Is there place for Muslims in China?
Thursday, 23 August 2018 | Jai K. Verma
Many are apprehensive that the Chinese Government is determined to wipe out Islam from the country. It is instructive that petro-dollar rich countries are not coming out to condemn Beijing
There are no human rights in Communist China and it quells all types of protests ruthlessly but the protests related to religion, secession, democracy and terrorism are crushed more brutally. There are reports about oppression of Christians and other religions but the Government-sponsored repression of Muslims all over China especially in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is unparalleled.
According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Centre in 2009, there were about 21 million Muslims in China, which is more than 1.6 per cent of Chinese population and it is an important minority group in the country. However, analysts claim that Muslim population is much more and it is in between two to three per cent of the total Chinese population. Out of 55 recognised minority groups in China, 10 groups are of Sunni Muslims. Although significant Muslim populations live in Ningxia, Gansu and Qinghai regions, the biggest concentration of Muslims is in Xinjiang region. Reports suggest that there are only 36,000 religious places for Muslims and about 45,000 imams in the country and their number is fast-depleting. The Pew Research Centre also claims that the Muslim women fertility rate is at a low 1.7. Hence, the Muslim population is plummeting in the country.
Approximately, 11 million Uyghur Muslims live in Xinjiang autonomous region. However, the word, autonomous is misleading and there is no autonomy in the region. Thousands of Muslims are forcibly kept in detention centres and re-education camps. Human Rights Watch mention that 800,000 Muslims are languishing in these detention centres while Uyghur leaders residing out of China claim that more than one million Uyghurs are imprisoned. There were cases where both husband and wife were jailed and children were sent to overcrowded orphanages.
Analysts mention that Government agencies take large number of Uyghur Muslims to these re-education camps and brainwash them against Islam and its teachings. Communist ideologues claim that Muslim masses have to be re-educated as poisonous religious teachings have intoxicated their minds and it is essential to evict those teachings from their thought process. They further claim that re-education is not a punishment, and hence, no judicial procedure is required. Those selected for ‘re-education’ are kept in these camps till their minds are either numbed and/or purged of Islamic teachings and if required they are often sent repeatedly to these camps. Life is difficult in these centres — reports that beatings, torture and the withholding of victuals are commonly used techniques by the authorities to subdue religious-minded Muslims. Human rights activists assert that President Xi Jinping has adopted the repressive policies of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution.
In August 2016, Chen Quanguo, who was party secretary in Tibet from 2011 to 2016, was transferred and posted at XUAR. Chen was by all accounts a contemptible apparatchik and suppressed Tibetans mercilessly. His predecessor in XUAR Zhang Chunxianwas considered ‘too polite’. After his appointment, Chen started the repression of Kazakhs, Uyghurs and other minorities. He constructed numerous extrajudicial imprisonment camps and enhanced surveillance of Muslims through advanced technology including using the national DNA database and biometrics of persons in the age group 12-65. The number of police stations were increased and stringent regulations were enforced under which religious freedom was restricted. Chen started implementation of the “Strike Hard” policy, initiated by the Government in 2014 but was inactive in XUAR. Chen also issued a draconian “de-extremification” ordinance in April 2017.
At few places de-radicalisation and re-education centres are camouflaged as vocational training centres and even as educational institutions. A US-based non-profit organisation claims that the Chinese Government maintains the profiles of minorities and persecutes them on mere suspicion. Several ethnic minorities are prohibited to go abroad. Muslims are not allowed to eat halal meat. Storekeepers are instructed to mix non-halal meat in halal meat and if anybody asks specifically about halal meat, s/he is imprisoned. Muslims are prohibited to keep beards, mosques are being closed, keeping a fast during Ramzan is effectively a crime and in some well-documented cases Muslims are reportedly being compelled to sell liquor. Beijing’s critics allege the Chinese Government has surpassed the world’s most repressive regimes in putting restrictions on a religious group. The de-radicalisation camps and re-education centres are being compared by activists the world over to ‘concentration camps’. Mosques in Ningxia region are also prohibited theazaan (calls for prayer) and selling Islamic books is also banned; domes/minaretsatop of mosques are being removed and Arabic schools and religious teachings in mosques is barred.
The Chinese Government has also started a new practice from December 2017, which calls for Government officials to stay for five consecutive days in the houses of Muslim families every two months. During the five-day stays, officials ask questions about and closely observe the daily routine, religious practices and political views of the family. Officials also compel the residents to learn Mandarin, sing the National Anthem and ‘appreciate’ Communism. The five-day homestay programme is part of a larger policy under which the XUAR Government has sent 200,000 cadres to the houses of Muslim citizens to observe and make efforts to assimilate them into Han culture.
Chen’s solution to the problem seems to be to either ensure secessionist elements are either eliminated or forced to change their religious and political beliefs to accept the Government line. Chen has the full support of the Communist Party of China and President Xi who introduced a Sinicization policy in 2015 under which minorities were compelled to adopt Han Chinese culture. The policy will change every aspect of life of the minorities, including food, education, language, lifestyle, politics, religion, philosophy, culture, science and technology and even their value system.
Xi intends to integrate diverse nationalities and enforce a pan-China Han identity. This policy intends to obliterate racial, cultural and linguistic diversity. China, which is an ancient civilisation, has more than 290 non-Mandarin languages and it will be difficult to integrate all but the effort is on. ‘Sinicization’ includes assimilation and integration which critics allege is the cultural imperialism of China which it intends to impose not only within the country but also in other East and South East Asian countries under their dominance.
Religious minorities, especially Muslims, are apprehensive that Xi is determined to wipe out anything must state-approved Islam from China. It is interesting to note that petro-dollar rich Islamic countries, which are the first to criticise democratic, inclusive states for their alleged discrimination against minorities, are neither criticisingnor condemning these moves by the Chinese Government. Muslim majority countries like Indonesia and Turkey are also observing silence. Pakistan, an Islamic country which claims that its Army is “a follower of none but Allah”, does not react to these developments either. Why doesn’t Islamabad, instead of wasting time on raising the Kashmir issue at various international fora, raise its voice against Chinese oppression of Muslims in that country?
The democratic world needs to come together and think of a sanctions regime against China so it is compelled to stop these inhuman policies towards its minority communities. Why are Muslim countries, usually so vocal on issues of the rights of their co-religionists, unwilling to criticise China? For starters, the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) should pass resolution to force China to restore the human rights of Muslims in China, and if China does not respond, the OIC countries should stop trade with China. Beijing is committing atrocities on its Muslim communities in the name of curbing terrorism but the Chinese Government should punish only terrorists and not all Muslims. The world community should adopt a long-term strategy to deal with China and its hegemonic ambitions which apparently extend to establishing cultural hegemony.
(The writer is member, United Services Institute of India, and Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses)