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IRAN: Are China's Muslims worthy of Islamic Republic's support?

July 12, 2009 | 11:04 am

China-urumqi

Although Iranian authorities were quick to condemn the killing of a Muslim Egyptian woman by an alleged racist in a German courtroom last week, allowing protesters to organize a demonstration and hurl eggs at the German Embassy in Tehran, they've been less than compassionate about scores of Muslims killed in western China.

"The United States is behind the riots in Xinjiang," said an analysis published by the official Islamic Republic News Agency, or IRNA. "Living conditions have improved for the Chinese Muslims. These riots have no religious aspect and they are just the outcome of a U.S. conspiracy. However, the Western media have exaggerated the events in Xinjiang."

The government's domestic critics have been outraged by its response. Already emboldened and angered by the marred reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, they have been quick to pounce. 

Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi demanded that the Foreign Ministry quickly condemn what he described as the Chinese government's "horrible" backing of "racist Han Chinese" violence against Muslim Uighurs. Here are excerpts from a statement by the high-ranking cleric, carried by the Iranian Labor News Agency:

The Chinese government seeks to describe what is happening there as a tribal dispute, but the worst clashes have erupted between Muslims and racist Han Chinese. The Chinese government's backing of the violent suppression of Muslims and the closure of mosques indicate that a conspiracy is underway against Muslims in the region. . . . Our people expect the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to not remain silent and adopt a stronger position instead of abandoning our Muslim brethren to their own fate.

Iran-sherbini The news website Tabnak, backed by conservative Ahmadinejad challenger Mohsen Rezai, carried an even sharper commentary, accusing the government and state-controlled media of hypocrisy in ignoring violence against fellow Muslims by a communist government:

When Israel was striking Gaza, state radio and television aired round-the-clock reports and analyses about the massacre of Muslims, but now only short reports are heard. . . . During the Israeli invasion of Gaza, nearly 1,000 died in 20 days -- or 50 per day. In China's riots, nearly 100 Muslims were killed in a day. Our government is silent regarding clear carnage.

The Ahmadinejad government's explanation for the violence in China has startled some observers, especially after the row it is continuing to make over the death of Marwa Sherbini, who was stabbed 18 times in a courtroom in Dresden, Germany, by a man identified as Axel W. But Iran also supported Moscow when it cracked down on rebellious Muslims in the breakaway republic of Chechnya during the 1990s.

According to the IRNA analysis, the West stirred up all the trouble in western China out of jealousy of the Beijing government's economic successes: 

Due to its unique features, the Chinese economic model has been a hard sell for the Westerns. The Chinese never respected the standards set by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and they did not tie their fates to dishonest Western institutions. That is why China was spared the spiraling East Asia crisis. That, along with other reasons, prompted the Americans to target the internal unity and integrity of China in a last-ditch attempt.

But some senior clergy have dismissed such convoluted explanations as not in keeping with Islamic principles. 

"Iran's Foreign Ministry should not remain indifferent, and it has to take a stance against the killing of defenseless Chinese Muslims in order to fulfill its Islamic and human obligation," Grand Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi-Golpayegani said, according to the Fars news agency.

"Muslims should condemn any onslaught on their coreligionists, and they have to offer sympathy to Muslims who may be Chinese, European or of another nationality," he said. "Muslim governments should not discriminate between Muslims in China and other parts of the world."

-- Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photos: Top, a woman and a boy belonging to the ethnic Uighur minority sit outside a shop as security forces march past in Urumqi, in China's Xinjiang region. Credit: Diego Azubel / EPA

Below, Iranians shout slogans during a symbolic funeral for Marwa Sherbini, a pregnant Egyptian woman who was stabbed to death in Germany, after weekly Friday prayers in Tehran. Credit: Atta Kenare / AFP/Getty Images
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