Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Islam in China: Religious Beliefs, Political Goals, and Equality

I've done a few posts on religion in China using examples of Christianity (see here and here) and Islam (see here).  One larger issue I've tried to highlight is that while religious expression is repressed and controlled in some ways, in other ways it is practiced openly and without fear.

A video (see below) by Al Jazeera English further highlights how religion, in this case Islam, can be seen as both flourishing and repressed in China.  The video is from a couple years ago just prior to the Olympics in China but I think it's still applicable today.  In particular it draws attention to a distinction of apparent importance to the Chinese Government -- the potential differences between a group's religious beliefs and its political goals.  Claims are made by some that the Chinese Government is primarily concerned about the "politics" of religious groups, in this case the attempt to make a region of China independent.

After watching the video, I could imagine a Chinese diplomat speaking to a group of Americans and trying to defend some of China's actions regarding Muslim groups by saying, "Sure, you allow groups such as Mormons to practice their religion freely.  But how would America respond if a large group of militant Mormons was intent on making Utah an independent country?"

A point made at the end of the video about the limitations Muslims face in China brought to mind some discussions I've had with non-Muslim Chinese.  When I hear the claim that Uyghur people, an ethnic group in China that is predominantly Muslim, are treated as equals in China and have equal opportunities I'll sometimes ask, "Do you think a capable Uyghur would be allowed to become China's leader?".  The discussion on the topic usually ends there with a pensive reply of "no".

On the side...  The video seems reasonably consistent with the stated goals of Qatar-based Al Jazeera English to "provide independent, impartial news for an international audience and to offer a voice to a diversity of perspectives..."  By those standards I've seen worse at times from American news organizations.  But the gap between the Al Jazeera English report and those typical for equivalent Mainland Chinese news organizations is particularly striking.  I would very much welcome a day when they are able to produce and distribute equally impartial reports on issues where their audience or the Chinese Government may already have strong views.

Here's the video -- I think it's well worth the 10 minutes it takes to watch it:

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