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Xinjiang in the News Again … as Political Islam is Ignored Yet Again

So Xinjiang in on the Western news again.  In the last few days, articles have appeared at Reuters, Wall Street Journal, the Christian Science Monitor, to name just a few…

Here is an excerpt from the Christian Science Monitor:

The worst violence in the Chinese province of Xinjiang in many months erupted earlier this week between ethnic Uighur Muslims and Chinese police, as the Holy Month of Ramadan began.

Between 18 and 30 people were killed and more injured in an attack on a police checkpoint in Kashgar, an ancient Muslim city along the storied Silk Road through Central Asia.

A Radio Free Asia dispatch corroborated by the New York Times says that the incident happened on Monday. A car driven by Uighurs refused to stop at a checkpoint, then backed up hitting a police officer and breaking his leg. Two people emerged from the car and stabbed unarmed traffic police, at which point other assailants joined in what became a larger fray.

RFA quotes a local policeman Turghun Memet, saying:

By the time armed police reached the scene, three more suspects had arrived by sidecar motorcycle and attacked the checkpoint and police cars with explosives, killing one regular police officer, another traffic policeman and one auxiliary officer…

At that point, our [armed officers] arrived and killed 15 suspects we designated as terrorists.

The Times writes that:

A police officer, who did not give his name because he was not permitted to talk to foreign news organizations, confirmed [the clash] and sent a photo of a document, which he said was a police notice…It said that 15 attackers and two police officers had been killed and that the police had seized more than 100 firebombs, seven explosive devices and three large knives.

Relations are tense between Xinjiang’s 40 percent ethnic Uighur population and Chinese authorities. Turkic-speaking Uighurs accuse Beijing of making them second class citizens and of efforts to strip them of their cultural identity, and of repression and policies hostile to their faith of Islam.

Last fall a prominent Uighur scholar, Ilham Tohti, was arrested and later sentenced to life in prison. Human rights organizations objected that Mr. Tohti was a moderate who had tried to bridge differences and create dialogue.

It’s unclear what spurred Monday’s attack, which wasn’t reported in China’s official media. But it comes amid a series of prohibitions and official strictures on Muslim behavior during Ramadan.

In recent weeks, reports Pakistan Today, Uighur officials and community leaders were asked to take an oath not to fast, part of the religious requirement for devout Muslims. And restaurant owners in Xinjiang were told to keep their establishments open all day or face visits by government inspectors.

In recent days, [Chinese] state media and government websites in Xinjiang have published stories and official notices demanding that party members, civil servants, students and teachers in particular do not observe [Ramadan] something that happened last year too.

One “government worker” in Xinjiang told RFA, a US government-funded news service, that the latest attacks were correlated with Ramadan because of laws in the locality that apparently forbid children and youth under 18 from joining any formal religious observance.

“I think this is the first reaction to this year’s Ramadan restrictions,” he said.

“If such restrictions were implemented in other parts of the [Muslim] world, they would have led to bloody incidents on a mass scale, but we Uyghurs are a defenseless and helpless people and this is the reaction.”

The narrative – as it’s been the case all to often – is of bad old China suppressing another hapless minority.

I have never been to Xinjiang nor do I have any special privileged information to the region.  However, from what I read (including linked articles above as well as articles such as this from the Daily Sabah), I know information as perpetrated cannot be but distorted and biased and want to take the opportunity to shed some light on interpreting spotty information.

In particular I want to focus on the accusation that the Chinese government is oppressing Uighur’s cultural and religious identity … and the presumption that the Chinese only have themselves to blame for pushing certain Uighurs to rebel.

Beards and Scarfs

Consider for example the many reports that Muslims men are forbidden from wearing beards and women from wearing scarfs in Xinjiang.  These are presented as self-evidence facts of religious and/or cultural oppressions.

The facts on the ground however is much more nuanced.  The Chinese government has not “banned” all beards, for example: only the more non-traditional (complete untrimmed facial beard), and not the traditional beards wore by Uighurs.  The non-traditional form of beard has been recently brought in from other Muslim nations and is often associated with areas under Sharia Law.   The Chinese government has traditionally not cared one way or the other about what beard Uighurs wore, but recently – i.e. in the last couple of years – it has gotten into “regulating” these type of beards … primarily because these beards have taken on a political meaning.

Similar things have occurred for headscarf wore by women.  The traditional headscarf wore by Uighurs in Xinjiang are not banned, only the non-traditional headscarf brought from other Muslim nations that have taken on – in the eyes of local officials – political overtones.

It is well known that in France and other countries throughout Europe Muslim head veils are banned.  While that practice is not without controversy, it is not deemed per se a suppression of religion or personal freedom.  Many people accept the proposition that head veils in Europe has taken on such political meaning that displaying it openly in public can be too oppressive on the public and is incompatible with an open civic atmosphere not tied to any religion.

But when the Chinese government takes a similar stance, they are categorically denounced as oppressive tyrants.  Even if one suspects that some Chinese officials are using people’s fear of Islam as a pretext for suppressing Islam, it still doesn’t excuse the wholesale discounting of the official Chinese perspective and categorical one-sided rants of the Chinese tyrants suppressing Uighur customs and/or religion.

Halal Food

There have also been other accusations such as that Chinese government forcing Uighur stores to sell all types of food, not just “halal” food (see, e.g., Daily Sabah article linked above).  These facts too are reported as self-evident facts of oppression.  Reality too again is more nuanced.

“Halal” foods are food products that are deemed permissible to eaten by Muslims under a broad set of Islamic guidelines.   The notion is similar to the concept of “Kosher” food under the Jewish faith.  In practice though, because of the broad nature of these traditional guidelines, and the application of what is “Kosher” or “halal” in modern society depends not on some objective criteria, but on whether some food had been “certified” by a certain local Rabbi  or Imam or religious institution.

