Sunday, February 19, 2006

China's Muslims

Attempt 3 to post!

Thanks to Programmer Craig's comment to a previous post, I was pressed to do a little research on Muslims in China. In the past, I'd been curious about Sino-Arabic/Muslim relations, but hadn't done much research on the subject until tonight.

I remember that when I lived in Libya, there was a movement of young men going to China to buy products to sell in Libya. I believe this is called suit-case trade and, aside from the alure of inexpensive Chinese products, is one of the black markets created under both sanctions and Libya's previously tightly controlled economic policies. I also remember the suit-case merchants saying that all they could eat was tuna because they were disgusted with Chinese food...a statement which confused me quite a bit. Who doesn't like Chinese food?

Flipansy aside, I also know that about two years ago, the League of Arab States indicated that they were beginning to look eastward. This is expected given that economic trends are moving east, especially as the petrolium trade is concerned. However, I'd always looked at it from an international relations point of view, as an outsider considering state relations without looking into the internal linkages.

So I thank PC for leading me to look into this further because I've discovered quite a few interesting facts about the internal linkages of in terms of the Chinese Muslim (or Muslim Chinese) population and status.

First off, apparently Islam reached China in the 7th century BC. And while China's infamous Cultural Revolution and its anti-religion policies lead most of us to believe that religious identities are likely to be obsolete in China, China technically liberalized religiously (usually an oxy-moron) in 1978.

Never mainstream

"Historically, Islam has been in China since the Tang Dynasty (618-907CE) but it was never mainstream. There was never a Muslim emperor and Confucian thought was the dominant cultural force," Feng Jinyuan, an Islamic specialist with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said.

Jonathon Lipman, author of several works on China's Muslims, says: "Conversions to Islam have been few and far between." In part this appears to be because when people are looking for religion, they are looking for wider cultural associations.

The provinces of western China where Islam is prevalent also happen to be the nation's poorest, while Christianity, which is now being practised in various forms by a wide range of social classes, is linked to the West.

"At present Christianity is far more appealing because of its association with modernity, Europe and America," says Lipman.

According to the New York Times February 19, 2006 article, Chinese Muslims number at 21 million—that’s about 1.6% of a 1.3 billion population—approximately the number of Europe’s Muslim population and comparable to Iraq’s entire population. And they have their own internal fighting, though the offensive of the cartoons found a common factor:

Dru C. Gladney, a leading Western scholar on Chinese Muslims, said the country's 10 Muslim nationalities usually find common cause only when they feel an issue denigrates Islam, as was the case with the cartoons. Sometimes, disputes between different factions can end in violence. Mr. Gladney said the largest group, the Hui, regard some Uighurs as unpatriotic separatists who give other Chinese Muslims a bad name. The Hui, he said, have blended fairly well into society by placing pragmatism over religious zeal and adopting the low profile of an immigrant group living in a foreign land — despite their presence in China for more than 1,300 years.

While they are marginalized as well as other ideologies that compete with the government’s, they do seem to make themselves heard. This is most likely helped in part by the Chinese government’s formal recognition of Islam as a major religion in China:

"They don't tend to get too involved in international Islamic conflict," said Mr. Gladney, a professor of Asian studies at the University of Hawaii. "They don't want to be branded as radical Muslims."

Yet Chinese Muslims should not be considered completely housebroken by authoritarian rule. Since the seventh century, when Islam began arriving in China along trading routes, there have been periodic Muslim revolts. Under the Communist Party, Muslim rage, if mostly contained on international issues, has erupted over localized affronts.

Large protests broke out in 1989. Muslims took to the streets to denounce a book that described minarets as phallic symbols and compared pilgrimages to Mecca with orgies. Government officials, who allowed the protests, quickly banned the book and even held a book burning.

A few years ago, thousands of Muslims protested in various cities after a pig's head was nailed to the door of a mosque in Henan Province. And last year, riots erupted after Hui from all over central China rushed to the aid of a Muslim involved in a traffic dispute.

Final analysis is this so far:
Yes, Muslims do exist in China—a whole lot of ‘em too. They are an extreme minority and politically marginalized as would be expected under any super centralized regime. According to one of the articles (I tried to look for which but am worried that my computer will shut down again—I can find it again in the future), there have been more Chinese Muslims going to the mosque than prior to 9/11. There is definitely a reaching out to Middle Eastern Muslims by Chinese Muslims, a trend which I believe will be interesting in the future.

Economic trends lead eastward as Asian nations industrialize (have industrialized and continue to do so) and make up more of the petroleum consuming market. If economic power is as fungible as it has proved to be in the past, then it seems important to me, as one interested in Middle Eastern politics, to pay attention to a region that is already a major player and will likely grow. Petroleum producing nations gained power in the last 50 years due to the west’s industrial needs and were influenced by western ideals as a result of such tight relations. So what now? What direction will this take us?

Light at the End of the Tunnel ala Justic Collins

America's idea of what constitutes torture "doesn't appear to coincide with that of most civilized countries"
--UK Justice Collins

For anyone following the Deghayes case, Justice Collins has recently given the three British residents held in Guantanamo approval to seek the intervention of the British Foreign Secretary on their behalf. Allegations of torture factored into his decision, he claims.

