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Uighurs “Prodded” to Celebrate Eid

How did the 20 million Muslims of China celebrate Eid-al-Fitr on September 10,2010? The Government-controlled Xinhua news agency has circulated photographs of the Muslims of China celebrating Eid. Most of these photographs have been taken in Beijing where both Chinese and foreign Muslims living there attended prayers in local mosques. It has not yet circulated many photos of the celebration in the interior areas. It has disseminated the following account of the celebrations by the Uighurs in Chinese-controlled Xinjiang: “In Xinjiang, people can have a day off for Eid al-Fitr, and in Ningxia, the local government has decided to lengthen the public holiday from one day to two from this year, to enable Muslims to have more time to attend religious rituals and visit relatives. At a Muslim cemetery in Artux City, in west Xinjiang’s Kirgiz Autonomous Prefecture of Kizilsu, hundreds of people stood in silent tribute to their deceased relatives, recited the Koran and sprinkled rice before tombstones, in accordance with ritual. In Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang, local authorities had launched a drive to encourage family visits by citizens of different ethnic groups. “Amid efforts to cement ethnic relations that were impaired by a deadly riot last year, citizens of different ethnic groups are also encouraged to eat each other’s traditional foods during their family visits. The Han ethnic group has been prodded to enjoy “sanza,” a fried dough twist, and the Muslim groups moon cakes. “I like eating sanza, but I didn’t know how to make it in the past. Today, I have the chance of learning how to make it from my Uygur neighbors,” said Yao Xilu, a Han citizen, while visiting the family of Aisan Molawut in the Heijiashanqianjie community in Urumqi’s Tianshan District. “The exchanges between residents of different ethnic groups have increased since the drive was launched. They have a deeper understanding of each other, and many residents can even speak the languages of other ethnic groups,” said Yunus Taykule, a community official in Heijiashanqianjie. Xinjiang has a population of more than 21 million. More than half of the population are Muslims from 10 ethnic groups, including Uygur, Kirgiz, Kazak and Uzbek.”

2.The Xinhua account does not refer to prayers in the local mosques. Were prayers allowed? If so, how many attended? Why did the local authorities have to “encourage” people to visit each other on the occasion of Eid when it is the normal tradition to do so in the rest of the world? Were they refusing or reluctant to do so otherwise? Were they protesting against the alleged violation of their religious rights? Are the relations between the Hans and the Uighurs still so bad that they avoid greeting each other even on occasions like the end of the Ramadan fast? These are questions without answers.

3.Interestingly, the “China Daily” published the day after Eid (September 11) a detailed report on the security situation in Chinese-controlled Xinjiang. Interesting extracts are given below:

Xinjiang – with 41.5 percent of its population Uygurs, a largely Muslim Chinese ethnic group – is China’s frontline against terrorism. The region borders eight central and west Asian countries, many of which have been attacked by terrorist and extremist militant groups.

Despite years of crackdowns, analysts and local officials say the threat, especially from the “East Turkistan” forces, persists. “The ‘East Turkistan’ groups have never given up their plans to sabotage China,” says Yang Shu, a leading Chinese anti-terrorism expert at Lanzhou University. “China still faces an arduous challenge to combat terrorism.”

With the aim of splitting Xinjiang off from China, the “East Turkistan” forces appeared in 1930s to 1940s and turned extremely violent in the 1990s, says Pan Zhiping, a researcher with the Central Asia Studies Institute under the Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences.

Pan says that among the “East Turkistan” forces, the most violent and dangerous is the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) – a terrorist organization based somewhere along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

The United Nations and the Chinese government have labeled it an international terrorist organization.

According to the Chinese police, the group is now led by Memetiming Memeti, 39, after its former head, Hasan Mahsum, was killed by US-led coalition forces in Pakistan in 2003. Al Qaeda has provided funds and training to the group.

The ETIM traditionally trains its members for suicide bombings and car bombings before sending them to Xinjiang, analysts say. But today more are using the Internet to penetrate the border to spread bomb-making techniques.

Zhang Xiuming, a retired senior security official of Xinjiang, says dozens of terrorist organizations and armed groups are based in the crescent-shaped belt to the west of Xinjiang – parts of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan – turning the region into a hotbed of terrorism.

Zhang, who oversaw law and order at the Communist Party of China Xinjiang Committee, says in a recently published book the “East Turkistan” forces were responsible for at least 200 violent attacks in Xinjiang between 1990 and 2007.

He says Xinjiang police broke up 117 terrorist or violent rings between 2003 and 2007, preventing the terrorist groups from taking root in Xinjiang.

China is also actively participating in anti-terror drills under the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The latest drill kicked off in Almaty, south Kazakhstan, on Thursday (September 9) with the participation of 5,000 troops. It is the seventh joint anti-terror drill held by SCO members since 2002.

Chen Bingde, chief of the General Staff of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), said the goal of the drill was to show the SCO members’ readiness to fight the “three forces” to maintain stability in the region.

In Urumqi, the air remains tense over one year after the July 5, 2009, riot which led to the deaths of 197 and the wounding of 1600.

Authorities named Uygur woman Rebiya Kadeer, president of the Germany-registered World Uygur Congress (WUC), the prime suspect for inciting the unrest. The WUC was listed by Beijing as a terrorist organization in 2003.

Following the unrest, larger numbers of Urumqi residents bought private cars so they could avoid public transport. Traffic jams then become more common and the streets in front of schools are especially crowded after class when anxious parents wait in cars to collect their children.

The impact on trade has also been significant, exacerbating the effects of the global economic downturn last year.

Yang Kaixin, director of border trade under the Xinjiang regional commerce bureau, says incomes from foreign trade totaled $7.56 billion in the first seven months this year, up 12.6 percent from a year earlier but still far below the 2008 figures. “The trade is recovering but has not yet reached our target,” Yang says. Border traders feel the pinch.

( The writer, Mr B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )

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