Global Tuidang Center

GLOBAL SERVICE CENTER

for QUITTING THE CHINESE COMMUNIST PARTY

Present-Day Ethnic Problems in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous – Religion

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on google
Google+

Ilham Tohti |  ChinaChange Overview                                                        [caption id="attachment_3232" align="alignleft" width="300"]Ilham Tohti, economics professor detained in China and Elliot Sperling, a professor of Tibetan Studies at Indiana University (RFA) Ilham Tohti, economics professor detained in China and Elliot Sperling, a professor of Tibetan Studies at Indiana University (RFA)[/caption] Since the July 2009 ethnic unrest in Xinjiang, religious fervor within China’s Uighur community has been rising steadily. Whether in traditional villages in southern Xinjiang, among urban officials and intellectuals, or even on college campuses in Beijing, there has been a quiet upsurge in religious conservatism—and the percentage of youthful conservative adherents is at an all-time high. Some observers have noted that, during religious services at mosques, it is not uncommon to see young people praying silently, with tears streaming down their faces. This is a social signal worthy of our close attention. As an overt symbol of a people’s cultural and ethnic identity, religion comes second only to language; in the most extreme circumstances, religion can become the final spiritual refuge for a people. The two most serious aspects of the religious problem in Xinjiang are as follows: 1. First is the enormous backlash generated by strict government controls on religion. Xinjiang’s south is home to approximately 24,000 mosques, and each mosque has a designated religious leader supported by the government: one cadre per mosque, responsible for denying admittance to outsiders, youths, or regular worshippers beyond the allotted quota. Such stringent controls display utter disregard for the feelings of believers, consume vast amounts of manpower and resources, and arouse great discontent among the citizenry.  2. Second is the proliferation of underground religious activities, in marked contrast to the government’s failed religious policies of recent years. Ultra-conservative and xenophobic strains of religious thought imported from Afghanistan, Pakistan and other places are spreading rapidly in Xinjiang, and being disseminated via the religious underground. Increasing numbers of extremely conservatively dressed citizens attest to the popularity of this religious trend. In private, some Uighur intellectuals decry the new conservatism, complaining that Uighurs no longer dress like Uighurs, but like Arabs. Although Xinjiang has no shortage of Kazakh- and Chinese-language versions of the Koran, Uighur-language versions of the Koran are not available for sale on the open market. This distinction could easily incline people to suspect that restrictive government religious policies are being targeted at a specific ethnic group. Some years ago, the Saudi king sent one million free copies of the Koran to Xinjiang, where they circulated freely among the local populace. After incidents of ethnic unrest in 1996 and 1997, these copies of the Koran were recalled; these days, a pirated copy of the Koran sells for between 50 and 80 Chinese yuan on the underground market. Most Uighur intellectuals are wary of and opposed to extremist religious ideology. They recognize the contributions of Communist Party atheism and secular education in abolishing superstition, fanaticism and ignorance within the Uighur community. And yet the government’s current draconian religious policies in Xinjiang are repugnant to Uighur intellectuals, even to those most repelled by religious fanaticism. Causes Although the Chinese government is now much more tolerant of religious enthusiasm than it has been in the past, its long-standing adherence to atheism and lack of systematic research on religious issues means that, when confronted with issues involving religion, the government tends to find itself on the defensive. Specifically, when it comes to dealing with religious issues in Xinjiang, official disdain for the special status of religion in ethnic minority communities makes it hard to see where government promotion of secularization ends, and the suppression of ethnic minority culture begins. Particularly with regard to Islam, the government tends to oscillate wildly between confidence and fear—confidence inspired by the machinery of the one-party state, and fear fueled by a basic lack of religious knowledge. Since 1997, opposing “the three forces” [of terrorism, religious extremism and separatism] has been the paramount task of local government. Along the way, however, the policy of opposing religious extremism has morphed into a policy of opposing religious tradition and suppressing normal expressions of religious belief. Recently, Xinjiang’s government has launched a vigorous propaganda push on the dangers of religious extremism, and it is on high alert against religious extremism and its effects. Extremist religious ideology is certainly unacceptable: even from an Islamic perspective, it is a distortion of traditional religious thought. But government policy in practice all too often veers toward rigid uniformity: indiscriminately lumping the wearing of headscarves, veils or beards into the same category as religious extremism, for example, or banning men with beards and women with veils or headscarves from entering buildings or public places. These and other persistent infringements on Uighur human rights are, to a large extent, responsible for creating antagonism between Uighurs and the government, thus amplifying Han-Uighur tensions. While there is no denying that Xinjiang does indeed have a problem with religious extremism, it needs to be emphasized that extremist religious ideology has never dominated the mainstream in Uighur society, and its actual influence within the Uighur community is quite limited. More importantly, traditional Uighur culture has always displayed a marked resistance to extremist religious ideology. At present, the threat posed by religious extremism appears to be greatly exaggerated, both in government propaganda and in the public imagination. Enacting inappropriate control measures based on this flawed understanding will, objectively speaking, only drive people to embrace more extremist religious views. Moreover, when it comes to voicing criticism of extremist religious ideology, this criticism should come primarily from esteemed and learned leaders within the religious community, rather than from secular intellectuals speaking on matters outside their purview. And the minute details of citizens’ sartorial habits – clothes, beards, scarves and the like – should never be singled out for criticism. In order to understand the problem of religious extremism in the Uighur community, we must recognize the following key points: (1) It is of great importance to clearly define what is extremist religious ideology and extremist religious behavior; (2) The goal of opposing extremist religious ideology should be to protect and safeguard normal, everyday religious activity; (3) Within Uighur society, religion was originally closely tied to cultural customs and traditions, but now religion has been stripped of its status and deprived of its traditional authority figures; (4) Uighur society has lost its mechanisms  for moral grounding and cultural adjustment; (5) There are no normal channels for positive voices to make themselves heard; and (6) In order to protect their posts and perks of office, some officials are more than willing to burn the wheat with the chaff. Currently, Xinjiang’s coercive stability maintenance policies, particularly in the area of religion, are having a grave impact on the lives, jobs and mobility of Xinjiang’s Uighur population. If the government does not change its thinking and tactics with respect to religious issues, I fear that religion will become the single biggest cause of ethnic strife and social discord in Xinjiang. Thoughts and Recommendations The entire Islamic world, in fact, is being confronted with religious problems along the path to modernity. Turkey, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and other countries have found different and successful ways to balance religion and modernity. There is no shame in learning from their successes or adopting their methods of dealing with religion, in much the same way that China, in the early days of economic reform and opening, looked to the West for experience and guidance. Read more, ChinaChange]]>

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on google
Google+

Related

Recommended

Leaked Documents Reveal 610 Office Intensified Persecution of Spiritual Group in Recent Years

<!--?” He continued, “Look, Falun Gong still exists, the issue is still there. It must be done quickly, and must be done well.” The 2020 Plenary Session Reported on the Persecution of Falun Gong China’s highest prosecutor office reported about the persecution of Falun Gong during a plenary session held on May 25, as part of an annual political meeting when Party elite typically discuss future personnel changes and policies. This is the first time in five years that the CCP publicized its persecution of Falun Gong during this meeting. New President of China Law Society Deploys Persecution of Falun Gong On the morning of March 20, 2019, Wang Chen, a member of the powerful Politburo and vice chairman of the standing committee that oversees...

Read more