China’s ‘War on Terror’ is fracturing Uighur society
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China’s ‘War on Terror’ is fracturing Uighur society

FOR centuries, acts of terror have been employed to instill fear in the populace, however today the world is witnessing an unprecedented amount of attacks.

Most of the terrorist attacks striking European capitals are a result of marginalised communities challenging the status quo, only indirectly influenced by events across the Middle East.

But Europe is not the only part of the world facing homegrown terrorism.

For decades, the Muslim Uighur population have challenged Beijing’s authority in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in far west China, resorting to terrorist attacks that attempt to undermine the central authorities.

The Uighurs are native to Xinjiang, also known as East Turkestan, and are culturally and linguistically related to Turkey, defying the influence of the Han Chinese in the region.

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(File) In this 2014 photo, Uighur residents gather at a road side stall in the city of Aksu in western China’s Xinjiang province. Source: AP/Ng Han Guan

In the same way that many second-generation immigrants in Europe live on the fringe of society, the Uighur have been marginalised to such an extent that a growing amount of young men and women are being radicalised. Ostracised within their own home, many find acceptance among extremism.

The process of marginalisation, therefore, plays a role in igniting homegrown terror. Almost every attack in Europe is linked through this tragic phenomenon of predominantly young Muslim men feeling ostracised in society, but nobody is attempting to fix this societal problem.

Rather than orchestrating a ‘war of terror’, China and Europe, among other governments facing homegrown terror, must attempt to fix the underlying causes of marginalisation that lead to radicalised violence.

The most recent attack in Xinjiang occurred on Dec 28, 2016. Three people in a vehicle entered the courtyard of the Moyo County Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), detonating an explosive device and attacking workers with knives. Two people were killed and another three injured before the attackers were shot dead on site.

Almost immediately, official news agency Xinhua referred to the incident as an act of terror without providing further information. Similar reactions are commonplace across Europe. After the attack on a Christmas market in Berlin, it was quickly denounced as Islamic before the Islamic State had time to think of a response.

Labelling of an attack as terrorism allows for the ‘war of terror’ to indoctrinate society, influencing people into believing the government’s response is justified. Every attack gives further impetus to the government to continue its crackdown and restrict the civil liberties of, in most cases, a minority of the population.

In the case of Europe, refugees have been targeted despite there being no causal link between immigration and terrorism.

In China, the Uighur population as a whole suffers as a result of a few extremists.

SEE ALSO: China says Muslim Uighurs have joined Islamic State group

In December 2015, China’s Counterterrorism Law was passed. A subsequent local counterterrorism law was also passed in Xinjiang in August last year, supplementing the national law and becoming the first of its kind in China. Spread across 61 items in 10 chapters, the law defines terrorism and terrorists, details security precaution and countermeasures, lists intelligence and investigative powers, and details necessary punishments.

The most troubling aspect of the new measures is the emphasis on religious extremism being the ideological basis for terrorism. Most of Xinjiang’s native population are Muslim, but Beijing’s restrictive policy towards the region is far more influential in radicalising the Uighur than Islamic doctrine.

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(File) An Uighur man prepares to get his beard massaged at a barber shop in the city of Aksu in western China’s Xinjiang province. Source: AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

During Ramadan in 2016, where Muslims are required to fast throughout the day, China banned teachers, students and civil servants from fasting and forced restaurants to remain open. The CPC views Xinjiang separatist claims as a threat to national unity and therefore religious freedom, an integral aspect of many Uighur’s lives, has been targeted in the province. Among other religious restrictions in Xinjiang, the government banned men from growing long beards and women from wearing veils and headscarves.

Uighurs have been pushed into the hands of extremists by the central authorities. After experiencing decades of oppression at the hands of Beijing, the only way out is perceived as an armed struggle against the authorities. Neither Beijing, Paris or Istanbul have yet formed a cohesive strategy to combat terrorism, rather mimicking Washington after Sept 11, 2001.

Governments are quick to mobilise a ‘war on terror’, but fail to build the bridges necessary for a society to move forward after an attack.

In the past, terrorism brought society together in unexpected ways, but today, the effect is the opposite. The way to fight extremism is through tolerance, acceptance and education, not placing further restrictions on a minority group already living on the periphery of society.

Beijing’s restrictive policies towards Xinjiang have only radicalised the population, creating yet another narrative of Muslims resisting the government after being oppressed.

If China wants to end the terrorist attacks, it needs to change its course and rebuild the fractured society in Xinjiang.

 

** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent

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