See More on Facebook

Culture and society, Opinion

The Chinese version

Muhammad Amir Rana asks what is the Chinese version of Islam.


Written by

Updated: December 16, 2019

TENSIONS between China and the US have escalated after the House of Representative’s Uighur Human Rights Policy Act, 2019. The move is of a piece with the allegations of many international media and human rights organisations that China is persecuting the Uighur community and violating their rights — allegations that Beijing has denied. Calling the US action a political move aimed at damaging its international image, China says it is running a deradicalisation programme to mainstream its communities.

Read: Amid global outcry, China defends internment camps of minorities in Xinjiang

The Chinese claim has not been verified by independent sources and mystery shrouds its deradicalisation or re-education programme. China needs to demonstrate to the international community that it has inserted human rights safeguards in its deradicalisation measures.

On their part, the Chinese say that they are countering violent extremism (CVE) with a strategy that has been designed after a careful examination of CVE approaches in the West and in the Muslim world which also employ deradicalisation programmes. The Chinese view has been challenged by those who point out that standard global CVE practices are different from those espoused by China, and that global CVE practices are mostly conceived when countering terrorism perspectives.

Secondly, the Chinese definition of extremism is complicated as it hardly differentiates between religious, ethnic, linguistic, and cultural grievances. Nor does this definition describe separately the different sociopolitical manifestations of extremism, of both the violent and nonviolent variety. The Chinese deradicalisation programme is also a massive exercise in the sociocultural engineering of its minority communities.

China’s communist party states that ‘harmony’ is the core driver of state policies as exemplified in its Belt and Road Initiative vision. The idea of ‘harmony’ or ‘harmonisation’ could have been conceived as a substitute for the regular democratic process, but has, instead, become a driver of legislative and administrative reform, including ‘re-education’ strategies. However, China is still striving to generate a framework for ‘harmonising’ its ethnic and religious communities. Chinese scholars believe that adopting a muscular approach to ‘harmonising’ minority communities is the fastest way to make the autonomous and administrative regions trouble-free.

Uighur Muslims complain they are paying a huge cost for this ‘harmonisation process’, which is causing them to lose their religious, ethnic, and cultural identities. They find only a few voices being raised in their support in the Muslim world. The Muslim leadership, which is greatly concerned by Islamophobia, has apparently shut its eyes to the Uighur issue. Their silence is rewarded with Chinese economic assistance and diplomatic support on international forums.

Though Chinese authorities believe they will be able to achieve their envisioned sociocultural transformation, they are nervous about their global image. This year, China opened one ‘re-education’ centre for international visitors in Kashgar, inviting diplomats, academics and journalists to visit it, in an attempt to counter international perceptions. But so far, such attempts have not impressed foreign visitors. While the centre seemed different from the images that appeared in the international media, the well-articulated responses of the trainees there created doubts in the minds of visitors. Secondly, Chinese authorities do not provide the exact number of deradicalisation centres, but according to the international media, at least 85 such centres have been set up in parts of the country, mainly in the Xinjiang region.

One component of China’s counter-extremism framework is to challenge radical narratives, which is resulting in attempts to forge a new ethnic and cultural identity for Xinjiang’s Uighur community. They are reinterpreting the history of Xinjiang and Muslims in China. According to some books and booklets, provided by the authorities to visitors, Chinese historians and scholars are making efforts to convey to their Muslim populations that they have been a part of the Chinese civilisation for thousands of years. Their emphasis on cultural integration is part of a multi-layered strategy.

A booklet titled Historical Matters Concerning Xinjiang and published by the State Council Information Office in 2019 rejects the idea that Xinjiang has ever been referred to as ‘East Turkestan’; saying that there has never been any state with this name. According to the booklet provided by the state authorities, at the turn of the 20th century, terms such as ‘pan-Turkism’ and ‘pan-Islamism’ “made inroads in Xinjiang” and “separatists in and outside China politicised the geographical concept and manipulated its meaning, inciting all ethnic [Muslim] groups speaking Turkic languages … to join in creating the theocratic state of East Turkestan”.

Chinese language courses are compulsory for Muslims because of communication barriers with Uighur and other Muslim communities, according to the Chinese authorities. An unusual aspect of this exercise is that the authorities are attempting to introduce a local, Chinese version of Islam on the pattern of its previous exercise of nurturing socialism with Chinese characteristics. For this purpose, Beijing has established Islamic learning centres to prepare imams, or prayer leaders, who can preach the ‘Chinese version’ of Islam. The curriculum of Islamic centres includes Chinese language, history, constitution, law, and culture apart from religious knowledge. These centres are not allowed to collaborate with other Islamic institutions in Muslim countries.

At a centre in Urumqi, the principal argued that religious institutions in Muslim countries focus on religious education and are divided along sectarian lines, but that the centres in China had adopted the values of socialism and developed compatibility between religion, patriotism and social cohesion. The principal told a group of international writers, including this writer, that “Chinese Islam has no space for the evils like extremism and separatism”.

The Chinese authorities complain that Uighur Muslims are not law-abiding citizens. A booklet titled Vocational Education and Training in Xinjiang, published by the State Council Information Office, provides insights into the Chinese view of the issue when it claims that extremist forces act in accordance with “fabricated religious law” and “domestic discipline”, and defy the country’s constitution and laws.

