Fri, Oct 11, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Muslims in China say bias is increasing

In addition to violence, China’s 10 million Uighurs face suspicion and an education system that is eradicating their cultural heritage

By Andrew Jacobs  /  NY Times News Service, KASHGAR, China

Illustration: Mountain People

Job seekers looking for opportunities in this ancient oasis town in China’s far western Xinjiang region would seem to have ample options, based on a quick glance at a local help-wanted Web site. The Kashgar Cultural Center has an opening for an experienced dance choreographer, the prefectural Chinese Communist Party office is hiring a driver and nearby Shule County needs an archivist.

These and dozens of other job openings share one caveat: Ethnic Uighurs, the Muslim, Turkic-speaking people who make up nearly 90 percent of Kashgar’s population, need not apply. Roughly half of the 161 positions advertised on the Civil Servant Examination Information Web site indicate that only ethnic Han Chinese or native Mandarin speakers will be considered.

Such discrimination, common across the region, is one of the many indignities China’s 10 million Uighurs face in a society that increasingly casts them as untrustworthy and prone to religious extremism. Uighurs are largely frozen out of the region’s booming gas and oil industry, airport jobs are mostly reserved for Han applicants and truck drivers whose national identity cards list their ethnicity as Uighur cannot obtain the licenses required to haul fuel, an unwritten rule based on the fear that oil and gas tankers could easily be turned into weapons, according to several trucking companies.

Despite its name — the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region — this strategically pivotal expanse of desert and snow-draped mountains that borders several Central Asian nations is tightly controlled by Beijing. Top government positions as well as critical spots in the sprawling security apparatus are dominated by Han Chinese, many of them recruited from the eastern half of the country.

“The bottom line is that the Chinese don’t trust us, and that is having a corrosive impact on life in Xinjiang,” said Ilham Tohti, a prominent Uighur economist in Beijing. “And the way things are going, it’s going to get worse.”

After a summer of violence that claimed at least 100 lives, analysts, human rights advocates and even a handful of Chinese academics are raising alarms over what they call repressive policies that are fueling increased alienation and radicalization among Uighurs, many of whom subscribe to a moderate brand of Sunni Islam. These policies have been tightened since ethnic rioting four years ago left at least 200 people dead in Urumqi, the regional capital.

The Chinese government blames outside agitators, among them members of a separatist movement it contends has links to global jihadists, for much of the unrest. While there have been a number of unprovoked attacks on Chinese police officers or soldiers in recent years, most experts say the threat from Islamic militants is far less potent and organized than that portrayed by Beijing.

In August, paramilitary police officers not far from Kashgar shot at least 32 men, killing a dozen, during a raid on what was described as a secret “munitions center;” a few days later at least a dozen other Uighurs were killed as they prayed at a farmhouse in Yilkiqi Township, according to Radio Free Asia. The authorities said the men were taking part in “illegal religious activities” and training for a terrorist attack, but did not provide further details.

Other episodes include a shooting outside a police station in Aksu Prefecture that wounded 50 and left three dead, and a violent skirmish in Hotan, another Silk Road outpost, during which dozens of men were reportedly shot while protesting the detention of a local imam. The Chinese state news media described these and other episodes as “terror attacks;” exile groups say they were peaceful demonstrations crushed with brute force.

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