease to exist in China at all. Countries in the West should take a lesson.
The flood of angry anti-Muslim rhetoric on social media was the first sign of how fiercely the suburban middle-class homeowners in this central China city opposed a planned mosque in their neighborhood. It quickly escalated into something more sinister.
Soon a pig’s head was buried in the ground at the future Nangang mosque, the culmination of a rally in which dozens of residents hoisted banners and circled the planned building site. Then the mosque’s imam received a text message carrying a death threat: “In case someone in your family dies, I have a coffin for you – and more than one, if necessary.”
“How did things get stirred up to this point?” the imam, Tao Yingsheng, said in a recent interview. “Who had even heard of the Nangang mosque before?”
On the dusty plains of the Chinese heartland, a bitter fight over a mosque exemplifies how a surge in anti-Muslim sentiment online is spreading into communities across China, exacerbating simmering ethnic and religious tensions that have in the past erupted in bloodshed. It’s also posing a dilemma for the ruling Communist Party, which has allowed Islamophobia to fester online for years as part of its campaign to justify security crackdowns in its restive Muslim-majority region of Xinjiang.
“It’s let the genie out of the bottle,” said James Leibold, a professor at La Trobe University in Australia who has tracked the growth of anti-Muslim hate speech on China’s internet.
Interviews with residents and an examination of social media show how a few disparate online complaints by local homeowners evolved into a concerted campaign to spread hate. Key to it was an unexpected yet influential backer: a Chinese propaganda official, 2,500 kilometers (1,500 miles) away in Xinjiang, whose inflammatory social media posts helped draw people into the streets on New Year’s Day, resulting in a police crackdown.
City planners in November finally selected a site adjacent to the newly built Hangkong New City condominiums, with its $200,000 two-bedroom units, faux-Mediterranean stylings and a Volvo dealership across the street. The project’s homeowners overwhelmingly members of China’s ethnic Han majority began complaining on China’s popular microblog, Weibo.
Some complained the mosque would occupy space promised for a park. Others warned that safety in the area would be compromised by the presence of so many Muslims. “And the less said about what happens on Eid al-Adha (mass slaughter of sheep in the streets), the better,” Cheng wrote, referring to the Islamic holiday in which animals are slaughtered for a sacrificial feast. “It’s absolutely shocking.”
The story soon caught the attention of Cui Zijian, a boyish-looking propaganda official in Xinjiang who writes about the threat of religious extremism on his Weibo account with nearly 30,000 followers. On Dec. 16, Cui suggested homeowners lobby local officials to block the construction, adding: “If that doesn’t work, then how about pig head, pig blood.”
Cui followed that a few hours later with another post repeating the four Chinese characters for pig blood and pig head over and over, attracting hundreds of reposts. While Cui was criticized by some on Weibo, a larger number – including at least one other government propaganda official – took his post as their cue to hurl abuse at the Hui.
The mosque dispute was just the latest flashpoint for an increasingly active anti-Muslim social media movement in China.
A video of a Hui girl reciting the Quran in Arabic sparked outrage last May over so-called terrorist infiltration of Chinese schools, prompting officials to announce a “strict ban” on religion on campuses. Online activists derailed a Hui official’s effort to regulate the halal food industry, arguing that religion was creeping into the officially atheistic Chinese state.
The rise in anti-Muslim sentiment comes as Chinese have been buffeted by news of Islamic militant attacks in Europe, while at home, violence in Xinjiang and elsewhere has been caused by Muslim separatists.
Beijing has responded to the bloody, years-long insurgency from Muslim Uighur minorities in Xinjiang with further restrictions on Islamic expression, a move rights groups warn could potentially radicalize moderate Muslims. Such policies have also drawn vows of retaliation from the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.
Ethnic hostility can only deepen, scholars say, when the government stops discussion of the plight of Muslims or ethnic policies while allowing anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate speech to go unchecked.
Political observers say the recent rise of a faction within the Communist Party advocating for a hard-line approach on religious affairs has coincided with the rise of government-linked commentators who openly warn about the danger of Islam.
“Interest groups have actively promoted Islamophobia in interior regions in order to create a nationwide environment that justifies Xinjiang’s anti-terrorism campaign,” said Ma Haiyun, a history professor specializing in China’s Muslims at Frostburg State University in Maryland.
After briefly moderating his remarks about the Nangang mosque, the propaganda official, Cui, renewed his criticism in February with an essay arguing that his professional and patriotic duty was to resist extremism. His online speech about Muslims was part of the job, he said.
“For that, we’re labeled Muslim-smearers,” wrote Cui, who did not respond to repeated requests for comment. “But it is those who instigate a fear of Islam, precisely the Muslim terrorists and the extremists, who are the ones creating anti-Muslim sentiment.”
Reached in March, an official at the propaganda department where he worked refused to comment on Cui’s involvement in the controversy. But Cui now appears to be even better positioned to influence discourse: The official said Cui was transferred in February to work in the cyberspace administration, the agency in charge of censoring online speech.