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

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs