mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Beijing Steps up Persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang

The mostly Muslim Uighur population of China’s far-western province of Xinjiang has never had it particularly easy when it comes to practicing its faith. Under Mao Zedong, when religion was essentially forbidden throughout China, the state would go to extremes to suppress Islam—like force-feeding candy to Muslim school children to make them break their Ramadan fasts.

The bad old days of repression may now be coming back strong. Concerned about ethnic “splittism”, Beijing is increasingly resorting to tactics—some new, some old—to make it difficult for Uighurs to live out their faith:

Last year, the authorities started forcing low-income families to agree to abandon some Muslim traditions in exchange for social security payments. Forms posted on the internet show that some women signed a pledge not to wear the veil and not to receive veil-wearing guests in their homes, in exchange for receiving low-income subsidies for their families.

One middle school in Aksu, a city on the northern rim of the Taklamakan desert which has seen deadly sectarian violence in recent years, said it would step up propaganda for national unity and against “ethnic splittism” and ensure that “no teachers or students attend any religious activities” during Ramadan.

This is not a sign that China knows what it’s doing in Xinjiang.

Banning fasting and other Islamic practices is not going to build much support for Beijing’s rule in this restive province, which as recently as July 2009 saw racial riots that claimed almost 200 lives.

The free exercise of religion is among the most fundamental of human rights. For its own sake, and in the interests of simple justice, China needs to find a way to reconcile the needs of its government with the rights of its people. Suppressing Islam is not the way.

Students of international relations can learn something else from this policy. China is deeply worried about large, resource rich and thinly populated Xinjang. It sees the spread of radical Islam as the most worrying feature of a difficult situation. This has implications for China-Pakistan relations. If China thought Pakistan could or would provide serious help at smashing the networks that support Islamist opposition, there would be more interest in Beijing in developing a deep strategic relationship with Islamabad.

But China seems to believe that Pakistan is either unwilling or unable to provide these guarantees, and it notes that Pakistani support for anti-American terrorists like the Haqqani network shows Islamabad to be an unreliable ally. A Taliban dominated Afghanistan would similarly be, from the Chinese (and Russian) point of view a petri dish in which dangerous movements would breed.

For China as for Russia, the struggle against radical Islamic terrorism is a domestic as well as a foreign policy issue. Unfortunately, the kind of crude suppression that China is currently trying against all forms of Islam, however moderate and peaceful, will strengthen the radicals in China and abroad.

Features Icon
show comments
  • Luke Lea

    We in the West are informed (by our mainstream media) that China’s violent subjugation of Tibet is the big moral issue. But in China itself (and for those in the know) Xinjiang is on a par with Tibet both morally and politically. Peter Hessler writes well about it in his book Country Driving.

  • Cyclopps

    China is at the very least is trying to do SOMETHING about the social cancer that muslames are. We should take a lesson and pay attention to what the Chinese are doing or before long, we will end up like France or Britain.
    Get rid of the Petri dish and you will get rid of the problem.

  • Walter Sobchak

    the Han people can be arrogant and intolerant. When the try to suppress Christianity, my sympathies are with the Christians, and when they try to suppress Tibetan Buddhism, my sympathies are with the Tibetans.

    But, the only people in the world more arrogant and intolerant than the Han, are the Muslims. Until such time, if ever, as all Muslims are ready to stand up and say that all religions should be treated with respect by all Muslims, my sympathies are with the Chinese government.

  • Leo

    Isn’t this sort of rubbish what groups like Al-Qaeda were founded to stop? Where are they?

  • Gary G

    It would seem that the Chinese are only preventing the Muslims from preventing anyone else from practicing their religion and dominating everything with our own religion.

    It would seem that the Muslim should not complain until such time as they allowed people to practice ever on religion in whatever country they are and including Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and so on.

    The people who practice Islam are oppressive. They should not complain if people return the favor.

