Is America no longer the greatest Great Satan? While Iran’s Supreme Leader still froths at the mouth, the Iranian people has had enough with his hate speeches. Meanwhile, Al Qaeda is now spewing their spiteful rhetoric at someone else besides America for once. This week, the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula declared Shi’ite Iran a greater threat than either the Jews or Christians. But most intriguingly, Al Qaeda has also set its sight on a new, rising threat: China.
This past year, the Chinese government has cracked down on their Uighur population, a Muslim minority group several million strong. This brutal treatment of Muslims provoked a surge of angry reactions throughout the Muslim world. The plight of the Uighurs cuts particularly deep for historical and ideological reasons.
Historically, China hosts a long and storied Muslim tradition, beginning when the Caliph Uthman sent an emissary to the Chinese Emperor in 650 AD, only 18 years after the Prophet Mohammed's death. In fact,while touring Xi’an, I spoke Arabic with several Chinese Muslims in a famous mosque built in the early 8th century. Eventually, Muslims ascended to high positions of power, such as the renown Muslim explorer Zheng He. Thus for Chinese Muslims to be persecuted in the 21st century is especially bitter.
Ideologically, Chinese Communism (or Red Capitalism if you prefer) is nothing short of morally bankrupt in the Muslim point of view. The Chinese ideological system is founded entirely upon material wealth and the physical world. Islam, on the other hand, shirks physical goods in favor of the spiritual hereafter. After all, what is this life worth when the Garden is promised in the next? Worse yet, not only do the Chinese worship the false idol of money, they are irrevocably atheistic. While Islam sets aside a special place for the monotheistic faiths of Judaism and Christianity, Eastern faiths are utter anathema.
In comparison, the United States boasts five million Muslims citizens who share equal rights, expounds Islamic-friendly principles like freedom, equality and justice to temper the excesses of capitalism, and remains a deeply religious, monotheistic country. For every complaint Al Qaeda harbors against America – our abuse of Muslims, our worship of money and our general godlessness – China commits the same sins to an even greater extreme. Thus it is no surprise that Al Qaeda leaders have declared jihad against Beijing.
The ultra-nationalistic Chinese were likely taken aback by this declaration of universal holy war. The government in Beijing believes, as they only source of legitimate authority within China, that they have the political prerogative to treat their citizens as they please. Any international forces, whether it be Al Qaeda or the UN, have no business intruding upon Chinese sovereignty. But no matter how hard China strains to maintain their sovereignty, they will eventually have to accept that in a globalizing world, there is no longer such a thing as a purely internal matter.
This new fact of life will grow increasingly important as China seeks a greater economic role in the Middle East. According to Ambassador Chas Freeman, by 2020 China will conduct $350-500 billion in trade annually with the region (the U.S. currently does $70 billion). With an increased economic role, politics will inexorably follow.
I would recommend that all Chinese leaders (and you too) should read Michael Oren’s Power, Faith and Fantasy on the history of American foreign policy in the Middle East. As a new player in the Middle East, the United States originally enjoyed both popularity and trust. But as we grew increasingly entangled economically and politically, we inevitably lost our luster. China should take heed. Al Qaeda already has.