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Islamophobia: A Fungible Prop For Muslim Religious Soft Power

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Islamophobia: A Fungible Prop For Muslim Religious Soft Power


Submitted by James M. Dorsey

Think the Muslim world is united in opposing Islamophobia? Think twice.

Rising anti-Muslim sentiment in countries like China, Myanmar, and India as well as the West against the backdrop of increased support for anti-migration and extreme nationalist groups, and far-right populist parties is proving to be a boost for contenders for religious soft power in and leadership of the Muslim world.

For Turkey, Iran and Pakistan, supporters of different expressions of political Islam, Islamophobia provides the backdrop for attempts to position themselves as defenders of Muslim causes such as Palestinian rights in Jerusalem, the third holiest city in Islam, the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar, and conflict in predominantly Muslim Kashmir.

Absent from the contenders’ list is China’s brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims in its troubled north-western province of Xinjiang. China, which aggressively has sought repatriation of Turkic Muslims, recently ratified an extradition treaty that Turkey, home to the largest Xinjiang exile community, insists will not put Uighurs at risk.

By the same token, Islamophobia has proven a useful tool to influence efforts by men like French President Emmanuel Macron and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz to crack down on political Islam and shape the faith in the mould of Turkey & Co’s Middle Eastern rivals for religious soft power, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The Gulf monarchies advocate a vague notion of ‘moderate’ Islam that preaches absolute obedience to the ruler and is quietist and non-political. The two Gulf states have gone as far as legitimizing China’s crackdown and persuading the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to endorse Chinese policy as an effective way of countering political extremism and violence.

Economics and trade are powerful drivers for the Muslim world’s refusal to hold China accountable. But so are the brownie points that major Muslim-majority contenders for religious soft power garner in Beijing. Muslim criticism of the crackdown potentially could make the difference in pressuring China to change its policy.

Saudi and Emirati rejection of and campaigning against political Islam bolsters the rationale of not only China’s crackdown but also Russian efforts to control Moscow’s potentially restive Muslim minority. China may not like the propagation of political Islam by the Gulf states’ religious soft power rivals but values their silence.

Chinese Turkic Muslims is not the only issue over which contenders, including Asian states like Indonesia, irrespective of what notion of Islam they promote, stumble in their quest for religious soft power.

So is another litmus test of claims of a majority of the contenders to embrace religious tolerance and inter-faith dialogue that raises the question of whether contenders should clean up their own house first to give credibility to their often-opportunistic embrace of ‘moderate’ Islam.

Among the rivals, the UAE, populated in majority by non-nationals, is one of only two contenders to start acknowledging changing attitudes and demographic realities.

Authorities in November lifted the ban on consumption of alcohol and cohabitation among unmarried couples. This week, the UAE opened the door to the naturalization of foreign nationals.

The other contender, Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim movement, has begun tackling legal and theological reform of Islam with the encouragement of the government. The movement offered in October a platform for then US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to lash out at China’s treatment of Turkic Muslims.

By contrast, Pakistan, in an act of overreach modelled on US insistence on extra-territorial abidance by some of its laws, recently laid down a gauntlet in the struggle to define religious freedom by seeking to block and shut down a US-based website associated with Ahmadis on charges of blasphemy.

Ahmadis are a minority sect viewed as heretics by many Muslims that have been targeted in Indonesia and elsewhere but nowhere more so than in Pakistan where they have been constitutionally classified as non-Muslims. Blasphemy is potentially punishable in Pakistan with a death sentence.

The Pakistani effort was launched at a moment that anti-Ahmadi and anti-Shiite sentiment in Pakistan, home to the world’s largest Shia Muslim minority, is on the rise. Recent mass demonstrations denounced Shiites as “blasphemers” and “infidels” and called for their beheading as the number of blasphemy cases being filed against Shiites in the courts mushrooms.

Pakistan’s rivals in the competition for religious soft power have largely remained silent about the worrying trend, raising questions about the integrity of their commitment to religious freedom and tolerance as well as their rejection of Islamophobia.

Newly appointed Indonesian religious affairs minister, Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, a senior Nahdlatul Ulama official, is proving to be the exception that confirms the rule. Mr. Qoumas pledged in one of his first statements as a minister during a visit to a Protestant church to protect the rights of Shiites and Ahmadis.

