Hypocrisy on China and the Muslim World

Since the events earlier this month inXinjiang, there has been a spateof newsstoriesasking, “Why isn’t the Muslim world protesting against China forcracking down on Uighurs?” Why indeed? There is something a littlepatronizing about the question, with its implicit judgment that thereare worthy and unworthy things to be protesting, and that Muslimsought to justify their apathy towards the Uighurs. (I’m still waitingfor the stories about why the Americans aren’t protesting thesituation in Honduras, or global warming, or any number of otherthings outsiders might think we ought to be protesting.)

And there is probably a little reverseschadenfreude, too, if there is a word for that: we agonize all thetime about why Muslims hate America, so why don’t they hate China,too?

The answer, these news stories tell us, is business and geopolitics. The AP’s lede:

The riots in China’s Xinjiang region andsubsequent crackdown on the Muslim Uighur minority have drawn a mutedresponse from many Muslim countries that may be wary of damaginglucrative trade ties with Beijing or attracting attention to their ownattitudes toward political dissent.

An essay called “Mute Muslims” byForeign Policy’s editor, Moises Naim, concludes:

In politics, blindness and deafness areoften induced by an acute awareness of where one’s main interestsreally lie. China will clearly make efforts to clarify to thegovernments that express too much concern for the Uighurs what theirreal interests are. And the continuous silence about the situation ofthe Uighurs that may ensue in coming months and years will offer aneloquent demonstration of Beijing’s ability to persuade.

This reminds me a little of the leadupto the Iraq war, when Russian and French opposition was explained asbeing a result of those countries’ involvement in the Iraqi oilindustry; meanwhile any discussion of what sort of commercial orgeopolitical gains the U.S. would get out of Iraq was just conspiracytheory.

Now, it is slightly facetious to saythat this question doesn’t deserve to be asked. I do think it’sinteresting to examine worldwide reaction, including that of Muslims,to the events in Xinjiang. And when you do so, the first thing younotice is that it’s not as if Muslims’ reaction have been entirely”muted,” to use the favorite word of the news stories that are poppingup: Turkey’s president has called what China is doing “genocide,”and Iran has officially protested,as well. There have been anti-China riots in Indonesia,and al-Qaida’s north African wing has called for “vengeance“against Chinese targets.

But, all things considered, I do thinkit’s fair to ask why some issues, like Palestine and the DanishMohammed cartoons, incite so much passion across the Muslim world,while others, like Xinjiang, Darfur and Chechnya get relativelylittle. In particular, the Palestinian issue is pretty analogous toXinjiang, Chechnya and Darfur.

Of course, there is something obviousthat China, Russia and Sudan all have in common, that sets them apartfrom Israel: they are not Western.

And while at first blush it seemshypocritical for Muslims to get angry when a Western power oppressesMuslims and not when Russia, China or Sudan do it, you can actuallysee it the other way around, too. People expect China and Russia tobehave badly; that’s what they do, and they don’t pretend otherwiseand they don’t impose their value systems on anyone else. The West,meanwhile, likes to lecture developing countries, including Muslimones, on how they should act. And so when Western countries don’t actaccording to their own principles, that seems hypocritical, and itrankles.

In addition, there is a time difference:The occupations of Xinjiang, Darfur and Chechnya have been going onfor centuries, while Israel was created only in the 1940s. So it’s arawer, fresher issue. And the fact that Israel was created while theWest was decolonizing the Middle East by breaking up the OttomanEmpire into newly independent states – with the exception of Palestine- again makes the West look hypocritical.

All that is not to justify apathy towardXinjiang or any other ongoing oppression. What’s going is appalling;read my seriesfrom there on Slate last year, or a more recent, thoughtful essay bySean Roberts, an American Xinjiang expert, here.But a little context should make us a little less judgmental about howMuslims should or shouldn’t react to it.

Plus, there’s one more story I’m waitingfor: an analysis on why the U.S. reaction to Xinjiang is so “muted.”Here is the White House’s officialstatement, from July 6:

We are deeply concerned over reports ofmany deaths and injuries from violence in Urumqi in western China.Reports, so far, are unclear about the circumstances surrounding thedeaths and injuries, so it would be premature to comment or speculatefurther. We call on all in Xinjiang to exercise restraint.

And, with more than a week for the U.S.to gather information, here is the most recent State Department pressconference where Xinjiang was discussed, on July 13. Spokesman IanKelly:

There are – the situation did not emergeout of a vacuum. I mean, there are issues that we think – relating tothe Uighurs that we think that the Chinese Government has to address.But in terms of how they have specifically dealt with a very difficultsituation on the ground there, I just – we don’t have sufficientinformation for us to be able to pronounce how they’ve handled it.

Sounds pretty muted to me. Must be the”lucrative trade ties.”

Joshua Kucera blogs regularly at True/Slant, where this post originally appeared.