News You Really Need To See: “Ethnic Unrest: Spreading the Net”

“Ethnic Unrest: Spreading the Net”

The Economist, August 9-15, 2014, pp.37-38

“In the oasis town of Kashgar, in the far western region of Xinjiang, the authorities are keen to stop the spread of uncensored news about recent bloodshed in the area.  On July 28th the deadliest outbreak of unrest in years involving Muslim Uighurs took place.  By official accounts nearly 100 people were killed; Uighur exiles say many more than that died. … The government has been spooked by militant Islam in neighbouring countries (the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan are less than 300km, or 185 miles, south of Kashgar). It worries that Uighur nationalists are using religion to assert a separate identity.  At official ‘Project Beauty’ checkpoints, Uighur women in traditional face-revealing dress reprimand passers-by wearing Islamic veils.  In the north-western Xinjiang city of Karamay, a local newspaper said on August 4th that people wearing head scarves, veils or long beards were not allowed to board buses. … Relations between Han Chinese and Uighurs in the region have deteriorated sharply since 2009, when clashes erupted in Urumqi between Uighurs and Hans, leaving around 200 dead.  The government has responded by pouring in money.  Xinjiang is due to be connected to the rest of China by a bullet-train track later this year; Kashgar is soon to be connected by expressway to the north of Xinjiang, which officials say will boost the city’s economy.  But Uighur grievances have been exacerbated by officials’ intolerance of Islamic traditions and their emphasis on Chinese instruction in schools.  Kashgar itself, an historic Uighur market city on the old Silk Road, has demolished and rebuilt vast areas of ancient neighbourhoods, heedless of residents’ complaints.  Activists say the government has used more sticks than carrots with Uighurs since Xi Jinping became China’s leader in November 2012.  In January police in Beijing detained Ilham Tohti, a prominent Uighur scholar who is widely considered a moderate advocate for better treatment of Uighurs. … The latest violence erupted at the end of the holy month of Ramadan, during which officials put pressure on teachers, students and civil servants not to observe fasting rituals.”

Quickie Analysis:  An interesting look at how China’s crackdown on the Uighurs’ uprising, originally along ethnic and nationalist lines, is taking the form of cracking down on Muslim religious expression.  

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