East Turkestan: Muslim Voices Rising in China
Below is an extract from an article written by Jehangir S. Pocha, and published by The
HETIAN, China - On a recent Friday, the holy day of Islam, crowds swelled inside the antique Jame mosque, the largest in this ancient town in Xinjiang Province in the far west of China, home to the nation's small but restive Muslim minority.
The turbaned and bearded clerics who preached to the gathered faithful had all been vetted for their political beliefs by local Chinese authorities, who determine what sermons they can give, what version of the Koran they may use, and where and how religious gatherings can be held.
The Chinese government forces all Muslims in
The Chinese government has tightened its constraints on the Uighur ethnic minority in western
In turn, resentment among the Uighurs toward perceived repression by the Chinese has intensified. And increasingly, the Uighurs are speaking out and demanding autonomy, thanks in part to the emergence of articulate Uighur voices at home and in exile.
Though Xinjiang is ostensibly an autonomous province, Wang Lequan, the local Communist Party secretary, who is Chinese, has publicly called for Uighurs (pronounced Wee'-gurs) to learn more Mandarin and adopt more Chinese customs.
To dissuade Uighur youths from inheriting their traditional Islamic culture, the government has banned children from entering mosques, studying Islam, or celebrating Islamic holidays.
During the month of Ramadan, when devout Muslims fast through the day, schools take special care to ensure that all their students eat, a local school principal said.
The fear and state control under which Uighurs live in Xinjiang was apparent when some foreign journalists, who are generally not allowed into the province, were taken on a tour by Chinese officials last month. The journalists were carefully monitored, but when they did manage to go out alone, most Uighurs were too scared to talk about the antipathy they bear toward
A man who identified himself only as Abdel rubbed his clean-shaven chin anxiously as the four Uighur Muslim friends finished their dinner of goat soup and noodles.
"The government doesn't allow young people here to grow beards," he said as the sun set. "If you do, they will send you to the forced labor camps. This is a communist country and it is scared of Muslims. Our Uighur ethnic group is suppressed the most."
Abdel asked not to be fully identified out of fear of reprisal from local authorities. But his is just one of the angry whispers filtering through the crumbling buildings and twisted alleys of Xinjiang's Uighur cities and villages.
Abdel fidgeted uncomfortably throughout the few minutes he talked to the journalists, saying the biggest problem Uighurs face is that of social and economic exclusion.
"The truth is, where you see money there will be Han, where there is poverty you will see us Uighurs," Abdel said. Han is an ethnic group that makes up the majority of
Some Chinese officials say they are baffled by the criticism
"On the one hand the world complains that
After the Sept. 11 attacks on the
Though Chinese actions in Xinjiang have been very similar to its actions in neighboring
That is changing, thanks to the emergence of a new generation of articulate Uighur leaders and to growing support for Uighur separatists from Islamists in
Rebiya Kadeer, a Uighur exile living in
"The Chinese have denied us basic rights and freedoms -- that's why we now want them out of our land," Kadeer said in a telephone interview. "A lot of doors are being opened to me [in