In what is being called an attempt to “weaken” Islam’s hold on local residents, Chinese authorities have ordered Muslim retailers and restaurant owners in a village in the embattled Xinjiang province to sell alcohol and cigarettes – while promoting them in “eye-catching displays.”
Radio Free Asia reported noncompliant parties could face closure and/or prosecution.
Although the directive has been issued for the village of Aktash only, the communist government’s severe crackdown on Muslims in Xinjiang has been going on for a long time – a strategy that could exacerbate tensions in the region.
The Muslim Uighur group makes up about 45 percent of Xinjiang’s population while the other 40 percent are Han Chinese.
After ethnic violence broke out between the two communities in its capital, Urumqi, in July 2009, claiming almost 200 lives, the Chinese government launched a "strike hard and punish" drive in a bid to suppress terrorism. The security campaign became even more intense following last year’s shocking stabbing spree at a southern Chinese train station in March – an incident authorities blamed on Xinjiang separatists.
While a lot of arrests have been made – Xinjiang prosecutors approved around 27,164 criminal arrests in 2014 – the crackdown doesn’t seem to be producing any substantial long-term results.
BBC’s China editor Carrie Gracie commented in an article published earlier in January that intense surveillance of the Uighurs with “already very limited freedoms of speech, religion and movement” will marginalize the community even more than it already is.
“Without any legitimate space in which to vent about this, the grim probability is that violence will go on, with some young Uighurs enraged and desperate enough to choose death in a hail of bullets rather than what they see as a life of subjugation,” Gracie concluded.
Forcing Muslim shopkeepers to sell alcohol isn’t the only drastic counterterrorism step the Chinese government has taken in Xinjiang recently.
Last July, students and civil servants in the northwest province were ordered by the state to avoid observing the traditional fasting during the Islamic month of Ramadan.
It was seen as an attempt to suppress the Uighurs’ religious freedoms – and rightfully so. Tarring all the members of the ethnic community with the same brush is certainly not going to solve the problem – it will only aggravate the violence.
However, it seems sweeping counterterrorism measures are a norm, especially when it comes to Islamic extremism.
Following the Paris terrorist attacks in January, the French government responded with its anti-terrorism “Stop Djihadisme” program. It contained an illustrated guide on how to spot a jihadist. (You can read more about it here.) To put it briefly, almost all the points included in the document were Islamophobic. Also, it kind of singled out the entire Muslim community as if no one else is capable of being a potential terrorist.
Similarly in the United States, the National Counterterrorism Center reportedly came up with an absurd “rating system” to determine if a family is at risk of turning toward extremism as part of a wider program called Countering Violent Extremism. (You can read more about it here.)
In Britain, the government issued new guidelines last month, requiring nursery school staff to report any toddlers who they believe are at risk of being terrorists – while ignoring the fact that around 112 cases of physical and verbal violence against Muslim students were registered following the terror attacks in Paris.
While it’s understandable that all countries, including China, are working in the best interest of its citizens and their security, a brief analysis of the ensuing counter-terrorism measures reflects extreme paranoia that could have a devastating effect on the countries’ Muslims populations – and it must stop.