China’s Islamophobia
  • Fri, 06/16/2017 - 15:50

June 15, 2017 8:08 p.m. ET

It’s Ramadan, and Beijing is again restricting the peaceful practice of Islam in its western territory of Xinjiang. This year government employees are required to ensure that friends and family aren’t fasting or otherwise observing the Muslim holy month. Under the “Together in Five Things” campaign, cadres are even living in the homes of the Uighur minority, according to the World Uyghur Congress.

This escalation may be due to the arrival of Chen Quanguo, who took over as Xinjiang’s Communist Party secretary in August after running Tibet for five years. He has introduced the system of “grid-style social management” he pioneered in Tibet that allows the government to closely monitor households.

According to state media, Xinjiang’s security budget increased 19.3% in 2016 to more than $4.4 billion, and 30,000 new officers were hired. In February Mr. Chen described security as “grim” and urged the People’s Armed Police to “bury the corpses of terrorists and terror gangs in the vast sea of the people’s war.” So much for winning hearts and minds.

New “Regulations on Anti-Extremism” that came into effect in April outlawed veils or “abnormal” beards. Parents can’t give children “overly religious” names such as Muhammad or encourage them to follow the Muslim faith. All Xinjiang residents were forced to turn in their passports late last year and must give a DNA sample when they apply for a new one.

Other measures include antiterror drills, shows of force by the security services and the installation of satellite tracking devices in cars. Mandatory activities for students are deliberately scheduled on Fridays to prevent them from attending mosque services, and rewards are offered for reporting men who wear a beard or women who wear a veil.

Control over the Uighur population goes far beyond religion. The use of their native language is discouraged in schools, and economic opportunities are limited. The best jobs go to Han Chinese settlers, who are given incentives to move to Xinjiang. Peaceful dissent is not tolerated. The Uighurs’ most articulate spokesman, Minzu University Professor Ilham Tohti, was sentenced to life in prison in 2014 for promoting separatism.

Sporadic attacks by Uighurs on Han Chinese have continued since riots in the capital Urumqi killed almost 200 people in 2009. In the city of Hotan, three men ran amok with knives and killed five people in February after a family was punished for praying at home. Most attacks appear to be spontaneous and poorly planned, despite Beijing’s claims that overseas terrorist groups are directing the violence.

Yet China’s fears of a Uighur terrorist movement may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. As Uighurs flee the country and some become radicalized, Islamic State issued a video in February in which a Uighur fighter threatened China with “rivers of blood.” The government’s anti-Islamic policies are also causing anger among Muslim nations such as Indonesia.

Chinese officials continue to respond to every outbreak of violence in Xinjiang with greater repression. By restricting even the peaceful practice of Islam by historically moderate Uighurs, Beijing is traveling a dangerous path that threatens domestic stability.

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