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HomeopinionGlobal Watch | Sinicization of Islam in China is genocidal

Global Watch | Sinicization of Islam in China is genocidal

Opinion

Global Watch | Sinicization of Islam in China is genocidal

The Chinese State is going full throttle for the Sinicization of Islam and the target is to completely erase religious, linguistic, cultural identities of Muslims in China

Arun Anand December 20, 2023 10:51:06 IST Global Watch | Sinicization of Islam in China is genocidal

(File) Hui ethnic minority men leave a mosque after prayers in Yinchuan in northwestern China's Ningxia Hui autonomous region. AP

Uyghurs, an ethnic minority in China who are predominantly Muslims, are inhabitants of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region (XAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Comprising a population of roughly 10.5 million presently (45 per cent of the region’s population), Uyghurs for centuries have lived in what is known presently as Xinjiang in China. Following brief independence (known as East Turkestan) during the 1940s, Xinjiang came under the control of the PRC in 1949 and Uyghurs were designated as one of the officially recognised ethnic minorities by the PRC in 1954 and the following year the XAR was established with Uyghurs then constituting a predominant ethnic group in the region. However, despite the official recognition, Uyghurs could not enjoy any significant political power. In fact, since the 1950s, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) initiated its assimilationist policy and encouraged the majority ethnic Han population to migrate to Xinjiang under the pretext of incentives and employment. Now Hans are 40 per cent of the population in XAR, forming the majority in its capital Urumqi.

Meanwhile, to have absolute control over religious institutions, the Islamic Association of China was established in 1953 to “manage Islam within the organisational structure of the CCP”, whereby religious clergy would be officially recruited. Henceforth, those who are deemed fit to disseminate the CCP guidelines get recruited under the garb of religious clergy.

These restrictions on Islamic practices under the PRC peaked during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). There were reports of mosques being destroyed and their conversion to CCP buildings, religious books and Uyghur-language books were burnt, Madrasas, Mazar festivals and Muslim cemeteries were shut down and wearing native dresses was prohibited. The Islamic Association of China was banned and all those who were practising religion were targeted by the Red Guards.

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Restrictions on religious practices underwent further state control and management following the 11 September 2001 attack in the United States. Through its rhetoric on security threats to fight “three evil forces” of separatism, terrorism and religious extremism, the CCP expanded its hard grip on the Uyghurs, linking Uyghur’s religious practice to separatism. This reached its turning point after the 2009 Urumqi riots, a result of ethnic unrest between Uyghurs and Han residents of Urumqi. Chinese crackdown on the Uyghurs intensified, including large-scale disappearances, imprisonment, and execution, along with a government-implemented internet shutdown in Xinjiang, a first in its history. With Xi Jinping assuming the political leadership of the PRC, new policies were adopted to maintain state control over religion. In 2014, Xi launched what he referred to as “People’s War on Terror” in Xinjiang, violating Uyghur people’s freedom, autonomy and privacy.

The Yarkand massacre of 2014 can be traced as the initial glimpse of Chinese genocidal intention towards the Uyghurs. The Chinese official narrative is that of a “premeditated terrorist attack on a police station in Xinjiang” with links with extremists outside the country who were pushing for the region’s independence. And the state security forces suppressed them. However, continued restrictions on Uyghurs during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan such as the house-to-house search campaigns by police forces to detect separatists and terrorists and conservative followers of Islam which is banned in Xinjiang, the detention of 40 women for wearing the Islamic veil, the extrajudicial killing of a Uyghur family of five in Beshkent Town infuriated the Uyghurs. They led a peaceful demonstration outside a local police station. The peaceful demonstration soon turned bloody due to the deliberate violent confrontation by the Chinese police forces.

Religious practices are controlled and maintained by the National Religious Affair Administration (NRAA) (formerly known as the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) of the PRC which looks after the regulations and legislations on religion. It works to “prevent and curb illegal elements from irregular and illegitimate activities by taking advantage of religions”; though not mentioning what “taking advantage of religions” really means. It should be noted here that Islam is recognised to be one of the five official religions in the PRC. This state institution essentially works to ensure that religious affairs are managed within Chinese law by the CCP maintaining control over religious clergy. Restrictions on religious practices continued following a relative period of calm in the 1980s. These restrictions began to be codified in a series of regulations and legislations, starting in 1994.

