uighur muslims in china

Written by Muzamil Wasti 10:49 am Articles, Current Affairs, International Relations, Published Content

Uighur Muslims in China: Persecution and Forceful Assimilation

Uighur Muslims in China are subjected to harsh atrocities and persecution in order to bring them closer to a Chinese identity.
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Muzamil is a freelance writer with an expertise in global politics and international relations. He currently also works as a writer/contributor for Paradigm Shift. Apart from that, he loves to read and is socially active in philanthropic activities.

Human Rights Violations in China

Governments have an insatiable craving for human rights violations without which they merely stand a chance of subverting the popular loyalty in their favor. The threat perception generates from the fear of being impaled under the non-conformist views of dissidents. A similar train of thoughts runs in communist China, where Uighur Muslims are subjected to harsh atrocities in order to bring them closer to a Chinese identity.

Uighurs and other ethnic minorities of China are incarcerated into more than 1,000 detention facilities which, as the world sees, are the internment camps held to deter these minorities from practicing their religion only to accept and adopt the norms upon which Chinese glory has blossomed.

Apart from Uighur Muslims, who are of Turkic descent, there live other Muslims of Central Asian lineages who have been subjected to similar dystopian policies of Xi Jinping, the Premier of China Communist Party. Although Xinjiang is an ‘autonomous’ region, its freedom has largely been diminished in the wake of Chinese government’s repressive policies to de-radicalize Muslims living in this region.

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According to credible reports, more than 1 million Uighurs and other Muslim ethnicities are fed into these ‘re-education’ camps where the inmates are drilled to renounce their beliefs and put their faith in ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ rather than their sacred book, Quran. The social control in these camps often objectifies the existence of God, and to live there in peaceful coexistence or to graduate from these camps, God should remain out of their lexicons so that the only allegiance there remains is towards the Chinese leader and the state.

Xinjiang’s Uighur Muslims

The Xinjiang region is in the northwest of China that spreads over 17% of the total landmass, making it the largest region of China. With nearly 12 million people, majority of whom are Muslims, Xinjiang province is subjected to oversaturation with Han Chinese coming into Xinjiang and taking control of Uighur leaders.

This influx of Han Chinese, which is supervised by the government in Beijing, has changed the demographics of this region, making Uighur Muslims a minority in an area where pre-1949 they were the only people wielding their economic, social and political clout. When Xinjiang was conquered by Qing Dynasty in the 18th century, many Turkish warlords resisted the control of its resources, and even a campaign of East Turkestan, for a limited time, ran in this region.

However, for the last seven decades, Han Chinese have taken over most of the northern side of this province by setting up their own gigantic military colonies and industries, exercising their control on most of the industrial and agricultural sector. Leaving behind Uighurs high and dry, Han Chinese have not only dominated Xinjiang’s hospitals, police, newspaper and television stations but also taken control of the vast fields where cotton and tomatoes are harvested.

The separatist forces within Xinjiang showed their resistance to Han Chinese through riots, protests, and terrorist attacks including the one which took place in a market in 2014, rendering 43 dead. Chinese authorities reprimanded these attacks and replied in severe crackdown on Uighurs. Disappearances started occuring in Xinjiang in confrontation to those terrorist attacks. Many found their family members in the ‘de-radicalization’ camps that are built on extrajudicial terms.

Concentration Camps

Children are separated from their families and living as defacto orphans while their parents undergo proselytizing sessions in which they learn Chinese Law, Mandarin language, tit-bits of ethnic and national unity, hymns of patriotism, and deradicalization that supports the Communist Party and its narrative that without it, there will be no New China.

Alongside this detention program, which the Communist Party popularly flouts as the vocational and training program of the backward Uighurs, China has extended its already broad police presence and sweeping surveillance infrastructure in Xinjiang since 2018.

