On October 28, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted out a letter to his fellow Muslim leaders urging action in the face of “ridicule and mockery” of the Prophet Muhammad and “increasing Islamophobia in European countries where sizeable Muslim populations reside.” At issue is populist outrage at France where President Emmanuel Macron defended freedom of expression and France’s traditional laicism. Macron defended those freedoms in the wake of the beheading of school teacher Samuel Paty by a Chechen immigrant outraged after word spread online that Paty had shown a caricature of Muhammad in a lesson about freedom of speech. Khan’s letter continued to lament the suffering of Muslims “from Bosnia to Iraq to Afghanistan… [and] to Kashmir.” He continued to compare the desire by religious Muslims to ban expression criticizing or ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad with European laws banning Holocaust denial.
Khan’s hypocrisy is glaring, however, and ultimately diminishes the seriousness with which the international community can take Pakistan. For all his crocodile about disrespect for the prophet of Islam and his attempts to analogize the speech limitations he seeks to European laws against Holocaust denial, Khan ignores not only China’s involvement in perhaps the greatest episode of ethnic cleansing since the Holocaust, but also that he and his government actively enable it.
Just a couple hundred miles across the Pakistan-China border lies Kashgar, once the cultural capital of Uighur Muslims. The U.S. State Department estimates that China has imprisoned three million Muslims, some in camps within sight of the mountains of northern Pakistan. Chinese doctors forcibly sterilize Uighur women for the crime of being Muslim, rape others, and sell hair forcibly shaved from Uighurs to make wigs and other products, some of which are then transported via the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to outside markets.
If Imran Khan truly cared about Muslims and the honor of Islam, he would condemn the Chinese communist regime for its sustained campaign of cultural genocide. He does not. Perhaps diplomats could excuse Pakistani silence on the eradication of a millennium-old Muslim community next door in realpolitik calculations. But Khan has gone farther than that and actually endorsed China’s mass detention of Uighurs.
Khan’s hypocrisy runs even deeper, however. He laments the feelings of Muslims living in Europe, but presides over a system which destroys mosques belonging to the Ahmadi sect, kills Christians for alleged blasphemy against Islam, and celebrates murders of minorities in courthouses.
His hypocrisy extends to his condemnations of India’s move to end to Kashmir’s special status within India. Afterall, Khan has presided over similar moves with regard to Gilgit-Baltistan. What separates India and Pakistan’s moves, however, is motive. India responded in the wake of a concerted terror campaign which focused on Kashmir. Khan’s motives to undercut Gilgit’s autonomy appears more driven by his desire to appease China. If the status of Gilgit-Baltistan, historically part of Kashmir, remained indeterminate, then it could disrupt the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which must pass through the heart of the Gilgit-Baltistan administrative unit. If Pakistan instead asserts direct control, it can bargain on the region’s behalf as it pursues its own relations with China. Accordingly, Khan has not only ignored genocide against Muslims, but he has further subordinated a Muslim community inside Pakistani in order to comply with Beijing’s wishes.
Khan, a famous cricketeer with a larger than life public image, can seek to latch onto events almost 4,000 miles away in order to rally Muslims around the banner of Islam. If Khan were a true leader, however, he would recognize that the best way to counter so-called Islamophobia would be first to condemn terror conducted in the name of religion, whether outside Paris or in Nice or in Pakistani courtrooms. He might also recognize that the greatest threat to Islam is not in the calls of a leader like Macron who demands that all citizens, regardless of their religion, must respect the law of the land as they practice their faiths freely. Rather, Khan should realize the greatest threat is in the genocidal campaign against whole Muslim communities led by Chinese President Xi Jinping, a man whom Khan actively enables. Indeed, if Imran Khan truly wants to fight Islamophobia, he might look into the mirror because his own behavior endangers Islam far more than any European leader does.