When Chinese government looks at an entire neighborhood where Uighurs are the main constituencies, I can see their predicament.  What do you do when all stores refuse to sell a wide range of foods or sell only a narrow range of food?  What do you do when a local Imam or temple gains sufficient power to dictate what produce is sell in the local markets?

When a religious majority get to control the local economy, I can see why local officials – depending on the local circumstances – may become concerned about stores only “halal” products or refusing to sell any but “halal” products, the idea being that the local Imam – however revered – should never, for example, replace the health ministry.

Are regulations prohibiting types of stores in certain locales from selling “halal” only products per se an infringement of religion?

In the U.S., there are “Scientology” practitioners who believe that God is living and will heal all believers and thus would refuse and withhold medical treatment for themselves as well as their children.  However, no matter how deeply some people may believe in “faith healing,” no one accuses the government of suppressing religion in prescribing minimum and “reasonable” medical responsibilities on its citizens,  Scientology practitioner or not.

Something similar is going on with the Chinese government in Xinjiang.

Public Praying and Fasting

There has also been reports that the Chinese has banned Uighurs from praying and fasting and that food places are required to remain open during Ramadan.  Again, these facts too are reported as self-evident facts of oppression.

But the truth is that the government has only banned praying and fasting in certain public places – such as government offices and schools – and only in certain locales (i.e. not blanket across all of Xinjiang), and only recently (i.e. the last few years).

Throughout most of PRC’s history, the government has never had any problems with Uighurs praying or fasting … in their homes or in public.  The basis of the recent bans – including those requiring stores in certain locales to be open during Ramadan – arise yet again from the political overtones public praying have taken recently in some areas of China.  It is a shame that certain elements of Islam and hence Uighur culture has been politicized by radical groups such as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement.  It is not unlike what the Dalai Lama has done with Tibetan culture  … politicizing it and using it as a basis for separatist ideology and movement.

Yet none of this context is ever evoked in recent International reporting of Xinjiang (or Tibet…).  Everyone points a figure at the government, crying suppression of religion or culture.

To simply report any “regulations” on religious or culturally motivated acts as intrusions of the “state” is a gross biased representation of facts on the ground.  Such reporting completely ignores the possibility that for many in China, it is religion that has grossly intruded into the sphere of the State, that has unbecomingly hijacked the civic life of China, that is threatening the very notion of what it is to be China.  International reporting of Xinjiang today deafeningly ignores the white elephant in the room that is political Islam, of the role they should play in “modern” society – communist or not.

Political Islam

The topic of the role of politics for Islam is beyond the scope of this post.  I will not do the dis-service of caricaturing the issues by pigeon-holing the topic in terms of noble-deafening ideals of “separation of church and state” or “freedom of religion.”  But it is a vast gross stretching of the truth to accuse the Chinese government of “politicizing” Islam in Xinjiang (see e.g. again links above). Political Islam is a global phenomenon rooted in a long tradition.  The phenomenon would have arisen – and threatened China – even if the Chinese government had chosen to do nothing to counter such movements.

China has some 140 million Muslims.  Most of them – including Uighurs – have traditionally practiced “moderate” forms of Islam where Islam is not too politicized (despite some commentators’ argument that Islam has always been more about politics than religion).  With the global politicization of Islam, China – and the broader world – is still trying to balance – even as it modernizes – the role the party, religion, and individual citizens play in modern China.

Whatever the balances are ultimately struck in each locale, there will need to be many more discussions … in China – yes – but also throughout the Middle East, S. Asia, Europe, Africa,, Russia, and even the Americas.  I hope this post has re-opened doors of discussions that so many others have previously slammed shut.

  1. hahaha
    June 26th, 2015 at 08:11 | #1


    there is some kinda corruption with halal food in china.
    imam would only call halal food if the animal are slaughter by imam.
    so what happen this meat are more expensive and give the imam more power and money. i wise chinese goverment ban halal food make by imam. why most of these imam have no idea how to slaughter an animal. and cost animal suvering. also making local butcher out of jobs. there job is at the moskee not in the slaughter house.

  2. N.M.Cheung
    June 27th, 2015 at 10:22 | #2

    With the violence of ISIS spreading from Europe to Tunisia and Kuwait, I don’t think Xinjiang is very much in the news as U.S. has much less sympathy toward Muslims in general. I do think Chinese government policy is changing toward a hardline stance against the Uighurs. The problem is partly the fault of the old policy of ignore and neglect. The local officials avoid any friction and coddling to sweep problems under the rug. As Han Chinese felt government was favoring the Uighurs at their expense. The economic reforms and the coming of internet increases the mixing of people and sharpen the conflicts. The new policy of force and investment will gradually erode the attraction of those extremists, but meanwhile some violence are inevitable.

  3. July 1st, 2015 at 23:44 | #3

    Normal government regulation or religious suppression: Per NYT – http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/02/us/a-church-of-cannabis-tests-limits-of-religious-law-in-indiana.html.

    Can government prohibit “churches” that uses marijuana as part of its services? Do government have a legitimate “health” concern about marijuana use? Do churches have a legitimate “religious” right to use marijuana?

    Or how about: can government prohibit “churches” from rejecting gays and lesbians from its services? Do churches have a legitimate “religious” right to preach that being gays and lesbians is fundamentally wrong?

    We are just talking about “social” issues here … we haven’t touched on churches that cause a “national security” issue …. Or that intrinsically pose an existential threat to a nation…

  4. July 3rd, 2015 at 00:31 | #4

    As a point of reference, here is an NPR report on how French Law ‘Laicite’ Restricts Muslim Religious Expression.



    We’ve been hearing this week from European Muslims about the tension between their faith and the values of their Western societies. France is a secular country with a strict separation of church and state. It’s a principal called laicite, and it’s central to what it means to be a French citizen. Our colleague Audie Cornish has been traveling through Europe and continues her reporting from France.