Justice Collins warns that his decision is no guarantee for the prisoners. I say his decision is a guarantee that reason and human compassion can see take us beyond propaganda and that sometimes the right decision, no matter how difficult or un-PC, can be made.

Guardian Unlimited
Thursday February 16, 2006

Three British residents detained at Guantánamo Bay were today given the go-ahead to seek a high court order requiring the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, to press the US for their release.

The three detainees involved in the case are not British citizens but were long-term residents in the UK before their detention at the US naval base in Cuba.

Mr Justice Collins, a high court judge in London, said that a factor in his ruling today was that there were allegations of torture at the detention facility.

The judge's decision came after a day-long hearing during which he commented that America's idea of what constituted torture "is not the same as ours and doesn't appear to coincide with that of most civilised countries".

Mr Justice Collins has a reputation for making controversial remarks and his pronouncements from the treatment of Gypsies to laws on terrorism and immigration have brought howls of disapproval from both Conservative and Labour politicians.

He said the men and their families living in the UK had an arguable case that the British government was under an obligation to act on their behalf.

However, the judge stressed his decision was "no guarantee" that the three men, Bisher al-Rawi, Jamil el-Banna and Omar Deghayes, and their families, would win their case. There were formidable arguments against them, the judge said.

His remarks today coincided with a UN report which urged that the Guantánamo facility should be shut down and called on the US government to refrain from any practice "amounting to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment".

After the judge's decision today, the full case against Mr Straw is expected to be heard in mid-March.

Nine British citizens who had been detained at Guantánamo Bay have all been flown back to the UK and released without charge. The British government pushed Washington to secure the release of the Britons - and human rights groups have called for the same pressure to be exerted by the UK over long term UK residents.

Gareth Peirce, the solicitor for the three men, said after today's hearing: "After so many years of such bitter disappointment, this is the first ray of light that we have had - the first ability to hope that this might be the beginning of the end for the ordeal of these three families."

Earlier, Rabinder Singh QC, for the men and their families, had told the judge the case arose out of what had been described by a law lord as the "utter lawlessness at Guantánamo Bay", where people were being detained indefinitely without trial.

Mr Rawi, 37, an Iraqi national who had lived in Britain since 1985, and his Jordanian business partner Mr Banna, who was granted refugee status in 2000, were detained three years ago in Gambia - "far from any theatre of war", said Mr Singh.

They were alleged to have been associated with al-Qaida through their connection with the radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada.

Mr Singh said Mr Rawi's contact with Qatada was "expressly approved and encouraged by British intelligence" to whom he supplied information about the cleric.

The judge was told that intelligence operatives assured Mr Rawi that, should he run into trouble, they would intervene and assist him. But the British government was subsequently unwilling to make material available to him when a hearing on his case was held at Guantánamo Bay, the QC said.

Mr Banna was said to have been in possession of "a homemade electronic device" at the time of his arrest. It was, in fact, a battery charger bought from Argos and cleared by the UK authorities before he went to Gambia.

Mr Deghayes was detained in Pakistan. His name was said to be on the FBI's "most wanted" list. But the photograph in his file was of a "totally different individual", said Mr Singh.

Mr Justice Collins was told that Mr Deghayes had been rendered virtually blind in one eye by the use of pepper spray and the gouging of his eye during his detention, yet was still being constantly subjected to high light levels.

The government's counsel, Philip Sales, said the foreign secretary had already decided to reconsider Mr Rawi's case because of its particular circumstances. His argument that permission should not be granted in the other cases because the detainees did not have British nationality was rejected by Mr Justice Collins.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Ten die in Libya--cartoon clash

Not much time to comment now, but I will say that I'm curious about this. Libya doesn't protect the right to assembly so I'm not sure how this BBC NEWS | World | Africa | Ten die in Libya cartoon clash">rioting happened, who was behind this, okayed it or what. This whole thing has gotten much bigger than I could ever have expected... strange thing is that everyone I talk to says that. One of my brothers at least is joining in the boycott, but I haven't heard of anyone here protesting yet.

Last I read, Denmark has lost about $5 million in exports to the Middle East. By now, this is probably old news in the blogosphere, but I'm still stuck in the moment of surprise.

And now with the new pictures coming out from Abu Ghraib, where does the rioting go? Or is it more safe politically to riot and protest about cartoons than it is about reality? I don't recall any riots breaking out involving the killing of Muslims by Muslims when the Iraq was invaded.... so what gives?

(Then again, why is Australia releasing the photos now and why am I hearing rumors about China enforcing their child-birth limitations laws on Muslims suddenly)

I'm still trying to make sense of it. My spidey-sense so far is telling me that something fishy is going on--and not in the yummy hut miggly (fried fish) kind of way.

Lone Highlander has a great post on this that everyone should check out.

More on this later...

Sunday, February 05, 2006


I'll be traveling until Wednesday... and then I'll just be jet lagged. I came out to New York for a conference so I decided to visit family in DC as well. Can you believe that the weather is better here than in California?

Anyways, I don't know if I'll have internet access (or time) when I get back to NY so I'll update a bit later. Since I'm not at all familiar with NY, please feel free to suggest places to go and things to see. And wish me luck!