Sign of the times: China’s capital orders Arabic, Muslim symbols taken down

More evidence of Chinese repression of minorities. Another great backdrop for the 2020 International Metropolis Conference in Beijing:

Authorities in the Chinese capital have ordered halal restaurants and food stalls to remove Arabic script and symbols associated with Islam from their signs, part of an expanding national effort to “Sinicize” its Muslim population.

Employees at 11 restaurants and shops in Beijing selling halal products and visited by Reuters in recent days said officials had told them to remove images associated with Islam, such as the crescent moon and the word “halal” written in Arabic, from signs.

Government workers from various offices told one manager of a Beijing noodle shop to cover up the “halal” in Arabic on his shop’s sign, and then watched him do it.

“They said this is foreign culture and you should use more Chinese culture,” said the manager, who, like all restaurant owners and employees who spoke to Reuters, declined to give his name due to the sensitivity of the issue.

The campaign against Arabic script and Islamic images marks a new phase of a drive that has gained momentum since 2016, aimed at ensuring religions conform with mainstream Chinese culture.

The campaign has included the removal of Middle Eastern-style domes on many mosques around the country in favor of Chinese-style pagodas.

China, home to 20 million Muslims, officially guarantees freedom of religion, but the government has campaigned to bring the faithful into line with Communist Party ideology.

It’s not just Muslims who have come under scrutiny. Authorities have shut down many underground Christian churches, and torn down crosses of some churches deemed illegal by the government.

But Muslims have come in for particular attention since a riot in 2009 between mostly Muslim Uighur people and majority Han Chinese in the far western region of Xinjiang, home to the Uighur minority.

Spasms of ethnic violence followed, and some Uighurs, chafing at government controls, carried out knife and crude bomb attacks in public areas and against the police and other authorities.

In response, China launched what it described as a crackdown on terrorism in Xinjiang.

Now, it is facing intense criticism from Western nations and rights groups over its policies, in particular mass detentions and surveillance of Uighurs and other Muslims there.

The government says its actions in Xinjiang are necessary to stamp out religious extremism. Officials have warned about creeping Islamisation, and have extended tighter controls over other Muslim minorities.


Analysts say the ruling Communist Party is concerned that foreign influences can make religious groups difficult to control.

“Arabic is seen as a foreign language and knowledge of it is now seen as something outside of the control of the state,” said Darren Byler, an anthropologist at the University of Washington who studies Xinjiang.

“It is also seen as connected to international forms of piety, or in the eyes of state authorities, religious extremism. They want Islam in China to operate primarily through Chinese language,” he said.

Kelly Hammond, an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas who studies Muslims of the Hui minority in China, said the measures were part of a “drive to create a new normal”.

Beijing is home to at least 1,000 halal shops and restaurants, according to the Meituan Dianping food delivery app, spread across the city’s historic Muslim quarter as well as in other neighborhoods.

It was not clear if every such restaurant in Beijing has been told to cover Arabic script and Muslim symbols. One manager at a restaurant still displaying Arabic said he’d been ordered to remove it but was waiting for his new signs.

Several bigger shops visited by Reuters replaced their signs with the Chinese term for halal – “qing zhen” – while others merely covered up the Arabic and Islamic imagery with tape or stickers.

The Beijing government’s Committee on Ethnicity and Religious affairs declined to comment, saying the order regarding halal restaurants was a national directive.

The National Ethnic Affairs Commission did not respond to a faxed request for comment.

While most shopkeepers interviewed by Reuters said they did not mind replacing their signs, some said it confused their customers and an employee at a halal butcher shop accused authorities of “erasing” Muslim culture.

“They are always talking about national unity, they’re always talking about China being international. Is this national unity?”

Source: Sign of the times: China’s capital orders Arabic, Muslim symbols taken down

You Can’t Force People to Assimilate. So Why Is China at It Again?

Good overview and analysis. Holding the 2020 International Metropolis Conference in Beijing hard to justify, particularly given the spin given by the Centre for China and Globalization (see Fri Jun 28 CCG to host International Metropolis Conference in Beijing in June 2020):

The Chinese government’s campaign of internment in the northwestern region of Xinjiang is extraordinary, by dint of its scale — but also, its contradictions.

