Fri, Nov 29, 2013 - Page 9 News List

China’s anti-veil ‘beauty’ project sows ugly tensions in Xinjiang

Residents of Kashgar say religious restrictions, including those on the use of veils, have sparked at least one deadly conflict near the city this year

By Carol Huang  /  AFP, KASHGAR, China

“Some people with ulterior motives are distorting religious teachings” and “inciting young people to do jihad,” it said, adding that black robes induced depression and scared babies.

The ruling party has periodically sought to stamp out veiling since taking power in 1949, first launching an atheism drive and banning the headgear altogether in the 1960s and 1970s, said Gardner Bovingdon, a Xinjiang expert at Indiana University Bloomington.

Restrictions relaxed in the 1980s as China opened up, but tightened again in the following decade after religiously tinged protests broke out.

A worker at a Project Beauty checkpoint cited “security” as a motive for the campaign.

Some Uighurs endorsed the authorities’ precautions, saying thieves or suicide bombers might exploit the outfits to hide packages and their identity.

However, they also argued that some officials’ aggressive approach sparked resentment and violence, including an April attack by Uighurs on police in Maralbishi County outside Kashgar that left 21 people dead.

State media blamed “terrorists” who “regularly watched video clips advocating religious extremism.”

A few Uighur residents said the “real reason” was that an official tried to force a woman to remove her veil and “people got upset.”

“They should have explained slowly that wearing these things is not allowed, we know you are good guys, but some criminals wear the veil and robe to do suicide bombs and other bad things,” one said.

A Uighur metalworker complained that women taught from youth to veil found it hard to change, and that other Chinese Muslim men grew beards, but only Uighurs were labeled terrorists.

Some women took a pragmatic view. A 35-year-old bakery owner with a gauzy orange scarf wrapped around a bun said the need to unveil in government buildings did not overly bother her. Women were becoming less strict about veiling in any case, she said.

Others remove their face covers before approaching Project Beauty checkpoints to avoid trouble, said a 19-year-old woman from a jade-selling family.

The “Beauty” people were everywhere, she said.

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