Displaying items by tag: xinjiang crisis
China has, for 30 years, tried to deny its crime on Tiananmen. But the simple act of writing about it unwittingly tips journalists into activism. The success of Beijing’s Great Forgetting resonates on how memories have been manipulated. The party-state has been successful in pathologising reporting on Tiananmen.
Two commentators who were witnesses there asked the question of how to remain detached and objective when the topic is politically charged.
Writing in the The Guardian recently, author and academic Louisa Lim and journalist Ilaria Maria Sala expressed that the dilemma is becoming increasingly widespread among journalists and academics, with whole fields of study being pushed into activism by Beijing’s coercive actions. They cited the case of Xinjiang scholars.
Asserting that with one million Uighurs held in political indoctrination camps in the northwest of China, the academics studying a once obscure speciality have become some of the loudest voices advocating for the Uighur community. For them, activism is not just a moral duty but a professional (and a scholarly) responsibility since the culture to which they have devoted their scholarly lives is being annihilated by Beijing’s assault.
China is retrofitting its history into a vision that starts in the stone age and ends with the communists party, a single continuum that serves to legitimise the current leadership and its narrative of the past, present and future. We are witnessing that China is rewriting its whole civilisation into the linear history of a single nation. Xinjiang with all its ramifications, has become a classic example.
In June recently, China sent a delegation to Malaysia to explain “rumours about so-called humanitarian violations in Xinjiang”. I was drawn to two pieces of materials circulated to selected groups whom they met. I gathered these are also being distributed to the media in Malaysia.
One is titled, The Fight Against Terrorism and Extremism and Human Rights Protection in Xinjiang (henceforth, Fight Against Extremism and Terrorism) published by the State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China (dated March 2019), and the other, A Better Future for Xinjiang: Reports on Vocational Education and Training Centres in Xinjiang (henceforth, A Better Future) published by China Intercontinental Press (not dated).
The Chinese narrative is clearly a reconstruction of the past used to justify its present policies. The former booklet began with the chapter, “Xinjiang has long been an inseparable part of Chinese Territory”. It said that with the establishment of the unified feudal dynasties Qin (221-206 BC) and Han (206 BC-AD 220), multi-ethnic unification has been the norm in China’s historical development, and “therefore Xinjiang has always been part of a unitary multi-ethnic China”. And accordingly in 60 BC, the government of the Western Han Dynasty established the eastern region frontier in Xinjiang, “officially making Xinjiang a part of Chinese territory”.
Together with territorial claims, the booklet also asserted that the region has seen multi-ethnic groups since “ancient times”, migrating and communicating with each other. It said that during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties (1279-1911), the region was populated by among others, the Mongols, Kazakhs, Kirghiz, Mancu, Hui, Uzbeks and the Tartars. And later in the past century, there were also the Han, Tajik, and Russian, with “the Uighurs having the largest population”.
The booklet also refuted the conventional version that the Uighurs are a Turkish people: “The Uighur ethnic group came into being in the long process of migration and ethnic integration; they are not descendants of the Turks. The main ancestors of the Uighurs were the Ouigour people living on the Mongolian Plateau during the Sui and Tang dynasties.”
Both booklets emphasised that Xinjiang “has long been a multi-religious region”. It narrated that earlier, “Xinjiang residents followed primitive religion from which Shamanism evolved”. Later it described that a succession of religions “popular in the East and West were introduced via the Silk Road, the first of which was Zoroastrianism”. This was followed by Buddhism around the first century BC, and followed by Manichaeism and Nestorianism.
According to the Fight Against Extremism and Terrorism booklet, Islam was introduced into “southern Xinjiang in the late 9th and early 10th centuries, changing the religious profile of Xinjiang again”, and that the Uighurs have been adherents of other religions too.
China claims that for a long time, the “three evil forces” of ethnic separatism, religious extremism and violent terrorism have been grossly exaggerating cultural differences. China emphasised that “Chinese culture is a culture of the Han ethnic group which has nothing to do with that of the Uighur and other ethnic minorities”. Further, the Chinese refuted “Islamic culture as the origin of Uighur culture”.
According to the Chinese rationale the claims have “seriously undermined” Chinese cultural identity among some ethnic minorities. China clarified that it must remain committed to the Marxist cultural outlook, and that Xinjiang ethnic cultures are an integral part of “overarching Chinese culture given the close interrelationship between these cultures” (In A Better Future, p.17).
The Chinese insisted on adhering to the Marxist view of religion, i.e. as a historical phenomenon of human society. The Chinese have accused the Xinjiang Muslims as having woven an incorrect and “reactionary system of thought”, for the purpose of establishing the “Islamic Republic of Eastern Turkestan”.
It is quite clear from the tenor of the booklets that China is warning those who “distort the history of Xinjiang” and those who spread the “reactionary view that Xinjiang was an ‘independent state’ in history”.
China claimed that the link between the Uighurs and Turkic history was a myth. But why vocational education and training centres? That sinister link in the China rhetoric between human rights protection in Xinjiang and its reconstruction of history continues to be the source for activism amongst scholars, academics, writers and journalists.
The writer is a professor at the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation (ISTAC), International Islamic University, Malaysia.
Pubshied in: The New Straits TImes, Friday, 12 July 2019
July 5, 2009 is a day that the Uighur Muslims would like to forget. On that fateful day, ethnic violence erupted between Uighurs and Han Chinese. The riot began as a result of the killing of two Uighurs following a brawl on the factory floors of far away Guangdong.
The Guardian of the United Kingdom said 196 people died in the violence, while Al Jazeera reported 200 deaths. The narrative was different then. Ten years on, the narrative continues to reflect different realities.
But since then, the noise around the world has grown louder, demanding the truth to be made known. It was not about what happened during the riots, but about what is being visited on Uighur Muslims following the riots.
