Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
E-commerce giant Alibaba has recently rebranded its travel service from Alitrip to Fliggy in order to win the hearts and minds of the growing number of young consumers traveling the world. Few people understand the rationale behind the name change, but it indeed caused a stir when a famous young Muslim entrepreneur Adili Maimaititure reminded Alibaba of the sensitive nature of the new name, which in Chinese means "flying pigs," and asked the company to reconsider the decision. His post on Sina Weibo drew heated responses on religious taboos and business practices.
Is the name "Fliggy" religiously offensive? It is arguably true that, as Maimaititure said, "Pigs are taboo for us." Islam is a religion that generally considers pigs as unclean.
But how offensive is it? And is it offensive to all Muslims, both moderate and orthodox? The answer to those questions is not that straightforward. A Muslim tour guide from Xinjiang
told Sixth Tone, a Shanghai-based English news website, that "some Muslims may feel strongly about the name, others might not care much about it."
Besides, there's no reason for Alibaba to choose to anger Muslims. There're some 1.5 billion Muslims around the world. It's more likely that the rebranding was solely a business decision and has little to do with religion. In response to the controversy, an Alibaba spokesman said the company "respects all religions and cultures, and values diversity and pluralism."
At the same time, those critical of Maimaititure may step back a bit and try to put their feet in the shoes of the young Uyghur entrepreneur from Xinjiang. As a Muslim, he's fully entitled to feel offended by the new name. He enjoys full legitimate freedom to express his opinion. Maimaititure suggested that Alibaba reconsider their decision and made a point by uninstalling the app.
Another point worth attention is the lack of constructive exchange of ideas on social media, which contributes greatly to the variety of opinions, but also sometimes unnecessarily exacerbates the tension between different groups of people. For example, instead of a respectful discussion, debate on ethnic issues is often marred with tons of offensive rhetoric on both sides.
Given the anonymous nature of the use of social media, comments tend to be made on impulse. The venting of one's anger and dissatisfaction in a direct and sometimes rude manner often fans the flames.
For instance, one post on Maimaititure deleting of the Alibaba app from his phone reads that Alibaba has successfully prevented any possible terror attack through rebranding. Such a comment, which indicates a connection between Muslims and terrorism, is hurtful and unfair, and only damages the relationships between Muslims and the rest of the nation.
All in all, most people probably agree "flying pigs" is not necessarily a perfect name for Alibaba's travel service. The company hasn't revealed the consideration behind the name change.
Big multinational companies often exercise a high degree of sensitivity in business decisions. For example, beef has never been on the menu since McDonalds opened its first store in India in the 1990s, given the special status of cows in Hinduism.
But our Muslim brothers and sisters may try to be less sensitive. As noted by an authoritative Islamic figure, Alibaba's rebranding has nothing to do with ethnic or religious affairs. "We shouldn't be so sensitive to everything, nor should we readily take things personal." Otherwise, he warned, there would be endless disputes.
China's Han majority could also be more mindful of the special practices of our Muslim brothers and sisters, as well as minority groups in China.
The recent violent protest in Indonesia against Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama for his dismissal of political attacks with a Koranic verse shows how volatile religious affairs can be.
It takes great efforts to build a harmonious society in which most of us can live peacefully with one another. But that harmony can be destroyed even with the mindless use of an improper phrase, as in the case of the recent Indonesian violence.
The author is a commentator on current affairs with China Radio International. firstname.lastname@example.org