By Halima Imam
Uighurs are primarily a Turkic speaking Muslims who live in the autonomous region of Xinjiang. Islam made an appearance there in the 10th century; prior to which they were Buddhists. The Uighurs had embraced Islam in the year 934. The Islamic Uighur kingdom of East Turkestan maintained its independence and prosperity until the Manchu empire invaded the Kingdom in 1876, the war lasted for eight years after which the Manchu empire formally annexed East Turkestan into its territories renaming it Xinyang (new frontier) on November 18, 1884.
The Uighurs are being silenced and subjugated by the Communist state and there has been reports of extreme surveillance, accounts of torture and the inhuman detention of more than a million Uighurs. China is attempting to discreetly eradicate all the traces of Uighur from their population.
The Uighurs are part European and part Central Asia (Descendants of Turkic people). Their language can be written in Arabic, Latin and Cyrillic alphabets. The Uighurs have a beautiful culture, one that China continues to exploit to boost tourism. The Uighurs are Sunni and want independence from China, but the Communist state has been trying to change that.
When Mao Zedong’s communist party took over China in 1949, they immediately invaded Xinjiang to prevent Russia from taking it over. As claimed by the communist party, religion and communism are irreconcilable giving rise to a crackdown on all expressions of faith. Punishment was meted out on the Uighurs for praying openly and mosques were converted for other uses. The government helped the dominant Han ethnic group migrate to the region in the 1950’s, they began to thrive in Xinjiang, their numbers steadily increase and they now make up about 41% of the population in Xinjiang.
A classic case of “settler colonialism” is what has gone on with the Uighurs since the Han moved to their lands, the Han are more of “invader occupiers”. Bingtuan (a paramilitary group) established in 1954 by Mao Zedong take over lands and resources that are previously taken from the Uighurs by the Chinese government. The Bingtuan were originally sent there to protect the province from Russia; eventually Russia became less of a threat but the organization grew, they now have about three million members and operate over 2,000 companies in energy, agriculture, finance, media and security.
The administrative arm of Bingtuan enforces the central government’s anti-Uighur policies while profiteering from their annexed land and resources. According to reports they exported 6.7billion worth of goods in 2017 and also a 5th of the Worlds ketchup and tons of cotton. An estimated 150billion barrel of oil can be found in the region, 40% of China’s coal and 23.5billion cubic meters of natural gas was produced in the Tarim Basin of the region in 2017. Everyone benefits from the multi-billion dollar fossil fuel production except the Uighurs who are also left out of many employment opportunities.
Jobs and most of the resources went to Han settlers and the real consequence was a hyperinflation of goods and services which naturally increased the rate of poverty on an already impoverished Uighurs. Separatists groups conducted riots, sometimes violent ones against China which made the government in the recent past to burn QR codes in all the knives purchased by the Uighurs.
China accuses the Uighur of separatism, terrorism and religious extremism. Their women are forbidden from putting on the hijab and the young men are not allowed to grow beards.
Naming infants with Muslim names is not allowed and so is fasting; parents are forbidden from giving their children Islamic education or knowledge of Uighur culture. Young people under 18years of age are not allowed into the mosque during sermons and the Quran has to first be approved by the state (the text obviously altered to fit the agenda of the communist party), Hajj is also banned.
The Chinese government uses advanced technology, propaganda and threat of imprisonment to control the Uighurs. People going to the mosque on Friday go through scans and thorough full body search and an eyewitness said you also have to look up to Xi Jinping’s picture in the mosque (a major sin in Islam).
China has spent well over 8.5billion dollars to monitor every aspect of life of the Uighurs. Xinjiang has highly sophisticated cameras in every nook and cranny of the state, Wi-Fi sniffers and a mandatory mobile app to regularly scan Uighur contents for views that are preserved to be “politically incorrect”.
Uighurs have to provide DNA samples, bio-data and personal information about their religious life. Their information is tied to an ID card that they have to produce almost everywhere they go. Uighurs who are tagged “unsafe” due to their information and bio-data are sent to highly concentrated prisons or what the Chinese government calls “re-education camps”.
Human rights groups call the camps “internment camps” but China says they are “vocational centres”. The inmates are accused of “extremist behaviours” such as organizing an Islamic wedding, refusal to watch state television or even purchasing more food than they normally do. The Uighurs are forced to erect a Chinese flag outside their homes and place picture of Chinese leaders on their walls.
Islamic images on walls or quotations from the Quran are considered “a major sin” against the communist state. There have been numerous accounts of torture and death in the camps and the graves levelled to make any trace of a body in the ground to disappear, an accusation China continues to deny.
According to wiki leaks China lobbied Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other countries to prevent them from releasing statements on China’s treatment of Uighurs after the Urumqi riots in 2009. Does that explain the lack of global condemnation of China? Your guess is as good as mine.
The “Belt and Road” initiative by China involves about 60 countries, an infrastructural project that intends to make it easy for them to trade with China, well now their silence looks more like consent for some sort of “trade gain” from China.
The Uighurs are humans just like the rest of us, they deserve to the fundamental human rights as contained in the Universal declaration of human right. People living in China cannot all be Buddhist’s, there are various religions in the World and people should be allowed to practice their religion in peace. Each and every one of us has the obligation to speak up against the inhuman treatment meted on the Uighurs because like the saying goes “injustice against one of us is injustice against all of us”.
The fact that China has been able to keep the Muslim majority country’s to stay quiet is not just shameful on their part but a show of shallow conscience, one that runs after material wealth like a lost puppy. The voices that speak up for the Uighurs are getting louder and the Communist state will not be able to tune it down anymore. The Uighurs will soon rather than later get their much needed justice because history is always on the side of the oppressed.
Halima Imam is Founder, Climate Action Team