Uighur Muslims: and Apathy of the Islamic World

  • Publish Date: Oct 29 2018 2:55AM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Oct 29 2018 2:55AM
Uighur Muslims: and Apathy of the Islamic WorldFile Photo

Numerous news reports in the recent times have brought into attention China’s increasing detention of Muslims in the Uighur region. For nearly a decade, intermittent reports are coming to fore regarding China’s repressive policies against the Muslims residing in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR). The Uighur autonomous region is a vast swath of territory that shares its border with several Central Asian countries. According to the Amnesty International Report 2018, “nearly one million predominantly Muslim people are held in internment camps for so called ‘transformation through education’ that is causing severe human rights violation in Xinjiang”. The report suggests of massive crackdown by Chinese government, detaining number of persons varying from journalists to academicians, thus resulting in massive fear and worry among their families and rest of the population. The report also highlights the range of tactics that the Chinese government is using varying from intrusive surveillance, arbitrary detention and forced indoctrination targeted at Muslim ethnic groups in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. 

The fundamental contestation to the very idea of ‘nation’ lies at the heart of repression and discrimination towards Muslims of Xinjiang region. The substantial population of Uighur region are Muslims, who speak Turkic language. The Uighurs consider themselves to be a part of distinct history, culture, language, and therefore demanding a ‘homeland’ just similar to other central Asian countries. Contrary to this, Beijing claims Uighur as China’s indelible part that has been with it since ancient times. While the successive leaders of People’s Republic of China have made repetitive attempts of incorporating Muslim predominant region into their nation, the stiff resistance has emerged as a serious challenge to the nation-building task. The Qing dynasty in the 18th century conquered vast swath of land of what is referred to as todays Xinjiang region and incorporated it into its empire. During the course of history, the Uighur community has faced repressive policies by the Chinese government, particularly during the period of Cultural Revolution, when religious places were smashed and religious practices were prohibited. In the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution, there was a shift in the ill-advised religious policies and consequently the Xinjiang region witnessed flowering of mosques. Despite the passing of nearly two centuries, the region remains culturally distinct and geographically remote from main China. 

The process of nation-building is not an easy task. In order to create a ‘homogenous nation’, the state relies on building roads, state machinery and other policies to incorporate peripheral zones and heterogeneous communities into the dominant culture. However, such means and methods haven’t worked given to stiff resistance displayed by the Uighurs. This has actually created a situation where there is a head-on tussle between two different ideas of nationalism. The belief of having a ‘separate nationhood’ among the Uighurs acts as a serious challenge to the imposition of national will to Uighurs, who lack the actual power of getting separated from China.

During the cold war, there was a belief that nationalism as a force was waning or no longer to be decisive for future course of history. However, the events from late 1980s shattered those beliefs and again elucidated relevance and strength of nationalism. The nationalism as a force still endures in and around us. During the early 1990s, the pitch for humanitarian protection began to mark its place at least in the domain of ‘new order’. However, theoretically the notion of humanitarian protection fundamentally clashes with the idea of state sovereignty. Nonetheless, the last decade of twentieth century saw the equation tilting towards the individual and collective human rights. In the aftermath of NATO’s intervention in Kosovo, several Uighurs had hoped of foreign assistance in realizing their dream of independence. Amidst the discussion of humanitarian intervention and a ‘new order’, the twin tower attacks wrought the world across the new lines.  

The September 11 attacks brought a new paradigm in the world politics. In the aftermath of attacks, the Bush administration launched campaign of ‘War on Terror’ with a vow to neutralize every terrorist group around the world. In the larger realm of politics, the twin tower attacks and the campaign of ‘War on Terror’ brought Islam and vast majority of its followers to the very attention of world politics. In addition to it, much of the non-Muslim world began to perceive the phenomenon of global terrorism to be associated with Islam. Over and above this, few states skillfully used post September 11 world to discredit the very separatist movements taking place in their territory and merely dubbed them as terrorist groups receiving financial support from global terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda. In the wake of September 11 attacks, the Peoples Republic of China launched its own ‘war on terror’ against Uighurs who they blame of orchestrating terrorist attacks inside China. In the garb of counter-terrorism, the government of People’s Republic of China has took to pervasive ethnic discrimination against Uighurs, sharply curbing their religious and cultural expressions. 




Why much of the Muslim World is silent over China’s treatment of Uighurs?

Despite the intensification of the repression of People’s Republic of China against the Uighurs, much of the Muslim world has remained largely tight-lipped. Not only the Muslim countries, the major powers have also failed to criticize or push China to soften its policies towards Uighurs. Though Pakistan recently on the first occasion criticized Chinese government and asked it to soften its policies, the United States is still deliberating on whether to sanction Chinese officials for human rights violations against the Uighur community. 

The apathy of Muslim world towards Uighurs is driven by the fact that China is a key trading partner and considerable aid provider to them. By criticizing China’s brutal policies, the Muslim world doesn’t want to lose the favors that they enjoy from China. In case of United States, it would be interesting to see whether the Trump administration would care about elevating the plight of Uighur community over the larger interests of a better US-China relations.