What China Doesn’t Want Others to Know
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Date: Sun Jul 12, 2009 5:17 am ((PDT))
Uighur Muslims Uprisings
By Latheef Farook
Violence erupted between the native Muslims and the Hans Chinese migrant settlers on Sunday July 5 in the Western Xingjian's predominantly Muslim region of Uighur where the people's struggle for political and religious freedom has been suppressed for long by the Chinese authorities.
Within five days 156 people, mostly Uighur Muslims were killed in the city of Urumqi where the authorities ordered the closure of mosques for prayers last Friday. Defying the order some mosques opened their doors after worshippers gathered.
In view of the seriousness of the situation Chinese President Hu Jintao left the G8 summit in Italy last week to deal with the crisis which China accuses US based Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer of being behind .
China's vast and strategically important Xinjiang region, once called Eastern Turkistan, has been the home for ethnically Turkic Uihgur Muslims who speak a language akin to Turkish. Uihgurs, who ruled the Silk Road cities, have lived in the region for more than four millennia and played an important role in the cultural and mercantile exchanges between the East and West.
Uighur has been an integral part of the history of Central Asia for centuries. In 1759 the Manchur rulers, invaded and incorporated Uighur into China and named it as Xingjian Uighur Autonomous Region which the Uighur Muslims resented from the very inception.
Xinjian, rich in mineral resources, including 38 percent of coal reserves and 25 percent of the petroleum and natural gas reserves, is China's largest province accounting for 16 percent of the landmass. Though home to only 1.6 percent of the population, this region has tremendous strategic significance for China, which conducts nuclear tests at the Lop Nor range. As a policy, both former Soviet Union and China always used Muslim populated areas for their nuclear tests despite the fallout, resulting in the wide-scale contamination of water sources and land causing large number of cancer cases, congenital birth defects and numerous other related diseases among the Uihgur population.
Despite the mineral wealth, more than ninety percent of local Muslims live below poverty line .Their pleas to improve their conditions fell on deaf ears of Beijing, forcing Uighurs to resort to armed struggle for independence soon after the Red Army occupied the area in 1949. However, Chairman Mao Tse-Tung crushed the Muslim freedom struggle and designed an aggressive population transfer policy under which Hans Chinese were brought in from far away places and settled in the midst of Muslims in Uighur.
As a result, there has been a rapid growth of the Han Chinese community in Xingjian - from an original six percent in 1949, to forty percent in 1978 turning the Uighurs into second-class. Beijing's policy of ethnic flooding is similar to what was employed in Tibet and in most cities, the ratio between the Uighur and Han populations has gone from being 9:1 to 1:9. China gives preference in employment and the best jobs to ethnic Han Chinese migrants benefited most by the money China pours into the province for investment. Han enterprises also exercise a monopoly on most of the area's scarce resources.
Inevitably, Muslims resisted resulting in the growing animosity between the two communities. A group of Han children gathered near a statue of Chinese revolutionary Wang Zhen was once asked why he was considered a hero. The answer: "because he killed many Uihgurs" from a ten year old is perhaps somewhat indicative of the feelings of the Han colonialists toward the indigenous Uighurs.
This growing rift took a new turn with the emergence of independent Central Asian Republics across the border in the aftermath of the dissolution of the former Soviet Union. Encouraged by the changes in the Central Asian neighbours, Uighur Muslims too started intensifying their demand for political and religious rights. The Chinese authorities responded by subjecting Uighur Muslims to unbelievable oppression and torture besides executing a number of people linked to Muslim resistance.
The result was violent opposition to Chinese rule and there were frequent reports of arrests, trial and execution of "ethnic splittists" as the Chinese call them. Even peaceful protests have been met with excessive force. Chinese leaders adopted `iron fist' policy and even signed agreements with Central Asian countries to gain their cooperation to crush the Muslim separatist struggle.
According to Germany-based Eastern Turkistan Information Centre, Beijing tried to exploit the United States led war on terrorism in the aftermath of the September 11 events in New York by insisting that Muslim freedom fighters in Xingjian as terrorists. Beijing arrests Uihgur Muslims in large numbers, concludes trials within days, often resulting in death sentence executed on the same day. The Uighurs are now "afraid to talk, not just to foreigners, but even to each other".
Nevertheless, rejecting a direct link between its own so called anti-terrorism campaign and the crackdown in Xingjian, the United States stated that it does not consider Uighur separatists to be terrorists.