    And I’m here in central Paris with our correspondent Eleanor Beardsley. Eleanor, thanks for having us.

    ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Audie, welcome to Paris.

    CORNISH: Now that word we just heard – that French word, laicite – it’s often translated as secularism. But I know it’s not just a cultural idea, right? I mean, it’s law.

    BEARDSLEY: That’s right, Audie. This is a law since 1905, which was designed to curb the powers of the Catholic Church of the clergy. And what it means today is a complete separation of religious identity and affiliation from the public space. In public, you don’t have a religion. You’re just a citizen of the Republic.

    CORNISH: So what does that mean in everyday life?

    BEARDSLEY: Well, in everyday life it means, for example, you would never hear the president say, God bless France. You would never have a congressional prayer breakfast of lawmakers. People do not pray in public. It is not seen as an added value to talk about your relationship to God – never. That is your private, personal business, and in the public sphere, that is no one else’s business.

    CORNISH: And in fact, that’s what’s taught in schools, too. I mean the education minister announced a renewed strategy to help teachers address this after reports that there were kids who refused to participate in the moment of silence for the Charlie Hebdo attacks. We went to meet some teachers in the Parisian, Sofia Arrash (ph) and Samira Enni (ph).

    We’re at Samira Enni’s apartment building. Her flat is cozy, but the walls are thin. You can hear the footsteps of kids running around upstairs and muffled voices from next door.

    SAMIRA ENNI: Bonjour.

    CORNISH: Enni is 34 years old, built like a bird, and looks enough to be one of her own students. She clears off the table where she’s been grading papers.

    ENNI: (Speaking French).

    CORNISH: Her friend, Sofia Arrash, is there. She’s 28 years old with a wide smile and a gorgeous halo of auburn spirals for hair. She teaches history and geography. They’re both French-born from Algerian Muslim families with very different experiences in the classroom. I began by asking them how students in their classrooms reacted to the attacks at Charlie Hebdo on January 7. Samira Enni teaches in a vocational school, a racially mixed class of young adults 18 and up. And she says the discussion got awkward.

    ENNI: (Through interpreter) A lot of them actually talked right away about a conspiracy. The media are exaggerating. It serves other causes. There were a lot of reactions about how it was all a conspiracy.

    CORNISH: Did that surprise you?

    ENNI: (Through interpreter) Not really because for students, everything is a conspiracy. Even the grades we give them are conspiracies. But many of them were actually sad about the people who died, but some students were so angry. And for many of my older students, they were confused and had a lot of questions.

    CORNISH: Sofia Arrash, on the other hand, teaches mostly Muslim students between the ages of 12 and 15, and for her, it was a different story. She says the kids are really suspicious of traditional media, and they were clearly getting all kinds of ideas online.

    SOFIA ARRASH: (Through interpreter) Some of my students told me, but miss, we didn’t see the blood come out of the policeman’s head who was shot, so it might not be true. Maybe he’s naturally dead or he wasn’t actually killed. And on top of that, because it was Charlie Hebdo, they knew it by reputation because of the caricature they did of the prophet. So some of them – not everyone – they said it was deserved in a way. But when you put things back into context, they understand that there were collateral victims. And after a while they thought about it, and they said that yes, maybe it went too far.

    CORNISH: It also ended up sparking real debate in her class, Sofia Arrash says – a debate about freedom of expression versus freedom of religion.

    ARRASH: (Through interpreter) Because in terms of the question they had, they were getting things confused. They saw that the backlash after Charlie Hebdo was an attack against Muslims.

    CORNISH: Sofia Arrash says she told her students that French secularism is actually meant to protect Muslims like them from discrimination.

    ARRASH: (Through interpreter) I reminded them what laicite is, and that it’s not just about forbidding visual symbols of faith, but that laicite is actually meant to protect religion. It’s meant to allow different religions to be expressed – to leave your religion in one country because there’s no official state religion in France.

    CORNISH: It’s the kind of answer a civil servant in this country would give. I mean, teachers are very much bound by the laws of laicite. Now, Samira Enni’s younger sister has been leaning in a doorway to the room, listening in. Her name is Anisa (ph). She’s 24, a law student who speaks fluent English, and I can see she wants to jump in.

    CORNISH: And you were listening to her answers, but it sounds like you guys are arguing now – that you disagree with how they’ve explained laicite and what kind of effect it has on Muslims? I mean, what does it mean to you?

    ANISA: Today, laicite is really, really dangerous for people who practicing their religion. And I think they didn’t emphasize this.

    CORNISH: So what makes you upset about them as teachers talking about it in this way? Do you think that they’re being kind of soft on their explanation?

    ANISA: And I’m not saying that because I’m a Muslim. I’m impartial. I’m saying the truth. In France today, it’s really hard to practice a religion, whatever it is. It’s not just Islam, but – I mean, my headscarf is an obligation in my religion, so I don’t have any choice. I wear because I want to – because I believe my religion teach me to do it.

    CORNISH: You started wearing the hijab, your headscarf, just three years ago. What do you think this generation is going to have to deal with if they’re going to really feel a part of France?

    ANISA: Some of them will have to choose between, for example, work and their headscarf. I have a lot of friend who can’t wear it, so they decided to take it off just to work. And some of them want to go out to leave France, like me, because I don’t want to choose between a work and my religion. It’s not normal for us to leave a country just to be able to practice a religion.

    CORNISH: Do you see your future in France?

    ANISA: No. I can’t because I don’t want to stay home. I want to work, but in France they won’t accept me. So what other choice do I have? I have to leave. I want to go to England maybe or even America or – whatever they accept me.

  5. July 3rd, 2015 at 00:40 | #5

    As yet another point of reference, here are two recent stories on the political side halal meat in France.

