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Beijing Diary

How China is waging war against Muslims

Beijing has launched an all-out assault on what it calls separatism.

 |  Beijing Diary  |  3-minute read |   23-05-2018
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China has long been concerned by what it calls the “three evils” of “terrorism, separatism and religious extremism” in its far-western Muslim-majority Xinjiang region. More than half of Xinjiang’s 20 million population is Muslim, predominantly eight million ethnic Turkic Uighurs, as well as Kazakh and Hui minority groups. Since riots in 2009 that killed 197 people, Xinjiang has seen intermittent violence that Beijing blames on Uighur separatists.

With the appointment of a new hardline party chief in 2016 — Chen Quanguo, who was responsible for a sweeping security clampdown in his prior post in Tibet — Beijing has now appeared to launch an all-out assault on what it calls separatism, but what has now swept up tens of thousands of ordinary Uighurs in an unprecedented crackdown.

The scale is terrifying and unprecedented for a minority group in any country. Chen has supervised the setting up of a massive network of “re-education” centres across Xinjiang. According to one European researcher, at this very moment, “at least several hundred thousand, and possibly just over one million, are or have been interned in political re-education facilities”.

That means one out of every eight Uighurs has likely been taken in forcibly into one of these centres. The crackdown has focused on young Uighur men, so if you’re a male and between the age of 20 and 40, the odds are that you will find yourself locked up in a centre.

The magnitude is indeed stupefying. Analysing information “from 73 government procurement and construction bids valued at around RMB 680 million (approximately $108 million),” Adrian Zenz, a researcher at the European School of Culture and Theology, wrote in a paper that the bids revealed a massive plan to build these huge centres, concentrating on Muslim-majority areas.

Life inside these centres is terrifying, according to rare accounts of those who have been able to leave and speak to the media. This doesn’t apply to most of China’s citizens, who would face repercussions from speaking out. One such account came from a Kazakh national who was swept up into one centre, and then returned to Kazakhstan.

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Speaking to the Associated Press, Omir Bekali, who was locked up in March 2017, said he was accused of running a travel agency that the government said was allowing citizens to leave illegally. But there was no court case or trial or investigation.

He couldn’t call his parents or a lawyer, and was held in a tiny cell for months. “There, they strapped him into a "tiger chair", a device that clamped down his wrists and ankles. They also hung him by his wrists against a barred wall, just high enough so he would feel excruciating pressure in his shoulder unless he stood on the balls of his bare feet,” the report said.

He was transferred to a re-education centre that held more than 1000 people. Before every meal, inmates were forced to chant: “Thank the Party! Thank the Motherland! Thank President Xi!”

Daily brainwashing sessions were held “about the dangers of Islam”. “Do you obey Chinese law or Shar’iah?” instructors asked. “Do you understand why religion is dangerous?” Other prisoners “were forced to apologise for wearing long clothes in Muslim style, praying, teaching the Quran to their children and asking imams to name their children.”

“Praying at a mosque on any day other than Friday was a sign of extremism; so was attending Friday prayers outside their village or having Quranic verses or graphics on their phones.”

Zenz said that “China’s pacification drive in Xinjiang is, more than likely, the country’s most intense campaign of coercive social re-engineering since the end of the Cultural Revolution. The state’s “war on terror” is arguably more and more a euphemism for forced ethnic assimilation,” he said.

Given China’s growing international influence and economic ties with West Asia, there has been little outcry about this war on Islam. Especially from “all weather” ally Pakistan, which lambasts India over Jammu & Kashmir, the silence on Xinjiang is deafening.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

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Ananth Krishnan Ananth Krishnan @ananthkrishnan

The writer is China correspondent for India Today.

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