After the death of Neda Soltani, a sixteen-year-old Iranian philosophy student, the Western world remembered her as a martyr fighting for her freedom, and a symbol of resistance. Images of her were utilized in protests against the Iranian regime in order to show them their inhumanity, and the opponents’ solidarity. However, when it came to the oppression of the Uighurs, particularly women, in China as well as the horrendous murder of Marwa Sherbini, a thirty-two-year-old Egyptian mother of two, in Germany, the Western media, as well as its commentators, tried to shift the blame on the Muslim world for not protesting the incident; instead of focusing on their own double standards when it comes to the oppression of women.

The riots and unrest in Urumqi, the capital of the Xingjian region, began when “an anonymous Internet posting claimed that a group of six Uighur men had raped two Han women, the suspicions boiled over into bloodshed…Han and Uighur workers bludgeoned one another with fire extinguishers, paving stones and lengths of steel shorn from bed frames.” [1] A week and half later, on July 5th, “a demonstration by Uighur students protesting what they said was a lackluster investigation of the factory brawl gave way to a murderous rampage against the city’s Han residents, followed by killings carried out by the Han…In the end, 192 people died and more than 1,000 were injured, according to the government.” [2] Of course, these issues did not just simply erupt over the past few weeks, but it has been occurring ever since the Uighurs were welcomed into the  region by the Xingjian government because of the cheap labor the Uighurs can provide in government’s awful factory conditions [3]. Currently, some of the restrictions the Uighurs face are:

“The numbers of Uighurs permitted to make the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca has been limited; Uighur government employees are forbidden from fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan; the political authorities appoint the Imams at every mosque, and often dictate the sermons preached during Friday prayers. Curbs on religious freedom have been accompanied by cultural restrictions. The Uighur language, written in Arabic script, has been steadily phased out of higher education, having been once deemed by Xingjian’s Communist leader to be unsuitable for China’s “scientific development.” Uighurs in Xingjian are often denied the right to travel outside of China, or even within it. Those who do manage to move to China’s major cities eke out a desperate living as migrant workers, often viewed with distrust and suspicion by the larger Chinese population.” [4]

In response to the riots, the Chinese government decided to deploy security forces to quell the unrest as well as detain the Uighurs–all of which were men–they deemed were “actively rioting.” [5] This measure prompted female relatives of the imprisoned Uighur males to protest on the streets, clamoring for their innocence and safe return. The scenes of the protests lead by the Uighur women were absolutely antithetical to the common Occidental view of Muslim women being entrapped in their households, being completely voiceless and helpless:

“As the women continued their protest in the road, they were met by several hundred military police carrying riot shields and truncheons. The police stood alongside four armored personnel carriers and attempted to push the demonstrators back. The protesters fell back, then advanced on the military police, who eventually retreated about 100 yards as a group of black-clad riot police advanced from the other direction.” [6]

Another profound image that emanated from the protests, which didn’t get as much press attention as Neda, was the image of an elderly Uighur woman walking towards x30_19588569the heavily-armed military with her crutches, pushing them back with every step she took. The event was similar to the tank man incident where a Chinese man stood in front of a large tank in protest of the Tiananmen square protest.

It was, undoubtedly, a shining moment for Muslims around the world, where they witnessed the uprising of not only Muslim men, but also Muslim women. However, the Western media outlets and commentators, relished these moments to criticize the Muslim world, particularly the Arab world, for falling mute on the oppression of the Uighurs. The criticism came after many Muslims in the Arab world took part in demonstrations in honor of the young, pregnant Egyptian woman, Marwa al-Sherbini, who was murdered in a German courtroom for wearing a hijab.

