Today, the main problem of countries with a predominantly Muslim population is that they are ruled by dictators or autocrats who use the religion of Islam politically. The common feature of these autocrats and dictators is that they do not hesitate to exploit all kinds of religious values for their personal or family interests. These dictators and autocrats do not refrain from exploiting the religious sensitivities of their people, especially when they are trying to consolidate their power. Although they continue to do so after they have consolidated their power, the people are no longer able to understand this because they are in a deep sleep.
However, according to Islam, for a ruler to be the legitimate ruler of Muslims, he must also be the protector of them and the holy regions of Mecca and Medina. Today, although there is no caliph who is accepted as the head of all Muslims in the world, there are leaders who make this claim. It can be said that almost all the leaders of the leading Islamic countries have a dream in their hearts to become a caliph. However, for nearly 100 years, there has been no leader in the world who holds this title and is accepted by all Muslims.
It is possible to say that all these autocrats and dictators who present themselves as leaders and protectors of all Muslims in the world are not at the forefront when it comes to real crises. There is often a huge gap between their words and their actions. One of the best examples of this is the silence of these leaders on Chinese practices against Muslim Uyghur Turks in the region that China officially recognizes as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and historically known as East Turkestan. In fact, this timid silence has recently been replaced by tentative support for China’s policies. These autocrats, who for many years played the ostrich in order to maintain domestic power, have come to the point of openly supporting China’s policies.
The Uyghur Question
China’s East Turkestan, the Xinjiang region, is the homeland of the Uyghur Turks, who converted to Islam in the 1300s. The Uyghur Turks have achieved independence twice in recent history. The first example of Uyghur independence is the “Islamic Republic of East Turkestan”, which existed in 1933-34, and the other is the “Republic of East Turkestan”, which existed between 1944-49. China has put an end to both states. In 1949, the newly established Communist government in China took full control of the region.
After the Second World War, the Chinese forces, who did not want to leave Central Asia completely under Russian domination, occupied Urumqi on September 29, 1949, and took control of all of East Turkistan in 1951. The resistance movement launched against this occupation under the leadership of Osman Batur was suppressed and more than 100,000 East Turkestanis were killed by 1953. On October 1, 1955, the Chinese government announced the establishment of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
One of the five autonomous regions of China, the region is the largest autonomous political region, covering one-sixth of China’s total area, with an area of 1.6 million square kilometers. Nearly 1/3 of East Turkestan is desert (about 600,000 km2), 90,000 km2 is forest and the rest is arable land. East Turkestan, located in the northwest of China, with its vast lands and rich natural resources, can be called the heart of Eurasia.
The population of East Turkestan is estimated at 19.25 million. Among the 55 ethnic groups that make up 8.98% of the country’s population, the Uyghur Turks in East Turkestan are the most populous. Recognizing the importance of the region, the Beijing government has implemented a policy of relocating Han Chinese to the region in order to change the demographic structure. This policy has led to an increase in ethnic conflicts in the region. Today, the populations of Uyghur Turks and Han Chinese are almost equal. The Han Chinese population is growing at an average rate of 8% per year.
East Turkestan has always been important to China because of its natural resources and its central location on important energy lines and trade routes (the Silk Road). Today, as a relatively small minority in China, the Uyghurs have become an important element in China’s overall domestic politics, identity politics, and perception of national security. This situation leads to their oppression and human rights violations.
The Uyghur issue, which the Chinese government has long considered a domestic issue, has begun to attract international attention due to the massive detention of Uyghur Turks in internment camps and the increasing human rights violations. China’s refusal to implement policies that cover human rights violations, its attempt to explain the problem by referring to terrorism, and its indifference to the social, economic, and cultural dimensions of the problem have caused the issue to take on an international character over time.
The turning point of the intensification of today’s policies of China is the events that took place on July 5, 2009. On July 5, 2009, Uyghur Turks took to the streets in Urumqi and there were violent clashes in places. The Chinese Communist Party suppressed the events very harshly. Hundreds of Uyghur Turks died, thousands were injured, and tens of thousands were arrested. After these events, harsh assimilation policies began to be implemented in East Turkestan.
In 2016, the “being a family” project was launched in China. Family privacy was completely destroyed by forcibly placing a Chinese official in the home of every Uyghur family. In this way, the private lives of Uyghur Turks were put under surveillance, and any Uyghur suspected of carrying Uyghur culture was forcibly sent to concentration camps set up under the name of “Vocational Skills School”. The camps impose the love of Chinese, the history of Chinese civilization, Chinese dances, the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party and the country’s leader Xi Jinping. Allegedly, more than one million Uyghurs are forcibly detained in these camps. China categorically denies the “concentration camp” allegations.
Muslim Countries’ Approach to the Problem
Today, Türkiye and other Muslim-majority countries prefer not to take an accusatory stance against the Chinese government regarding Chinese oppression and human rights violations against the Uyghurs. In short, they prefer to bury their heads in the sand: See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Undoubtedly, the most important reason for this attitude is economic relations. These countries are trying to establish good trade relations and economic alliances with China in the East. The attitude of these countries stems from the need for Chinese investment at a time when Western capital is not enough and to reduce their dependence on the United States in the long-standing unipolar world order. In this context, China is becoming an important economic partner for these countries.
Türkiye‘s position among these countries is a bit more special, because Türkiye, whose people are almost all Muslim, has deep historical and cultural ties due to the fact, that most of the people of the region are Turkish. As a matter of fact, the harshest reaction to China for the hundreds of Uyghur Turks who were massacred as a result of the Urumqi events was given by the then Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, who called it “genocide” at that time. However, after China’s harsh reaction, the Turkish Foreign Ministry tried to soften Erdogan’s words by saying, “We are for one China, we were misunderstood. Erdogan, who stopped in Urumqi during his visit to China in 2019, affirmed that Türkiye-China relations preceded the problems experienced by Turks in East Turkestan, saying, “It is a fact that people in China’s Xinjiang region are living a happy life in China’s development and prosperity.”
The last two developments reflecting Muslim countries’ views on the Uyghur issue took place in 2022. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi attended the Foreign Ministers’ Council of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Pakistan on March 22-23, 2022, as the guest of honor. His presence comes at a time when more than one million Uyghur Muslims are in concentration camps in China. At this meeting, no issues related to the problems of the Uyghurs were put on the agenda. In addition, Pakistan, Iran, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Türkiye, Qatar, Egypt, and even Afghanistan of the OIC countries have detained or deported Uyghurs to China. Since 2017, more than 682 Uyghurs have been quietly detained and sent back to China by these Muslim countries. In this situation, the ironic presence of the Chinese foreign minister at the OIC meeting in Pakistan has exposed the narrow interests of Muslim countries. The crackdown on the Uyghur diaspora and exiles has exposed the double standards of the forum and revealed the CCP’s moves in the Muslim world.
Other developments regarding the stance of Muslim countries include the Arab-China summit and the China-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit held in Saudi Arabia on December 9, 2022. The King of Saudi Arabia attended this meeting under the title of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. The participation of the President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, in this meeting showed the importance that China attaches to these countries. It was the largest and highest-level diplomatic event between China and the Arab world since the founding of the People’s Republic of China. A day before the meetings, a “comprehensive strategic partnership agreement” was signed between Saudi Arabia and China. In addition, agreements were signed in 34 different fields worth $30 billion.
As can be seen, leaders who always seem to prioritize their Muslim identity when it comes to the economic and security interests of countries can close their eyes and ears to the problems of other Muslims in the world and refrain from raising their voices. As long as this hypocrisy continues, Muslims will not be able to have an effective presence in the world.
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