In order to track and monitor the lives of Uighurs in Xinjiang, the authorities introduced programs that focus on the literature that they read, content quality they use for communication, and the people with whom they socialize. Data extracted from these monitors becomes basis for people being sent to these re-education centers because through this data, intelligent information is collected and analyzed to weed out those individuals who are vulnerable to extremist thinking or abuse.

During medical check-ups, authorities often reportedly collect DNA, mount a GPS monitoring device on all vehicles and monitor all mobile and online communication. Due to such pervasive surveillance methods being adopted, Xinjiang is often referred as one of the most heavily policed areas of the world.

Along with maintaining such a heavy surveillance network, Chinese authorities had passed a Resolution on De-extremification in 2017 which has had religious implications for Muslims living in Xinjiang. This resolution rendered banning ‘extreme’ practices which include extension in the definition of ‘halal’; growth of beards to an ‘abnormal’ size; donned veils which cover the faces in public; and refusal to participate in cultural and educational programs funded by the state.

Also, no one is allowed to pray in public, while government employees are forbidden to hold fasts in the month of Ramadan. Schools are discouraged to use normal Arabic Muslim greetings. Sterilization is forced upon Uighur women which has resulted in declining Uighur birth rate by more than 60%.

China’s Justifications

All these measures to cull on freedom to exercise one’s religion are justified by Chinese officials by linking them to an international counter-extremism efforts, arguing that separatists have tendencies to join foreign terrorist outfits such as Al-Qaeda; and only by systematic social and religious control will they be able to instill elements of peace in these minorities.

Xi Jinping is satisfied with the treatment he and his party is imposing on Uighurs. Against this background, the Chinese government insists that education disseminated through these camps have enlarged the skill set which has proved helpful to score some disciplined factory jobs. A study by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) suggested that more than 80,000 Uighurs were sent out to work in factories across China under conditions which would not be wrong to call ‘forced labour’.

At least 27 factories in nine provinces became beneficiaries of this forced labour scheme orchestrated, apparently, to provide stability, economic growth and to reduce abject poverty that has crippled many into joining extremist forces in the region. Furthermore, the Government of China argued that with these centers doing their jobs effectively, radicalized forces are in a retreat which can be further justified by the evidence that there came to be no terrorist incidents at all in Xinjiang since 2017.

A Call for Help

Due to this grave issue, China has come into the fold of diplomatic scrutiny where polarized opinions exist regarding the matter, either to be concerned as an internal matter of China or as an international matter having global complications. In July 2019, twenty-two countries called on China to stop its mass arbitrary detention facility by signing a letter collectively on an international forum of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

They also demanded that China allow international observers to approach these centers and inspect the human rights violations. This was the first resolute effort to address potential prospects of Uighur genocide by China. Although United States who is considered as one of the stalwarts of human rights did not participate in this diplomatic appeal but its Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo termed this issue as “stain of the century.”

To confront this view of Chinese repression, 37 countries jointly came to defend China’s policies on the grounds that it is the right of every country to protect its sovereignty from terrorizing forces. Many of these countries have their vested economic interests with China despite having political systems which have largely been implemented on Islamic traditions.

Apart from that, the human rights record is not very appreciable in these countries either because they are often seen grounding their own opponents on security matters which, usually, are more political in nature. Hence, they use a similar lens to project Chinese concerns regarding Uighur Muslims.

To cap it all, the intent behind installing these miserable detention facilities is Islamophobia; the Muslim world continues to not bat an eye in spite of having access to a 403-paged report published by The New York Times that highlights how the Muslim community of China, especially Uighurs, are subjected to political indoctrination. Let alone condemnation, the Muslim world is patting China’s back.

The ultimate solution lies with the governments in the West to energize their diplomatic and human rights forums to take coercive measures against China while laying targeted sanctions on multiple goods that came out of forced Uighur labor. Muslim countries should differentiate between their economic concerns and human rights violations in order to strengthen Muslim solidarity and fraternity. A gulag should be trumpeted a gulag, not a ‘re-education’ facility.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article/paper are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Paradigm Shift.

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