Examining the Persecution of Uighur Muslims in China, Part 3

By John Cosenza

IV: Chinese Tyranny Unleashed: The Consequences of Uighur Islamic Extremism

According to current census data approximately ten million Uighur Muslims live in Xinjiang province, making up 45% of the region’s population.[1] Since April 2017, Chinese authorities have detained at least 800,000 and possibly more than 2 million Uighurs and members of other Muslim minorities in detention centers across the state.[2] The Chinese government’s justification for detaining such as significant number of Uighur Muslims is entirely unfounded. This is especially true given the small number of Uighur Muslims who actually participate in Islamic extremist violence, which is estimated to be in the thousands. In China’s Global Security Aspirations with Afghanistan and the Taliban, professors Deon Canyon and Srini Sitaraman from the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies argue the Uighur extremist movement has emboldened China’s authority figures to target innocent Uighur Muslims. Indeed, the professors quote

“oppressive Chinese actions have progressively forced the Chinese Uighur community into militancy, Islamization, and mobilization, which has created a new terrorism threat known as the Turkistan Islamic Movement. As a result, the CCP brutally placed Uighurs into mass detention in concentration camps and forced them to endure ‘cultural re-education’ aimed at destroying their identity and culture.”[3]

In response to the Uighur insurgency movement, Chinese authorities have detained Uighurs in such facilities for indefinite periods of time without trials. In these cases, they are forced to go through ‘political reeducation’ aimed at cultivating loyalty to the communist party, and in some cases, face maltreatment. As an extrajudicial procedure, these measures deny basic human rights such as the right to liberty and security, thus violating international law.[4] Furthermore, some of the worst crimes against Uighurs in detention centers include forced measures such as intrauterine devices, sterilization, and abortion to control the population. These extreme measures aimed at preventing reproduction of Uighur children violates the United Nations’ 1948 Genocide Convention. China denies its engagement in arbitrary detention centers and describe their programs as “vocational education and training institutions that represent broader de-extremification efforts” and believe these inhumane efforts have achieved positive results.”[5]

However, many scholars believe the combination of socio-religious persecution of Uighurs and their detainment in large-scale detention centers has backfired. In China’s Approach to International Terrorism, Dawn Murphy of the U.S. Institute of Peace discusses China’s main interests relating to international terrorism and domestic stability. In her text, Murphy argues China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims is not only unjustified but strengthens the Uighur community’s commitment to radical violence as well. Murphy claims, “China’s fears of domestic terrorism, insurgency, and potential international links are often exaggerated, and its treatment of Uighurs strongly contributes to unrest and violence incidents.”

Nodirbek Soliev, a Senior Analyst at the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research makes a similar argument to Murphy in Uyghur Violence and Jihadism in China and Beyond. According to Soliev, China has embraced the concept of corrective approaches in its efforts to prevent extremism and believes these efforts have worked. In 2018 Shohrat Sakir, the governor of Xinjiang province, claimed “the region has been safe from the outbreak of violent incidents for nearly two years as a result of this policy.”[6] Soliev is quick to note, however, an evaluation of the effectiveness of large-scale detention centers in reducing Islamic extremist violence has not yet been studied. Similar to Murphy, Soliev argues, “China’s response to the unrest in Xinjiang has worked against its goal of making the province more stable and secure. Uighurs will continue to be exploited by radical and extremist propaganda unless a more nuanced approach is taken.”[7] In fact, Soliev references the visible increase in anti-Chinese activism experienced throughout 2018 among the Uighur community both domestically and abroad. In the domestic sphere, local Uighurs like Abdusalam Muhemet say “such camps breed vengeful feelings and erase Uighur identity.”[8] In the international sphere, Uighur activists and expatriates have protested against the ‘reeducation campaigns’ in the United States, Australia, Turkey, Germany and Kyrgyzstan. In the virtual domain Uighur social media users have leveraged online platforms to promote social solidarity and resistance against Chinese state repression.[9]

V: Policy Recommendations to the Chinese State and Uighur Muslim Community

What we are witnessing today in China is essentially a cycle of repression that inevitably breeds violence. To summarize, Chinese authorities in Xinjiang province have slowly limited the socio-economic opportunities of Uighur Muslims while unnecessarily cracking down on religious practices that pose little to no threat to Chinese identity or security. In turn, a small minority of isolated Uighur Muslims have embraced radical Islam in a last-ditch effort to find acceptance and have reacted violently to the repression. As a result, Chinese authoritarians have proactively punished the larger Uighur Muslim community in an attempt to reduce Islamic radicalism and domestic terrorism. Now there is evidence to suggests innocent Uighur Muslims subject to horrific abuse in large-scale detention centers may become vengeful and take revenge by appealing to radical Islamic violence; and thus, the cycle begins anew. The last section of this paper will discuss policy recommendations that may have the potential to diminish this cycle and restore peace between the Uighur Muslim community and the Chinese state. This will not be an easy task and both parties will have to make difficult compromises if there is to be peace.

