Dec 27, 2019 - World

The world's Muslims are facing unprecedented repression

Illustration of a minaret on a foreboding background

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Muslim minorities from China to India and beyond are facing discrimination, mass internment, and even extermination at the hands of their own governments.

Why it matters: The global trend is rooted in the U.S. war on terror, inflated fears of Islamic terrorism, and the rise of authoritarian populism around the world.

Things have never been worse for Muslims who live as minorities in their home countries.

  • China has built concentration camps for over a million Muslim ethnic minorities.
  • Myanmar committed a "textbook" campaign of ethnic cleansing against its Rohingya minority, killing thousands and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee.
  • India just passed a citizenship law that excludes Muslims.
  • The United States continues to implement a travel ban that is separating American Muslims (and others) from family members abroad.

And, increasingly, there's nowhere for them to run. Many countries around the world, not just the United States, have put up immigration barriers specifically targeting Muslims.

The backstory: These situations have arisen partly for localized reasons, but also because of sweeping global trends.

  • The U.S. war on terror has led to other state violence against Muslim populations. In fact, Chinese President Xi Jinping explicitly cited the U.S. war on terror as justification for policies that resulted in the ongoing detention of over a million Chinese Muslims.
  • Muslims, always the top victims of Islamic terrorism, now face demonization in countries like Sri Lanka due to popular fears of Islam due to its association with extremist groups.
  • The rise of far-right populist leaders such as India's Narendra Modi and Hungary's Viktor Orban — as well as the election of President Trump — has seen these leaders whip up anti-Muslim sentiment in order to bolster their own popularity.

The Trump administration has at times supported seemingly contradictory policies regarding religious freedom for Muslims — implementing the travel ban while also condemning China's crackdown.

  • One of Trump's campaign promises was a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States." He partially fulfilled that campaign promise through his travel ban, implemented through executive order, that prohibits entry to the United States to almost all citizens of five Muslim-majority countries.
  • Trump has hired and promoted numerous once-fringe Islamophobes, including Frank Gaffney, Sebastian Gorka, and Pamela Gellar.
  • But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has referred to China's internment camps as the "stain of the century," and Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback has condemned China's actions as well.

The bottom line: It's a very bad time to be a Muslim in a country that isn't predominantly Muslim. And overall, the international community seems relatively unwilling to do much about it.

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