Why are Uyghur Muslims being detained?

by Rahmah Rahim

China, more precisely the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), after persistent international pressures, finally admitted that close to 1 million to 2 million Uyghur Muslims, some of which are Chinese nationals of Kazakhs and Hui Muslim background, are detained.The goal of CCP seems to eradicate what Chinese authorities called 3 evils: splittism, separatism, and secessionism.

But with the introduction of the National Security Law in Hong Kong, which seeks to quell all forms and dissent, and interaction with foreign elements that may be deemed to be anti-China, the dragnet against China would be inexorably enlarged. More Xinjiang Muslims would be arrested, not less, in the coming future.


There is a fear, genuine or self constructed by CCP, that most of the Uyghur Muslims, that number some 10-12 million people, who live predominantly in Xinjiang, China, can be exposed to religious radicalism and extremism too.

CCP is not completely mistaken. Militant radicalism has appeared in many parts of the world. But the issue is the scale and intensity of the detention in Xinjiang, China ? Why are whole families, sometimes extending into three generations grandfathers, sons and daughters, and grand daughters and grandsons being placed different detention camps and torn apart ?

Why are millions of people being imprisoned beyond their will to force them to renounce their religious and ethnic beliefs in Islam, even, Uyghur, or, Kazakh identity?

Revelations from the Chinese documents of CCP, released by New York Times in late 2019, showed that Beijing insisted “there must be no mercy” shown to them. The orders appeared to come directly from the top. It seems to be the approach to recycle the draconian method to crush the dissent of Tibet, only many times harsher. Uyghur Muslims are seen as vulnerable targets of growing Islamic militancy, which the West cannot control. Therefore, China will resort to iron fist to do the job.

During prolonged detention, Uyghur Muslims are forced to repeat the Communist doctrines of President Xi Jin Ping and CCP. Such coercion amounts to a form of identity erasure and
ethnic cleansing.

Thus, despite the claim that the Uyghur Muslims and other Muslim groups are being “re-educated” and “retrained” to become professionally competent in Mandarin and various skill sets, some of these detainees are sent to far away provinces of China to work in various factories under strict surveillance. Some are kept in factories in Xinjiang under strict surveillance, amounting to forced labor. The US Senate has passed a law to ban 28 of such companies that exports to US and the rest of the world using the forced labor of Uyghur Muslims.

To be sure, reputable companies such as Esquel, one of the largest textile companies in the world, is caught in the bind too as their senior executives explained to Wall Street Journal. Before they hire the Uyghur Muslims, the senior manage of Esquel do interview the workers of Uyghur background, if they were joining Esquel voluntarily. Granted the fear of reprisal and punishment to other family members, all do apply in the affirmative. That’s when Esquel is compelled to hire them as well. Esquel is now one of those companies, with a total revenue of USD 2.5 billion per year, that is black listed by the US authorities.

Many Uyghur Muslims who had the privilege to go abroad before the crack down in 2009, or, earlier, either cannot return, or, risked having their passports seized upon arrival, even if they had merely been to Turkey. The Uyghur Muslims who are still abroad have been facing difficulties in reaching out to all their parents,grand parents and relatives but often all to no avail.

The phones in Xinjiang are tapped. There are lingering suspicions from Human Rights Council that some 550,000 children of Uyghur, Kazakh and Hui Muslim background, have been forcibly separated from their parents as well. The goal is to create a generational breach, so that their elders cannot transmit their cultural and religious values to them. Geneva Convention, of which China is a signatory, is clearly against it, and called it “Cultural Genocide,” one of the most serious crimes in international relations.

The only way out for China is to change is draconian method. Countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia have a large Muslim demography too.

Yet radical violence is low or non existent. If Malaysia and Indonesia can win over the Muslims through the campaign of hearts and minds, there is no reason why China can’t.

To date, the draconian actions by CCP, have been uncovered by the likes of BBC, New York Times, CNN and many news channels, including CNN and BBC in Indonesia.

Yet, the Chinese authorities have yet to free the detainees, let alone to respect their human rights. This brings us to the question, why is China or CCP doing what it is doing ?

Have they become Islamicphobic beyond repair, even though there are many more millions of Muslims of other ethnicities, with a long history that connects themselves to many Muslim countries in Central Asia and Southeast Asia to create the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is the signature infrastructure project of China and the rest of the world.