GLOCAL communities have expressed concern about reports alleging that the Chinese authorities have been detaining up to a million Uighur, ethnic Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
Reports have surfaced that human rights abuses were rampant in the region, targeting ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, particularly Uighur Muslims, which include residential relocations, separation of children from parents, restrictive immigration policies, forced marriages, mandatory acculturation and threats to freedom of religion.
Against this backdrop, a diplomatic visit to China between June 23 and 30, led by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa, has triggered reactions from Malaysians.
Much of the uproar came in response to misconstrued reports by local media regarding a statement on false news.
Another is a Facebook post that mirrored the Chinese government’s parlance in referring to what is known as mass detention camps.
Notwithstanding, Mujahid’s vision of peace building and cross-culture reconciliation in the visit should not go unnoticed.
In his speech, Mujahid underscored the need to opt for peaceful and moral solutions despite all odds.
He said policy response and counter-terrorism efforts, although warranted, must be used in restraint, citing the importance of demarcating between violent action and religious rights and rituals.
Mujahid said striving towards this goal requires a wholehearted embrace of human diversity and rejuvenating inter-religious dialogue based on respect and mercy.
That will, in turn, alleviate extreme views centred around the politics of race and religion.
Celebrating diversity is a core Islamic principle, supported by the Quran.
It is divinely ordained to enrich humanity as evident in verse, “O mankind, indeed We have created you from peoples’ and tribes that you may know one another” (Al-Hujurat, 49:13).
Diversity is also a deliberate creation to endow humanity with the gift of free will.
“Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation, but [He intended] to test you…; so race to [all that is] good.”
Accompanying such ideals, however, should be policies and governmental decisions that are rooted in research and data.
Peace building in Xinjiang cannot afford to rely on mere sentiments that neglect the complexity on the ground.
In a recent forum on Uighur, Alexander Wain, a Muslim scholar in Chinese history, urged policy makers and commentators to have a nuanced understanding of the Uighur plight and delve deeper into the history of Uighur in the region, which has had intermittent autonomy and occasional independence before becoming part of China in 1949.
Since 1957, the Chinese Communist Party has interpreted Uighur Islam as a threat to Chinese national unity based on its history of rebellion.
This resulted in strong policy responses in the form of closing Xinjiang-based Islamic associations; banning Islamic teachings and symbols, including the call to prayer, beards and veils; suppressing of Uighur language and culture; massive state-sponsored Han migration to Xinjiang; and, the infamous detention centres for “ideological reform.”
Since 9/11, these efforts have intensified and the Chinese government became increasingly fearful of foreign extremists penetrating Xinjiang.
Thus, the Xinjiang situation is largely the product of regional history and must be understood in that context.
Under this circumstances, race and religion are potent issues that can exacerbate ethnic tension and violence, if not managed in a judicious manner.
In line with Mujahid’s speech, policy makers should pay attention to the role of social media
in instigating negative sentiments, whether in the form of sedition or false news.
Perhaps cues can be taken from the Malaysian model, where each ethnic group can preserve its cultural identity while remaining unified as Malaysians.
It must be noted that suppressing cultural self-determination and oppression, far from reducing extremism, only encourages it.
Above and beyond the sentiments of Muslim solidarity and brotherhood, the issues in Xinjiang need to be addressed impartially and objectively to identify the factors that led to such crises.
Any assessment and its resulting solutions should focus on the economic and geopolitical significance of Xinjiang, its long history of separatism, and the intricacies of Han nationalism.
Policy response and executive decisions should not only be strategic and effective, but must be guided by the spirit of compassion (rahmah), and an appreciation of diversity and human dignity.
The writer is analyst at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAISMalaysia), specialising on Malaysian political Islam and identity politics