The Islamic State (ISIS) has released a new nashid, or fight song, in Mandarin, hinting at ambitions of destabilizing China’s Muslim population through active recruitment.
ISIS’s new hit single, “I Am Mujahid,” is the first such chanting track released in the Mandarin language. Its lyrical content is not significantly different from its Arabic-language songs, praising jihadis’ desire “to die on the battlefield” and calling for the “Muslim brother” to “wake up” and “fulfill the last doctrine.”
“A century of slavery/Leaves that shameful memory/Deep in the ignorant slumber/Nightmare will continue on,” a stanza reads. The New York Times has translated the song in full.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has responded to the song with a statement, which expresses hope that they “can safeguard the citizens of every country through international cooperation,” with spokesperson Hua Chunying saying the song reiterates that “terrorism is the common enemy of mankind.”
The Wall Street Journal questions why the Islamic State used Mandarin, rather than the Turkic Uyghur language. China is home to two major Muslims minority groups, the Uyghurs and the Hui people. Some Hui do speak Mandarin, but the Islam they practice may be seen as heretical in the eyes of Islamic State Sunni terrorists for being too “moderate.” The Islamic State has made many propaganda videos showing the execution of Shia rafidi “heretics” and made clear it would not tolerate just any form of Islam, but Salafism.
Additionally, the Chinese government has courted the support of Hui Muslims, while limiting the practice of Islam in western Xinjiang, where most Uyghurs live. China has even paid for thousands of Hui to make the hijra, the mandatory holy pilgrimage to Mecca. Uyghur Muslims, meanwhile, have been banned from wearing burqas in public and fasting during Ramadan, and Uyghur stores forced to sell alcohol and cigarettes, both haram – banned by Islam.
Perhaps the leadership of the Islamic State is looking to expand its base of recruits. The Chinese government has said that up to 300 of its citizens have joined ISIS in Syria and Iraq, all ethnic Uyghurs. The ethnic group also boasts its own separatist group, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which many believe has longstanding ties to ISIS rival al-Qaeda. China has been asserting that ETIM has ties to al-Qaeda since 2001, and the United States has designated it a terrorist group, and the State Department released a report in 2013 asserting that the group has received “training and funding” from al-Qaeda.
Uyghur Muslim separatists are responsible for a large majority of the terror attacks documented in China:
According to the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database, over 48 terror attacks took place in China from 2008-2013. Among the more notable include the high-profile October 2013 attack Uighur terrorists conducted in the heart of Chinese power in Tiananmen Square, where they set their car on fire and drove into a crowd of tourists, killing two. More sanguinary attacks include last year’s massacre of 29 commuters and the wounding of 130 at a train station in the southwest Chinese city of Kunming by a gang of ten men armed with knives. A year later, this past March, knife-wielding attackers struck another train station, this one in eastern at the Guangzhou, killing 10.
Perhaps the Islamic State feels that, among the Hui, they will not have to compete with an established jihadist organization.
In its attempts to attract Chinese attention, ISIS has appeared to be seeking Beijing, not Xinjiang. Most recently, ISIS announced the execution of Chinese hostage Fan Jinghui in the latest issue of its official magazine, Dabiq. It noted that Fan was executed because he was “abandoned by the kafir nations and organizations,” along with Norwegian hostage Ole Johan Grimsgaard-Ofstad. In a video released in November, jihadists demanded that Chinese nationals begin paying jizya, the punitive infidel tax, to the Islamic State. Such a video was likely not directed at Muslim sympathizers.
How China will respond to increased prodding from ISIS remains to be seen, as it has yet to take on any significant military role in fighting the group in the Middle East. In October, the Chinese government announced it was seeking to fortify its military ties with Iran, a Shia nation with much to lose should ISIS establish a full-fledged state near its borders. China has also supported Russia in its alleged efforts to fight ISIS, though most of its airstrikes in Syria have targeted non-ISIS Syrian rebels fighting dictator Bashar al-Assad.