Up to 1.5 million people from predominantly Muslim Turkic minorities — Uighurs, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz — have been arbitrarily detained in political re-education camps designed in part to make them renounce their religious beliefs.

At times, the Chinese authorities have portrayed this mass detention campaign as a “strict preventative measure” against violent extremist ideologies. At others, they have called it a benign “vocational training” initiative, comparing detainees to “boarding school students.”

But eyewitnesses — as well as the government’s own documents — reveal that these facilities are prisonlike internment camps that rely on intensive brainwashing procedures and forms of psychological torture. (There also have been reports of physical torture and rape.) Beyond the camps, the state’s social re-engineering efforts involve systematically separating childrenfrom their parents and enlisting more and more adults in forms of forced labor.

Although China has occasionally faced violent resistance from some Uighur groups, notably terrorist attacks in Beijing in 2013and Kunming in 2014, the re-education campaign in Xinjiang isn’t really about combating extremism. (The United States’ antiterrorism czar, Nathan Sales, said as much earlier this month.) Those detained aren’t just young men — the group most vulnerable to radicalization, it is thought — but also the elderly and pregnant women, as well as atheists and converts to Christianity. One can be interned for putting too much gas in one’s car, refusing to smoke in public (abstention is taken to be a sign of piety) or receiving phone calls from relatives overseas. Members of ethnic minorities who said that they had tried everything to become “model Chinese citizens” have reported that those efforts didn’t save them from internment.

Why not? And why is the Chinese government repressing entire ethnic groups when such heavy-handed tactics are likely to only promote resistance and radicalization? And why is it willing to risk alienating Muslim governments in Central Asia and beyond even as President Xi Jinping has made the grand Belt and Road Initiative his flagship international project?

Because the Chinese Communist Party cannot not try to coerce assimilation. Its ultimate goal in Xinjiang — as elsewhere in China — is to exercise complete ideological supremacy, and that also entails trying to transform the very identity of the country’s minorities. The C.C.P. lives in perennial fear that, short of having a complete grip on Chinese society, its long-term survival is in danger.

And so the C.C.P. is doubling down today on a campaign of forced assimilation in Xinjiang that has failed elsewhere in the past.

The party’s current re-education drive is an upgraded version of the Cultural Revolution. This campaign, too, seeks to achieve ideological control by eradicating alternative ideological and belief systems. But it does so in a much more sophisticated and high-tech way. In Xinjiang, reams of personal information about Uighurs and other minorities are entered into police databases after being collected at checkpoints, through feeds from surveillance systems or during house visits.

Only this effort seems to ignore that one effect of the Cultural Revolution was to create a spiritual vacuum and that in the decades since China has experienced various spiritual revivals. Many Uighurs and Tibetans, as well as members of the Han majority, have ardently embraced both traditional and new beliefs.

The number of Christians in China is thought to have increased from 3.4 million in 1950 to about 100 million today — or more than the C.C.P.’s entire membership. Even C.C.P. members have either openly embraced a major religion or have anonymously admittedthat they attend religious services, seek divination, burn incense or keep idols in their homes. Many of the devout see no contradiction between their faith and their patriotism or respect for the party.

Still, the C.C.P.’s campaign of assimilation today continues to target religion, because, in the party’s eyes, religion, which tends to represent a person’s deepest allegiance, competes with loyalty to the state and undercuts the party’s ideological foundation: materialism.

China’s spiritual revival has thoroughly confounded the core Marxist assumption that economic development would naturally extinguish religious beliefs; in fact, it has occurred even as the country has been lifted out of poverty. Increasing wealth also seems to have fueled corruption, including within the C.C.P. — undermining the party’s legitimacy and moral standing. The C.C.P. is now doubly on the ideological defensive.

The government, beyond targeting religion, has also tried to promote ethno-linguistic assimilation — again, through material incentives. Some minorities have pursued a Chinese language education in order to achieve upward social mobility. But many more have only become more entrenched in their distinct ethnic and religious identity.

Earlier this year, Tibetan nomads were told they could obtain state subsidies only if they replaced their altars devoted to Buddhist deities with images of Chinese political leaders. Likewise, Christian villagers in southeast China had previously been told to replace depictions of Jesus with portraits of President Xi if they wanted to continue to receive poverty-alleviation subsidies. Local officials then reportedly claimed, according to social media, that the initiative had successfully “melted the hard ice” in Christians’ “hearts” and “transformed them from believing in religion to believing in the party.”