The background to this incident is summed up thoroughly by Muslim Matters.org:

“Marwa Sherbini, 33 and her husband Elwy Ali Okaz had been living in Dresden, Germany for Elwy’s scholarship at the famed Max-Planck Institute for Physics. While Elwy was wrapping up his 3-year scholarship, with his thesis due in the coming days, Marwa was raising her three year-old son. She was also three months pregnant with her second child. The horrifying chain of events began with a small but significant event. Last summer, Marwa had taken her son to a park and while there, she found a young German man on the play-swing. She requested him to give the swing up for her 3-year old. The man’s reaction was bitter, resorting to unprovoked verbal abuse– calling her an “Islamist”, a “terrorist” and worse. Marwa, unlike so many others who face this everyday across the world, did not stay silent, and with her husband’s full support, took him to court over the incident. A trial ensued and a District court found the German man (identified in some reports as Alex A.) guilty and fined him 780 €. The hateful Islamophobe murderer-to-be filed an appeal, and this hearing was being held last Wednesday. Here it is where the deadly assault took place. Just as Marwa had finished her testimony, the attacker moved across the courtroom and stabbed her – not once but eighteen times” [7]

After these two major events, the Western media did not focus their reports on the plight of the Uighurs, or on the rising Islamophobia in the West, which has induced the murder of Marwa al-Sherbini, but instead on the topic of why Muslims were so upset and angry at the latter case, than they were at the former. To show the contradicting nature of Muslims, Tarek Fatah and Mona Eltahawy, both part of the Progressive Muslims Union–which has capitulated due to internal administrative problems– and both supportive of the neocolonialist’s vision of the Muslim world, take the stage. Tarek Fatah writes an article entitled, “Islam’s Double Standards,” for the National Post in response to the perceived contradictory nature of Muslims. In his article, Tarek Fatah attempts to show that Muslims are not being consistent in their vociferous condemnation and their on issues concerning Muslims; however, he only focuses on Egpyt. He writes:

“It is worth noting that on Monday, thousands of Egyptians did come out in Alexandria to protest … but not against the Chinese government. Their anger was directed at Germany, where a racist hate-monger had murdered Marwa Sherbini, an Egyptian woman…The Muslim demonstrators in Alexandria shouted a bizarre chant to express their anger. There is no god but God, and the Germans are the enemies of God,” they screamed. The chant is a twist on the Muslim oath and declaration of faith, “There is no god, but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God.” [8]

There are many contentions one can raise from this obvious adumbration of how Muslims actually feel about this issue. For starters, throughout the entire article, he only mentions the Egyptian protests against the murder of Marwa al-Sherbini, and simply utilizes that event as to paint the entire Muslim world as mute. Moreover, he shamelessly entitles his article: “Islam’s Double Standards,” without ever mentioning or providing evidence if the double standards were present in other Muslim countries besides Egypt. Instead, he simply relies on the protests in Egypt as the paradigm of Muslim reaction around the world. If this is the fulcrum at which Tarek Fatah wishes to stand upon to make his arguments in regards to Muslim reactions, then he doesn’t have much to stand upon. One does not have to look to the Middle East to see a reaction, they just need to view the group that is being affected, regardless of location. For instance, in Turkey, there was a boycott [9]; in Japan, there were solidarity protests conducted by Uighurs [10]; in Indonesia, a country which currently has the largest Muslim population in the world, conducted protests against China’s actions [11][12]. Surely,  Tarek Fatah must have witnessed all of this?

Following the same path, not surprisingly, is Mona Eltahawhy, who writes an article for the Huffington Post entitled, “If only the Uighurs were Buddhist and China was Israel,” where she smears Muslims, especially Arab Muslims, for not responding to the Uighur oppression in the same manner the Palestinians are being oppressed: “That’s precisely the problem — the Uighurs are no Palestinians and the Chinese are not Israel. Many Muslims — Arab Muslims especially — pay attention only when the U.S. and Israel are behaving badly. Palestine followed by Iraq always take precedence leaving little room for other Muslim grievances.” [13] Mona herself doesn’t realize that the plight of the Uighurs may not be well known in many parts of the Muslim world, and possibly, many parts of the non-Muslim world. In fact, the Times, had taken the initiative to produce a brief history of the Uighurs, in order to inform the public about who they are culturally, and religiously, and where they migrated from [14]. Moreover, the Muslim world is beleaguered and occupied with a myriad of problems such as militancy, poverty, vote fraud, occupation, political upheavals, and incursions, to name a few; however, they still managed to organize protests against the Chinese government. Interestingly enough, Mona, like Tarek, does not pick up on this. Mona, however, does display some fairness in her article when she criticizes the U.S for also being mute on the issue mainly because the Uighurs aren’t Buddhists:

