Chinese Communist Party crackdown on Muslim population spreading as Xi Jinping sees dissent
In China’s northwest, the government is stripping the most overt expressions of the Islamic faith from a picturesque valley where most residents are devout Muslims.
Authorities have destroyed domes and minarets on mosques, including one in a small village near Linxia, a city known as “Little Mecca.”
Similar demolitions have been carried out in Inner Mongolia, Henan and Ningxia, the homeland of China’s largest Muslim ethnic minority, the Hui. In the southern province of Yunnan, three mosques were closed. From Beijing to Ningxia, officials have banned the public use of Arabic script.
This campaign represents the newest front in the Chinese Communist Party’s sweeping rollback of individual religious freedoms, after decades of relative openness that allowed more moderate forms of Islam to blossom.
The harsh crackdown on Muslims that began with the Uighurs in Xinjiang is spreading to more regions and more groups.
It is driven by the party’s fear that adherence to the Muslim faith could turn into religious extremism and open defiance of its rule. Across China, the party is now imposing new restrictions on Islamic customs and practices, in line with a confidential party directive, parts of which have been seen by The New York Times.
The measures reflect the hard-line policies of China’s leader, Xi Jinping, who has sought to reassert the primacy of the Communist Party and its ideology in all walks of life.
The campaign has prompted concerns that the repression of Uighur Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang has begun to bleed into other parts of China, targeting Hui and other Muslims who have been better integrated than Uighurs into Chinese society.
“The People’s Republic of China has become the world’s foremost purveyor of anti-Islamic ideology and hate,” he wrote in a recent essay for the Hudson Institute. “This, in turn, has translated into broad public support for the Beijing government’s intensifying oppression of Muslims in the Xinjiang region and elsewhere in the country.”
None of the new measures, so far, have approached the brutality of Xinjiang’s mass detentions and invasive surveillance of Uighurs. But they have already stirred anxiety among the Hui, who number more than 10 million.
“We are now backtracking again,” Cui Haoxin, a Hui Muslim poet who publishes under the name An Ran, said in an interview in Jinan, south of Beijing, where he lives.
To Cui, the methods of repression that are smothering Uighur society in Xinjiang now loom over all of China. “One day, this model will not only target Muslims,” he said. “Everyone will be harmed by it.”
Islam has had followers in China for centuries. There are now 22 million to 23 million Muslims, a tiny minority in a country of 1.4 billion. Among them, the Hui and the Uighurs make up the largest ethnic groups. Uighurs primarily live in Xinjiang, but the Hui live in enclaves scattered around the nation.
The restrictions they now face can be traced to 2015, when Xi first raised the issue of what he called the “Sinicisation of Islam,” saying all faiths should be subordinate to Chinese culture and the Communist Party.
Last year, Xi’s government issued a confidential directive that ordered local officials to prevent Islam from interfering with secular life and the state’s functions.
Critics of China’s policies who are outside the country provided excerpts from the directive to The New York Times. The directive, titled “Reinforcing and Improving Islam Work in the New Situation,” has not been made public. It was issued by the State Council, China’s Cabinet, in April of last year and classified as confidential for 20 years.
The directive warns against the “Arabisation” of Islamic places, fashions and rituals in China, singling out the influence of Saudi Arabia, the home of Islam’s holiest sites, as a cause for concern.
It prohibits the use of the Islamic financial system. It bars mosques or other private Islamic organisations from organising kindergartens or after-school programmes, and it forbids Arabic-language schools to teach religion or send students abroad to study.
The most visible aspect of the crackdown has been the targeting of mosques built with domes, minarets and other architectural details characteristic of Central Asia or the Arabic world.
Taken in isolation, some of these measures seem limited. Others seem capricious: some mosques with Arabic features have been left untouched, while others nearby have been altered or shut down.
But on a national scale, the trend is clear. Cui, the poet, calls it the harshest campaign against faith since the end of the Cultural Revolution, when so-called Red Guards unleashed by Mao Zedong destroyed mosques across the country.
In the state’s view, the spread of Islamic customs dangerously subverts social and political conformity.
China claims that it allows freedom of religion, but emphasises that the state must always come first. The Ningxia government, asked about its recent restrictions on Islam, said that China had rules on religious practice just like any other country.
Mosques that violate laws such as building codes will be closed, it said, and schools and universities will not permit religious activities.
“Arabic is a foreign language,” the government said about the restrictions on public signage, adding that they had been imposed “to make things convenient for the general public.”
SOURCE: New York Times
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