A Volatile Triangle Revisited: Radical Islam, the Uyghur People, and Chinese Human Rights Abuses in Xinjiang

Last month we wrote a commentary that sought to answer this question: Will Xinjiang radicalize in response to continued Chinese suppression? At the time, our answer was quite ambiguous. "Xinjiang’s status as a police-state undoubtedly quells the transfer of jihadist propaganda and probably dissuades terrorist acts, yet the brutal suppression of traditional and docile Uyghur customs[1] by Chinese authorities undoubtedly fosters resentment that could prove to be a radicalizing force. Moreover, if China continues to jail nonviolent Uyghurs like academic Ilham Tohti, radical Islam will only become more enticing for an increasingly aggrieved community." Recent developments, however, are beginning to shed more light on how the emergence of ISIS might affect Xinjiang.

According to reports, approximately 100 Uyghurs are currently fighting with ISIS forces in the Middle East. Moreover, more than 800 Uyghurs were detained by Chinese authorities with the purported intent to immigrate to the Middle East and fight on behalf of ISIS. Most recently, seven Uyghurs were detained in Turkey after attempting to enter Syria to fight on behalf of ISIS. These pilgrimages are certainly alarming. Perhaps even more alarming, however, is the fact that terrorism is not simply being exported to the Middle East from China; it might become entrenched inside China. For example, a late-February 2015 suicide bombing in Xinjiang killed 8 despite Orwellian control of the region by Chinese authorities. In light of these figures and incidences, it is safe to say that at least of nominal portion of the Uyghur community is radicalizing and that Xinjiang is exporting, if not importing, radical Islam.

This observation is not, however, intended to condemn the Uyghur people or affirm the Chinese government’s heavy-handedness in Xinjiang. On the contrary, the fact that such a traditionally docile ethnic group that has little access to jihadist propaganda is showing isolated signs of radicalization is undeniable evidence that the Chinese government must alter its policies in Xinjiang that promote human rights abuses.

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Censorship is the suppression of speech or other public communication which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or inconvenient as determined by a government, media outlet or other controlling body. It can be done by governments and private organizations or by individuals who engage in self-censorship.
Freedom of religion is considered by many people and nations to be a fundamental human right. In a country with a state religion, freedom of religion is generally considered to mean that the government permits religious practices of other sects besides the state religion, and does not persecute believers in other faiths.