The Regulation of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) that came into effect in 1994 serves as the basis of the restrictions imposed on the Uyghur population, as witnessed today. Originally comprising of 33 articles, the regulation was further amended in 2014 (and came into effect in 2015), increasing the number of articles to 66. These are spread over eight chapters. Applicable only to the XUAR, this regulation reflects the region’s religious affairs under strict state control. The regulations guide religions to adapt to socialist society, prohibits foreign interference/involvement in religious affairs, monitoring of religious activities, ban religious home-schooling, requirement of religious personnel to undergo political education, prohibition of minors to participate in religious activities, banning religious clothing, restriction on religious content which is not in line with the official narrative of the Communist Party ideology and principles, to mention a few.

The amended regulations also added new sections on punishments for violators, reflecting the stricter nature of the regulations following the 2014 amendment. However, it is important to mention that the many provisions of the regulation are phrased vaguely, making it easier for authorities to charge Uyghurs with violations. The same year, the Urumqi Regulations on Religious Attire (2015) came into effect, banning Islamic veils, robes as a means to “stifle infiltration of religious extremism” and protect “China’s cultural heritage and its fine traditions”, essentially as a measure to criminalise religious practice. Massive state surveillance ensued across the region, including the introduction of police checkpoints requiring the Uyghurs to submit their biometric information (such as iris scans), blood and voice samples, DNA and facial scans to the authorities.

In 2017, in line with China’s Sinicization policy, the XUAR authorities enacted a new law that prohibits “expressions of extremification” through restrictions on religious dresses, dietary laws, customs and traditional practices. Another law was passed in 2019 to “Sinicize” Islam for the next five years aiming “to guide Islam to be compatible with socialism and implement measures to Sinicize the religion.” The latest law went a step further to have more political control over religious activities, making it obligatory for religious venues to show support to the CCP leadership and Xi’s “Sinicization of religion.”

With the Chinese announcing their intention to smash all “separatist activities and terrorists” in Xinjiang in 2017, unprecedented crackdowns on Xinjiang’s Muslim minority population followed. This caught public attention globally and resulted in the condemnation of China’s blatant violation of the human rights of its citizens and crimes against humanity. It has been reported that more than one million ethnic minorities have been killed, arrested and forced into detention camps/prisons, what is referred to in Beijing as “re-education camps”, like the one witnessed during the Cultural Revolution. In reality, minority people are subjected to humiliation, torture and political indoctrination in these so-called camps to make them “de-radicalised”. China claims this to be an effective way of “tacking extremism”, whereby, once de-radicalised, these people would acquire skills to be employable and contribute to the economy. The mass internment system has affected not only those subjected to the state crackdown but also the family members of those incarcerated, especially children.

As Uyghurs are being sent to detention camps, their children are separated from their families. They are forcibly transferred to government-run boarding schools. On the pretext of protecting the children “under difficult circumstances”, Chinese authorities are ensuring that these children have no contact with their parents or any family members. Meanwhile, once admitted to these schools, these Children have to undergo “special political education” with Mandarin as the only medium of instruction. This is a well-calibrated plan to erase the Uyghur language and cultural identity among children. China has successfully experimented with this in Tibet also.

Through Chinese laws and policies concerning family planning, ethnic and religious minority women have been subjected to draconian coercive measures for population control by the CCP. This has resulted in a massive drop of population growth of minorities since 2018. Thousands of mosques have been reported to be closed, demolished and Sinicised via the removal of Islamic motifs, Arabic writings and domes from mosques to make their appearance ‘Chinese’.

To sum it up, the Chinese State is going full throttle for the Sinicization of Islam. The target is to completely erase the religious, linguistic, and cultural identities of Muslims in China. This Sinicization policy is essentially genocidal as recognised in a UN report in 2022 that accused China of ‘serious human rights violations’ in Xinjiang province.

The writer is an author and columnist and has written several books. He tweets @ArunAnandLive. Views expressed in the above piece are personal and solely that of the author. They do not necessarily reflect Firstpost’s views.

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