    1. http://www.thelocal.fr/20140723/french-prison-will-not-be-forced-to-serve-halal-meat

    A controversial ruling that ordered a French prison to serve up halal meals to inmates was overturned by a court in Lyon this week in the latest issue to pit the country’s secular tradition against Islamic practice.

    A French court on Tuesday cancelled a November ruling ordering a prison to provide halal meals for Muslim prisoners, in the latest legal battle over an issue that has caused controversy in the secular republic.

    The French government had sought to overturn the ruling by an administrative tribunal that argued that the Saint-Quentin-Fallavier jail in south-eastern France should provide the meals on the basis that failing to do so would violate Muslim prisoners' rights to practise their religion.

    On Tuesday a court in Lyon ruled that "given the possibility for detainees to get meals without pork or vegetarian meals, to get special meals during the main holidays and given the possibility to buy halal meat," prisoners' rights were being respected.

    Many Muslims view France, which is officially a secular republic despite being overwhelmingly Catholic, as imposing its values on them and other religious minorities.

    The issue of halal meat is a controversial topic in the country and has been used as a political football.

    In the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen launched a fierce row by claiming all meat from abattoirs in the Paris region was prepared using Islamic halal traditions, and that non-Muslim consumers in the capital were being misled.

    Then-president Nicolas Sarkozy waded into the row, suggesting that meat should be labelled to tell consumers how the animal was slaughtered, a proposal rejected by Jewish and Muslim groups, who feared being stigmatized by the labelling.

    Then-French Prime Minister François Fillon subsequently caused outrage by suggesting French Jews and Muslims should abandon their "outdated ancestral traditions" regarding food and diet.

    And back in April 2013, the principal of a school near Paris was forced to backtrack after announcing that all pupils would be obliged to eat meat, and none would be allowed an exemption for religious reasons.

    Jews and Muslims are forbidden from eating pork under their religious dietary laws, but that didn't prevent the principal from sending out a strongly-worded letter to parents, saying: “I remind you that your child is being educated in a school in the Republic, and that secularism – one of the foundations of the Republic – must be respected in its entirety.”

    Just a month earlier, The Local reported how Jewish and Muslim parents in the south-western town of Arveyres were outraged when their children's school announced that the canteen would no longer be serving a substitute for pork.

    The debate has been mirrored by higher-profile disputes over the wearing of veils in France, which has one of the largest Muslim populations in Europe.

    Any form of clothing linked to religious observance is banned from French state schools and since 2011 the wearing of full-face veils in public has been outlawed.

    2. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/in-france-halal-meat-drama-enters-election-campaign/2012/03/06/gIQA6gN1uR_story.html

    By Edward Cody

    In a bitterly divisive presidential election campaign, France is once again torn by an uncomfortable struggle over the place of Muslims in a society pledged to secularism but deeply rooted in Christianity.

    After a disputed law to ban full-face Muslim veils, the latest chapter in the long-running drama has flared over non-Muslims who might unknowingly eat halal meat, or meat from animals slaughtered according to Islamic tradition. As with the veil debate, the concern over slaughtering practices reflects a widely shared irritation against the growing number of Muslims who defy France’s traditional majority by insisting on their own customs and dress codes.

    The confrontation … [involving] Muslim ways … has erupted in several European countries as the number of Muslims increases across the continent because of continuing immigration and the customary large families of Muslim immigrants.

    But it is particularly raw in France. This is true in part because it has emerged as an issue in the election campaign. But it is also because, with Europe’s largest Muslim population, France has a number of urban and suburban areas where Muslims are a majority and find it easy to live according to their traditions without seeking to integrate into French society.

    The number of Muslims in France has never been established scientifically because it is illegal here to ask people to identify themselves by race or religion. The Interior Ministry, backed by academic researchers, estimates the number of those born into Muslim families at more than 5 million. But some Muslim leaders have suggested that illegal immigrants are undercounted and the real tally is closer to 6 million, although many of them do not practice their faith.

    Tension on the table

    The spark for the latest round of invective was a claim by Marine Le Pen, presidential candidate of the far-right National Front, that all the meat consumed by Parisians is halal and that millions of French people are consuming halal meat without knowing it.

    President Nicolas Sarkozy at first dismissed the claim as nonsense, and butchers agreed. But sensing a campaign issue worth hammering on, he then called Saturday for labels on all meat describing how the animals were slaughtered. A recent poll said halal meat was the No. 1 worry of the French people, he told reporters while explaining his shift.

    Sarkozy’s main adversary, Francois Hollande of the Socialist Party, accused the president of banging on Muslims to gain National Front votes and called for “restraint.” Hollande said the only real concern should be that animals are slaughtered in humane and sanitary conditions and promised to make sure that is the case “in cooperation with the professionals.”

    Against that background, Interior Minister Claude Gueant, a key Sarkozy lieutenant, declared that non-French Muslim residents, if they are allowed to vote in local elections as proposed by Hollande, could gain a majority in town councils and impose halal meat in school cafeterias. His warning, repeated several times, was denounced as a scare tactic by Hollande’s campaign and repudiated even by some Sarkozy supporters.

    “I have already said that the clash of civilizations is not my cup of tea,” said Foreign Minister Alain Juppe. “I think the halal meat problem is in reality a false problem.”

    Mohammed Moussaoui, who heads the French Council of the Muslim Religion, said he was concerned to see the question of halal meat enter the campaign because “it creates tensions in the society.” But he avoided confronting the issue head-on, following a long-standing policy of keeping a low profile.

    France’s Jewish leaders, whose kosher tradition requires similar slaughtering techniques, also expressed concern. Rabbi Bruno Fiszon, a specialist in the issue, said labeling meat only by the way it was slaughtered “would lead to stigmatization.”

