How to Say ‘Islamic State’ in Mandarin

New Chinese-language propaganda seems to ignore Uighurs, the group Beijing says has the most terrorist connections.

Kashmiri demonstrators hold up a flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) during a demonstration against Israeli military operations in Gaza, in downtown Srinagar on July 18, 2014. The death toll in Gaza hit 265 as Israel pressed a ground offensive on the 11th day of an assault aimed at stamping out rocket fire, medics said. AFP PHOTO/Tauseef MUSTAFA        (Photo credit should read TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images)
Kashmiri demonstrators hold up a flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) during a demonstration against Israeli military operations in Gaza, in downtown Srinagar on July 18, 2014. The death toll in Gaza hit 265 as Israel pressed a ground offensive on the 11th day of an assault aimed at stamping out rocket fire, medics said. AFP PHOTO/Tauseef MUSTAFA (Photo credit should read TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images)
Kashmiri demonstrators hold up a flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) during a demonstration against Israeli military operations in Gaza, in downtown Srinagar on July 18, 2014. The death toll in Gaza hit 265 as Israel pressed a ground offensive on the 11th day of an assault aimed at stamping out rocket fire, medics said. AFP PHOTO/Tauseef MUSTAFA (Photo credit should read TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images)

On Dec. 6, the Islamic State released a slick recording of a Mandarin Chinese-language song glorifying jihad, in what seems to be a direct attempt to recruit Chinese Muslims to the terrorist group’s cause. “Awaken, Muslim brothers! Now is the time to wake up,” proclaims the song in Chinese. “It’s our dream to die on this battlefield.”

Although the Islamic State recording is -- horrifyingly -- catchy, it is unlikely to make it far on the Chinese-language Internet. The nation’s ruling Chinese Communist Party enforces strict online censorship, filtering in real time posts that it deems destabilizing or overtly critical of the government.

The Islamic State has targeted China on several occasions. In July 2014, Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi called out China as a country that oppresses its Muslims. In December 2014, the Chinese state-run Global Times reported that 300 Uighurs, a largely Muslim Turkic-speaking ethnic minority that mostly lives in the northwest Chinese region of Xinjiang, had left China to join the militant organization, though there is no way to verify that statistic. And on Nov. 18, the Islamic State announced that it had executed its first Chinese hostage, a Beijing native named Fan Jinghui.

On Dec. 6, the Islamic State released a slick recording of a Mandarin Chinese-language song glorifying jihad, in what seems to be a direct attempt to recruit Chinese Muslims to the terrorist group’s cause. “Awaken, Muslim brothers! Now is the time to wake up,” proclaims the song in Chinese. “It’s our dream to die on this battlefield.”

Although the Islamic State recording is — horrifyingly — catchy, it is unlikely to make it far on the Chinese-language Internet. The nation’s ruling Chinese Communist Party enforces strict online censorship, filtering in real time posts that it deems destabilizing or overtly critical of the government.

The Islamic State has targeted China on several occasions. In July 2014, Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi called out China as a country that oppresses its Muslims. In December 2014, the Chinese state-run Global Times reported that 300 Uighurs, a largely Muslim Turkic-speaking ethnic minority that mostly lives in the northwest Chinese region of Xinjiang, had left China to join the militant organization, though there is no way to verify that statistic. And on Nov. 18, the Islamic State announced that it had executed its first Chinese hostage, a Beijing native named Fan Jinghui.

But this new recruitment effort indicates that the Islamic State is not just interested in Uighurs, but in all of China’s Muslims, including the Hui, Chinese speakers whose features are often indistinguishable from the majority Han ethnic group. It’s unlikely this latest song is actually attempting to recruit Uighurs, many of whom speak Mandarin poorly or not at all, particularly those in Xinjiang’s rural southern regions.

Chinese authorities have put particular blame for extremist violence within the country on Uighur separatists, a group that has often chafed under what many feel to be the imposition of Mandarin on their culture and historic homeland. The Chinese government has sought to connect the simmering insurgency among some Uighurs in Xinjiang with international terrorism and more recently with the Islamic State. After November attacks in Paris killed 130 and wounded hundreds, including one Chinese citizen, Beijing called on Western powers to recognize Xinjiang, and recent violent attacks in several cities throughout China, as an important front in the global war on terror. Beijing has denounced the failure of Western countries to do so as a “double standard” on terrorism.

Outside observers and Uighur advocacy groups maintain, however, that the Chinese government conflates dissidents and separatists with terrorists, and Chinese authorities have not publicly released evidence establishing a direct connection between high-profile domestic attacks within China and outside terrorist organizations.

Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian is a journalist covering China from Washington. She was previously an assistant editor and contributing reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @BethanyAllenEbr

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