State abolition of religion and the atrocity against the Uighur Muslims

President of China Xi Jinping is attempting to wipe Islam from China

More stories from Ben Strong

Praxis post
December 9, 2020

Photo by Submitted

A picture from April 2017 of Muslims kneeling in the Hotan Prefecture, photo credit to Human Rights Watch

An atrocity is happening in China today. An atrocity against Muslims who live in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

This is a topic that most people are not familiar with — many don’t know the history of the Uighur Muslims or why their detainment started. 

The history of detainment of Uighur Muslims in China

What’s considered the catalyst to the detainment of Uighurs was the Baren Township Riot of 1990, where nearly 200 Uighur Muslims took arms against the government to protest the state-sponsored mass migration of Han Chinese people into Xinjiang.

The riot resulted in the detainment of around 7,900 Uighur Muslims for separatism and “criminal activities.”

I am writing solely about the attack that started the chain of events surrounding the detainment of Uighur Muslims. A list of other attacks that have happened in Xinjiang can be found in the second paragraph of this Wikipedia page.

Then, in 2012, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Hong Lei claimed East Turkistan forces were traveling to Iran and Afghanistan to participate in war against the Islamic state.

It is important to note East Turkistan is synonymous with Xinjiang, and the East Turkistan Islamic Movement — or as it’s known today the Turkistan Islamic Party — has claimed responsibility for the terrorist attacks since 2007.

Fast forward to 2014, where the Tranformation Through Education system in China started to be extended to Muslim groups with the goal of “de-extremification.” These camps are used to detain all Muslims in Xinjiang. The reason Uighurs are focused on so much when discussing this is because they have the largest Muslim population in the autonomous zone.

As a note, “extremism” in China can stretch from actual terrorist activity to having religious sentiment. 

The second described reason for detainment is to achieve social integration (story starts at 10:45). In 2012 Hong Lei said the Chinese government believes the reason for terrorist attacks is the connection Uighurs have to their religion and to the Middle East — as noted above, Iraq and Afghanistan are two examples.

As such, they are taught to be self-critical, or in other words, remove any connection they have to Islam. The camps themselves are closer to prisons, rather than schools. 

According to an article from Michael Clarke of The Conversation, the camps have “reinforced security doors and windows, surveillance systems, secure access systems, watchtowers and guard rooms or facilities for armed police.” 

We can confirm these camps do have armed guards on campus via an environmental impact report that mentions an “armed police housing area” that is 8492.53 square meters inside the “Atushi Vocational Skills Education and Training Service Center”.

There are an estimated 381 detention facilities in Xinjiang, according to an interactive map from The Xinjiang Data Project.

Inside the camps, lives are micromanaged down to the last bathroom break. Every person goes to a set place during a set time of day. Behavioral norms are instilled on to people as well. This is all in an attempt to “socially integrate” Muslims.

To put it into other words, Xi Jinping is attempting to erase the identity of the Uighurs Muslims in an attempt to make them into Han Chinese people, which is in line with Xi Jinping’s message of “Great Unity”, or dàtóng. He has also bastardized dàtóng in order to mean “the perfect government is that in which everyone is the same.”

It is estimated that a total of 1 million Uighurs have been in or passed through these camps.

The genocide of Muslim culture in China

Before I get into the second part of this article, it is important to understand the definition of genocide.

Under Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the United Nations gives five categories by which to define genocide.

Category C reads as such: “Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”

By this definition, I would be comfortable with calling this situation a cultural genocide.

Xi Jinping is attempting to destroy the Uighur’s connection to Islam in Xinjiang to create a hegemony in China, because a hegemony is more likely to agree.

There has been evidence of mosques being burned, Uighur language being banned in schools, Uighur religious clothing being restricted, Uighur scholars being targeted for detainment and cultural practices, like fasting, being suppressed.

This is a deliberate and concerted effort by Xi Jinping to eradicate Muslims as a cultural identity from China. Whether or not the reason is actually counter-extremism, this is an egregious over-step of human rights that can not be ignored.

I agree that China should do something about the terrorist activity in Xinjiang, and vocational re-education centers aren’t a bad idea, but using them on every Muslim is clearly an attempt to wipe Islam from the face of China.

You can have your opinions on Islam or Muslims more generally, but this doesn’t change the fact innocent people and children are being tortured for their religion and their culture because of the actions of a very small minority, actions which were in response to state oppression.

Citizens in the U.S., and most of the people reading this even, are able to live relatively comfortable lives because we don’t have to be exposed to atrocities that happen around the world. We have the choice to shut our eyes and cover our ears when a tirade of blood and destruction flows from other countries.

There is very little we can do individually, but the best thing for us now is to be knowledgeable about politics and the implications of actions taken by world leaders.

The best thing we can do is to stay informed.

Strong can be reached at [email protected].