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  Opinion   Columnists  18 Dec 2019  ‘De-radicalising’ Uighur Muslims: Is the Chinese action justified?

‘De-radicalising’ Uighur Muslims: Is the Chinese action justified?

Published : Dec 18, 2019, 2:42 am IST
Updated : Dec 18, 2019, 2:42 am IST

The Chinese claim has not been verified by independent sources and mystery shrouds its deradicalisation or re-education programme.

China needs to demonstrate to the international community that it has inserted human rights safeguards in its deradicalisation measures. (Photo: AFP)
 China needs to demonstrate to the international community that it has inserted human rights safeguards in its deradicalisation measures. (Photo: AFP)

Tensions between China and the US have escalated after the House of Representative’s Uighur Human Rights Policy Act, 2019. The move is of a piece with the allegations of many international media and human rights organisations that China is persecuting the Uighur community and violating their rights — allegations that Beijing has denied. Calling the US action a political move aimed at damaging its international image, China says it is running a deradicalisation programme to mainstream its
communities.

The Chinese claim has not been verified by independent sources and mystery shrouds its deradicalisation or re-education programme. China needs to demonstrate to the international community that it has inserted human rights safeguards in its deradicalisation measures.

 

On their part, the Chinese say that they are countering violent extremism (CVE) with a strategy that has been designed after a careful examination of CVE approaches in the West and in the Muslim world. The Chinese view has been challenged by those who point out that standard global CVE practices are different from those espoused by China.

Secondly, the Chinese definition of extremism is complicated as it hardly differentiates between religious, ethnic, linguistic, and cultural grievances. The Chinese deradicalisation programme is also a massive exercise in the sociocultural engineering of its minority communities.

China’s communist party states that ‘harmony’ is the core driver of state policies as exemplified in its Belt and Road Initiative vision. The idea of ‘harmony’ or ‘harmonisation’ could have been conceived as a substitute for the regular democratic process, but has, instead, become a driver of legislative and administrative reform, including ‘re-education’ strategies. However, China is still striving to generate a framework for ‘harmonising’ its ethnic and religious communities. Chinese scholars believe that adopting a muscular approach to ‘harmonising’ minority communities is the fastest way to make the autonomous and administrative regions trouble-free.

 

Uighur Muslims complain they are paying a huge cost for this ‘harmonisation process’, which is causing them to lose their religious, ethnic, and cultural identities. They find only a few voices being raised in their support in the Muslim world. The Muslim leadership, which is greatly concerned by Islamophobia, has apparently shut its eyes to the Uighur issue. Their silence is rewarded with Chinese economic assistance and diplomatic support on international forums.

Though Chinese authorities believe they will be able to achieve their envisioned sociocultural transformation, they are nervous about their global image. This year, China opened one ‘re-education’ centre for international visitors in Kashgar, inviting diplomats, academics and journalists to visit it, in an attempt to counter international perceptions. But so far, such attempts have not impressed foreign visitors.

 

One component of China’s counter-extremism framework is to challenge radical narratives, which is resulting in attempts to forge a new ethnic and cultural identity for Xinjiang’s Uighur community. They are reinterpreting the history of Xinjiang and Muslims in China. According to some books and booklets, provided by the authorities to visitors, Chinese historians and scholars are making efforts to convey to their Muslim populations that they have been a part of the Chinese civilisation for thousands of years.

A booklet titled Historical Matters Concerning Xinjiang and published by the State Council Information Office in 2019 rejects the idea that Xinjiang has ever been referred to as ‘East Turkestan’.

 

Chinese language courses are compulsory for Muslims because of communication barriers with Uighur and other Muslim communities, according to the Chinese authorities. An unusual aspect of this exercise is that the authorities are attempting to introduce a local, Chinese version of Islam on the pattern of its previous exercise of nurturing socialism with Chinese characteristics. For this purpose, Beijing has established Islamic learning centres to prepare imams, or prayer leaders, who can preach the ‘Chinese version’ of Islam. These centres are not allowed to collaborate with other Islamic institutions in Muslim countries.

It is interesting that at a time when exclusionism, supremacism, and hyper-nationalism tendencies are globally on the rise, China has decided to launch its own version of ‘harmonising’ society. This thinking might appear to negate the global trends but in essence, its objectives are similar, and it has little space for accepting diversity.

 

By arrangement with Dawn

Tags: uighur community