Theodoros Benakis

Beijing trolls unleash Blasphemy on Prophet in China

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Author: Kubilayaxun
Entrance to a school in Turpan, a Uyghur-majority city in Xinjiang, in 2018. The sign at the gate, written in Chinese, reads: "[You are] entering the school grounds. Please speak Guoyu ["the national language", i.e. Mandarin Chinese]"

Wumao Army attacks Muslim Uyghurs’ religious sentiment

The Uyghurs are an ethnic Turkish group that inhabits the region – now named by the Chinese state the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region – for centuries. This region is rich in oil and natural resources and a critical component of the New Silk Road. The Chinese authorities consider Uyghurs – a 12 million population – a “cultural” and “national” threat.

Uyghurs believe in a moderate form of Islam. Nevertheless, the Beijing government applies a policy of discrimination and forced assimilation, promoting Han cultural values. This policy became harder under the rule of Xi Jinping.

The “new culture” that the powerful President of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has advanced has no place for non-Han subjects. Ethnic and religious minorities – such as Uyghurs, Kazaks, and Tibetans – are considered obstacles to Xi’s “one people” policy.

The Chinese social media often describe Muslims as extremists and terrorists, even though PRC nurtures close relationships with conservative Muslim states such as Pakistan, Indonesia, or the Arab Peninsula.

Islamophobia is among the methods the Chinese government uses to discriminate against and isolate Muslims and increase the support of the Han population for policies implemented in Xinjiang.

An invisible digital army, the 50 Cent Army or Wumao Army, assists the efforts of Beijing. It is the Chinese version of trolls.

In a totalitarian environment, where media freedoms do not exist, and the internet is under the total control of the Chinese Communist Party, this “army” of internet commentators, spreads disinformation concerning crucial issues such as Muslims, Tibetans, Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, or Taiwan.

Through posts on social media, the Wumao Army insults Islam and unleashes blasphemy on Prophet.

In a big expose, Muslims living in China has disclosed that Islamophobia is pushed as an accidental practice in Xinjiang and the mainland to strengthen the new Chinese cultural policy of Xi Jinping. There is a growing outrage among Uyghur Muslims against the new cultural policy of Beijing to suppress religion in the region. Weibo is used by mainland-based Chinese citizens to justify renouncing Islam. Many Chinese citizens expressed full support for the new cultural policy and agreed to wipe out the Uyghur Muslims from Xinjiang.

In this context, they exploit any opportunity to justify the new Chinese cultural policy and derogatory condemn Islam by using demeaning remarks against Holy Quran and Prophet.

China-based Muslims have done month-long research on this new cyber social practice and found that the users who introduced Islamophobia in most discussions are operating as Wumao 50 Cent Army. This group reads Quran and Hadees and interprets them in a derogatory way. Such content is then posted on Weibo along with misinterpreted references to create a psychological acceptance of Islam as a negative religion.

A country only for Han people

Xi Jinping is the first leader since Mao to serve as party chief for a third term. Xi created a centralised power, controlled the Party and the State, promoted a cult of personality, eliminated rivals, and imposed a totalitarian rule over society. His goal is simple and gloomy: a unified China inhabited by a unified people.

In Xi’s China, diversity has no place. Beijing wants to extinguish any local ethnic and religious diversity and is pursuing a policy of forced assimilation targeting Uyghur Muslims, as Muslims in Tibet and Inner Mongolia.

In September 2020, the Chinese President reaffirmed his commitment to Beijing policies in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region at a two-day party conference. “Practice has proven that the party’s strategy for governing Xinjiang in the new era is completely correct,” said Xi.

A policy of “cultural genocide” is underway.

The Uyghurs live under a quasi-total discriminatory environment that includes religious restrictions, economic exclusion, imprisonment, and absolute prohibition of any reaction. In some cases, the punishment is a death sentence.

[A report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that the Chinese government committed serious human rights violations against the Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region. PHOTO BY: WORLD UYGHUR CONGRESS]

As regards religion, the regime imposes dress codes that prohibit women from wearing a veil and men from growing a beard. Students at universities and workers in factories are also not allowed to fast during Ramadan. Mosques are systematically demolished. Even a state-approved version of the Quran is the only one allowed.

