The Chinese Approach to Radical Islam

The Chinese Approach to Radical Islam, by Dr Jacques Neriah.

There are roughly 22 million Muslims living in China today. The dominant Muslim minority group is the Uyghurs, a Sunni population who speak a Turkish dialect and live in the northwestern province of Xinjiang, home to 10 million Chinese Muslims.

Unlike other Muslim groups, Uyghurs have demanded their independence and have sought to establish a separate political and religious entity in Xinjiang. In 1931 and 1944, backed by the then-Soviet Union, the Uyghurs effectively achieved independence.

Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria and Iraq, Uyghurs have flocked to the Middle East. The Chinese government has alleged that “more than 1,000” Xinjiang separatists have received terrorist training in Afghanistan and claims to have arrested a hundred foreign-trained terrorists who made their way back to Xinjiang.

The Chinese government has sought to dilute the Uyghur majority in Xinjiang by encouraging Han Chinese to resettle there. As a result, the Uyghurs represent today barely 45 percent of the population compared to having been a large majority in 1949.

More terrorist attacks have been observed in China since the end of 2016. The attacks perpetrated by the Uyghurs follow almost the same patterns as those conducted by Islamic radicals in other places such as car-ramming, suicide bombers, and knife-wielding attackers. But the attacks are not publicized by the Chinese government, which keeps a tight grip on the information.

The likely defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria could potentially send back to China hundreds of Uyghurs who had been fighting in the ranks of the rebels, fully trained for guerilla warfare.

Islam has been present in China since the seventh century and has cohabited with the different Chinese dynasties that ruled China throughout history, although the attitude towards Islam and Muslims varied from time to time. At times Muslims were tolerated, and at times Muslims suffered persecution, hostility, discrimination, and oppression. At the height of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), Muslim shrines and institutions were destroyed, and copies of the Koran were burnt in public.

A long and scholarly article. The last clash of communism vs religion did not work out well for communism — the Soviet Union is history while the Catholic Church carries on even though, as Stalin famously boasted, the Soviets had more divisions. I’d put my money on the Muslims to prevail against China.