News / Asia

    In Xinjiang, Poverty, Exclusion Greater Threat Than Islam

    Two ethnic Uighur men walk in a clothing market in downtown Urumqi, Xinjiang province, Nov. 1, 2013.
    Two ethnic Uighur men walk in a clothing market in downtown Urumqi, Xinjiang province, Nov. 1, 2013.
    Reuters
    In the dirty backstreets of the Uighur old quarter of Xinjiang's capital Urumqi in China's far west, Abuduwahapu frowns when asked what he thinks is the root cause of the region's festering problem with violence and unrest.
     
    “The Han Chinese don't have faith, and the Uighurs do. So they don't really understand each other,” he said, referring to the Muslim religion the Turkic-speaking Uighur people follow, in contrast to the official atheism of the ruling Communist Party.
     
    Vehicles travel along Chang'an Avenue as smoke raises in front of a portrait of late Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Oct. 28, 2013.Vehicles travel along Chang'an Avenue as smoke raises in front of a portrait of late Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Oct. 28, 2013.
    x
    Vehicles travel along Chang'an Avenue as smoke raises in front of a portrait of late Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Oct. 28, 2013.
    Vehicles travel along Chang'an Avenue as smoke raises in front of a portrait of late Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Oct. 28, 2013.
    But for the teenage bread delivery boy, it's not Islam that's driving people to commit acts of violence, such as last week's deadly car crash in Beijing's Tiananmen Square - blamed by the government on Uighur Islamist extremists who want independence.
     
    “Some people there support independence and some do not. Mostly, those who support it are unsatisfied because they are poor,” said Abuduwahapu, who came to Urumqi two years ago from the heavily Uighur old Silk Road city of Kashgar in Xinjiang's southwest, near the Pakistani and Afghan border.
     
    “The Han are afraid of Uighers. They are afraid if we had guns, we would kill them,” he said, standing next to piles of smoldering garbage on plots of land where buildings have been demolished.
     
    China's claims that it is fighting an Islamist insurgency in energy-rich Xinjiang - a vast area of deserts, mountains and forests geographically located in central Asia - are not new.
     
    A decade ago, China used the 9/11 attacks in the United States to justify getting tough with what it said were al-Qaida-backed extremists who wanted to bring similar carnage to Xinjiang.
     
    For many Chinese, the rather benign view of Xinjiang which existed in China pre-Sept. 11, 2001 - as an exotic frontier with colorful minorities who love dancing and singing - has been replaced with suspicion.
     
    A Chinese policeman of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team stands guard on a main street next to Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Oct. 31, 2013.A Chinese policeman of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team stands guard on a main street next to Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Oct. 31, 2013.
    x
    A Chinese policeman of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team stands guard on a main street next to Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Oct. 31, 2013.
    A Chinese policeman of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team stands guard on a main street next to Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Oct. 31, 2013.
    China says al-Qaida and others work with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, in Beijing's eyes the foremost terror group in Xinjiang, and spraypaints warnings on walls against Hizb ut-Tahrir, a supranational group that says its goal is to establish a pan-national Muslim state.
     
    ​The incident on Tiananmen Square has only added to China's unease.
     
    “The Han seem to be afraid of us. I don't know why. They won't tell us,” said a 22-year-old Uighur man who runs a shoe and clothing shop a stone's throw from an armed police training ground in Urumqi.
     
    Security Crackdown
     
    Since 2001 - a process that started arguably even before - China has conducted a sweeping security crackdown in Xinjiang, further repressing Uighur culture, religious tradition and language, rights groups say, despite strong government denials of offering the Uighurs anything but wide-ranging freedoms.
     
    Some Uighurs believe their only alternative may be to draw closer to Islam, and by doing so, further the distance between themselves and the Communist Party and the Han Chinese.
     
    While many Uighur women in Urumqi dress in much the same casual fashions as their Han counterparts, others have begun to wear full veils, something more common in Pakistan or Afghanistan than Xinjiang.
     
