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)

    You May Like

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments page of 2
     Previous    
    by: winter from: Beijing
    November 03, 2013 11:15 PM
    nonsense!

    by: Chihu from: China
    November 03, 2013 9:55 PM
    oh please... nothing is a greater threat than Islam... nothing!!
    Islam is a global threat... to China, Russia, Europe, America, Israel... everywhere...
    In Response

    by: Wangchuk from: NYC
    November 08, 2013 9:50 AM
    Since 1949, the CCP has murdered millions of Chinese, Tibetans, & Uighurs. Even today, the CCP executes more people than the rest of the world combined. The CCP caused the Great Famine under Mao which killed over 30 million Chinese. It seems the CCP is a far greater threat to China than anything else.
    In Response

    by: Xaaji Dhagax from: Somalia
    November 04, 2013 2:47 AM
    Yes, yes Islam is global threat! US president George W. Bush told us, right, Chihu?
    In Response

    by: Naseer from: Srinagar
    November 03, 2013 11:32 PM
    Islam is not threat to the world bcoz Islam spread fast in those countries whichare higly developed and literate then why these people embrace ISLAM.It is bcoz of its quality and be sure if not you (Chichu) your childrens would be Muslims in the upcoming days or years.
    Comments page of 2
     Previous    

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeasti
    X
    June 29, 2016 6:15 PM
    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora