By Hamid Dabashi
22 December 2018
What is happening to Muslims around the globe? In China they are put into concentration camps, in Myanmar they are slaughtered en masse, in India they have been the targets of systematic pogroms, in Israel along with Christian Palestinians they are mowed down on a daily basis, in Europe and the United States they are subject to increasing demonisation and persecution.
The fate of Muslims in their own homeland is not particularly rosier. From one end of the Muslim world to the next, Muslims - in Iran, Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia in particular - live under tyrannical regimes, ruthless dictators, murderous military juntas, with their most basic civil liberties and human rights denied. In Yemen, they are being slaughtered and subjected to man-made famine by the Saudis and their partners - and if one journalist dared to raise his voice he is chopped up to pieces in his own country's consulate.
What is this? What is going on? What does it all mean?
Let's begin with China. How are we to fathom the criminal, vicious, atrocities of the Chinese authorities in their Muslim gulags? "If ethnic cleansing takes place in China and nobody is able to hear it, does it make a sound?" asks Josh Rogin, in a poignant piece for the Washington Post. "That's what millions of Muslims inside the People's Republic are asking as they watch the Chinese government expand a network of internment camps and systematic human rights abuses designed to stamp out their peoples' religion and culture."
The numbers and the very idea are staggering: the UN reported that more than one million Uighurs are in detention in "counter-extremism centres" and at least two million are in "re-education camps".
In another investigative piece, BBC reports: "China is accused of locking up hundreds of thousands of Muslims without trial in its western region of Xinjiang. The government denies the claims, saying people willingly attend special "vocational schools" which combat "terrorism and religious extremism". That "terrorism and religious extremism" bit belies the malignant intent of these camps.
In another report, we read, "Muslims forced to drink alcohol and eat pork in China's 're-education' camps." The same reports further add: "The psychological pressure is enormous when you have to criticize yourself, denounce your thinking."
These are not just journalistic reports. "British diplomats who visited Xinjiang," Britain's foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has told parliament, "[we] have confirmed that reports of mass internment camps for Uighur Muslims were 'broadly true'."
Myanmar Genocide And Beyond
Then we come to Myanmar. The massacre of Muslim-majority Rohingya in Myanmar under the watchful eyes of the Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has horrified the world but been kept apace for years now.
Since 2016, Muslim-majority Rohingya in Rakhine State have been the targets of Myanmar armed forces and police, which have been accused of ethnic cleansing and genocide by the United Nations, International Criminal Court officials, human rights groups, journalists, and governments including the United States.
Then we go to India. The roots of Hindu violent mobs attacking Muslims in India are of course as old as British incitement of communal violence to sustain their own rule. The list of systematic Muslim massacres is gruesome: From 1964 in Kolkata and 1983 in Nellie to 1987 in Hashimpura all the way to the Gujarat slaughter of Muslims in 2002, in which Narendra Modi, who is now the prime minister of India, was accused of orchestrating the violence.
Now look at Palestine: Muslim and Christian Palestinians alike have been the subject of systematic ethnic cleansing in their own homeland now under the occupation of the European colonial enclave of Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's son has recently said he'd "prefer if all the Muslims leave the land of Israel". Facebook temporarily banned the despicable thug from his habitual racism and deleted that call for genocide. But he was just airing what his father and other Zionist warlords have been practising for decades in Palestine.
Let's move to the other side of the globe: The historic xenophobia of the racist white supremacists in the US, the chief supporter of the Israeli settler colony, resulted in two major and many more US-led invasions of Muslim states in which hundreds of thousands of Muslims were slaughtered. When Americans freely and openly elected Donald Trump, he unleashed the most hateful campaign of terror and intimidation against Muslims in the United States. His infamous Muslim ban, sustained by the US Supreme Court, is the legal manifestation of this abusive treatment of Muslims.
In Europe too, the historic hatred of Muslims rooted in their version of Christianity have now reached epidemic proportions among racist, xenophobic, and proto-fascistic movements, best evident in the Brexit crisis but equally staged in the rest of Europe.
In Australia too, where Prime Minister Scott Morrison just recognised west Jerusalem as Israel's capital, anti-Muslim racists enjoy wide-spread support among xenophobic nationalists. He is in the good league of the notorious Australian MP Pauline Hanson who believes her country is about to be "swamped by Muslims."
But Muslims killing Muslims is not any less evident on the global scene. Saudi Arabia and its sidekick, the United Arab Emirates, have led a coalition of Muslim states to slaughter tens of thousands of Yemenis and drive millions more to starvation. Yes, the US and Europe are chiefly responsible for arming these Arab countries, but it is the Arabs who are pulling the triggers and dropping the bombs.
In Syria, it is first and foremost Bashar al-Assad (and his Russian and Iranian backers) who are responsible for the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Syrians and driving the rest to refugee camps in and out of their devastated homeland.
Yes, the US, Israel and multiple Arab states are equally guilty of the mayhem in Syria, but the net result is the massacre of more Muslims in Syria. Turkey's war with the Kurds amounts to even more Muslims murdering Muslims. In Egypt and Iran too, the ruling regimes have had no qualms maiming and murdering their own citizens in prisons or in the streets.
No doubt in each and every one of these circumstances one can come up with multiple and varied explanations as to what are happening to Muslims. One must make a distinction between the 're-education' camps in China and the Muslim massacre in Myanmar and the Saudi-led slaughter in Yemen, the incremental genocide Israel is committing in Palestine, and Bashar al-Assad's mass killings in Syria.
But the net result is the same; there is a pandemic of Muslim cleansing around the globe, what amounts to incremental and cumulative genocide, in part committed by Muslim rulers and despots. That pandemic needs urgent attention - perhaps even a UN-sponsored conference. There is no single cause but there is a field of hatred and Islamophobia in which Muslims as Muslims or Muslims as humans or Muslims as critical thinkers or Muslims as defiant agents of their own destinies are seen as the enemy that must be neutralised, pacified, killed, and eradicated.
The Centre and Periphery
The epicentre of this Muslim cleansing in its current gestation is no doubt the rise of Islamophobia in the US and Europe rooted in historic hatred of Islam and Muslims in the European context.
And this fear and loathing of Muslims is the extension and mutation of the historic fear and loathing of Jews writ large and rendered global. The pathological roots of Euro-American Islamophobia are rooted in their endemic anti-Semitism.
With Islamophobia, however, that European disease has shifted its target and become global in the age of globalisation. Since medieval European Christianity, both Jews and Muslims have been sources of fear and hatred in Europe. With the Holocaust, the European hatred of Jews came to a genocidal crescendo. With the writing of Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations (1993), Muslims have almost completely (but not entirely) replaced Jews as the civilisational other of the thing that calls itself "the West".
To be sure in between that medieval version and the current gestation we have the agitation of Muslim-Hindu hatred in India during the British colonialism.
In his book titled Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India, Nicholas B Dirks has demonstrated how what is globally coded as "the Indian caste system" was in fact the product of the encounter between India and British colonialism, when under British rule, the caste system became a stable term subsuming diverse forms of social formations. Even more so is the Hindu-Muslim communal violence deliberately exacerbated to serve the British colonial rule.
Therefore, the affinity between Hindu fundamentalism and European and US racism is hardly surprising. As Aadita Chaudhury has recently argued: "white supremacy and Hindu nationalism have common roots going back to the 19th-century idea of the Aryan race."
What is happening in China is also aided and abetted by European and US Islamophobia, which offer the convenient cover. The anti-Uighur campaign is framed in the Western language of anti-terrorism and deradicalisation. That religious bigotry in China is also underlined by an equally poisonous ethnic element whereby Chinese imperial arrogance is dead-set to consolidate a Han hegemony over all other ethnicised communities.
In manufacturing a robotic labour and consumer person, China seems determined to erase any sign of cultural or human resistance to its mechanical project, very much on the dystopian model Herbert Marcuse anticipated in his One-dimensional Man (1946). Any deviation from a servile human consumer that does anything other than manufacturing Chinese labour and expansion of state capital is a waste of time and must be eliminated.
That dystopian nightmare is now spreading around the globe with the speed and in the form of Western-style Chinese Communist party-inspired capitalism. Communism was not destined to be the end of capitalism. Capitalism was the end of Communism. That very sentence spells out the monstrous chimera our humanity faces today.
Hamid Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.