India and China play political football with Muslims

India and China play political football with Muslims
Comment: Both Beijing and New Delhi are seeking to smear each other's reputation by pointing to their respective mistreatment of Muslims, writes CJ Werleman.
5 min read
23 Jul, 2020
Anti-Muslim sentiment in India's government and media is now rife [Getty]

Faced with a domestic catastrophe in the form of a deadly coronavirus pandemic, and a foreign policy crisis in the form of 24 dead Indian soldiers killed earlier this month by Chinese forces in the Ladakh region, the Narendra Modi Hindu-led nationalist government has never felt more humiliated and defeated during its six-year hold on power.

To divert attention from its criminally negligent mishandling of the Covid-19 virus, and to sate the public's desire for vengeance and retaliation against Beijing, the country's ruling party - Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - has launched a rhetorical war against China, and in cahoots with India's mainstream but right-wing leaning media.

"We want to hit China economically to make it realise that it will not be spared by Indians for killing our soldiers while earning money through its goods," said Vikas Chaudhary, an event organiser with Swadeshi Jagran Manch, a branch of the far-right paramilitary group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

In the past few weeks, a "boycott China" campaign has gathered steam, with the government responding by banning more than 50 Chinese-owned apps, including the globally popular social media platform, TikTok.

A war-of-words has since erupted between New Delhi and Beijing, which suits the Chinese Communist Party leadership just fine, as it too looks to divert internal criticism and dissent away from its failure to contain the Covid-19 outbreak, and subsequent economic downturn.

Strangely and perversely, however, the persecuted Muslim minorities of both countries are being used as a political football in this diplomatic back-and-forth, with both Beijing and New Delhi seeking to damage the international reputation of the other by pointing to their respective mistreatment of Muslims.

India's BJP has launched a rhetorical war against China, in cahoots with India's mainstream but right-wing leaning media

On July 7, India TV news anchor Ajay Kumar asked whether China is involved in the illegal practice of forcibly removing organs from Uighur Muslim detainees to satisfy demand for organ transplants. During the segment he also claimed, "China's Muslims do not enjoy religious freedoms."

While there is no disputing that fact, Kumar did not, however, make mention of the fact that human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have publicly condemned India for its own mistreatment of Muslims in India and Kashmir.

On July 9, India Today ran a seven-minute segment on China's Uighur camps in Xinjiang, or what was once East Turkestan. The piece, however, did not present anything that hadn't already been reported in the international media during the past two years, but only a recycling of previously reported clips.

India Today did not, however, make any mention of the fact that the Indian government has established its own network of detention camps in the state of Assam, some of which are designed to hold up to 3,000 detainees - people who have suddenly been stripped of their residency under a pair of laws designed to marginalize millions of Muslims as "foreigners" and "invaders".

In calling out China for persecuting its Muslim minority while enacting its own domestic Hindu nationalist agenda -one which makes no secret of its intent to ethnically cleanse the country's Muslim minority - the Indian government and news media's hypocrisy couldn't be made clearer.

"It seems like no coincidence that our media is sensationalising an issue that is a sore spot for China, a country that India currently stands at loggerheads with. It is an outright attempt to take away attention from our own problems - the mounting coronavirus cases, the long road to solving the China border issue, and our government's silence on whether China has taken Indian land or not," observes Kairvy Grewal for The Print.

Read more: India bans Kashmir Muslim religious gatherings due to coronavirus but Hindu pilgrimages continue

It's also worth noting that the media outlets criticising China are the same that are deliberately ignoring a recently published fact-finding report that found BJP leaders were responsible for "inciting" the anti-Muslim violence in Delhi, which left more than 50 Muslims dead over six days last February.

If irony hasn't died a thousand deaths already, then consider that China is verbally retaliating to India's growing anti-Chinese sentiment by condemning New Delhi's human rights abuses and violations of international law in Kashmir.

"China is always opposed to India's inclusion of the Chinese territory in the western sector of the China-India boundary into its administrative jurisdiction," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying in response to New Delhi's revocation of Kashmir's semi-autonomous status in 2019.

China, a close ally of Pakistan, has since become louder in its condemnation of India's moves in the Muslim majority territory because it not only provides it an avenue to attack New Delhi, but also atone for the damage its mistreatment of the Uighur has done to Beijing's reputation in the Muslim world.

China is verbally retaliating to India's growing anti-Chinese sentiment by condemning New Delhi's human rights abuses in Kashmir

If it were at all possible to stretch Beijing's cynicism and sinisterism any further, then consider that China's Han settler colonial project in Xinjiang may have served as an example for New Delhi to launch its Hindu nationalist project in Kashmir and beyond.

"The current Kashmir shutdown, and in particular the turning off of the internet and communications, is awfully similar to the one in Xinjiang post-2009 riots," James Millward, a professor at Georgetown University, told The Nation. "One wonders if Modi is taking a page from the Chinese book there."

What's clear is that current tensions between China and India are yet another illustration of the way in which persecuted Muslim minorities are used as a political football by hypocritical regimes around the world.

CJ Werleman is the author of 'Crucifying America', 'God Hates You, Hate Him Back' and 'Koran Curious', and is the host of Foreign Object.

Follow him on Twitter: @cjwerleman

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.