There is a Chinese version. And there is the rest of the world’s version. Navigating the narratives is not easy.
On Saturday, the New Straits Times carried an Op-ed piece by human rights writer Nadia Zaifulizan calling for the record on China’s Uighur narrative to be set straight. We think this to be a just call.
Labelling the world’s version as fake news only complicates the matter. Things such as this cannot be branded away. Because Nadia’s wasn’t the only voice. The United Nations, Western governments and human rights groups are also adding their discontent to the plight of the Uighurs.
Christian Shepherd, writing on July 6 from Beijing for the FTWeekend, talked about Muslim families being “forcibly” separated. In the English newspaper’s account, about 1.5 million Uighurs, Kazakhs and other mostly Muslim minorities are being held in re-education camps.
China explains this off by saying that it is an essential tool in fighting terrorism. But questions continue. If so, why place young children in de facto orphanages, is one such making the media rounds.
FTWeekend calls in aid a research conducted by Adrian Zenz of the European School of Culture and Theology and commissioned by the BBC to support its claim.
Islamophobia may have something to do with what is going on in Xinjiang. Islam is much misunderstood and maligned. Especially after Sept 11, 2001, a disaster that has divided the world into “them” and “us”.
Even after 1,440 years on and two billion Muslims later, Islam is, for some strange reason, viewed with fear. This is not the right way of seeing. The Russian communists had a similar jaundiced view.
Like Karl Marx came to say it, many today view religion — not only Islam — as the opium of the people. And the post-9/11 world has added its own complications.
Secularists, by some clever design, have forged religion and terror into an artificial wedlock. Like inseparable twins. This-world centred beings seek to find evidence of the twain, but finding none, invent one.
We may disagree on how we originated. Or even on how long we have been around on Earth. But we cannot disagree that we come in different shapes, sizes and hues. Because our eyes bear witness to our varied skin colours: yellow, brown, black and white and every other colour in between.
Granted, for convenience of rule and reign, we have carved up the planet into sovereign territories. But such divisions must accommodate, not exclude.
Published in: (NST Leader) New Straits Times, Tuesday 09 July 2019
Local communities have expressed concern about reports alleging that the Chinese authorities have been detaining up to a million Uighur, ethnic Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
Reports have surfaced that human rights abuses were rampant in the region, targeting ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, particularly Uighur Muslims, which include residential relocations, separation of children from parents, restrictive immigration policies, forced marriages, mandatory acculturation and threats to freedom of religion.
Against this backdrop, a diplomatic visit to China between June 23 and 30, led by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa, has triggered reactions from Malaysians.
Much of the uproar came in response to misconstrued reports by local media regarding a statement on false news.
Another is a Facebook post that mirrored the Chinese government’s parlance in referring to what is known as mass detention camps.
Notwithstanding, Mujahid’s vision of peace building and cross-culture reconciliation in the visit should not go unnoticed.
In his speech, Mujahid underscored the need to opt for peaceful and moral solutions despite all odds.
He said policy response and counter-terrorism efforts, although warranted, must be used in restraint, citing the importance of demarcating between violent action and religious rights and rituals.
Mujahid said striving towards this goal requires a wholehearted embrace of human diversity and rejuvenating inter-religious dialogue based on respect and mercy.
That will, in turn, alleviate extreme views centred around the politics of race and religion.
Celebrating diversity is a core Islamic principle, supported by the Quran.
It is divinely ordained to enrich humanity as evident in verse, “O mankind, indeed We have created you from peoples’ and tribes that you may know one another” (Al-Hujurat, 49:13).
Diversity is also a deliberate creation to endow humanity with the gift of free will.
“Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation, but [He intended] to test you…; so race to [all that is] good.”
Accompanying such ideals, however, should be policies and governmental decisions that are rooted in research and data.
Peace building in Xinjiang cannot afford to rely on mere sentiments that neglect the complexity on the ground.
In a recent forum on Uighur, Alexander Wain, a Muslim scholar in Chinese history, urged policy makers and commentators to have a nuanced understanding of the Uighur plight and delve deeper into the history of Uighur in the region, which has had intermittent autonomy and occasional independence before becoming part of China in 1949.
Since 1957, the Chinese Communist Party has interpreted Uighur Islam as a threat to Chinese national unity based on its history of rebellion.
This resulted in strong policy responses in the form of closing Xinjiang-based Islamic associations; banning Islamic teachings and symbols, including the call to prayer, beards and veils; suppressing of Uighur language and culture; massive state-sponsored Han migration to Xinjiang; and, the infamous detention centres for “ideological reform.”
Since 9/11, these efforts have intensified and the Chinese government became increasingly fearful of foreign extremists penetrating Xinjiang.
Thus, the Xinjiang situation is largely the product of regional history and must be understood in that context.
Under this circumstances, race and religion are potent issues that can exacerbate ethnic tension and violence, if not managed in a judicious manner.
In line with Mujahid’s speech, policy makers should pay attention to the role of social media
in instigating negative sentiments, whether in the form of sedition or false news.
Perhaps cues can be taken from the Malaysian model, where each ethnic group can preserve its cultural identity while remaining unified as Malaysians.
It must be noted that suppressing cultural self-determination and oppression, far from reducing extremism, only encourages it.
Above and beyond the sentiments of Muslim solidarity and brotherhood, the issues in Xinjiang need to be addressed impartially and objectively to identify the factors that led to such crises.
Any assessment and its resulting solutions should focus on the economic and geopolitical significance of Xinjiang, its long history of separatism, and the intricacies of Han nationalism.
Policy response and executive decisions should not only be strategic and effective, but must be guided by the spirit of compassion (rahmah), and an appreciation of diversity and human dignity.
Published in: New Straits Times, Tuesday 11 July 2019