• Sat
  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 7:25am
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 August, 2014, 4:29am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 August, 2014, 4:29am

Chasing the jihad bogey in China's Xinjiang

Australia was rocked this week by pictures of a seven-year-old Sydney boy holding up the severed head of a Syrian soldier. His proud father, Khaled Sharrouf, who escaped Australia last year with his wife and three sons to fight for the rebel group Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, captioned the tweeted photos "That's my boy!"

Sharrouf's tweets are an ugly reminder of how the jihadi ideology transcends national boundaries and why any country with a substantial Muslim population needs to pay attention to what's going on in the Middle East. Malaysia and Indonesia are already warning of Islamic State terror spreading to Asia as their citizens join the likes of Sharrouf in distant wars amid rising radicalisation.

The conflict in Xinjiang makes China just as vulnerable. That's possibly why the authorities have been reacting with such nervousness to Uygur unrest in the past couple of months. Yet the latest Islamist resurgence is exactly what should prompt a rethink of Beijing's Xinjiang policy.

Since 9/11, Beijing has bought into the America-inspired "war on terror" and linked it to the Uygur problem. Not entirely without reason, as several Uygurs were found fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan. But in the process, non-Islamist dissidents also got tarred by the same brush and what began as a secular ethno-nationalist movement came to be defined in religious terms.

Its containment has been suitably unsecular, as evidenced in the recent ban on Ramadan fasting - a decree which would agitate even the most progressive of Muslims. Predictably, the holy month ended in protests, rioting and deaths. Just the kind of setting that draws the attention of global jihadists.

It's time Beijing asks itself if it needs that kind of attention. And if it doesn't, whether China is better off framing the Xinjiang problem in terms of territorial separatism rather than Islamist uprising.

It's possibly better to admit to a crack in the "harmonious" ethnic unity and seek ways to mend it rather than continue with a policy that deepens alienation at home and baits powerful enemies abroad beyond Beijing's control. Chasing the bogey of jihad might really drive Xinjiang into the open arms of jihadists.


For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive



This article is now closed to comments

I called two of my Uyghur students to verify the situation after reading your article. Unfortunately the one currently in Kashgar did not pick up the phone while the other one who hosted me in Hoten summer 2012 did not return home this summer. He said observance of the Ramadan amongst "CCP members" is discouraged. You need to provide more detailed reports about the supposed "ban of Ramadan" for your suggestions to be credible. I have not read similar reports in Chinese media. And frankly, I do not believe your claim that a "ban" has been instated. Indeed, it is somewhat ludicrous because given the situation how can any government take such a move (as though they do not already have their hands full with stability issues). How is it even possible to enforce such a ban? Massive force-feeding?
Every society is divided, whether it is HK, India, China, or the US. As I write at this very moment, I read that Missouri has declared a curfew on the town of Ferguson, US. It is already deplorable as it is that people everywhere distrust their governments, but I see no point in adding fuel to tension by exaggerating the situation and providing distorted information to the public and stir up hate.
If you can find one article in the SCMP about Ferguson, Missouri I'd be obliged if you can point it out. Seems the SCMP does not want to besmerch Eden on earth.
Show trials and the banning Ramadan surely will help the Chinese make the place more secure......
The author like his Indian compatriots, suffer from China bias/jealousy. Everything China does or do not do is treated with suspicion tainting its authenticity. Moreover, he quote unsubstantiated rumours from western media that China has banned Ramadan fasting thereby propagating a rumour until it becomes an accepted fact. Terrorism is not a thing to be trifled with & cannot be tolerated even if it is to disparage an enemy. May I remind him that India too has a substantial Muslim population? What is there to stop the Jihadist from agitating violence/turmoil given the sometimes atrocities committed against Muslims by the Hindu majority? I’m not even mentioning Kashmir.


SCMP.com Account