The news media has in the last decade focused on conflict-affected Muslim minorities in Chechnya, controlled by Russia; Kashmir, controlled by India; and Mindanao, controlled by the Philippines.
But Islamic historical regions elsewhere have received less attention. One such region — known to the Chinese as Xinjiang and its Turkic inhabitants as East Turkestan — has pitted Muslim dissidents against an atheist, communist government.
The Uyghurs, an ethnicity related to peoples in Central Asia and Turkey, have long resisted Chinese authority.
According to Julia Famularo at The National Interest, the Chinese government has responded with an “ideological assault and security crackdown on the so-called ‘three evil forces’ of ethnic separatism, religious extremism and violent terrorism.”
Yet, although foreign analysts are gaining a deeper and more nuanced understanding of Beijing’s hardline security and religious policies in Xinjiang [East Turkestan], it’s also important to consider how the central leadership’s focus on combating the ‘three evil forces’ in the western PRC has consequently shaped elite thinking on how to prevent, manage and respond to threats nationwide.
Many Western observers have criticized the Chinese military and police for abusing human rights, yet the Chinese government has countered by comparing its draconian methods to the U.S.-led war on terrorism and (for some reason) the American Indian Wars.
The East Turkestan Islamic Movement, considered a terrorist organization by Afghanistan, China, the United Arab Emirates, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, has fought the Chinese government since 1997.
The ETIM has, however, relocated to the Afghan-Pakistani border, restricting its ability to attack inside China. Without a local resistance or revolutionary movement, the Uyghurs rather than the Chinese may be the ones suffering the worst of ethnic conflict and religious intolerance.
“The specters of ethnic separatism, religious extremism and violent terrorism have fundamentally altered the Chinese Communist Party’s threat perception,” Famularo wrote.
“In a quixotic quest to maintain security and stability in the western borderlands, authorities have placed draconian restrictions on the traditional cultural, religious and linguistic practices of ethnoreligious minority groups.”