Said Indonesia scholar Alexander R Arifianto: “Qoumas’ new initiatives as Religious Affairs Minister are a welcome move to counter the influence of radical Islamists and address long-standing injustices against religious minorities. He now has to prove these are not empty slogans, but an earnest attempt at promoting equal citizenship for all Indonesians irrespective of their religious beliefs.”

A podcast version of this story is available on Soundcloud, ItunesSpotifyStitcherTuneInSpreakerPocket CastsTumblr, Podbean, Audecibel, Patreon and Castbox.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is an award-winning journalist and a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore and the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute.


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Johnny B. Allan

This article is not based on facts first of all.

The muslim countries understand that the Uighur thing was a propaganda to block china during the trade wars it didn’t work and China herself is furiously denying Uighur wrongdoing and providing evidence and they are such a small minority they don’t pose threat to China so it doesn’t make sense targetting from geopolitical point of view or trade.

As for the Islamophobia in India and France these are legitimate cases which has only further made Muslims come to together and given them the necessary motivations they need but make no mistake the undergoing Islamophobia is waking up a sleeping giant who has largely forgotten about Islam himself as time passes by religions do as well but Islamophobia is doing the opposite it is entirely bringing back Islam by simply pushing them to make a grand return as the 1.number world dominant Religion as they were once

Tommy Jensen

The final battle. comment image


Saudi Arabia and UAE promoting a vague “moderate” version of Islam? If Wahhabism is “moderate”, “non-political” and even Islam, I can’t imagine what a political extremist version would be. Are you serious, guy? This perverted cult brainwashes the poor schmucks who follow it to such an extent that a father readies his two young sons for suicide bombing, helps them wear the vests and says I am more happy to send my sons to their god than if they were about to marry. Search for the video of the suicide bombers in Baghdad recently and hear what the lunatic says. His sons went straight to the hell’s butt#ole but unfortunately killed dozens in the process of killing their worthless selves and meeting their god, the devil.
But Bone-Sawman said he wants to grant women freedom to drive, so he must be progressive and moderate, right? And here we are, still waiting for women in KSA to drive.

And just for your information, about %1.8 of China’s population are Muslims which translates to about 25 million people. Uighurs at most are about 8.5 million of that number and from this 8.5 millions, China has problems with a very small minority who chose Salafism and Wahhabism as their religion and therefore became yet another tool in western governments’ toolbox of creating chaos and discord in nations they perceive as rivals.
China officially recognizes 55 minority ethnic groups of which, 10 are Muslims. Ever wondered why you never hear about the other 9 ethnic groups of Muslims in China? The largest are Hui (>10mn from 2000 census) which is about the half of all Muslims in China. Why there’s no “genocide” or “brutal crackdown” on them? Why there’s no “repression” on Chinese Kazakhs, Tajiks, Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Tatars, Dongxiang and other groups? FYI, many of these ethnic Muslims are categorized as Turkic, but by all means, let’s stick to “brutal crackdown” and generalize it to all Chinese Muslims.
Chinese leadership might not be saints, but they have no problem with different religions in their country. There are numerous pics, videos and articles about Chinese government help to its Muslims and Xi visits the worship places of all religious groups. Seek and you shall find.

Why don’t you ask yourself about economic growth in the very same province of Xinjiang which is higher than average in all China?

Maybe next time before writing, first familiarize yourself with the subject and don’t shove a CIA propaganda piece down our throats?

PS.I apologize to the readers. Going through this articles I reached a point where I decided against finishing it. That was my take on just 2 issues this article had and I have no idea if the author addresses them in the part which I left alone. If he did, the joke’s on me.


pity it is not finished…. it would be funny to see comment longer than article :)


This is very informative! To the gullible who thinks China is killing muslims… I am a Muslim myself but believes they’re taming the Wahabis before they become beasts.

Like you rightly pointed out! The biggest ethnic Muslim group are the HUI and so far we have heard nothing like repression.


“Saudi Arabia and UAE promoting a vague “moderate” version of Islam? If Wahhabism
is “moderate”, “non-political” and even Islam, I can’t imagine what a political extremist version would be”. Thank you for saying that so well.