  • Lorenz Gude

    Communism and Islamism are both totalist world views. They cannot co-exist indefinitely. Islamism slept in Russia apparently for decades but when the domination of the state waned it reemerged. Is there a difference between Islamism and moderate islam? Well, yes – I know moderates, but they are silenced and marginalized by the raving totalitarians. Stalin moved or slaughtered whole populations, but the Chinese method, as seen in Tibet, is to settle the ethnically split region with large numbers of Han Chinese immigrants. That would seem to be an effective way to suppress Uighur ‘splitism’. As to the West, it is being colonized by immigration and does not even recognize it. To totalists, tolerance is weakness.

  • Raball

    Yes, the nice thing about the Communists is that they are willing to persecute anyone regardsless of race, religion or politics. The give the same brutal-handed treatment to those in Xinjiang, Tibet and other regions. Unless you are part of one of the phoney churches you’ll get it too. Speak out in their version of Twitter (the real one is banned) and you get a visit from a guy with a trunchon….Am I the only one who feels like this is Japan in the 30’s all over again?

  • Ghandigee

    For your reading list, see also “Limp Pigs and the Five Ring Circus”

    [Summary]…If the Beijing Olympics convinced you China is changing…think on this If it was, would China’s media police have tried to airbrush from existence every less-than complimentary reference to the Olympic facilities? If it was, would the government have introduced transparency legislation then ban the press from writing about it? If it was, would China have asked the author to help turn its propaganda machine into respected news agency then ignore all transformation advice? Seven years of broken promises and mental torture at the hands of the masters of the machine left Mark Newham seeking psychiatric help. Eventually he fled, convinced the system is in need of similar treatment. To those taken in by the great Changing China deception, he says this. Don’t believe everything you read about China. Change in the People’s Republic is the equivalent of turning your underpants inside out. It might look like they’ve been changed but they’re still the same pair of underpants….

  • teapartydoc

    In order to be successful, leftism, the Blue Model, requires a great deal of homogeneity in politics, culture, economics, well just about everything, and this homogeneity must be enforced. Diversity kills leftism. This is why we see false claims of diversity while a rigid conformity in political correctness and ideological consanguinity are the rule on our big box industrially designed schools and college campuses. The homogeneity is most easily enforced by attacking those elements of society that are least able to mount an effective opposition. This is the method the fascist Blue Modellers of Europe used as did their Communist Blue Modelling counterparts.

  • Joan of Argghh!

    Unfortunately, the kind of crude suppression that China is currently trying against all forms of Islam, however moderate and peaceful,. . .
    That’s the first lie. Islam is one. It is a world-dominant ideology, not a religion. It is at real and physical war with the rest of the world. It does not seek peaceful converts or harmony, it seeks one way and accepts no other, and only at the point of a sword or gun do they reconcile with the the “unbeliever.”

    I’d say the Chinese know EXACTLY what they’re doing: defending their nation from usurpers.

    Forcing children to eat candy isn’t exactly the same as suicide bombing them into submission. It’s not a lovely or laudable thing, but let’s have some modicum of correlation here. As long as the assumption is supported that Islam is a “faith” there is no way to combat it. Period. Talk it any which way you want to: if it’s a faith, and that’s the subtle beauty of well-crafted Lie, then you cannot take up arms against it until it first strikes at you. All well and good until their first strike is atomic.

    It’s all so reasonable until it isn’t.

  • Eric Blair

    I disagree that China “doesn’t know what it’s doing” in Xinjiang. It’s not pretty, and it sucks to be a Uighur there right now, but the goal is quite obvious; The Chinese gov’t is intent on changing the Muslim culture of the Uighurs to something subservient and amenable to the rest of China.

  • Karl Schmidt

    While I disagree on with what China is doing – it is interesting to note that the intent is actually positive. They are trying to unify the public – unlike both the Republicans and Democrats here working to split the public by giving special rights to special groups in exchange for votes.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service