    Prime Minister Francois Fillon intensified the storm with a suggestion that Muslims and Jews alike should think about abandoning their slaughtering traditions, which he said “no longer have much to do with today’s state of science, with the state of technology, with health problems.”

    The main difference between modern slaughtering practices and those for meat deemed halal or kosher is that the latter call for the animal to be put to death by having its throat slit in a prescribed manner. Fillon’s suggestion was that the Muslim and Jewish traditions responded to sanitary concerns that are no longer imperative.

    The head of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions, Richard Prasquier, responded that he was “shocked” by Fillon’s proposal, leading Fillon to invite Jewish and Muslim community leaders in for a talk to smooth things over.

    Echoes of the veil ban

    The halal dispute ended nearly a year of relative calm since enactment of the law last spring banning full-face veils in public places. The law, supported by Hollande’s Socialists as well as Sarkozy’s conservative majority, was denounced by Muslim groups as stigmatization of their traditions but widely applauded in opinion polls.

    More than 280 women were accosted by police for wearing full-face veils in violation of the law between its enactment in April and the end of 2011, according to the Interior Ministry. Of those, 237 were cited with summons similar to tickets handed out for driving violations, producing only six convictions and one fine.

    For a Muslim couple in Lyon, however, the law was taken a step too far. They sued the city for $65,000 for what they called a “humiliation at the so precious moment of celebrating a marriage” and “an attack on the fundamental liberty of religion.”

    The woman, identified as Nassima, showed up with her groom last June to be married in Lyon’s Ninth District. The judge, they alleged in their suit, refused to perform the ceremony until Nassima took off the veil covering her hair, a garment that was not prohibited by the April law and that was not so different from the white veils worn at traditional Christian weddings.

    The judge defended her action as “defense of women’s liberties.” She was identified as Fatiha Benahmed.

  6. July 3rd, 2015 at 00:46 | #6

    Finally, an NPR story just yesterday trying to put a good spin on how Muslims in French school might feel their freedom of expression are more suppressed than ever before….


    For the past several years, the group Coexister has been going into secular French schools to break down religious stereotypes in the classroom.

    Since January’s attacks on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket, the demand for their interventions has skyrocketed.

    “We used to get two requests a week, but now it’s two a day,” says Radia Bakkouch, a 23-year-old graduate student who has been leading these interventions for several years.

    On this day, Bakkouch is meeting her colleague, Lazare Jefroykin, 18, at Paris’ Gare de Lyon station. The two are headed out to a middle school in the Paris suburbs.

    Jefroykin, who is Jewish, says he grew up in a melting pot neighborhood in Paris, where people lived together easily. January’s attacks made him feel like he had to do something, so he joined Coexister.

    Following the attacks, some young Muslim students refused to observe a minute of silence mourning the victims. They said the journalist had insulted Islam and were not necessarily innocent victims. That shocked many French people and prompted the Education Ministry to double up on its efforts to reinforce France’s strict secularism, known as laïcité, in the classroom.

    Already, outward religious symbols like headscarves, kippas and large crosses are banned in schools. When the start of the new French school year rolls around this September, students and parents will be required to sign a charter saying they will respect the values of laïcité. New teaching candidates will also be tested on their understanding on the concept of secularism.

    Bakkouch, a French Muslim who has spent time in Israel, says she’s proud of French laïcité, and calls it the framework that allows all religions to practice freely in France.

    But she’s worried secularism is becoming too militant, making the discussion of religion a taboo subject in the public sphere in France.

    Jefroykin agrees.

    “Talking too much about religion and above all defending our identity in terms of religion is not welcome in public, secular schools,” he says. “You’re not supposed to express any kind of religious identity because you are above all French.”

    The two believe the absence of religious discussion creates room for misconceptions and prejudice. Their goal is to break down religious stereotypes and make students feel more comfortable when it comes to having a religious identity.

    In a school auditorium in the Paris suburb of Maisons-Alfort, they’re confronted with 60 curious and boisterous middle-school kids.

    Bakkouch turns on a projector displaying the symbols of the major religions in France — the Star of David, a cross and crescent, as well as a sign for atheism.

    The students are asked to anonymously write down two words that come to mind for each faith. Bakkouch then collects their responses, flashes them up on the projector and begins to break down the stereotypes, one after another.

    She calls one particularly insidious: that Jews are rich.

    “You might not think it’s much of an insult to be called rich,” says Bakkouch. “But Jews have been murdered in France because of this stereotype.”

    Bakkouch gives the example of a Jewish man kidnapped and tortured by a gang in 2006. And a couple recently attacked and robbed in their home in the working class Paris suburb of Sarcelles.

    In both cases the assailants thought their victims had money because they were Jewish.

    Bakkouch says the fact that she’s Muslim and Jefroykin is Jewish impresses students.

    “It has an impact,” she says.

    At the end of the workshop, the 13-year-olds are enthusiastic about their experience.

    “All religions are important, you have to respect them, and understand them,” says Gad Ramau.

    Another student, Jean-Louis Charles, says he noticed all the prejudices.

    “Especially against Islam,” he says. “Because people say Muslims are terrorists.”

    Religious figures like priests or rabbis are not allowed into French public schools. And displaying one’s religious identity is discouraged. But Bekkouch and Jefroykin tell the young people to take pride in the religious diversity in their classrooms and learn from each others faiths.

  7. July 3rd, 2015 at 00:58 | #7

    The point of my previous three comments is not to “detract” or “distract”.

    In my ways, I don’t care the sh*t about what happens in France. But given that the West is drunk in the notion that it – including France – is “free” and does not “oppress” – I want to use the above stories for people to reflect: is there really a “right” answer? Is there per se suppression or per se no suppression in France?

    Then … using similar logic for Xinjiang … can we really give a per se answer for the Chinese practices in Xinjiang?

  8. July 3rd, 2015 at 09:54 | #8

    There’s a catch though, the Muslim immigrants to France are portrayed as stubbornly refusing to adopt the way of the host country.

    In China, pretty much all stories related to the Western Region (the original name of Xinjiang which was known for nearly two thousand years in history) portrayed the Uighur Chinese as the natives braving assimilation by other immigrating Chinese.

    However, you raise a good point though. In the west, separation of religion and state is called secularism, which is good. In China, it is called suppression of religious freedom which is bad.

    The number of mosque in Xinjiang also increased from 9,000 to 25,000 between 1984 and 2009.


    Also China is home to some of the oldest mosques in the world.


    On a side note, after the surrender of Japan, mosques also started being built on Taiwan.


    Here are a couple of famous Nationalist generals who are Muslim. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bai_Chongxi

  9. July 3rd, 2015 at 10:17 | #9

    Good point.

    The narrative of Han invading Xinjiang is historically inaccurate … and of Xinjiang as the homeland of the Uighurs is also inaccurate. It is a land where many different peoples met. I don’t think any group can claim it as an exclusive homeland. I don’t think if it’s just a perception, but the recent narrative seem to focus more on “suppression of freedom” rather than some sort of “illegal occupation.”

    As far as “freedom” is concerned, I don’t think history plays much of a role.

    I mean, we really want to make history as part of “freedom” issue, then what about the U.S. It is clear that the U.S. as we know it today is a foreign entity that took over the traditional land from traditional people. Does freedom in the U.S. mean that the traditional native people get extra attention, extra freedom…

    I don’t think liberty as we understand it depends on history at all…

    Except, of course, as applied to China…, which may be your point after all!

  10. July 4th, 2015 at 01:10 | #10

    Going back to the issue about whether “freedom” for a group depends on who is there first, the more I think about, the more I am convinced that it cannot.

    If it does, in France, then all they have to say to the Muslims is that hey, Christianity came first, so you butt out.

    A realist may chuckle and say … well, this is the hidden reality!

    But if one must go with this logic, then why go with the pretense of freedom. Why not just say, ok there is a Christian norm here, and a Muslim norm must be subservient to the Christian norm and be done with. Why invoke freedom at all?

  11. July 4th, 2015 at 09:22 | #11

    Yes, what you said on the history of Xinjiang is true but it still doesn’t discourage many MSM from portraying an invasion of the Han Chinese. As for “freedom” in the western sense it might well be defined as the freedom of the strong to do to the weak. Affirmative action has always been a political tool and it is not about freedom or equality. The sorry state of the First Nation people in the US, Canada, Australia etc is proof that if it is symbolically implemented it could do more harm than good. Is it a coincidence that native people in those countries have life expectancy that is a couple decade lower than national average due to extreme high rate of substance abuse?

    In Switzerland, they have enacted a building code disallowing certain type of building style to be constructed. It is mostly against Middle Eastern mosque style building. The argument used is that it is against the ‘historical tradition” of the country. Which basically is what many so-called nationalist or right leaning group is about. They are very outspoken against the so-called multiculturalism policy of accepting immigrants from all over the world.

    When you speak about Christian norm, what about pagan norm. Paganism was in Europe first isn’t it? So basically it is a shell argument. There is no absolute freedom, every country draw a line somewhere. As to what kind of freedom one gets, it is down to the society acceptance. Every long time resident of China realized that the average citizen doesn’t lack “freedom” compare to its European counterparts. In some ways, the norm is the same, some not that much and others quite a world of difference. Even if we are talking of Christian norm, what denomination norm should we follow?

    That’s why I feel China is ahead in this area, pragmatism trounced the hollow discussion of so-called freedom and democracy. If we cloak all argument under the freedom vs autocracy then China would still be stuck in the Anti-Right movement of the 1950s or anarchy of CR. What works for a society might not be good for a certain group of people but many times hard decision has to be made. We see hard decision being made all over the world. For example, if the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan is simply being debated on merit, on how it would benefit the world, it probably would not have happened. Same with Korea, Vietnam and other intervention. However, if the discussion is cloak under false pretense of freedom, human rights etc than the one with so-called moral high ground would always win the argument.

    I think I have wandered too far and I will get back to the simple basic. Let’s focus on dress code and religious observation. For dress code, the argument of freedom vs religion is actually false. For example, a Punjabi man wearing a turban, a monk wearing a robe, should it be banned? Burqa is banned because its detractors say it is demeaning to women, and possibly a good disguise for terrorist. However, if freedom is used as an argument, it is anything goes! So if a women or men decided to cover themselves up, it is against freedom if any law is to ban that. What about going topless for women? How short is a mini skirt considered too short? Can swim wear be wear in the street? You see, freedom simply cannot be used as argument for dress code. The Indian army allows beard but most European military does not allow that. If dress code is argue under reality on the ground and practicality then it would make more sense.

    As for religious observation, should a civil servant on public pay observed the Ramadan fast? Or is it more proper if that person want to practice it take an unpaid holidays and do it on his own time? What about children, is it appropriate for them to be taken to place of religious worship?

  12. Charles Liu
    July 8th, 2015 at 13:17 | #13

    I for one did not know Eid is a paid holiday for Muslim minority in China:


    Here, Beijing Ethnic Affairs Commission announcement, noting the allowance of religious holiday and comp time for those who work on Eid, for involved minorities.

  13. July 17th, 2015 at 09:52 | #14

    Two recent stories are worth mentioning, both relating to “political Islam” around the world.

    Again, the issue is not that “political Islam” is good or bad per se, but to duly acknowledge its existence around the world, including in China. Given that it is “political”, regulation of it is per se not a violation of “human rights.” Whether such regulation is “good” or “bad” depends on analysis of policy, not on narrow red lines such as – hey they “banned that beard”!

