Islamophobia in China: Violence Breaks Out in Xinjiang
by Chally Kacelnik (Global Comment)
Western China is far from the happiest place in which to be Muslim right now. At the end of December, police killed seven people in Xinjiang, an area traditionally dominated by the Uighur Muslim ethnic group, using some very sketchy justifications. Days later, the government destroyed a mosque in Ningxia that was just set to reopen after refurbishment, prompting a fight in which at least two more people were killed. The details available on these events have been sparse and often in stark contradiction. It might seem as though we have wandered back in time to the Cultural Revolution, but we’re looking at a very twenty-first century brand of Islamophobia, infused with a legacy of ethnic tensions.
What happened in Xinjiang? The state claimed that police officers confronted a group of fifteen men who had kidnapped two people, and the kidnappers were Muslim extremists or terrorists off to “jihadist training” across the border. Government media sources and spokespeople refuse to specify the ethnic origins of the fifteen. One police officer was also killed.
Non-state media sources are reporting that this group was all Uighur, included children, and was attempting to escape Chinese repression. Other members of the group were taken into custody, and their fates are unknown. It’s far from the first time state information on violence involving Muslims has been questionable, as Edward Wong catalogues at the New York Times. There’s a lot that’s disturbing about this story, from implying that killing a group of people for supposedly kidnapping would somehow justify the killings, that they were killed in front of children, and that these people weren’t welcome in China, but weren’t allowed to leave, either.
As for Ningxia? Taoshan villagers raised USD $127 000 to renovate their mosque. After Friday prayers, the day before the opening ceremony, one hundred villagers faced one thousand soldiers and police officers. Three guesses how that went. The two confirmed dead are reported to have been elderly. This was so unexpected and unprecedented in this area that it sends a message of the state cracking down hard. That’s particularly so given that the soldiers and officers weren’t sent out until the mosque was completed, and all the more so following on immediately from the Uighur deaths.
A major difference between what happened here and what happened in Xinjiang is that the Taoshan Muslims, who say they’ve never experienced religious persecution before, are Hui. China’s biggest Muslim ethnicity, the Chinese-speaking Hui have been far better treated and tolerated by the state than any other Muslim group as they have been considered more properly Chinese – or at least they have been since the mid-twentieth century state classification of ethnic groups. (This is not at all to endorse the sentiment in the piece linked at the start of the last paragraph that Hui “are practically indistinguishable from the Han”. One wonders to whom they are practically indistinguishable.)
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