A: Recommendations to the Government of China

  • Ease restrictions on Muslim religious practices and customs. Banning certain religious practices such as limiting men’s beard lengths, not recognizing Ramadan, and banning Muslim names only leads to animosity and resentment between the Uighur Muslim community and the Chinese government. Allowing religious freedom will increase stability among the Uighur community and has the potential to delegitimize extremist rhetoric.
  • Begin to release innocent Uighur Muslims from large-scale detention centers. While the Chinese State has the right to be concerned with domestic terror threats, detaining millions of innocent people who have no relation to the Uighur insurgency movement can only encourage acts of vengeance in the form of terroristic violence. Ultimately, large-scale detention centers are unintentionally breeding individuals who are more likely to appeal to Islamic radicalism.
  • Consider providing reparations to innocent detained Uighur Muslims and their family members. If any semblance of trust is to take shape between the larger Uighur Muslim community and Han Chinese, the Chinese State has to acknowledge its wrongdoing and must contribute to rebuilding Uighur lives and communities.
  • Appropriately allocate state funds to finance basic infrastructure development across Xinjiang’s rural communities. These rural communities are in desperate need of roads, bridges, and other basic infrastructure to support the construction of educational and health facilities. Alleviating these needs can help lift the Uighur Muslim community and other minority communities out of poverty.
  • Consider providing state-funded programs that will incentivize Uighur Muslims to assimilate into Han-dominated education and economic sectors. This can include but is not limited to; 1) provide language tutors to neglected education facilities, 2) encourage the importance of entrepreneurship opportunities, 3) provide business seminars, 4) provide state-backed loan programs specifically for minority groups to encourage business development etc. Supporting Uighur Muslim participation in Xinjiang’s education and economic sectors will encourage assimilation, restore social cohesion and alleviate the feeling of isolation among the Uighur community.
  • Encourage inter-religious and inter-ethnic education to promote concepts like tolerance, inclusivity, and multiculturalism, to safeguard the youth from becoming influenced by extremist narratives.
  • Coordinate and execute international coalitions with various political leaders such as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or the United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Samuel Brownback. Such experts can provide technical expertise on constitutional and religious freedom reforms.

B: Recommendations to the Uighur Muslim Community

  • Disassociate from and proactively delegitimize radical community members. Uighur religious and community leaders must denounce radical Islam and acts of violence committed in its name. Unless the larger Uighur community denounces Islamic extremism, the Chinese state will continue to target innocent community members.
  • Consider taking steps towards assimilation such as learning mainstream Mandarin. The ability to speak Mandarin will likely assist the Uighur Muslim community in employment and education opportunities across Xinjiang province. Moreover, this may help to alleviate a feeling of isolation and restore social cohesion with the Han Chinese community. Ultimately, this can reduce the allure of extremist sentiment.
  • Continue to appeal to the international community by leveraging social media platforms to protest the Chinese government’s treatment of the larger Uighur community. The Uighur community has garnered large-scale support from the international human rights community and efforts are underway to alleviate the situation.
  • Continue to organize and participate in peaceful protests against the Chinese state. The most successful civil rights movements in history have achieved meaningful results through means of peaceful
  • Request international organizations such as the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to allocate funds and support the Uighur Muslims community. Such funds can be leveraged to address infrastructure, educational and other socio-economic concerns among impoverished religious minority communities.
  • Coordinate a series of meetings between President-elect Joe Biden and Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Samuel Brownback (or whomever the President-elect chooses for this post.) This coalition, under the guidance and expertise of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, can devise a step by step plan to demand and execute religious freedom reforms within China.

John Cosenza is a Market Research Analyst at Zitter Health Insights as well as a part time Research Consultant at the Mitchell Firm, a Washington D.C. based lobbying and consultancy firm. John graduated from Marist College with a dual degree in History & Political Science and graduated from Norwich University with a Master’s Degree in Diplomacy & International Business. John is an experienced professional with a unique combination of primary and secondary research skills as well as writing skills. He has experience working in the private and non-profit sector conducting secondary, qualitative, and quantitative research for multiple organizations including the world’s largest marketing and advertising agency, an international marketing consultancy firm, and a Washington, D.C. based Non-Government Organization (NGO). In addition to his research, John has co-authored multiple articles with Mr. John T. Pinna of the Mitchell firm focusing on international human rights issues and international religious persecution. John continues to work with political, think tank, and NGO leaders in the Washington D.C. metro area to advocate for international religious freedom. He can be reached at john.cosenza1@gmail.com or www.linkedin.com/in/john-cosenza/


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of International Christian Concern or any of its affiliates


[1] Canyon, Deon; Sitaram, Srini (2020). “China’s Global Security Aspirations with Afghanistan and the Taliban.” Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, (2020).

[2] Busby, Scott (2018). ”Testimony of Deputy Secretary Scott Busby Senate: Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on East Asia, The Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy.”

[3] Canyon, Deon; Sitaram, Srini (2020). “China’s Global Security Aspirations with Afghanistan and the Taliban.” Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, (2020).

[4] Soliyev, Nodirbek (2019). “Uighur Violence and Jihadism in China and Beyond.” International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, Vol. 11, No. 1 (January 2019).

[5] Ibid, 72.

[6] Ibid, 72.

[7] Soliyev, Nodirbek (2014). “Counter Terrorist Trends and Analyses: China.” International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, Vol. 6, No. 1 (January/February 2014).

[8] Ibid, 74.

[9] Ibid, 73.

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