Islam, inextricably linked to their culture and identity, came to the region in 934 AD during the reign of the Karakhanid kings and Kashgar became one of the major centres of Islam. According to statistics, there have been over 23,700 mosques in the region. However, in Beijing's resolve to destroy this very identity, the Chinese government has placed growing restrictions on the practice of Islam in the region.
This repressive policy began during Mao's Cultural Revolution, which was a period of terrible suffering for the Uihgurs as religion was identified as a "bourgeois" conception and bore the brunt of the Red Army's wrath. A Human Rights Watch report tells of how the Uihgurs were forced to breed pigs and mosques were shut down and occasionally used as pork warehouses to add terrible insult to devastating injury.
According to official sources, around 8,000 Imams indoctrinated in communism, deliver Friday sermons. Religious schools have been banned, many mosques closed and the building of new mosques restricted. The police raid peaceful but `unauthorised' religious gatherings and those found to be leading the gatherings have been sentenced to long-term imprisonment. Government employees risk being fired if they go to mosques.
Reiterating this Amnesty International (AI) said, "fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan was banned in government offices, schools and hospitals. Students face expulsion if they refused to break the fast. Mosques have been closed down because they were located near schools and deemed a "bad influence" on young people. The crackdown was expanded to include other sectors of society".
Uighur women working in government offices too were told not to wear headscarves during work as it was regarded "feudalistic". Typical headscarves were permitted in school, but those tied in a religious way, showing only the face, are not acceptable. Some Muslim women were forbidden from wearing Islamic head covers.
Preaching or teaching of Islam outside government control is considered subversive and Amnesty said that, since the mid-1990s, several hundred Uighurs accused of such activities have been executed while thousands more have been detained, imprisoned and tortured. Uighur children have not been taught their history and traditions in schools. Places and monuments representing the Uighur heritage have been destroyed and in most of the big cities there is nothing left to indicate any presence of the Uighur culture.
Viewing traditional Uighur Muslim lifestyles as a major element of instability, the Chinese authorities stepped up their control of Muslim religious and folk customs. A government circular called on officials to step up surveillance on weddings and funerals as well as circumcision ceremonies, house-moving rituals and the wearing of earrings. Uighur government and party officials have been told to seek permission before attending any such festivals or ceremonies and report back to the government upon the completion of their activities. The regulations applied only to Uighur Muslims and not to the whole of the Xingjian Province.
Explaining their plight, a prominent Uighur leader who wanted his fighters to think of themselves as the wolves of Turkic legend fighting the Chinese dragon, once said, "The Chinese have likened the Uighurs to pandas - a species on the edge of extinction".
Though denied repeatedly, Amnesty has recorded hundreds of executions and extra-judicial killings of Uighurs. Applying incredible torture methods to crush their freedom struggle, China commonly uses painful and brutal torture methods never used before. According to state media, that the Chinese government has executed hundreds of Uighur Muslim freedom fighters. Among them was Alerkin Abula, who founded, in 1993, the East Turkistan Islamic Party of Allah, fighting for freedom in the Xingjian province.
The former United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, Mary Robinson, warned Chinese leaders during a visit to Beijing that they should not use the war on terror as an excuse for widespread repression in Xingjian.
This is a conflict China has been anxious to hide from its people, foreign governments, overseas investors and tourists. Beijing has effectively pre-empted often-weak Muslim countries, which rely on China for political, economic and military assistance, from speaking out against its repression of Muslims in Xingjian. Diplomats are kept under close watch and foreign journalists are allowed to visit only in the company of escorts.
Under the circumstances, China's notoriously repressive birth control policies, including, but not limited, to forced abortions would seem to suggest that Xingjian is one of the worst places in the world to be a Muslim right now. This is especially so in the context of the ongoing global war on Islam and the fast growing relations between China and Israel known for its conspiracies against Islam and Muslims.
Meanwhile Muslim countries have done nothing to bring pressure or persuade China to offer Uighur Muslims their legitimate rights and end their long-sufferings. The toothless Organisation of Islamic Conference too has forgotten the Xingjian Muslims and failed even to send a delegation to Beijing to at least draw attention to their plight.
For far too long the world has forgotten, or ignored, the plight of Uihgur Muslims who are also not exceptionally popular in the West as, unlike the Buddhists of Tibet who have Dalai Lama, they have no charismatic leader in exile or celebrity converts in Hollywood to rally to their cause.
It was under these circumstances that violence broke out when Uighur came following the killing of two Uighur Muslims in clashes with Han Chinese in a factory last week.
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