    The “threat” from political Islam to China emanates everywhere, including from nations such as Turkey, who are supposedly to be warm toward China…

    1. http://atimes.com/2015/07/passports-for-uyghurs-story-shadows-turkeys-relations-with-prc/

    ‘Passports for Uyghurs’ story shadows Turkey’s relations with PRC

    By Peter Lee on July 13, 2015 in Asia Times News & Features, Central Asia, China

    The year-long tug of war between Turkey and the PRC over several hundred Uyghur detainees in Thailand was finally resolved, Solomonic fashion, by Thailand sending 170+ women and children to Istanbul in early July in a little noticed event, and the deportation of 100+ Uyghur men to the PRC last week, which has occasioned much public ballyhoo, some ugly incidents inside Turkey, and toothless (and, I expect somewhat less than wholehearted) official execration by the US and the EU.

    A most interesting sidebar to the Thailand story has been the wheels coming off the reckless Turkish passports-to-Uyghurs scheme.

    To complement recent public references to unnamed foreign countries providing documentation to Uyghurs, a Public Security Bureau official went on record to brief foreign journos that, yes, it is Turkey.

    The PRC Foreign Ministry, as well as Global Times, were already raising the passport issue at the beginning of 2015. First the PRC employed the polite fiction that some profit-minded freelancers were selling Turkish passports to Uyghurs; then it was “unnamed consulates and embassies” were dishing out documents; now, unambiguously, the PRC is pointed the finger at the Turkish government.

    Per Reuters:

    “Turkish embassies in Southeast Asia will give them proof of identity,” Tong Bishan, division chief of the Ministry of Public Security’s Criminal Investigation Department, told a small group of foreign reporters in Beijing on Saturday.

    “They are obviously Chinese but they will give them identities as Turkish nationals.”

    Tong said that hundreds of Uyghurs had been given documents by Turkish diplomats, especially in Kuala Lumpur, and then allowed into Turkey.

    Neither the Turkish Foreign Ministry nor the Turkish embassy in Kuala Lumpur were able to immediately provide comment.

    The accusation is likely to further anger Ankara, already alarmed by the return of more than 100 Uyghurs to China from Thailand this week.

    But upon arriving, Uyghurs have no chance of finding legal work and some end up with extremist groups, Tong said, like the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which Beijing accuses of waging an insurrection campaign in Xinjiang to set up their own state.

    “They are very easily controlled by certain local forces, especially the East Turkestan Islamic Movement and other terrorist groups. They organize the youths, they brainwash them, and get them to the front line to fight. They are cannon fodder,” Tong said.

    “There is competition for them. Some are sent to Iraq, some to Syria. The terrorist groups there lack people. They will snatch people away. The terrorist groups will pay, at least $2,000 a person. It’s their way of recruiting soldiers.”

    That Mr. Tong knows what he’s talking about, I think. The outlines of this story have been clear for months.

    The only remaining grey area is whether all the Uyghur men who end up in Syria are simply hapless “cannon fodder” recruited by jihadis, or whether the Turkish security services identify some particularly capable Uyghur militants, provide documents, and enable travel, training, and battlefield experience in Syria in order to cultivate Turkey-friendly assets in Syria or potentially in AfPak/Central Asia. Might never get to the bottom of that one, unless the PRC decides to crank up the evidentiary apparatus another notch in order to make sure Western journos finally get the point.

    Clearly, the PRC does not intend to yield on the issue of “refoulement” (the forcible return to nasty home countries of refugees, a humanitarian no-no, and the default US/EU stance on the handling of Uyghur refugees) and is doing its best to reduce the political heat for Thailand and other countries, such as Malaysia and Indonesia, that hold Uyghur refugees and might want to get rid of them. Per the Reuters piece.

    The Bangkok-based newspaper The Nation, quoting a Thai Foreign Ministry release, reported on Friday that the Chinese government has invited Thai government officials to visit China to observe its treatment of the Uyghur migrants sent back to the country in an attempt to quash rumours that they were severely punished or killed.

    The National Security Council of Thailand would consider inviting representatives of international organisations such as International Committee of the Red Cross to travel to China with the government officials.

    The Thai ministry’s statement said that the Chinese government had reassured the Thai government that it would treat those people with fairness and guarantee their safety.

    Moreover, care would be taken of those found not guilty and they would be returned to society. They would also be provided with farmlands, the Chinese government said.

    I’m sure there’s a lot of snickering about this, but the PRC wants the Uyghurs back and without hope of overseas recourse, havens, or foreign humanitarian hand-wringing. I would expect the central government would arrange for the ostentatious pampering of these refouled Uyghurs (rather than the standard brutal treatment at the hands of the local security outfits in Xinjiang) in order to reconcile neighboring nations to the PRC’s demands.

    There are several other difficult Uyghur refugee cases pending.

    There’s one, in Indonesia, that looks like pure dynamite that might blow up in Turkey’s face.

    Judging by reports to date, Turkey allegedly provided passports to Uyghurs implicated in the notorious Kunming railway station outrage (33 dead, 100+ wounded). Said Uyghurs, instead of docilely flying to Turkey, surrendering their beautiful Turkish passports, and proceeding to the slums of Kayseri (the town in Turkey designated as the haven for Uyghur refugees), appear to have snuck into Indonesia via Malaysia and attempted to hook up with a notorious Muslim militant on a remote island; a militant, by the way, whose organization reportedly declared its allegiance to ISIS.

    Four men — holding impeccable Turkish passports and insisting they are those Turkish people even though they couldn’t remember the birthdates on the passports — are currently on trial in Indonesia under these charges. And, no, the Indonesian government is not happy, and has publicly stated it expects to ship the four back to PRC after the trial.

    The Turkish embassy is busy dodging the obvious question of whether it will affirm the four as Turkish citizens despite what I expect is compelling evidence provided by the PRC that they are Uyghur citizens of the PRC known to the Public Security Bureau, or whether it’s better to throw in the towel and acknowledge that, yes, they are Uyghur militants who got Turkish passports from some Turkish embassy and started running around Asia in search of mischief.