“Perhaps the U.S. State Department would issue stronger words in their defense if only the Uighurs weren’t the wrong kind of minority in a country that produces half the goods we use and which currently lends the wobbly global economy enough money to keep it just this side of total collapse. The Uighurs aren’t Buddhists but are instead Muslims and us Muslims don’t get much love these days. You’d think the U.S. at least would be paying a bit more attention to Uighurs after locking up four of their brethren at the prison camp at Guantanamo without charge for seven years. They were released earlier this year to Bermuda.” [15]

What Mona does not want to point out is how her fellow progressive Muslims—Irshad Manji and Asra Nomani- have failed to denounce the oppression of the Uighurs as well as the rising tide of Islamophobia which has caused the death of Marwa. Irshad has currently taken hiatus to finish her book [16], and Asra Nomani is probably focusing her efforts in promoting her recently-aired PBS film, Mosque in Morgantown (A critique of the film can be found here).

It is clearly evident that the criticisms on the muted response from the Western world on these issues have been redirected to the Muslim world, or in the case of these two commentators, the Arab world, which seemingly always constitutes the opinion, and the ideal paradigm of the entire Muslim world. Nevertheless, the much-needed attention on this issue is required in order to address and counter the blatant, overt, Islamophobia taking place the Western world, which not only threatens relations between local faith communities, but also with relations to the Muslim world. If these issues are not acknowledged and addressed directly by Western governmental officials, then they surely do not possess the right to criticize the Muslim world for what they conceive as a muted response.

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References:

[1] Andrew Jacobs. ‘At a Factory, the Spark for China’s Violence,’ New York Time, Jul. 15th, 2009.  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/16/world/asia/16china.html?em

[2] Ibid

[3] China Labor Watch Report, July 6th, 2009.  http://www.chinalaborwatch.org/20090706uyghur.htm

[4]William Vandervet. ‘A Brief History of the Uighurs’, Times, Jul. 9th, 2009.  http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1909416,00.html

[5] Austin Ramzy. ‘After Deadly Riots, Ethnic Tensions Heat Up in Urumqi,’ Times, Jul. 7th, 2009. http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1908969,00.html

[6] Ibid

[7] Ameena K. Khan. ‘Marwa Sherbini: The Hijab Martyr,’ Muslim Matters.org, Jul 10th, 2009. http://muslimmatters.org/2009/07/10/marwa-sherbini-the-hijab-martyr/

[8] Tarek Fatah. ‘Islam’s Double Standards,’ The National Post, Jul. 9th, 2009.  http://www.nationalpost.com/most-popular/story.html?id=1772626

[9] ‘Turkey Calls for Boycott of China’s Goods Over Violence in Uighur Region’ World Bulletin, Jul. 9th, 2009. http://www.worldbulletin.net/news_detail.php?id=44606

[10] ‘Japanese Protest Against Uighurs,’ New Tang Dynasty Television, Jul. 14th, 2009. http://english.ntdtv.com/ntdtv_en/ns_asia/2009-07-14/250822228860.html

[11] ‘Support for Uighur Muslim,’ Jakarta Post, Jul. 14th, 2009. http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2009/07/14/support-uighur-muslim.html

[12] ‘Indonesians Pray for Uighurs,’ Straits Times, Jul. 12th, 2009. http://www.straitstimes.com/Breaking%2BNews/SE%2BAsia/Story/STIStory_402153.html

[13]  Mona Eltahawy. ‘If Only the Uighurs Were Buddhist and China Was Israel,’ Huffington Post, Jul. 8th, 2009.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mona-eltahawy/if-only-the-uighurs-were_b_228125.html

[14] William Vandervet. ‘A Brief History of the Uighurs’, Times, Jul. 9th, 2009.  http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1909416,00.html

[15] Mona Eltahawy. ‘If Only the Uighurs Were Buddhist and China Was Israel,’ Huffington Post, Jul. 8th, 2009.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mona-eltahawy/if-only-the-uighurs-were_b_228125.html

[16] http://www.irshadmanji.com/im-where-you-can-find-me-this-summer

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