The last major opponent of China’s Muslim oppression has retreated into silence. Here’s why that’s a big deal.

Ironic but perhaps not surprising that criticism of China’s repression of the Chinese Muslims is not from Muslim countries but more from the West. Hard to take the OIC and Muslim countries seriously when they complain about anti-Muslim discrimination in the West when they are largely silent on the Uighurs:

In recent months, a wave of Islamic countries stood up to China over its oppression of the Muslim Uighur ethnic minority before backing down again, largely due to fear of Beijing’s economic vengeance.

Turkey — which bills itself as a leader of the Islamic world — is the latest country to retreat into silence.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has spoken out against China’s oppression of the Uighurs on numerous past occasions, but this week he gave his implicit support to China’s policies in Xinjiang during a state visit to the country.

“It is a fact that the people of all ethnicities in Xinjiang are leading a happy life amid China’s development and prosperity,” Erdogan said on Tuesday, the state-run China Daily newspaper reported, paraphrasing the Turkish president.

He added that some people were seeking to “abuse” the Xinjiang crisis to jeopardize Turkey and China’s economic relationship, saying according to Agence France-Presse.

“This abuse is having a negative impact on Turkish-Chinese relations. It is necessary that we do not give opportunity to such abuse.”

China has installed a modern surveillance state in Xinjiang. Uighurs in the region are forced to download malware that sweeps their phones for content unsavory to the Chinese regime, and authorities have detained up to 1.5 million of them in prison-like camps where people are reportedly tortured.

Though major Muslim countries like Pakistan, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia have also been silent about China’s Uighur crisis, Turkey’s apparent capitulation is perhaps most threatening to Uighurs.

Until now, Turkey had been the only Islamic country that dared speak up for the Uighurs.

It has also offered a safe haven to the community. Many members of the Uighur diaspora have moved there in recent decades, enticed by the similarities between the Turkish and Uighur languages and cultures.

Turkey is currently home to some 35,000 Uighurs, Reuters reported this March, citing the Istanbul-based East Turkestan National Center.

That number includes many former detainees in China’s prison-like camps, where guards reportedly force Uighur inmates to sing patriotic hymns in order to get food, and subject them to physical and mental torture.

Erdogan himself has previously been a prominent voice for the Uighurs. Here’s his record:

  • In 2009, then-Prime Minister Erdogan described ethnic violence in Xinjiang as “a kind of genocide.”
  • In 2015, President Erdogan’s government openly offered to offer shelter to Uighur refugees.
  • In February 2019, Turkey’s foreign ministry condemned China’s “reintroduction of internment camps in the 21st century.” It went on to describe China’s “policy of systematic assimilation against the Uighur Turks” as “a great shame for humanity.”

February’s statement came in response to widespread protests in Turkey over the reported death of Abdurehim Heyit, a Chinese Uighur poet and musician well known among Turks.

China has responded to all these statements by repeatedly threatening to jeopardize the two countries’ economic relations.

Beijing also temporarily closed a consulate in Izmir, western Turkey, with Chinese ambassador to Turkey Deng Li telling Reuters: “Criticizing your friend publicly … will be reflected in commercial and economic relations.”

Why has Erdogan changed his tune?

Turkey — which underwent a currency collapse and a recession last year — has grown increasingly reliant on Chinese economic aid in recent years.

Ankara has been trying to join President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to link China to dozens of countries through infrastructure. The project has seen Chinese investment flow into developing countries, and critics have described the initiative as “debt-trap diplomacy.”

Erdogan heaped praise on the Belt and Road during his China visit, with both Turkish and Chinese media reporting his eagerness to work alongside China on new projects in the region.

Turkey may also want to become closer to China militarily, having bristled with the US over its arms programs and foreign policy.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation — a 57-country consortium that calls itself “the collective voice of the Muslim world” — followed a similar pattern of speaking up, then rowing back their comments about Xinjiang.

Experts told Business Insider earlier this year that this behavior could be the result of Chinese threats against the countries if they do speak up.