Johnny B. Allan

I hate to break it to you but there is no such thing as Wahhabism alot of you folks see things online thinking it is something real. It’s like believing in Santa claus. You can go to all 206 countries in the world and search for a wahhabi you will not find a single individual because there is no such thing.

It is completely fictional. There is something called Salafi (Which translates to as the ancient) or simply as the followers of the ancient and taking on them will prove to be an uphill battle for anyone as every single muslim is expected to be following the ways of the original once the ancient ones.

Don’t ever make this kind of mistake because you will only embarras yourself and don’t read into to many trolls leaving un-informative posts thinking it is factual.

You made alot of effort into your post and I hate to see it go to waste but next time pay close attention and know about the people you are talking about and don’t mix things up when trying to explain about things


Possibly another CIA man accusing those who have a different point of view with being “conspiracy theorists”.
Do you write for John Brennan ? Maybe James Dorsey is your buddy.
Salafi also translates as ‘the original’, and has two recognizable schools, the Wahabbi, from Saudi Arabia, and the Muslim Brotherhood from Egypt.
While you may not recognize the Shia or the Sufi and other sects as being Muslim, they so see themselves as do those outside of Islam.
Johnny B. your sounding like a Pharisee.

Johnny B. Allan

Absolutely idiotic you think you know something but you know nothing. Abdulwahab was a scholar who never had a school of thought or anything. He and his followers were strictly salafi and don’t label themselves such while Muslim Brotherhood is not a sect it is a political group has nothing to do with religious practices.

Within the Salafi there is two sub-sects..

1. Madkhali

2. The mainstream salafi

Tommy Jensen

We are just trying to see who is who, between the head choppers/radicals and true Islam which have many good personalities.
As I read your post, all Muslims are Muslims and anyone who try to find the bad guys are idiots.


Knowing nothing beats thinking one knows everything, who is idiotic.
Respectful discussion yields understanding the foundation of Peace.
Within “Salifism” there are several teachers/schools.

or more detailed

Muslim Brotherhood is more than political, on that at a latter time.

Tommy Jensen

Its ok. But I think many now are aware of the CIA/MI6 infiltration, payment and training of the Uighurs and China’s pragmatic resolve of the situation.
Not many would have treated radical Salafi in an human way as the Chinese do it, re-education, re-employment, re-integration.

Contrarian Ken

Muslim leaders today are pathetic cowards, idiots and hypocrites. Like that Khwarezmian Sultan who provoked the Mongols into attacking and let them conquer and destroy everything. Like in that Hadith that says something like “the leaders will be the worst of the people”.

I see zero Muslim political or military leaders who are willing to stand up for the entire Ummah, rather than just their favorite sect or ethnicities or nations. They look the other way and pretend nothing important is happening, as if the Izraeli or Chinese leaders were honest and reliable Awliyas and not ferocious wolves at all. If Izrael/USA and China were weak like Chad it would be a COMPLETELY different story and they would be saying completely different things.

The majority of Muslim governments are anti-Islamic in practice, which is one of the main reasons there are so many Islamist groups desperately trying to change this. But they are failing because they are too stupid to use peaceful means and stop takfiring everyone.

Islam has been political since when, 622 AD? It might disappear from most of the world before it ceases to be political. What we need is a smarter, kinder political Islam. Secularism is just a disguise for atheism, plutocracy, nepotism and tribalism. There is no need for Muslims to keep driving down such a spiritual dead end, as if our Universal Religion didn’t have something better to offer everyone.

If the Islamophobes were smarter they would criticize Muslims for NOT following Islam, and they would promote spiritual interpretations of Islam with Quranic quotes. Instead they spread the same ideas about Islam as Daesh & Co., showing how similar they are to the “terrorists” they condemn. Small minds think alike. If I took the Islamophobes’ Quran/Hadith interpretations seriously, I’d end up killing random innocent people sooner or later.

Tommy Jensen

Good proposal. But the Islamophobism and salafi is created by MSM and the usual suspects.
It makes it difficult to claim spiritual matters against unspiritual people who are Western funded to be radicals.

Icarus Tanović

What kind of nonsence is this? Saudi promotes moderate Islam? Are you sane? They do promote moderate, but not Muslims but moderate headchoppers.
Wahhabism is the worst cancer the World has nowadays.
How about ethnic Chinese, who are Muslims? You kinda forgot about them.

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