It is true that Chinese Muslims can now perform Hajj in some small numbers. It is also true there are some Chinese-style mosques in certain areas. However, these developments are a “drop in the bucket”; if you consider the Muslim population in China is at least forty million. There must be some “token religious freedom” to get cooperation in business from the western world, hence these few “drops in the bucket” of liberalization.
On the ground, however, the bottom line is that the Uyghur Muslim Chinese, who are a Turkic people, cannot use their own language in their own schools. This is exactly what Istanbul did to the Kurds in East Turkey for many years, although with the gradual resurgence of Islam in Turkey, Kurds can now use their own language without being arrested (as they had been for many years). Likewise, the beginnings of Acehnese dissent many years ago only involved the right to use an Islamic curriculum in their public schools, which they were forbidden to do by Jakarta, who insisted they use the nationalized Pancasila school materials that treated Islam on a par with all other religions. Pancasila had been purged of all Muslim terminology or specific teachings. It was only after years of being refused this exemption from Pancasila-based elementary and secondary education that the Acehnese, who are 98% Muslim, became totally rebellious.
An American student, who had come to NW China to study the Chinese language, found he had made a mistake, and after a few years’ effort, went back to the USA. The mistake was that his Uyghur friends were routinely humiliated by the local Han Chinese (most of whom have been “transmigrated” to this area), in a manner that was reminiscent of prejudice against blacks in the American South in the 1950’s. Indeed, the Uyghur’s may be considered the “niggers” of China, and the American student was consorting with niggers. The American was a fine scholar, whose affection for the Chinese was ruined by this experience. He is now a graduate student in mathematics in the USA.
Why is it, in the modern world, that people, who have nothing in common with neighbouring people, are so often required to live by force of arms within a polity that has nothing to do with them, and then treated so badly for their efforts? And then deprived of even their own language in the process. The South Thai Muslims (Malay by race) are poor and unwanted in the same way. Why should they be interested in a Buddhist school curriculum originating in Bangkok? And why should this region be one of the poorest in Thailand?
It seems that Malaysia is now setting another bad example, by exposing to deportation another 5 Uyghur Chinese who were arrested this month. And this incident in the month of Ramadhan, occurred amid criticism over Malaysia’s recent deportation of 11 others to China. This is indeed appalling. The least that this Muslim-dominated government could do is to them give access to the United Nation’s officials.
The Uyghur are clever people, and they have access to certain modernized facilities, which you can see in photos from NW China. Sooner or later, however, they are going to win their own integrity back again, either within or outside of present-day China, and their plight deserves to be more widely understood by westerners who are going through a certain adulation of the Chinese economic achievements, and repeating their well-known blindness to the human rights abuses of peoples being thoroughly and cruelly oppressed by those peoples with whom they wish to do business.
Interestingly, these Uyghur Turkic peoples were among the original settlers of modern-day Muslim Turkey, who are the Muslims most closely related to the European West. Only the Balkan Muslims are closer, and only after unspeakable sufferings of their own. We owe the Uyghurs our attention and our whole-hearted support, as we finally gave to the Balkans.
AZRIL MOHD AMIN is vice-president, Muslim Lawyers Association of Malaysia.