Adrian Zenz, an independent researcher into the Xinjiang surveillance state, tweeted after Erdogan’s visit to Beijing: “I guess the Muslim world’s actual care for their spiritual brothers is essentially zero.”

Uighurs in Turkey left in limbo

Many Uighurs in Turkey either had their Chinese passports revoked on their way out, or are unable to renew them at Beijing’s embassy in Turkey, Deutsche Welle and Reuters reported earlier this year.

Without those Chinese passports, they cannot file for work permits or legal residency in Turkey. This effectively renders them stateless, which precludes them from finding work, both outlets reported.

For this reason many Uighurs in the country are unemployed. Those who find jobs are forced to take informal, cash-based work, Deutsche Welle noted.

Erdogan’s conspicuous silence in Beijing is making Uighurs even more uncertain about their future.

Alip Erkin, an activist who runs the Uyghur Bulletin network, told Business Insider: “Wary of growing Chinese economic influence in Turkey and its increasingly cozy relations with China, Uighurs fear for even more restrictions on political activities and media coverage of what is going on in East Turkestan.”

Many Uighurs refer to Xinjiang as East Turkestan. Uyghur is an alternative spelling.

“Lasting uncertainty of legal status is forcing them to seek permanent resettlement elsewhere through various official and unofficial means,” Erkin said.

‘A delicate balancing act’

The fate of Uighurs in Turkey remains unclear, but they haven’t lost all hope yet.

Ankara has sent mixed messages to the Uighur diaspora in recent weeks, with the government granting over 146,000 residence permits to Uighurs from China, Iraq, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan in a gesture of support just five weeks ago.

“You don’t need to worry,” Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu told an audience on the day, referring to Uighurs, according to Hurriyet Daily News. He went on to say that the country will do all it can to ensure Uighurs “reach tomorrow as citizens of the Republic of Turkey.”

Erkin called this “a reassuring message to Uighurs living” in Turkey. He added that the contrast between Soylu’s support and Erdogan’s apparent kowtowing to Beijing is “a delicate balancing act on the part of Turkey.”

Business Insider has contacted Turkey’s foreign ministry for comment on whether Turkey would change its policies toward Uighurs’ path to Turkish citizenship.

Source: The last major opponent of China’s Muslim oppression has retreated into silence. Here’s why that’s a big deal.

US envoy decries lack of foreign response to China’s attack on Islam

Valid critique (and understatement of their human rights record):

The US envoy on religious liberty has said he is “disappointed” at the response of governments in the Islamic world to China’s mass incarceration of Uighur Muslims, suggesting they had been threatened by Beijing.

Sam Brownback, ambassador at large for international religious freedom, said some majority-Muslim states did not want to draw attention to their own human rights record. He was hopeful that the more Muslim populations around the world heard about the imprisonment of an estimated more than 1 million Uighurs, the more they will put pressure on their governments to speak out.

The Trump administration has severely criticised Beijing for its campaign against Islam in Xinjiang province, western China, where more than two dozen mosques and Islamic shrines have been razed since 2016. But Washington, in the midst of a tense trade dispute with China, has yet to impose sanctions, and Brownback said he could not say whether any punitive measures were pending.

Meanwhile, Washington’s closest allies in the Islamic world – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt – have been silent in the face of the mass incarceration of Muslims in Xinjiang.

At the beginning of March, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation passed a resolution which praised China for “providing care to its Muslim citizens”.

The Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has also defended China’s “right to carry out anti-terrorism and counter extremism work for its national security”.

In an interview with the Guardian, Brownback said that the US has been “in discussion” with Riyadh about its response to China, but did not single out the Saudis for criticism, arguing it was an issue for the whole Islamic world.

He applauded Turkey for taking a outspoken approach, and “a number of western countries that have spoken out aggressively on this”.

But Brownback, a former Kansas governor, added: “I have been disappointed that more Islamic countries have not spoken out. I know the Chinese have been threatening them and but you don’t back down to somebody that does that. That just encourages more actions.

“If China is not stopped from doing this they’re going to replicate and push this system out in their own country and to other authoritarian regimes,” he said.

