Pulitzer Center Update

An Update on China's Islamophobia for Sinica Podcast

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A Hui Chinese man at one of the Sufi shrines in Lanzhou, northwestern China. Image by Alice Su. China, 2016.

A Hui Chinese man at one of the Sufi shrines in Lanzhou, northwestern China. Image by Alice Su. China, 2016.

Pulitzer Center grantee Alice Su was invited onto the Sinica podcast by co-hosts Kaiser Kuo and Ada Shen to discuss how Islamophobia manifests in China. Su and the other guest, blogger Ma Tianjie, look at China’s cultural and political history in order to compare the treatment of Chinese Muslim communities to those in the United States and Europe—finding that although their treatment may be similar, Islamophobia is motivated differently across cultures.

Su's Pulitzer project, “Islam with Chinese Characteristics,” looks at how China’s two Muslim communities, the Uighurs and Hui, are treated by the public and government. Su writes about the uneven policing between the communities in relation to the Communist Party’s beliefs and China’s efforts to maintain unity.

On Sinica, the co-hosts ask Su to review her reporting in light of the French election, the Trump Administration, and the rise of terror attacks in the West.

Su believes that most of China’s Islamophobia is rooted in ignorance, driven by Western media. As she says, “We don’t have any contact with [Islam] in our daily lives and now, given the global context with the rising spate of terrorist attacks and ISIS in existence, the mainstream narrative in Chinese mindset piggybacks off of Western narrative. Which may or may not be a good thing—actually, I don’t think it’s a good thing.”

Tianjie added that President Trump is very popular, especially on the internet. “They see [Trump] as validation of their values—it is ok to be openly xenophobic,” he said. “It seems like the same people who are decrying political correctness are reacting strongly against Islam.”

In the United States, much of the conversation around political correctness is couched in the debate about the freedom of speech and religion. The same is true for China, although the approach is much different.

As Su reported for Foreign Policy, “Chinese authorities have historically associated religion with ethnic separatism, unwanted foreign influence, and domestic turmoil.” The Communist Party of China is atheist, only tolerating religion, “as long as they are practiced at state-approved sites, stay free of foreign influence, and do not proselytize.”

Su's reporting, however, revealed that the uneven policing of China’s Muslim communities betray the fact that “the level of state control over religious activity depends on ethnic and geographical factors, not ideological ones.”

As she reports, Uighurs in the Xinjiang province experience particularly harsh, discriminatory policing compared to the Hui population—both of which are Muslim. She explains, “One reason Beijing prioritizes Uighur separatism as a bigger threat than Hui sectarianism is because Xinjiang independence is a real possibility.” Thus the disproportional policing is mostly due to political, not religious, fears.

While reflecting on the Uighurs, Su says she wanted her reporting to be helpful. Throughout the project, Su asks how the state should best monitor radicalization and extremism within Muslim communities. With ISIS now producing targeted material for the Uighur, claiming that they are oppressed by the government, she wonders if the authorities are creating the problem they wish to solve.