    “It's only since the state has been repressing religious practices in Xinjiang so hard, that ironically it has caused Uighur Muslims to re-traditionalize, to re-Islamize at a very rapid rate now,” said Joanne Smith Finley, a lecturer in Chinese studies at Britain's Newcastle University who studies Xinjiang.
     
    “There is no tradition in Xinjiang of any kind of radical Islamism,” she added.
     
    The government has recognized the economic roots of some of the problems, and has poured money into development in the form of schools, hospitals and roads. To be sure, incomes have risen, especially in the countryside where many Uighurs live.
     
    Annual rural incomes averaged a little under 6,400 yuan ($1,000) a year in 2012, up some 15 percent on the previous year, though this is still 1,500 yuan less than the national average and more than 11,000 yuan less than Shanghai's rural residents, the country's richest.
     
    Discrimination against Uighurs in the job market - including employment advertisements saying “no Uighurs accepted” - is another issue, despite government attempts to end this.
     
    Ilham Tohti, an ethnic Uighur economist based in China and a longtime critic of Chinese policy toward Xinjiang, told Reuters he feared the Tiananmen incident would only lead to more repression and discrimination, further fanning the flames.
     
    “Whatever happens, this will have a long-term and far-reaching impact on Uighurs, and will cause great harm. It will only worsen the obstacles Uighurs face in Han-dominated society,” he said.
     
    ($1 = 6.0995 Chinese yuan)

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments page of 2
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    by: Wangchuk from: NYC
    November 08, 2013 9:42 AM
    Xinjiang was an independent state from 1945-49 called Eastern Turkestan & that freedom ended when the PLA invaded in '49. Uighurs were once the vast majority but now they make up only about 45% of the pop., drowning in a sea of Chinese migrants. Uighurs face discrimination from the CCP & Chinese companies. Uighurs face restrictions on their religion that don't apply to Chinese or Hui Muslims. China treats Xinjiang like a colony & Uighurs as 2nd class citizens. At police checkpoints, Uighurs are routinely searched while Chinese travelers breeze through. Until Uighurs have genuine self-rule, these problems will persist.

    by: li west hung from: brasil
    November 04, 2013 6:20 PM
    Islam did exist way before. Why is it suddenly a threat? Is it because the west tells you so? The enemy of Islam desire to create a bad image of Islam through media and look for excuse to devour the wealth Man. And if you truly fear Islam of being ruled by it then know, it will do so, if it is the Truth from the Creator of THIS Planet

    by: li weijian from: Evanston IL. USA
    November 04, 2013 4:56 PM
    It is really difficult for me to understan why VOA produces this kind of inmagined story. For poltical reasons to blacken image of Chinese governmnet? I don't really know. Reports without survey can only weaken the credibility of VOA. Terrorist attacks in USA are terrorist crimes; Terrorist attacks in are represses on human rights?
    In Response

    by: Wangchuk from: NYC
    November 08, 2013 9:44 AM
    Looks like the 50 Cent Party is alive & well on VOA's forums. These people are paid by the CCP to defend the CCP online. The CCP has 2 million people (larger than the PLA) to monitor & control online opinion, including foreign websites like VOA (which is banned in China).

    by: gest
    November 04, 2013 1:17 PM
    It is funny they do not know why Chinese are afraid of those thugs, they steal they kill in broad day light with many many people present,if the witness is willing to help, they would kill so no one dares to stand near them.

    by: chendu from: china
    November 04, 2013 12:50 PM
    Those people are thieves and thugs.

    by: news from: london
    November 04, 2013 12:42 PM
    Those xinjiang minorities are thieves, whenever or wherever you see them near you in Shanghai or Beijing , you need to keep your eyes on your wallets or bags. They stole my closest family members' wallets by cutting the bags and no one dared to say anything until they left the scene, by that time , it was too late, because those thieves are so dangerous no one dares to say anything even if they saw the crime happening before their eyes.
    In Response

    by: Wangchuk from: NYC
    November 08, 2013 9:45 AM
    Thank you for confirming that many Han Chinese are racist when it comes to Uighurs & other "minorities" in China.

