Kelly A. Hammond: Islamophobia in Modern China

Today we welcome a guest post from Kelly A. Hammond, author of China’s Muslims and Japan’s Empire: Centering Islam in World War II, out now from UNC Press.

In this transnational history of World War II, Kelly A. Hammond places Sino-Muslims at the center of imperial Japan’s challenges to Chinese nation-building efforts. Revealing the little-known story of Japan’s interest in Islam during its occupation of North China, Hammond shows how imperial Japanese aimed to defeat the Chinese Nationalists in winning the hearts and minds of Sino-Muslims, a vital minority population. Offering programs that presented themselves as protectors of Islam, the Japanese aimed to provide Muslims with a viable alternative—and, at the same time, to create new Muslim consumer markets that would, the Japanese hoped, act to subvert the existing global capitalist world order and destabilize the Soviets.

China’s Muslims and Japan’s Empire is now available in paperback and ebook editions.

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Islamophobia is rampant in China. Stereotypes about Muslims as violent outsiders in China have long existed. Ever since 9/11, the Party-state has amplified long-held antagonisms and stereotypes toward Muslims. The result is a pacification campaign against people presented by the Party-state—both to domestic and international audiences—as terrorists. Although attention is currently focused on the Uighurs, there is mounting evidence that the CCP is taking aim at all Muslims, such as the Sino-Muslim actors who appear in my recent book. By bulldozing mosques, shuttering Islamic bookstores, removing Arabic script from storefronts and restaurants in an effort to “Sinicize” Islam, the Party’s goal seems to be the complete assimilation of Muslims and the eradication of Islamic practices in China. Most concerning, there is fear that the “re-education campaigns” will continue to spread to other Muslim ethnic minorities, like Kazakhs and the Hui.

Muslims in China already are particularly marginalized. They make up a small fraction of the overall population, and I would argue that the majority of Han Chinese citizens of the People’s Republic have internalized state-driven narratives about Muslims posing a threat to state stability. This is possible because of Islamophobia in China, but it is abetted by Islamophobia in North America and Europe. Moreover, Muslims in China are conveniently forgotten by Muslim governments like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, which rely on economic linkages to the PRC.

Within the international community, there are a number of vocal proponents attempting to expose the human rights crisis among the Uighurs. Yet, there continues to be an unwillingness of world leaders—both Muslim and non-Muslim—to fully condemn China for their egregious human rights violations. Firstly, Islamophobia is institutional and deeply embedded in global flows of capital. Secondly, the Uighurs and their Muslim brethren in China are not considered the “right” kind of Muslims by the Saudi establishment and other Middle Eastern powerbrokers.

This is in part the genius of the Chinese Communist Party. By harnessing global Islamophobia, the CCP has created a laboratory of authoritarianism in Xinjiang. As they quietly rounded up their Muslim citizens, Muslims and non-Muslims—save some vocal opponents–continue to turn a blind eye. It is our responsibility as global citizens to dismantle these state-driven narratives, and to boycott international companies that are embroiled in business dealings in Xinjiang and provide new technologies and facilities used by China’s security apparatus, yet continue to pretend that everything is business as usual.

Perhaps even ardent Islamophobes will begin to take notice when they realize that this issue goes far beyond China’s Muslim citizens. While the PRC works on perfecting its AI and facial recognition technology, and merging technology and the security state in ways we have never seen before, perhaps people will start to pay attention. Not because their views about Islam have changed, but because they fear becoming the next victims of these new repressive technologies.

The current crisis of Islamophobia in China can be better understood by exploring and understanding the history of Muslim actors in twentieth-century China.

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Photo by Russell A. Cothren

Kelly A. Hammond is assistant professor of history at the University of Arkansas. Follow her on Twitter.