Bigots are biggest threat to Uygur culture

Updated: 2014-07-05 06:57

By Gui Tao (China Daily)

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The concussions created by the deadly riots in 2009 that left nearly 200 people dead in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region in northwestern China, have not fully healed even in five years.

But prejudiced Western critics have never stopped challenging the Chinese government's commitment to stabilizing and developing the country's western region. One of their persistent accusations against the government's Xinjiang policy is that the crackdown on terrorism and religious extremism is eradicating traditional Uygur culture in the autonomous region, largely inhabited by ethnic Uygurs.

That logic is fallacious to say the least. It is the terrorists and extremists who are forcing the time-honored Uygur culture toward extinction. For example, Uygurs in southern Xinjiang may have to give up singing, dancing and painting, all of which they have historically excelled in, because some extremists have branded these art forms "non-Islamic" and threatened to ban them.

Traditional Uygur attire, which is usually colorful and a delicate blend of Islamic and Uygur cultures, too is under threat. Religious extremists, it seems, have left Uygur women with no choice but to wear the burqa. Any refusal could easily invite isolation, accusation of betrayal and even physical harm.

As a matter of fact, depriving people the freedom of entertainment and forcing women to wear burqa have never been part of Uygur culture. But the extremist groups are annihilating Uygur culture after having hijacked Islam.

What has been happening in Somalia and Pakistan is equally disturbing. In areas where their writs run large, Islamic extremists have banned pop music, and labeled other religions as heresy and attacked their followers.

The religious extremists in Xinjiang are trying to do the same. Their aim is to strengthen Uygurs' religious identity and weaken their ethnic identity before launching a "movement" to "separate" the autonomous region, which accounts for one-sixth of China's landmass, from the country.

Religious extremism is the primary cause of terrorist attacks throughput the world. Similarly, religious extremists have been behind the spate of terrorist attacks in and outside Xinjiang over the past five years.

The targets of these attacks have shifted from symbols of the government, such as police stations and police vehicles, to civilians at railway stations, markets and even residential communities. The nationwide panic and fear these terrorists have created seems to be leading to ethnic estrangement.

But it would be a gross mistake to see the entire Uygur ethnic group as terrorists and jihadists. Uygur culture has to some degree been misinterpreted and stigmatized.

China's uphill battle against terrorism in Xinjiang is part of the world's fight against terrorism. To win the battle is to protect Uygur culture as well.

The author is a writer with Xinhua News Agency.

(China Daily 07/05/2014 page5)

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