Material World: China’s Wild West

Chinese authorities this year imposed restrictions on Uyghur Muslims during the month of Ramadan, banning government employees and school children from fasting They justified  the ban by saying it is meant to protect the health of students, and restrictions on religious practices by government officials are meant to ensure the state does not support any particular faith. Along with government employees, children under the age of 18 are barred from attending mosques. For centuries, parents sent their children to maktaps, part-time schools at the mosque, where they memorised the Quran – but this practice, along with most organised religious instruction, is now prohibited. Under Chinese law, only state-approved copies of Islamic literature like the Quran are allowed. Human rights groups say it is an attempt at systematically erasing the region’s Islamic identity. This is not about atheism, but political control. Uyghur resentment toward Chinese rule has been reinforced by China’s policies of cultural ‘genocide’ on Uyghur identity, religious beliefs and practices.

Xinjiang has a majority Muslim Uyghur population – a Turkic ethnic group with a language and culture closer to Central Asia who scholars consider to be descendants of a mix of European and East Asian. Uyghurs are classified as a ‘national minority’ rather than an indigenous group—in other words, they are considered to be no more indigenous to Xinjiang than the Han, and have no special rights to the land under the law. The region is home to some of China’s largest deposits of oil, natural gas, and coal. Before the region was absorbed into the People’s Republic of China in 1949, almost everyone was Uyghur, but the numbers have since declined, dropping to below half by the year 2000, as tens of millions of Han Chinese were encouraged to settle by the government, who provided jobs, housing, bank loans and economic opportunities denied to Uyghurs. The same story as in Tibet, Manchuria and Mongolia. It is sad but in these instances there are only two options: assimilation or confrontation.

On 1 March 2014, a group of Uyghurs with knives attacked people at the Kunming Railway Station killing at least 29 and injuring 130 others.

On 18 April 2014, a group of 16 Uyghur refugees engaged in a shootout with Vietnamese border guards after seizing their guns as they were being detained to be returned to China.

On 30 April 2014, two attackers stabbed people before detonating their suicide vests at an Ürümqi train station.

On 22 May 2014, twin suicide car bombings occurred after the occupants had thrown multiple explosives out of their vehicles at an Ürümqi street market. The attacks killed 31 people and injured more than 90.

Such acts provided the Chinese government with the excuse for its propaganda that it faces a Muslim terrorist threat, in order to win public opinion both in China and the world and silence criticism of its neo-colonialism.

China claims that ‘Xinjiang has been an inalienable part of China since ancient times’, Xinjiang in Chinese literally means ‘New Territory’. The use of ‘East Turkestan’ by Uyghurs is criminalised. The Chinese Red Army occupied the short-lived East Turkestan Republic in October 1949 and pacified the people through executions and massacres. Tens of thousands of Uyghurs were killed in China’s conquest of East Turkestan. The promised self-rule was soon reneged on after annexation and the ‘Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region’ established in 1955. Chinese state corporations exploited the huge reserves of natural gas, oil, gold, uranium, coal and other minerals found in the region. What is more, China tested 45 nuclear devices, both under and above ground, between 1964 and 1996 in East Turkestan, polluting air, water and soil with radiation.

Chinese soldiers’ have been accused of extrajudicial and indiscriminate killings of Uyghur men, women and children. This systematic repression of Uyghur people and their subsequent resistance to it, has been described as a fight against ‘Islamic terrorism’. Moderate Uyghurs such as Professor Ilham Tohti and linguist Abduweli Ayup who had tried to work within the Chinese system were denounced and arrested. Others out of desperation have committed horrific acts of political violence against not only Chinese security forces, but also against settlers. The July 2009 Ürümqi riots were a series of violent riots over several days that broke out in the capital city of Xinjiang and targeted Han Chinese. A total of 197 people died.

This oppression is all the worse for being done in the name of socialism whereas socialism ‘will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex’.


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