It is interesting that at a time when exclusionism, supremacism, and hyper-nationalism tendencies are globally on the rise, China has decided to launch its own version of ‘harmonising’ society. This thinking might appear to negate the global trends but in essence, its objectives are similar, and it has little space for accepting diversity.

The writer is a security analyst.



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


Dawn
About the Author: Dawn is Pakistan's oldest and most widely read English-language newspaper.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Culture and society, Opinion

Modi defends citizenship decision

PM Modi says it has nothing to do with Indian Muslims. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, that unity in diversity is integral to India while addressing ‘Aabhar Rally’ at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan today to kick start Bharatiya Janata Party’s Delhi Assembly Elections campaign slated for early next year, amid protests in Delhi and all over the country against the contentious Citizenship Act and the National Register of Citizenship(NRC). Modi raised slogan of ‘vividhta me ekta, Bharat ki visheshta’ (Unity in diversity is India’s speciality). PM Modi while giving his party and government’s view on CAA and NRC said, “Muslims being misled, I have always ensured that documents will never come in way of development schemes and their beneficiaries.” Citizenship law and NRC have nothing to do with Indian Muslims or with Indian citizens, he clarified. “We have never asked


By The Statesman
December 23, 2019

Culture and society, Opinion

India under Modi is moving systematically with a supremacist agenda, says PM Imran

Imran Khan made the comments after India passed a controversial citizenship requirement. Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Thursday that India, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been moving systematically with a Hindu supremacist agenda. The prime minister was referencing the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill passed by India’s upper house amid protests on Wednesday. The bill will let the Indian government grant citizenship to millions of illegal immigrants who entered India from three neighbouring countries before 2015 — but not if they are Muslim. Modi’s government — re-elected in May and under pressure over a slowing economy — says Muslims from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan are excluded from the legislation because they do not face discrimination in those countries. Taking to Twitter, Prime Minister I


By Dawn
December 13, 2019

Culture and society, Opinion

Nepal moves up in Human Development Index but still lags behind in South Asia

Nepal’s human development index of 0,579 indicates that people are living longer, are more educated and have greater incomes, according to the Human Development Report. Despite global progress in tackling poverty, hunger and disease, a ‘new generation of inequalities’ indicates that many societies are not working as they should and Nepal is not an exception, according to a new human development report released on Tuesday. The old inequalities were based on access to health services and education whereas the new generation of inequalities is based on technology, education and the climate, according to the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report. “Previously, we talked about wealth as a major driver for inequality. Now, countries like Nepal are in another inequality trap and that concerns


By The Kathmandu Post
December 12, 2019

Culture and society, Opinion

Taiwan among top 10 study destinations for U.S. students

Thailand and Singapore among other Asian destinations. China welcomed the highest number of U.S. students last year, followed by Japan and India in second and third places, respectively, according to a recent survey about exchange students in Asia. South Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore, Taiwan, and Indonesia rounded up the top 10 list of the most popular Asian countries among U.S. students. According to AsiaExchange, “The high level of education, low exposure to crime, economic freedom and good healthcare system are a few examples of why Taiwan is ranked 2nd on the annual Global Peace Index.” It’s also very safe to live in Taiwan, as crime rates are low, the Website stressed, noting that Taiwan’s focus on human rights, gender equality and freedom of speech has made it a top destination for education. Taiwan, whose institutions are strong and reliable, has remained la


By Cod Satrusayang
December 12, 2019

Culture and society, Opinion

No safe spaces for women in Pakistan

Rafia Zakaria writes for Dawn. THAT crime lurks in the streets and corners of Karachi is not news for anyone. Precariousness and predation are the mainstay in this southern corner of the land of the pure; if you have something you are hunted and if you have nothing, you hunt. Destiny damns both, the hunters and the hunted, enacting a dystopian version of The Walking Dead, every day and every night. Karachi is, after all, judged as one of the world’s cities that are least liveable. The scars of it all are visible everywhere, on the bodies and faces of its people, on the hospitals that do not care, and the police that do not protect. This time, the dark forces that breed within the city came for a young girl. According to news reports, 20-year-old Dua Nisar Mangi was ‘committing the crime’ of walking down a city street. This was over the weekend past, and with her was a friend named Haris. It was not suppo


By Dawn
December 5, 2019

Culture and society, Opinion

Relentless against child marriage

Farida Yesmin wins an award for her work to prevent child marriage. It was a rainy day in July 2018. As the evening fell, someone called Farida Yesmin, upazila nirbahi officer of Netrakona’s Barhatta, over her phone and informed her that a child marriage was about to take place in Kawrashi, a remote village in the upazila near the Bangladesh-India border. Farida immediately called the police and left for the village in the dark of the night amid rain and thunderstorms. The road was so bad that at one point, the UNO and her team had to leave their vehicles. They walked about two kilometres to find the girl’s home. “As we reached the spot, a local leader tried to stop us. But despite all these hurdles, we were able to prevent the marriage,” Farida said while recalling how she and her team stopped a staggering 59 child marriages after she joined as the Barhatta UNO on May 9, 2017. She


By Daily Star
December 2, 2019