Brownback did not specify what kind of threats China is alleged to have made, but after the Turkish foreign ministry called the incarceration of Uighurs a “great shame for humanity”, China scaled down diplomatic ties and warned of damaged economic relations.

Brownback suggested another reason for reticence of some governments in the Islamic world was they felt vulnerable on their own record on religious rights.

“I think a number of who are concerned about their own human rights record and then they’re saying look: we don’t want people criticizing us [so] we’re not going to criticize somebody else,” he said.

But Brownback said he was hopeful that governments would increasingly come under pressure from their own people to take a stand on the abuses in China.

“I think as more information gets out and particularly as it gets out to the population in some of these places that you’ll see more of their governments act and react,” he said.

Source: US envoy decries lack of foreign response to China’s attack on Islam

Angry over campus speech by Uighur activist, Chinese students in Canada contact their consulate, film presentation

Crossing the line and a reminder of the role the Chinese embassy and consulates appear to be playing with respect to some of the Chinese students in Canada:

The news of a talk by a Uighur activist spread quickly on campus, ricocheting across WeChat, the Chinese messaging app.

A group of Chinese students at McMaster University, in Ontario, learned that Rukiye Turdush, a vocal critic of the Chinese government’s treatment of Uighurs, was set to deliver a presentation about the mass internment of Muslims in China’s far northwest.

The students were furious that a woman they considered a separatist would be given a platform to speak. So they rallied in a chat group and reached out to a familiar source of guidance: the Chinese government.

As Turdush gave her presentation that afternoon, a student in the audience filmed her, and later shouted at her before storming out.

Students wrote in a WeChat group that they contacted the Chinese Embassy about the event and were told to see whether university officials attended and whether Chinese nationals had organized the talk. They later wrote that they sent photos to Chinese officials.

In the following days, Chinese student groups published a “bulletin report” about Turdush’s talk. The bulletin, which was co-signed by five McMaster student groups, including the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA), noted contact with the Chinese Consulate in Toronto.

The incident at McMaster was pieced together using records of a group chat conducted in Chinese and translated by The Washington Post, interviews with three people who attended the event, video footage, and the bulletin.

It offers a vivid example of how Chinese students have grown into a vocal and coordinated force on Western campuses, monitoring and pushing back against speech they deem critical of China. It is of particular note because it is unusual to find written evidence of apparent coordination with officials.

Though student organizing and heated debate are common and important parts of campus life, contact with the Chinese Consulate may cross a line, experts said, and will no doubt renew questions about the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to influence foreign institutions, including universities.

“As with many things involving China, there is a continuum, running from what is acceptable to not acceptable,” said David Mulroney, who served as Canada’s ambassador to China from 2009 to 2012.

Students rallying around a cause is absolutely acceptable, he said, but coordination with diplomats generally goes beyond normal involvement. “The fact they want to know which academics attend hints at desire to stop academic freedom,” he said.

Multiple calls to the Chinese Consulate in Toronto went unanswered. The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa did not respond to a written request for comment. Reached by phone, two men in the embassy’s education section declined to discuss the incident.

Gord Arbeau, director of communications at McMaster, said the school was aware of the incident but was still looking into exactly what happened.

“We are concerned if anyone felt they would be under surveillance while attending an event on campus,” he said. “This would not be in keeping with our principles of free speech and respectful dialogue that we uphold at McMaster.”

According to the Canadian Bureau for International Education, there were more than 140,000 students from China in Canada in 2017.

As the number of Chinese students at foreign universities has grown, educators have expressed concern that student activism carried out with the support or direction of Chinese officials could corrode free speech by making students and scholars, particularly those with family ties to China, afraid to criticize the Communist Party.

This week, more than 10,000 people signed a petition trying to block a Tibetan woman from running for student president at the University of Toronto at Scarborough, because of her pro-Tibetan social media posts. The case was written up in Communist Party-run nationalist media in China.

 In 2017, students at the University of California at San Diego, after reportedly consulting with the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles, mounted large protests condemning the university for naming as commencement speaker the Dalai Lama — the Tibetan spiritual leader who is considered a separatist and anathema by the Chinese government.

 The protests come at a time when the ruling Communist Party under President Xi Jinping has ratcheted up nationalist and ideological education within China, outlawed historical criticism of the party, and moved to purge Western influence from textbooks.

Xi in 2016 called on students studying abroad to serve their country. The same year, the Chinese Education Ministry issued a directive calling for a “contact network” connecting “the motherland, embassies and consulates, overseas student groups, and the broad number of students abroad” and ensuring that they will “always follow the Party.”

There are students who came of age in the Xi era who may see defending government positions and working with officials as natural and necessary, experts said.

“Among some Chinese students who just came from China, they are so used to the government telling them what to do all the time, they need to seek guidance,” said Lynette Ong, an associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto.

The McMaster incident took place Feb. 11, when a user named “Mr. Shark” shared a picture of a brochure for Turdush’s talk with a large WeChat group of Chinese-speaking students.

People participating in the chat expressed disbelief that their government operated mass detention centers, saying they had not seen Chinese news reports about them. (The centers have been widely covered in international media, but many of these reports are censored in China.)

Other students suggested calling the Chinese Consulate. Mr. Shark, meanwhile, added more than 100 other students to the group chat to bring Turdush’s talk to their attention.

In a conversation with a Post reporter on WeChat, Mr. Shark, who said he is studying engineering and declined to provide more personal details or his real name, said many Chinese students felt that criticism of their country amounted to an attack on themselves.

He said he had no connection to the government and was motivated by a sense of anger. Many of the other students were in fact disappointed that their embassy did not speak up forcefully to condemn Turdush, he said, adding that Chinese students “should rationally express our point of view and let our embassy know this event exists.”

He did not believe freedom of speech on campuses applied to Turdush, he said, because the issue in Xinjiang, the autonomous territory in northwest China where most Uighurs live, has already been “elevated to an ethnic issue.”

“It’s no longer purely an issue about a country or politics,” he said. Turdush “is stirring ethnic hatred.”

When asked whether he thought university campuses should provide a forum for other polarizing issues, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said he had no opinions about politics. He chided a Post reporter, who is of Chinese descent, for thinking like a “baizuo” — Chinese Internet slang meaning “white liberal.”

“We study-abroad students don’t know anything about politics, we just know our personal interest and our sense of belonging to our nation,” he said. “If other people hurt us, smear us, we have to counterattack.”

 On Wednesday, several Chinese student organizations put out a joint statement reproaching McMaster for hosting a “separatist” critic of the Chinese government and demanded that the university uphold its “duty of supervision.”

In a statement, McMaster’s Muslim Students’ Association and Muslims for Justice and Peace, the groups that organized the event, said they are “highly concerned” by what they called an attempt to silence coverage of human rights issues on campus.

Turdush, the activist, said the experience left her unnerved.

As she was set to begin, she said, she saw a student standing at the back of the room, filming the door. As she delivered her presentation, she noticed another student filming her. “I felt like he was sent by the consulate to distract me,” she said.

She worried that people filming and potentially reporting students or scholars to Chinese officials could threaten academic freedom.

 “Uighurs are sending me messages,” Turdush said, “They ask, ‘How can these guys do this in Canada?’ ”

Source: Angry over campus speech by Uighur activist, Chinese students in Canada contact their consulate, film presentation

Light Government Touch Lets China’s Hui Practice Islam in the Open – The New York Times

Interesting contrast to the repression of the Uighurs:

As the call to prayer echoed off the high walls of the madrasa and into the surrounding village, dozens of boys, dressed in matching violet caps, poured out of their dorm rooms and headed to the mosque.

That afternoon prayer ritual, little changed since Middle Eastern traders traversing the Silk Road first arrived in western China more than 1,000 years ago, was at once quotidian and remarkable.

That is because in many parts of the officially atheist country, religious restrictions make it a crime to operate Islamic schools and bar people under 18 from entering mosques.

Asked about the Chinese government’s light touch here, Liu Jun, 37, the chief imam at the Banqiao Daotang Islamic School, offered a knowing smile.

“Muslims from other parts of China who come here, especially from Xinjiang, can’t believe how free we are, and they don’t want to leave,” he said, referring to the far-west borderlands that are home to China’s beleaguered Uighur ethnic minority. “Life for the Hui is very good.”

