After several terrorist attacks targeted at the Han Chinese population, the government cracked down on Uighur Muslims. Now, other Muslim minorities in the country are being threatened, too.
Foreign Policy At a recent event at the Asia Society in New York discussing the million or more Uighur Muslims, being held in internment camps in China’s western region of Xinjiang by the Chinese authorities, a young man of Chinese descent approached me with a disturbing question. “I’m a Hui person,” he said, referring to China’s largest Muslim minority group. “And among the community in China, they are very afraid that they will be next, after the Uighur.
There are already ‘anti-halal’ groups attacking us and breaking the windows of our restaurants. What do you think will happen?”
The news for the Hui, and other Chinese Muslims, isn’t good. In mid-December, several provinces removed their halal food standards, a move heralded by government officials as fighting a fictional pan-halal trend under which Muslim influence was supposedly spreading into secular life. That’s a severe contrast with previous government policies, which actively encouraged the development of the halal trade for export.
This week, meanwhile, three prominent mosques were shut, sparking protests. Many mosques across the country have already been closed, or forced to remodel to a supposedly more Chinese style, and the Communist Party presence there has been strengthened, with pictures of Xi Jinping placed in prominent locations and the walls covered in Marxist slogans.
There are more than 20 million Muslimsin China, and 10 of the country’s 55 officially recognized minorities are traditionally Muslim, with the largest by far being the Hui and the Uighur.
Muslim minority cuisine is common, cheap, and popular throughout the country; these restaurants usually feature Arabic writing and images of famous mosques on the walls. As Islamophobia has grown in the last four years, however, restaurants are increasingly removing any public display of their faith.
In China, there has also been closing of some Christian churches and Buddhist temples, but the turn against Islam is by far the most prominent—and potentially the nastiest—example of China’s clampdown on religion. In Xinjiang, any Islamic practice is now read by the security state as a sign of potential extremism.
Today, though, the intensity of the anti-Islamic campaign in Xinjiang has resulted in other provinces adopting the same ideas, lest their leaders be accused of being soft on terrorism or of having ideological sympathy for Islam.
The state campaign has been backed by a growing popularIslamophobia, which has erupted in the last four years. Anti-Uighur racism has always existed, but it previously focused largely on ethnicity, not belief. The new hate largely began with the terrorist attack at a train station in the southern city of Kunming in 2014, when eight Uighur attackers killed 31 Chinese travelers.
Chinese “Islamophobes” have created an anti-halalification movement, which functions something like sharia does in the minds of rural American lawmakers fearful that the mullahs might start marching down Main Street. The mere offering of halal services is taken as a sign of imminent threat; when one delivery app included it as an option, Muslims faced a wave of online hate.
MUCH MORE on China’s Uighur Muslims