While many of us are fortunate to reside in countries that permit a degree of religious freedom, one that allows us to practice our faith, for the Uighur Muslim minority in China's far western Xinjiang region such a freedom has been growingly truncated by the Chinese government in Beijing.
It is reported that some parts of Xinjiang region have prohibited Muslim civil servants, party members, teachers and students from observing fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The prohibitions by the Chinese government on fasting and other religious activities are actually not new, but they receive increased attention in the wake of some violent attacks in the last few years.
Over decades, the Uighur Muslim minority has been reduced to a virtual minority group in its own region, with the government in Beijing, in its so-called 'fight against extremism', going so far as initiating heavy-handed measures such as the prohibition of fasting in the month of Ramadan - one important pillar of Islamic faith - by the Muslim community.
As Richard Javad Heydarian argues, the resentment among certain groups in the region is rooted from China's modernisation plan of Xinjiang which has not resulted in extensive development for the Uighur community, bringing into being new economic disparities within a self-governing region. The plan unequally favors the Han migrant community, which come to hold sway over the regional economy. The consequence has been greater inter-ethnic hostilities between the Uighurs and the Han, which enjoy different types of benefit and exclusive treatment by the central government. Since 2009, several uprisings and attacks have increased, causing a considerable number of deaths and injuries.
Rather than searching for formidable solutions - namely, putting an end to different kinds of discrimination and offering legitimate political sovereignty to the Uighur community - China initiated a repressive anti-terrorism policy along with increasing curbs on cultural and religious traditions by the community.
As I reported in my previous piece, the Uighur Muslims are restricted to pray at certain places and times. Religious leaders had to obtain specific permission from the state, and mosques had to be registered with the government. Uighurs students, as well as those who work in government institutions are not allowed to pray and observe fasting during Ramadan.
As attacks by several radical groups have increased in recent years, Beijing has initiated a far-reaching anti-terrorism policy, calling for 'walls made of copper and steel' and 'nets spread from the earth to the sky' to search for potential 'terrorists.'
Beijing has labeled every major attack in the country as 'terrorist' attacks and has blamed them on Muslim Uighurs. Many of them have been sentenced to death and some to life imprisonment even though most of these allegations are weak, and evidence is rarely publicised. A short while ago, it is reported that approximately 181 extremist groups in Xinjiang had been arrested by the government in the past year, targeting 'radicalism' through aggrandised surveillance, mass arrests, as well as considerable military footprint in Xinjiang region.
The government in Beijing must acknowledge that its repressive policies against the Muslim Uighur community would not help solve the problem, but rather it will further resentment and boost the root cause of more radical movements.
The most crucial step that needs to be taken is to address the economic disparity that has been the major root cause of radical resentments in the region. Not addressing the issue properly will only produce the very element the Chinese government intends to eradicate.