By Samuel Baid
Thousands of Muslim zealots in Pakistan recently surged to Islamabad from Lahore in private vehicles, buses and trucks to protest what they call a blasphemous cartoon competition proposed to be organised by a Member of Parliament, Geert Wilders, this year-end in Holland. The new government in Islamabad was trying to mobilise public opinion in Muslim countries and the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) was against the competition. Though the Dutch MP ultimately cancelled the competition and the Government of Holland averted a diplomatic fiasco with the Muslim countries, some pertinent and lingering issues remain.
Pakistan always takes the lead to protest whenever it perceives disrespect has been shown to the Prophet of Islam through word of mouth, writings, drawings or films in countries seas away in Europe. But its closest ally China is using its Muslim majority province Xinjiang as a laboratory to conduct experiments to de-Islamise Uyghur Muslims. Xinjiang borders Pakistan–occupied Gilgit-Baltistan. If the Xinjiang experiment succeeds, Pakistan cannot be far away. The word “laboratory” for secret massive internment camps for re-educating about million Uyghur and other Chinese Muslims in Xinjiang may sound an exaggeration to some people. But those, who have been watching the state of religion in China after the advent of communism there, will agree that despite all atrocities religion could not be subdued in China. It looks that after the ascending of Xi Jinping to Presidency there has been an effort to totally eradicate religion in China and hammer the Chinese into one communist entity. Xi would not brook any hindrance in his Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Muslims in Xinjiang are, therefore, his special target. He is known for ridiculing Muslim beliefs and practices like halal meat. It has been under his rule that fasting during the Muslims’ Holy Month of Ramadan has been banned for students and government workers. Men are told not to grow beard and women cannot wear veils. Justification for such orders is provided in the state propaganda that Muslims are terrorists and separatists. Uyghurs have always found communism as incompatible with their faith and norms of living. The Chinese government says that the camps in Xinjiang are meant to re-educate only Islamic extremists and separatists.
Rejecting this explanation a UN human rights body said that Uyghurs were put in the camps because of their political views. On August 10, Gay McDougal, the Vice Chief of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination told the UN panel that the committee had received credible reports that China has turned its north-western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) into a massive internment camp for what it claim for re-education of Uyghur Muslims. The Committee has learnt that a million Muslims have been forced into this camp, a ‘no rights zone’. According to her report, the camp exists in complete secrecy. The Chinese police have been making large scale arrests of Uyghur Muslims to be thrown into this camp. The UN has appealed to China to stop these arrests. The United States has told China to stop this policy as it is providing counterproductive.
China claims the arrested persons are terrorists, extremists and separatists. But the UN Committee says the definition of a terrorist is very vast in the Chinese laws. The references to extremism are very vague and the definition of who is a separatist is not clear. The committee asked China to stop keeping people in detention without a charge sheet. But the naked Chinese truth is a Uyghur is a terrorist, an extremist or a separatist or what not if she or he has not discarded Islamic beliefs and practice and instead worship President Xi as some kind of a demi-God. In the Xinjiang camp interns are made to learn Xi’s thoughts and shout slogans for Chinese Communist Party.
As shell protects the egg so does external manifestation to any religious faith. For example, if a Christian is told not to celebrate Christmas or Easter, his faith loses meaning for him because the birth of Jesus and his death and resurrection are the basis of this faith. Similarly, if a Muslim is told not to observe the Holy Month of Ramadan, when the Holy Quran was revealed to the Prophet of Islam, Mohammad, he will feel snatched away from his faith. There is an effort to fill the religious vacuum sought to be thus created with the thoughts of Xi and Communist nationalism. As part of this programme, mosques like other places of worship are told to fly the national flag. A faithful, no matter how nationalist will not willingly welcome this. The Xinjiang camp, started in 2017, is most probably the brain child of President Xi. In his concept of nationalism there is no freedom of religion. His pet project BRI and its flagship project China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has made him wary of Muslims not only in Xinjiang but also in neighbouring Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan.
In the past about five years Xi tried varied ways to subdue Uyghur Muslims. He flooded Xinjiang with pro-government Hun Chinese to off-set the Muslim majority in the province. He tried to finish Uyghur Muslims’ resistance by getting the former Pakistan Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif to launch a military operation to eliminate Uyghur militant leadership ensconced in Pakistan’s North Waziristan. Gen Sharif launched Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan in June 2014 against “all terrorists”. But the actual targets were the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), who attacked the Pakistan Army, and the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), who fought for the rights of Uyghur Muslims. Gen Sharif received a pat from Xi for his claim that he had eliminated the ETIM. Simultaneously a ban was imposed on certain Islamic practices in the name of communist China’s nationalism. Women were told not to wear burqa (for the sake of security) and not to give Islamic teaching to their children. As said above, fasting during Ramadan was banned for students and workers. Growing beard as an Islamic symbol was banned.
In reality, opening of the massive internment camp in Xinjiang last year is an indication to the failure of the Chinese government to tame the Uyghur Muslims. But the government under Xi’s leadership will not give in. The purpose of this camp is very vaguely described as “re-education”. This may include thoroughly brainwashing to efface from interns’ minds their Islamic orientation and instil the thoughts of President Xi. If this programme succeeds the final product of this camp will be de-Islamised Uyghur Muslims. So far it is only the Western countries who have been raising their voice against the treatment of Uyghur Muslims. But China, satisfied that no Muslim country, organisation even prominent Muslim leader has voiced concern, dismisses Western concern as motivated. The Muslim world’s silence is also motivated. The Muslim world’s silence is also motivated because it is afraid of China. A country like Pakistan, which calls itself the citadel of Islam, dare not squeak for the plight of Muslims in Xinjiang.