Muslims, Arab Muslims in particular, have a certain image of China; they think of China as an ally and as a state that stands up to the US. As evidence of this, they cite China’s positions towards causes such as the Palestinian Cause in the Security Council though it is practically useless because of US veto. As for the extremists, they delude themselves into thinking that China is of political and military value in Sudan based on the consideration that China is in fact supporting the regime of Omar al Bashir and its massacres of the people of Darfur.
Of course, these details differ according to the winds of political change, as evidence shows that China this month has joined the list of the Islamic world’s most hated countries. I think that Muslims in China have now come under suspicion in that China has only added to the potential clash of civilizations.
In China, and elsewhere, there is the idea- and extremist groups that planted the idea- of Muslim minorities gaining independence from the countries in which they live. These ideas have exhausted Muslims in their native lands; in the Philippines, Thailand, Kashmir and elsewhere because a Muslim today is a citizen according to his location; a Chinese in China, an Indian in India, a Brit in the UK or an American in the US. In the same way, Christianity does not necessarily signify a certain national identity such as a Copt in Egypt, an Armenian in Turkey, or a Christian Indian in India.
For this reason, when the Chinese authorities oppressed Muslim citizens in Xingjian, most of those enthusiastic about a role for China were left tongue tied. The Arab mindset, which is programmed according to friends and foes based on limited specifications, lost its balance.
Away from critical positions, there are two sides to the China issue; the first issue is related to morality as the Chinese authorities should be criticized for horrifically and racially confronting Chinese Muslims with bullets, killing hundreds. The second issue is that the idea of Islamic rebellion and independence from China should be rejected. Among the Muslims of the Xingjian province, there are extremist groups that seek to establish a country of their own. However, we should remember that China has 55 different ethnic groups, not only Muslims, so it would be impossible to grant independence to any of them. China fought against the idea of Taiwan’s independence for seventy years, even though the island is practically separate. Therefore, the call for independence is a call for suffering for Muslim citizens, causing them to be isolated and the subjects of suspicion, hatred and oppression. Nobody today wants to hear the word ‘separation’ because it is an infectious virus, and the countries in our region are more likely to catch the infection than others due to their infancy and lack of stability.
The world in the twentieth century was distinguished by the establishment of national states that we see all around us today. These states suffered from secessionist calls, which have been the cause of most wars. With the course of time, the minorities had to accept coexistence and political regimes had to respect their rights. As for separatist disputes, they have become politically abhorred, even if they are politically justifiable. The Kurdish nation was divided by British colonialism into regions annexed to Iraq, Turkey, Syria and other countries, and yet nobody wants a country for them. The south of Sudan, also annexed to Khartoum, despite that it has no ties to the north in terms of blood or religion, was forced to remain part of the Republic of Sudan.
The rejection of calls for secession in China is not a reaction of the events taking place today. I remember that I accompanied a senior Saudi official on his visit to Beijing nearly ten years ago. Upon visiting an Islamic school there, he was keen to speak about the issue of identity and told the students: you are Chinese and Muslim and your loyalty should be to your country China alone.