With an estimated Muslim population of 23 million, China has more followers of Islam than many Arab countries. Roughly half of them live in Xinjiang, an oil-rich expanse of Central Asia where a cycle of violence and government repression has alarmed human rights advocates and unnerved Beijing over worries about the spread of Islamic extremism.

But here in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, a relatively recent administrative construct that is the official heartland of China’s Hui Muslim community, that kind of strife is almost nonexistent, as are the limitations on religion that critics say are fueling Uighur discontent.

Throughout Ningxia and the adjacent Gansu Province, new filigreed mosques soar over even the smallest villages, adolescent boys and girls spend their days studying the Quran at religious schools, and muezzin summon the faithful via loudspeakers — a marked contrast to mosques in Xinjiang, where the local authorities often forbid amplified calls to prayer.

In Hui strongholds like Linxia, a city in Gansu known as China’s “Little Mecca,” there are mosques on every other block and women can sometimes be seen with veils, a sartorial choice that can lead to detention in Xinjiang.

Source: Light Government Touch Lets China’s Hui Practice Islam in the Open – The New York Times

China orders Muslim shopkeepers to sell alcohol, cigarettes, to “weaken” Islam

Not exactly a positive engagement approach and another signal of the tension between the Chinese government and its Muslim minority:

Chinese authorities have ordered Muslim shopkeepers and restaurant owners in a village in its troubled Xinjiang region to sell alcohol and cigarettes, and promote them in “eye-catching displays,” in an attempt to undermine Islam’s hold on local residents, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported. Establishments that failed to comply were threatened with closure and their owners with prosecution.

Facing widespread discontent over its repressive rule in the mainly Muslim province of Xinjiang, and mounting violence in the past two years, China has launched a series of “strike hard” campaigns to weaken the hold of Islam in the western region. Government employees and children have been barred from attending mosques or observing the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. In many places, women have been barred from wearing face-covering veils, and men discouraged from growing long beards.

In the village of Aktash in southern Xinjiang, Communist Party official Adil Sulayman, told RFA that many local shopkeepers had stopped selling alcohol and cigarettes from 2012 “because they fear public scorn,” while many locals had decided to abstain from drinking and smoking.

The Koran calls the use of “intoxicants” sinful, while some Muslim religious leaders have also forbidden smoking.

Sulayman said authorities in Xinjiang viewed ethnic Uighurs who did not smoke as adhering to “a form of religious extremism,” and had issued the order to counter growing religious sentiment that he said was “affecting stability.”

“We have a campaign to weaken religion here, and this is part of that campaign,” he told the Washington-based news service.

The notice, obtained by RFA and also posted on Twitter, ordered all restaurants and supermarkets in Aktash to sell five different brands of alcohol and cigarettes and display them prominently. “Anybody who neglects this notice and fails to act will see their shops sealed off, their businesses suspended, and legal action pursued against them,” the notice said.

Radio Free Asia, which provides some of the only coverage of events in Xinjiang to escape strict Chinese government controls, said Hotan prefecture, where Aktash is located, had become “a hotbed of violent stabbing and shooting incidents between ethnic Uighurs and Chinese security forces.”

China orders Muslim shopkeepers to sell alcohol, cigarettes, to “weaken” Islam – The Washington Post.

In remote Xinjiang province, Uighurs are under siege

Good long piece by the Globe’s Beijing correspondent on Xinjiang and Beijing’s treatment of the Uighurs, China’s Muslim minority:

That the “Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region” is religiously and culturally unique, however, is beyond dispute. Islam arrived in the ninth century, largely displacing Buddhism. Today, many Uighurs are intellectually and linguistically oriented west toward Central Asia and the Middle East – watching Iranian music videos and reading Turkish news sites – rather than east toward coastal China.

Their home territory has, however, experienced tremendous change since the Communist Revolution in 1949. Briefly an independent state in the early 20th century, Xinjiang has in the past few decades become home to vast numbers of ethnic Chinese, many of them sent here by government settlement policies.

They now outnumber the Uighurs, and continue to arrive, drawn by untrammelled space and the jobs that flow from a land rich in resources.But the wealth hasn’t necessarily benefited the Uighur population. As the region’s oil and gas flow east, local filling stations routinely run short, with lineups 150 cars long.

In remote Xinjiang province, Uighurs are under siege – The Globe and Mail.