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Will China Have a Muslim Problem?

Walter Russell Mead picks up on a Financial Times story about increased Chinese oppression of the Muslims in far-western province of Xinjiang; (link behind FT’s paywall, sadly)

Last year, the authorities started forcing low-income families to agree to abandon some Muslim traditions in exchange for social security payments. Forms posted on the internet show that some women signed a pledge not to wear the veil and not to receive veil-wearing guests in their homes, in exchange for receiving low-income subsidies for their families.

One middle school in Aksu, a city on the northern rim of the Taklamakan desert which has seen deadly sectarian violence in recent years, said it would step up propaganda for national unity and against “ethnic splittism” and ensure that “no teachers or students attend any religious activities” during Ramadan.

The Muslims of Xingxang have been a target of oppression for decades, of course, and this is not much different from past years when Chinese teachers would force feed Muslim children candy during Ramadan, forcing them to break the holy period’s required task. However, as Mead notes, these policies are far more likely to backfire on Beijing than to create the forced “national unity” that they so obviously desire:

Banning fasting and other Islamic practices is not going to build much support for Beijing’s rule in this restive province, which as recently as July 2009 saw racial riots that claimed almost 200 lives.

The free exercise of religion is among the most fundamental of human rights. For its own sake, and in the interests of simple justice, China needs to find a way to reconcile the needs of its government with the rights of its people. Suppressing Islam is not the way.

Students of international relations can learn something else from this policy. China is deeply worried about large, resource rich and thinly populated Xinjang. It sees the spread of radical Islam as the most worrying feature of a difficult situation. This has implications for China-Pakistan relations. If China thought Pakistan could or would provide serious help at smashing the networks that support Islamist opposition, there would be more interest in Beijing in developing a deep strategic relationship with Islamabad.

But China seems to believe that Pakistan is either unwilling or unable to provide these guarantees, and it notes that Pakistani support for anti-American terrorists like the Haqqani network shows Islamabad to be an unreliable ally. A Taliban dominated Afghanistan would similarly be, from the Chinese (and Russian) point of view a petri dish in which dangerous movements would breed.

One is reminded, of course, of the situation the Russians faced in the years after the Soviet Union collapsed when a restive and resentful Muslim population in the Caucuses and surrounding regions began to strike out in acts of terror, even reaching the very heart of Moscow on more than one occasion. Look at a map, and you’ll see that Xingxang borders on Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, all Muslim nations two of which have a history of harboring terrorist elements. Is it all that hard to believe that those elements might find a way to radicalize the Muslims in Xingxang?

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. mantis says:

    The free exercise of religion is among the most fundamental of human rights. For its own sake, and in the interests of simple justice, China needs to find a way to reconcile the needs of its government with the rights of its people.

    First the Chinese government would have to recognize that the people have those rights.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  2. Rob Prather says:

    I’m reminded of the time when terrorists took control of the opera house in Moscow. The Russians pumped in poisonous gas, killing the terrorists and some of their own people. They then buried the terrorists with their bodies wraspped in pig skins and put it on TV.

    I fear this won’t end well.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  3. @mantis:

    Indeed

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    The Muslims of Xingxang have been a target of oppression for decades

    Decades? China has had a Muslim minority since the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and the relationship between it and official China has been tense for much of the intervening period.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  5. Franklin says:

    @mantis: Yes, plus I appreciate your new avatar.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. The Q says:

    As the old USSR collapsed from the weight of inward suppression and trying to keep disparate elements of its empire of convenience in a “Union”, so too will modern china fall prey to the centrifugal forces which will tear it asunder.without one american bullet or missile being fired.

    We should simply airdrop millions of iPhones to foment rebellion and revolution among the many ethnic groups which comprise China’s southern and western flanks.

    The Uyghurs/Uighurss in the north are no friends of Beijing.

    We should be spending money on agit/prop and inside instigators of revolt for that is the way to victory over the chinese.

    In 20 years, china as we know it, will have gone the way of the old USSR because gil Scott Heron was wrong…the revolution will be tweeted and you tubed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  7. 1-) China is aggressively colonizing the Xinjiang with Han Chinese, that are already the majority of the population there.

    2-) Mead is using a very romantic version of the word “Muslim” here. Muslims are not known for easily uniting with Muslims from other ethnicities, languages and everything else(By the way, that´s one of the problems for Al-Qaeda, and that´s why most of their branches are incapable of doing major damage). Uyghurs are not Pashtun, they are not Arabs, they are not Caucasians. Their language is aTurkic language.

    It would take a big stretch for them to unite behind Pakistanis or Chechens. Uyghurs are a very small proportion of the China population to provoke a major revolt against the Chinese government, and they don´t have money or the logistics to use terrorist attacks against the Chinese.

    The biggest problem for the Chinese are their own Han population on the East, not the Uyghurs.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  8. J says:

    Jesus christ man, “Xingxang”? You spelled it that way half a dozen times, get it right. Xinjiang, or East Turkestan if you want to use the name the locals prefer.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @The Q:

    We should simply airdrop millions of iPhones to foment rebellion and revolution among the many ethnic groups which comprise China’

    Yeah, Wal-Mart would get right behind that program.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:

    Well, for sure China will have a Muslim problem. If for no other reason than they are the worst of the non-white, non-Jewish Islamophobes. All that stuff you read about being being in al-Koran is just a bunch of out-of-context mistranslations. Islam is a Religion of (post-submission) Peace. Got that ??? And stop reading all that Samuel P. Huntington “Clash of Civilizations” stuff. You’ll overload your brain and your head will explode.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  11. bill says:

    well, they should be equal opportunity oppressors.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0