Uyghur families are the target of a brutal programme that separates children from their mothers and sends them to state institutions or to live with Chinese families.

Weibo Army: A digital Islamophobia

However, apart from widespread surveillance, indoctrination programs, and internment camps, blaspheming Islam has come out as a new strategy wielded by the Chinese over the Uyghur and other Muslim populations in Xinjiang and China. The uncontrolled trolling and detraction of Islam have crossed all limits, and this group of users made certain remarks that if made in any other part of the world, would have raised public outrage.

The Weibo Army assists the government in Xinjiang by spreading hate speech against Muslims, insulting Islam, and justifying Bejing’s discrimination. The Weibo Army consists, according to a Harvard University study, of state bureaucrats. Their numbers are between 500,000 and two million, according to estimations. What the Army does is distract viewers with pro-government posts and disinformation.

According to this recent research by China-based Muslims, one of the users, ‘Magada’, queried ironically whether the age of Prophet Muhammad’s wife, ’Aisha’, at the time of marriage was 6 or 9. Another user, ’Mochizuki_Fox’, mockingly replied that the Islamists consider a 9-year-old girl an adult. So Prophet did not marry a child. A third one, ‘I_love_newton123456’, confirmed the age of Aisha as 9 years old.

In another discussion, another user, ‘Landscape9327’, went too far and branded Prophet Muhammad as an ‘Alcoholic’ while further titling his life story as ‘The Legend of Wine & Prophet’. As reported by some Chinese Muslims in Xinjiang, Gansu, and Shanxi, condemning Prophet and Islam is now a regular activity in Chinese cyberspace, pushed as freedom of expression and individual point of view.

In a platform like Weibo, with content strictly monitored by the communist party, unleashing blasphemy on Prophet and Islam is considered freedom of expression. The same freedom is forbidden while commenting on the Communist party of China, said Erkin Omer (name changed due to security reasons), a Sunni Muslim residing in Gansu province. To some residents, this activity appears to be backed by the government to create a cultural acceptance where no religion is given priority except the CCP vision.

Such activities are not new on Chinese social media platforms, and it keeps on happening off and on whenever a controversy on Islam sparks in any part of the world.

In 2015, after the Charlie Hebdo attack, one user clearly stated that “Religion, has nothing to do with ethnicity. Our country’s religious policy and ethnic policy are 108,000 miles apart. No one stipulates that a certain ethnic group must believe in a certain religion.”

Imamhuseyn (Name changed), a resident of Shanxi, provided a comment screenshot of a user name, ‘Kunlun’, who quoted the marriage of the Prophet with Aisha and went to the extent of calling Prophet Muhammad a Pedophile.

The research quotes another Muslim living in the Gansu province, who stated that authorities treat Muslims as second-class citizens. Derogatory remarks against the Prophet and Islam and making fun of local Muslim’s faith, are widely accepted as casual activities.

He provided a screenshot where a user commented that “Islam should apologize to all mankind for inciting massacre on non-believers and quoted Sura 8.12 ~ (Quran 10:14)” to support his claim.

[People protest in favour of human rights in Xinjiang province, in Canada. FLICKR/FUTUREATLAS.COM/CC BY 2.0]

The complaints made to police and local authorities in this regard are not even registered. Local authorities gave confidence to locals over the years to speak negatively and to any extent about the Muslim faith.

Chinese authorities often quote an incident of October 2018, where a Chinese citizen in Xian has sentenced to 10 days of detention for uploading a video on Weibo of himself burning a copy of the Quran. However, locals have revealed that initially, no action was taken. As the news of the incident leaked to international media, Chinese authorities detained the culprit for only ten days, who he was later left free.

The Chinese Muslims have also conveyed that the Islamic minority in China is strongly concerned about Islamic nations, which they believe have failed to shake Beijing from its targeted crackdown on Muslims.

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