    The Uyghur project is obviously important to Turkey politically and, potentially, as a geopolitical play in Central Asia. Whether the Turkish government is going to suck it up, repudiate the passport program, and leave the Uyghurs to the untender mercies of the PRC government remains to be seen.

    But Turkey is playing with fire here. And I expect the PRC will be relentless in its pursuit of, at least, Uyghur men detained in Asian countries in order to forestall their passage to Turkey.

    (Copyright 2015 Asia Times Holdings Limited, a duly registered Hong Kong company. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

    2. http://www.wsj.com/articles/fears-grow-over-islamic-states-influence-in-southeast-asia-1437106924

    By Richard C. Paddock And
    I-Made Sentana
    July 17, 2015 12:22 a.m. ET

    JAKARTA, Indonesia—Support for Islamic State is quickly growing among Muslim extremists in Southeast Asia, and authorities worry they don’t have enough legal tools to keep them from spreading fundamentalist beliefs at home—or staging terror attacks.

    Experts say the risk is highest in Indonesia. This nation of 255 million has the world’s largest Muslim population and a history of terror bombings carried out by an earlier generation of militants who trained with al Qaeda in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Authorities and analysts say hundreds of Indonesians, including entire families, have gone to Syria and Iraq to live in Islamic State territory and support its cause.

    This is a striking change from what happened in Afghanistan, when mostly single males went to fight. Some of today’s volunteers aren’t necessarily fighters but professionals with specialized skills who have traveled to the Middle East with their wives and children to build new lives. “They have no intention of ever coming back,” said Sidney Jones, director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict. “They are going to live and work in an Islamic State.”

    Authorities worry that even those with no intention of leaving the radical Sunni group’s self-declared caliphate pose a threat by further inspiring hard-liners back home.

    Indonesian President Joko Widodo said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that Islamic State is Indonesia’s biggest international concern, and that it comes up in every discussion he has with other leaders. “When we have a meeting with a president or prime minister from another country, always they say that now the number one issue is ISIS,” he said. “Indonesia (is) also the same.”

    Indonesia antiterrorism officials worry about how Islamic State might inspire militants at home and what veterans of the conflict might do if they ultimately return.
    Indonesian Muslim hard-liners waved an Islamic State flag during rally against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in central Java island in 2013. Authorities are worried about the spread of Islamic State’s influence in Indonesia.

    Arief Dharmawan, deputy head of Indonesia’s National Counter-Terrorism Agency, said the organization first began warning in 2013 that Islamic State “would become a new international phenomenon and outshine al Qaeda.” He said the agency has urged the government to enact stronger laws to prosecute suspected terrorists before there is a repeat of the 2002 nightclub bombing in Bali that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists.

    After the Bali bombing, authorities succeeded in rolling back the country’s terrorist networks. The last major terror attack was the 2009 bombing of the Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels in Jakarta. But unlike the bombers of the previous generation, who painstakingly planned their attacks for months and years, terrorists inspired by Islamic State today often work quickly and independently to launch attacks, authorities say.

    Indonesia’s antiterror agency is seeking greater legal powers for authorities to prosecute militants in the country for supporting Islamic State and those who go abroad to train and fight.

    “I see it just like a cloudy day,” Mr. Dharmawan said. “When it’s cloudy, it tends to rain…Hopefully we don’t have to wait (for something) like the Bali bomb.”

    But a proactive law enforcement approach faces challenges. The U.S. State Department last month noted that while nearby Malaysia has managed to disrupt terrorist plots before they are carried out—police have so far detained over 120 people for alleged Islamic State connections under new antiterror laws—it hasn’t done so well in prosecuting alleged perpetrators. In another antiterror move, Malaysia has recently adopted stricter detention laws that allow authorities to hold suspects for up to two years without trial.

    Meanwhile, the risks are steadily building, experts say. Islamic State has formed a combat unit of fighters from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei, Mr. Dharmawan said. Ms. Jones, a leading expert on terrorism, said most of the contingent is Indonesian and that many casualties occurred this year when it was sent up against battle-hardened Kurdish fighters in Iraq. Two Indonesians killed in the fighting had served long prison sentences for their part in bombings in Bali and Jakarta, she said.

    The potential for spillover in Indonesia from the conflict in Syria and Iraq grew clearer in February when a small bomb exploded in a shopping mall in Depok, near Jakarta. No one was hurt, but authorities said the device contained chlorine gas, a substance often used by Islamic State bombmakers. Police say they are investigating whether Islamic State supporters were responsible for another small bomb that exploded in a Jakarta shopping mall restroom on July 9, also without hurting anyone.

    Indonesian officials say Islamic State supporters now have a presence in nearly half of Indonesia’s 33 provinces. Among them are two Indonesian commercial airline pilots whose postings on Facebook indicated that they may have traveled to Syria, according to a report issued in March by the Australian Federal Police and was first posted online by the Intercept website. Authorities are alarmed by the possibility that pilots who embrace militant Islam could launch attacks similar to the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

    The two pilots are now in Indonesia and are no longer flying commercially, an Indonesian police official said without elaborating.

    Longtime Indonesian militants also have sworn allegiance to Islamic State, including radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, the spiritual leader of the Bali bombers, and Santoso, one of Indonesia’s most wanted terrorists, who leads a militant group in the rugged Poso region of Sulawesi island.

    A big problem is that, like other governments, Indonesia has trouble tracking citizens who travel to Syria and Iraq, Mr. Dharmawan said.

    “The consequence of not knowing exactly who joins ISIS is that we don’t know how many of them have returned to Indonesia,” he said.

    —Ben Otto and Celine Fernandez contributed to this article.

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