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Iran Hardliners Claim China Is Serving Islam By Suppressing Uyghur Muslims

Turkey -- File photo -- An ethnic Uyghur demonstrator wears a mask as she attends a protest against China in front of the Chinese Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, October 1, 2019

Iranian conservatives have been justifying the Chinese government's suppression of Uyghur Muslims in China and keeping silent in the face of systematic violence against Chines Muslims in Xinjiang Province.

During the past days two tweets by Ali Motahari, a former member of the Iranian Parliament, about the situation of Uyghur Muslims in China has stirred a lot of controversy among conservative political figures close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Motahari tweeted that the Iranian government has kept silent about the situation of Muslims in China because it needs China's economic support. He said that this silence has been humiliating for the Islamic Republic.

Meanwhile, Motahari accused the Chinese government of attempting to uproot in the Xinjiang Province of China.

Motahari's comment led to many reactions among the hardliners. Conservative lawmaker Mahmoud Ahmadi Bighash described Motahari as "mentally impaired" and said that he has always been "useless and still nagging."

Bighash further claimed that the Chinese government has no problem with Chinese Muslims.

Meanwhile, Mehdi Hassanzadeh, the economic editor of hardliner daily newspaper Khorassan also addressed Motahari in a tweet and said that "The Chinese government has a problem with Wahabi Takfiri Muslims which is a hardline brand of Saudi-backed Islam, otherwise, China has no problem with Islam.”

In another reaction, Taqi Dezhakam, a former columnist at the hardliner daily newspaper Kayhan said ironically that the ISIS is also full of Iraqi and Syrian Muslims.

Many other Twitter users who opposed Motahari used the same argument in their attacks against the former MP.

Motahari's critics claim that governments such as Saudi Arabia have made investments in Xinjiang and are planning to promote Wahabism. They claimed that if the Chinese government does not confront these groups, ISIS is going to spread in the region. They further believe that "China is serving Islam."

Ethnic Uyghur people walk in front of a giant screen with a picture of Chinese President Xi Jinping in the main city square in Kashgar in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China September 6, 2018. The screen broadcasts a slideshow of images of Xi on loop
Ethnic Uyghur people walk in front of a giant screen with a picture of Chinese President Xi Jinping in the main city square in Kashgar in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China September 6, 2018. The screen broadcasts a slideshow of images of Xi on loop

Such reactions are not limited to Twitter and have their precedence in the official rhetoric of the Islamic Republic officials.

As an example, the research unit of the Iranian state-owned television's external services said in a December 2016 report about the Chinese government's attitude toward Muslims in that country: "There are good Muslims and bad Muslims in China. The problems about Muslims in China have their roots in the pro-Saudi radical policies that follow radical Wahabi and Takfiri ideology."

The situation of Chines Muslims and the way the government violates their rights has been actively criticized by the U.S. and European governments particularly during the past six years. However, pro-Chines elements on Twitter argue that China is not against Muslims. It is against radicalism and ISIS.

IRGC-linked Tasnim news agency in July rejected talks about violation of Muslims' rights in China as "disparaging propaganda, lies and accusations." The agency defended "Beijing's struggle against terrorism and radicalism" and said that "China followed the best policy to defend human rights."

A recent report by a German researcher pointed out that the Chinese government has been sterilizing Uyghur women living in the Western part of Xinjiang Province to control their population.

Meanwhile, China has been keeping mainly Muslim ethnic groups in concentration camps. International human rights watchdogs characterized the practice as "genocide and crime against humanity."

Tehran's double standard is not without precendent. The Islamic Republic has been previously criticized for turning a blind eye to the violation of Muslims' human rights by China. However, the fact that these media outlets suggest that Iran should follow China's policy in this regard is quite new.

The reason for Iranian officials' silence in the face of what China has been doing cannot be just Tehran's economic expectations from China or the suggestion that China is confronting Saudi-style extremism.

The behavior of Iranian hardliners is so odd that it is not unlikely they would at one point portray China as part of the "resistance axis." This looks strange but it is not totally unprecedented. Last year, many reports in Iranian media including Mashregh news which is maintained by hardliners close to Supreme Leader Khamenei and the IRGC, asked China to carry out a joint military exercise with Iran and Russia in the Persian Gulf. Apparently, China was not interested.

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    Reza Haqiqatnezhad

    Reza Haqiqatnezhad was a well-known journalist in Iran until he left the country a few years ago and he is now a political analyst at Radio Farda.