A video showing parents sending their daughters off for a suicide bombing mission in Syria has become a top trending topic on Sina Weibo on Friday. The footage shows a man and a burqa clad woman with two girls, reportedly aged 7 and 9, saying their goodbyes before the girls leave to bomb themselves.
The video was spread on Twitter earlier this week. According to The Daily Mail (December 21), the video was filmed by the Jihadi father of the two girls, of which one is suspected to have blown herself up at a police station in Damascus on December 16. In the video, the alleged father of the two girls tells them how to carry out suicide bomb attacks and to praise Allah before they are embraced by the woman in the burqa.
The news was taken over by Chinese state tabloid Global Times on December 22 and was soon shared thousands of times on Weibo. The topic “Sending a 7-Year-Old Off For Suicide Bombing” (#送7岁女儿做人肉炸弹#) then became trending, receiving over 5,5 million views before Friday afternoon.
The trending news triggered discussions between Weibo users on the topic of terrorism and Islam. The main debate was twofold; many linked the problem of terrorism to the religion of Islam, while others defended the religion and called the terrorists the ‘rotten apples.’
“The Islamic belief has an inherent problem, and it needs to undergo a change, like Christianity did in Europe after the Middle Ages.”
The online discussions on the topic of Islam and terrorism have especially been surging on Chinese social platforms such as Weibo over the past two years. In 2014, China implemented several measures to keep religious expressions to a minimum after a string of terrorist attacks committed by Chinese muslim extremists.
Although China is a predominantly atheist society, there are five official state-approved religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Christianity, and Protestantism. Islam is thus permitted in China, as long as it conforms to state-approved principles. Instead of guaranteeing free exercise of religion, the Chinese constitution only guarantees freedom of religious belief. China has a muslim community of 20 million, of which the majority lives in the northwestern regions of Xinjiang, Ningxia, Gansu and the Qinghai provinces.
After the 2015 attacks on Charlie Hebdo, officials increasingly expanded restrictions on ‘promoting religious extremist ideologies’, and the ban on wearing burqa’s or ‘face masking veils’ (面罩袍) was legally approved. These events sparked debates on the cultural identity of Chinese muslims and their religion at large.
News reports from Europe and America, such as the Paris shootings, Brussels attack, Orlando nightclub incident, or the Cologne mass sex attack, but also political discussions such as that over the refugee crisis or the burkini ban in France, all became trending topics in Chinese social media and gave rise to discussions on the topic of the influence of the islam religion or the identity of muslims in China.
“They identify themselves through their religion,” Weibo users said about Chinese muslims: “They only identify themselves with Islam. But we identify them as Chinese.”
About the religion in general, other web users said: “The Islamic belief has an inherent problem, and it needs to undergo a change, like Christianity did in Europe after the Middle Ages. If not, Arabic society will not progress.”
“The rise of aggressive anti-Muslim sentiments on social media is a worrisome step in the wrong direction.”
In the fall of this year, The Diplomat reported on anti-Muslim sentiments taking over China’s social media scene. According to author Mu Chunsan, there is a surge of hostility on China’s social media toward muslims.
The author connects this hostility to an alleged fear of the Han Chinese, China’s main ethnic group that makes up 90% of the population, that their position as the dominant group might be threatened and that China will become Islamasized.
“The rise of aggressive anti-Muslim sentiments on social media is a worrisome step in the wrong direction,” Mu writes.
At the same time, however, there has also been a rise in Muslim activity on Chinese social media. Earlier this year, What’s on Weibo reported on the rise of ‘Weibo imams’ with verified accounts from which they post videos or microblogs about Islamic teachings to thousands of followers.
Besides online imams, there are also a myriad of other accounts on Weibo that support local mosques and propagate the Islamic belief.
The rise of both strong anti-muslim sentiment on the one hand, and an increase in online activities promoting Islam on the other, has created an online environment where heated debates on the topic of Islam frequently take place, especially after an extremist attack.
“There really is just no way to avoid becoming prejudiced about Islam.”
The trending video of the Jihadi father is another topic that has given rise to widespread discussions on Islam religion and terrorism. Many Weibo users express their shock on the video, feeling sorry for the children.
“What did these children do to deserve this? Terrorist organizations really have no conscience,” one user (@北方汉子的邮局) said. “This just makes me cry,” another person wrote.
“Is this called a ‘Holy War’? It is despicable, cruel and inhumane. I am happy we live in a peaceful country,” another commenter (@成利国际) replied.
Many other Weibo users discussed the religion at large and expressed anti-Islam sentiments.
“There really is just no way to avoid becoming prejudiced about Islam,” one person (@丁花狗他爸) said. “This religion is like a cancer,” another (@雪天宇瞻) commenter wrote.
“Is it not time for the world to declare war on muslims?”, one commenter named ‘Waffen’ said: “Don’t talk about political correctness, and don’t talk about terrorists being just a small group among muslims. This religion is an evil cult.”
But there are also many netizens, also muslims, who defend their religion and say that terrorist actions have nothing to do with Islam.
“Is this what Allah teaches you? Under the Islam flag, you bring shame upon the religion of Islam!”, one popular commenter (@我就是小懒蛋呀) said.
“The majority of terrorists are muslim – this contributes to an unstable society.”
One Weibo user (@产粮君) responds: “I’ve just spoken to a true muslim girl, and these sorts of [extremist] things really are in the Koran. But the Koran is not a doctrine, it is a wartime classic book, which is why it contains extreme content. For them, it is a historical book and the actual religion is not like this (…) It is a mistake to equate the Koran to the Islamic religion.”
Another female Weibo user (@脸蛋胖乎乎) says: “I study in the Southwest. My dormmates are Xinjiang Uygur, Ningxia Hui, and Qinghai Hui [Chinese muslim minorities/regions]. According to the comments here, my life is supposedly in danger every day. However, the fact is that I’ve been happily eating their local specialties for the past four years. I accompany them to the Muslim canteen to eat, and they don’t care about me eating takeaway pork. There’s good and bad people, don’t kill them all with one stick.”
“Don’t exaggerate, people. There are good and bad people within this religion, more good than bad. Nobody’s born with a passion for killing other, it’s how they were raised,” – one person (@草地长青) writes.
Many Weibo netizens seem worried about the connection between Islam and terrorism:
“These parents who send their children off as suicide-bombers also think they are respecting their religion. You muslims really contradict yourself! Let me ask you, don’t you support the terrorists who want to start an Islamic State in the name of Allah? Sorry, but I have no respect for your religion (..) that brainwashes the masses,” – (@草莓布丁星冰乐).
“The majority of terrorists are muslim, and muslims are all quite extreme – this contributes to an unstable society,” another commenter said.
“Wait, not all muslims are terrorists,” one person (@江南第一妖僧) sarcastically added: “The nephew of the 7th uncle of my neighbor’s classmate is a moderate muslim! Don’t discriminate them! There’s good and bad people.”
One of Weibo’s popular imams (Ma Guangyue) writes: “Muslims who hurt other people do not qualify as Muslim. Muslims who do not hurt others qualify as Muslim. Only those who are non-violent and help others are good Muslims.”
For many netizens, the debates seem to have a happy and simple outcome: “I am just so happy to be Chinese,” many say.
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