France, China and the Islamic World

France is a copybook democracy; China is thequintessential dictatorship. Democracies have the rule of law, dictatorships have the rule of whims. The possibility that France will treat its minorities fairly is much higher than China doing so, both in theory and in practice. Yet, Islamic countries are up in arms against France accusing that nation of practising Islamophobia and are defending China against the rest of the world. It is often said that in politics among nations, there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies; there are only permanent interests. France had a remarkable past; China has a huge presence at present. God is always farther than the threatening fist in front of one’s face.

Islam is ancient in France.Archaeological evidence exists of an eighth-century mosque in Narbonne, in southern France. It is not surprising, because from 719 to 759 AD, Narbonne was part of the Umayyad Empire. Subsequently, French colonies of Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria in North Africa led to considerable Muslim migration to France. Today, France has the largest number of Muslims in the western world, at almost 6 million comprising roughly 8 percent of its population. These are, however, estimates as France’s strictly secular laws prohibitquestions relating to religion in the census. Laïcité, the policy of strict impartiality and neutrality towards religion does not permit any religious education or religious symbols in state-funded public schools. This, however, is viewed with disfavour by the extremists who call France the flagship of disbelief.

Terrorism in France did not start with the publication of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. Terrorist activities by the Lebanese groups in the 1980s and by the Algerians in the 1990s had given France more than a taste of the Islamist extremists’ hatred and bloodlust. Then, in 2015,the Charlie Hebdo killings and the Jewish Kosher Market attacks were followed by the worst massacre at Bataclan where 130 died and 350 were injured. This was followed in 2016 by a truck mowing down hundreds in Nice. The recent spree of beheadings is thus a continuation of the consequences of radicalization of tens of thousands of French Muslims. More than 1900 of these had joined the Islamic State with many of them already back in France. The reaction of the French President Macron to the recent attacks has been swift and unequivocal. He talked of Islam as “a religion that is in crisis today all over the world”, brought forward a law to fight “Islamist separatism” and laid down a goal of building “an Islam in France that can be compatible with enlightenment”.

The reaction in Muslim countries was equally swift. French products were taken off the shelves in supermarkets, effigies of Macron and French flags were burnt and a cleric in Pakistan advocated the nuclear bombing of France. Hashtag #DoAtomicAttackOnFrance thrived on twitter in Pakistan. Leaders of Pakistan, Indonesia, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and many others lambasted France and its president. This swift and virulent reaction was in sharp contrast to the reaction of Islamic countries to what China has been doing since 2012 to millions of Muslims across China, and to Uighurs in Xinjiang, in particular. It was in July of that year that Zhang Chunxian, the Communist Party secretary for Xinjiang urged soldiers to strike the Uighurs with an iron fist. In the last eight years, concentration camps which China calls “vocational training centres” have been built for two million Muslims, hundreds of mosques have been demolished, people have been arrested for keeping beards or using the Arabic script and religious schools have been closed. The UK’s Daily Mail reported that when any Uighur man is sent for “vocationaltraining”, a Han man is sent to give company to his wife! When both spouses are interned, their children are sent to Chinese residential schools. There are reports of even forcible organ extraction from prisoners.

For the reaction of Islamic countries to these widespread atrocities, take Iran, for example.This self-proclaimed leader of Shias and the country that issued a call for assassination of Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses summoned the French charge d’affaires in Tehran to protest and accused Macron of fuelling extremism. Yet, Iran’s silence on the genocide of Uighurs is deafening. The situation prompted the former Iranian lawmaker,Ali Motahari,to issue a stern rebuke to his country in a tweet, “It is a failure for the Islamic republic that the United States protests against China’s treatment and torture of Muslims from the Xinjiang region to eradicate the Islamic culture from that region, but Iran has remained silent because of its economic needs.”

Turkey, the aspirant for snatching the leadership of Sunnis from Saudi Arabia is in the same boat. Erdogan has touted his Islamic credentials by converting the Byzantine Hagia Sophia into a mosque and by using undiplomatic language against Macron, saying,“What is the problem of this person called Macron with Islam and Muslims?’” He added that the French President “needs mental treatment”. Both Turkey and France are members of NATO. Yet, when a resolution was introduced in the Turkish parliament to investigate “the problems of Uyghur Turks exposed to China’s oppressive practices,” Erdogan and his party defeated it. Pakistan,of course, is a lackey of China and we could not have expected any thing better than Imran Khan saying that he will not publicly criticize China because “they came to help us when we were at rock bottom, and so we are really grateful to the Chinese government.”

The hypocrisy reached its zenith when western nations initiated in the UN Human Rights Council a rebuke of China for its treatment of Muslims. It was opposed by 38 nations; half of them are with Muslim majority and the remaining are small countries who have received favours from China. These countries, in their collective response, completely absolved China of any wrongdoing and praised that oppressive communist regime’s human rights record. This outcome is not surprising when we see undemocratic countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Sudan and China sitting on that body to “protect” human rights. Human history has repeatedly borne testimony that when evil is in the seat of justice, the cry of the oppressed produces no echo.

Source : Daily World

The writer RN Prasher is a retired IAS officer of Haryana cadre | Personal Opinions

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