    by: Godwin from: Nigeria
    November 04, 2013 12:10 PM
    Make no mistake about this, it is the same illusion as saying hunger is a greater threat than snake bite. Countries that used to live in peace and harmony welcomed the once thought to be peaceful religion making the same mistake but today they wish they had made the right choice. If you live in hunger, but you can sleep at night without fear of bombs and grenades exploding over your roof, killing your children in school, shooting your social gatherings in the name of religion, or alleging all kinds of spurious allegations against your children for blasphemy, you should count yourself blessed.

    But ask people in Iraq, Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iran etc. where anyone not belonging to Islam is cheaper than a pigeon. China is growing up and will get there, if you make the mistake of settling with Islam today, it will ask you to change to its sharia rule tomorrow. Inch by inch it eats you up until you're minority, then it starts to oppress and dominate. Please don't go there, it's dangerous.

    by: Davis K. Thanjan from: New York
    November 04, 2013 11:24 AM
    It is not religion or poverty for terrorism in and from Xinjiang in the eastern China. It is of Chinese making. China has territorial dispute with Turkmenistan. The Chinese People Army occupied east Turkmenistan and call the area as Xinjiang. The people of Xinjiang is fighting for their freedom. The aggression of China in Xinjiang (1949), Tibet (1959) and Manchuria/Outer Mongolia (1945) have to pay a heavy price in the form of terrorism. The freedom movements in these occupied areas is heightened by the colonization of the Hans, the Chinese ethnic majority, similar to the Israeli settlements in West Bank. Since these territorial claims are by China, the major powers like US and Russia don't want to raise the issue in the shroud of bilateral trade. Both these powers have no moral ground to support the legitimate aspirations of the people in these Chinese occupied territories.
    In Response

    by: oldlamb from: Guangzhou
    November 04, 2013 10:37 PM
    Mr.Davis,I don't think your historical knowledge of Xinjiang is richer than Xinjiang economy.Please, To review the history,there were numerous small countries before Qing Dynasty(400 years) in Xinjiang.After Qing Dynasty was established,this small countries has been united in Chinese centre regime.and meanwhile,clashes in Xinjiang have been not uncommon between Uighurs and the Han Chinese majority or members of the government security forces. The estimative figure were killed would be more than 10 thousands people since Qing Dynasty.
    So it must be pointed out what you say is wrong that the aggression of China in Xinjiang (1949), Tibet (1959) and Manchuria/Outer Mongolia (1945) have to pay a heavy price in the form of terrorism.

    by: oldlamb from: Guangzhou
    November 04, 2013 9:37 AM
    Xinjiang is not the poorest province in China,as Ningxia,Guizhou are poorer than Xinjiang.I wonder why Xinjiang is more unrest and violent?
    The correct answere is:there are many foreign countries preferring to collobrate with separatists get through the national boundaries in Xinjang,in contrast to the minorities in Ningxia,Guizhou where no national boundaries.
    Poverty is not the linchpin!
    In Response

    by: Wangchuk from: NYC
    November 08, 2013 9:48 AM
    Actually there are a lot of protests in Ningxia & Guizhou. In fact, throughout China there are over 100,000 mass protests per year. Clearly Chinese people are dissatisified w/ the Party just like Uighurs & Tibetans. The difference is that the CCP automatically labels Uighur/Tibetan protests as terrorism or separatism but takes a gentler approach when Han Chinese protest. It's an example of the racial discrimination within the Party.
    In Response

    by: oliviachen from: Guizhou
    November 04, 2013 10:19 AM
    Totally agree with you. Those who do not know the real conditions,please just shout out.

    by: Somebody who is sick of I from: secret
    November 03, 2013 11:36 PM
    This is a politically-correct but factually-incorrect article.
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