BLUNT BUTCHER / ANCHOR
JAMMU: Around the time when Pakistan Prime Minister, Imran Khan was raising fingers against India on the so-called maltreatment to minorities in the country, its neighbour and all-weather friend China has been enforcing stringent measures to fight against radical Islam. Why didn’t Imran Khan speak a word against China? Is Pakistan’s silence a compromise with the honour and dignity of co-religionist Muslims in the communist country to buy China’s support for unleashing terrorism in India? Despite rise of Imran Khan as an architect of Naya Pakistan, he did pretty little to counsel the ‘tested friend’ to desist from stringent measures against Muslims like ban imposed by Chinese government on long beards and conservative Muslim attire in public buses in Xinjiang city, in a bid to curb the spread of radical Islam, some time back. Such measures are a regular feature. Though the ban was for a limited period during a local sports event yet it spoke about the Chinese mindset against Muslims. That point of time, the ban had been imposed in the northern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, prohibiting those wearing Burqas, Hijabs and Niqabs, or clothes with Muslim symbols like the crescent moon and star, from boarding buses, observed Chris Luo in South China Morning Post. The Chinese authorities had justified such restrictions as part of measures “to ensure safety on public transportation and to combat terrorism. It had warned that “those who do not cooperate will be handled by police”. The crescent moon and star is a symbol carried on the flag of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a separatist militant group accused by Beijing of advocating ethnic violence. China has been blaming it for a string of deadly terrorist attacks in Xinjiang and elsewhere in the mainland for several years. Shan Wei, a National University of Singapore professor, who studied the ethnic conflicts in Xinjiang, pointed out, “The banned apparel did not belong to traditional Chinese Uygur minorities’ customs. “Instead the [clothing is] associated with the ‘extremists’,” Shan had said. Barry Sautman, a political science professor from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, who specialises in ethnic politics on the mainland, said, “a ban on religious symbols is counter-productive even where those symbols have been appropriated by ‘extremists'”. Burqas (an enveloping outer garment); Hijab (veil that covers head and chest); and Niqab (which conceals much of the face except eyes) are traditional attire for Muslim women. “The [Karamay] restriction serves two purposes, one is to prevent potential terrorist attacks carried out on public transport, but more importantly, it contains the spread of radical Muslim ideology,” Shan said. Uygurs, a large ethnic group in Xinjiang, have traditionally followed a moderate form of Islam, but in recent years, have experienced a change following the rise of fundamentalist Islamic ideology in countries bordering Xinjiang, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Observers say many local Uygur men and women in Xinjiang have been favouring the recognisable conservative Islamic attire (such as tunics and burqas) over their traditional costumes.
Xinjiang women’s traditional attire, for instance, are colourfully patterned dresses and squarish caps.
Shan said the ban showed Beijing’s determination to curb the radical Islamic influence using cultural means. “I can see some justifications behind the government’s approach,” he said.
For a few years in past, several Xinjiang local governments have banned burqas in the wake of a terrorist attack in the small northwestern county of Shanshan last June, leaving some 30 dead.
Businesses in a number of villages were ordered to stop producing and selling Burqas, while the official newspaper Xinjiang Daily carried a number of articles claiming that wearing the Muslim dress was an “act against the Uygur tradition.”
China has, over the years, used “two-handed policies” – soft and hard – to deal with Xinjiang unrest. While the mainland government was convinced that raising the level of economic development in Xinjiang, specifically, improving Uygur households’ income and education levels, it is increasingly set on employing “hard policies”.
These included increased monitoring and beefing up the security apparatus, in the light of string of terrorist attacks in the region, said Reza Hasmath, a University of Oxford lecturer in Chinese politics.
In the face of mounting opposition from Uygur residents and rising International condemnation, local officials have sought to downplay the association between conservative Muslim garb with terrorism.
In April 2014, to stem the spread of extermist ideas, approximately 2,00,000 Communist Party cadres were ordered by the government to live in rural communities across Xinjiang, in what Hasmath called a grid “social management system”.
“The party members were assigned to each community zone and tasked to monitor and conduct surveillance of various activities that are threatening, or potentially threatening”, said Hasmath.
He said the moderate option to deal with spread of radical Uygurs lies in continuing to boost their employment and income levels.
Barry Sautman also argued that increasing preferential policies for minorities and allowing them self-representation – not self-determination, or independence – in cultural and political spheres, was the best path to douse ethnic tensions and curb radical Islamic thought.
“If Uygur minorities are in fact gaining ground in all spheres of activity, including relative to the Han population, the ‘solution’ offered by radical Islamists is much less appealing,” he said, referring to Han Chinese majority in China.
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