China bans list of Islamic names in restive Xinjiang region
Authorities in China's Xinjiang region are prohibiting parents from giving children some Islamic names in the latest effort to dilute the influence of religion on life in the ethnic Uighur minority heartland.
"Muhammad," ''Jihad" and "Islam" are among at least 29 names now banned in the heavily Muslim region, according to a list distributed by overseas Uighur activists.
An official at a county-level public security office in Kashgar, a hub in southern Xinjiang with strong Islamic influences, says some names were banned because they had a "religious background." It is unclear how widespread the ban is or whether it is tightly enforced. The official refused to identify herself, as is common with Chinese officials.
The naming restrictions are part of a broader government effort to secularise Xinjiang, which is home to roughly 10 million Uighurs, a Turkic people who mostly follow Sunni Islam. Top officials including Xinjiang's Communist Party chief have publicly said that radical Islamic thought has infiltrated the region from Central Asia, protracting a bloody, years long insurgency that has claimed hundreds of lives.
Government-linked scholars and high-ranking officials, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, have urged local governments to better assimilate their Muslim minorities into the majority Han Chinese culture and many ethnic policy hard-liners have decried a trend of so-called "Arabisation" affecting China's 21 million Muslims.
China's Uighur heartland turns into security state
China says it faces a serious threat from Islamist extremists in its Xinjiang region. Beijing accuses separatists among the Muslim Uighur ethnic minority of stirring up tensions with the ethnic Han Chinese majority. By Nadine Berghausen
Economy or security? China routinely denies pursuing repressive policies in Xinjiang and points to the vast sums it spends on economic development in the resource-rich region. James Leibold, an expert on Chinese ethnic policy says the focus on security runs counter to Beijing's goal of using the OBOR initiative to boost Xinjiang's economy, because it would disrupt the flow of people and ideas
China's far western Xinjiang region ramps up security: three times a day, alarms ring out through the streets of China's ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar and shopkeepers rush out of their stores swinging government-issued wooden clubs. In mandatory anti-terror drills conducted under police supervision, they fight off imaginary knife-wielding assailants
One Belt, One Road Initiative: an ethnic Uighur man walks down the path leading to the tomb of Imam Asim in the Taklamakan Desert. A historic trading post, the city of Kashgar is central to China's "One Belt, One Road Initiative", which is President Xi Jinping's signature foreign and economic policy involving massive infrastructure spending linking China to Asia, the Middle East and beyond
China fears disruption of "One Belt, One Road" summit: a man herds sheep in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. China's worst fears are that a large-scale attack would blight this year's diplomatic set piece, an OBOR summit attended by world leaders planned for Beijing. Since ethnic riots in the regional capital Urumqi in 2009, Xinjiang has been plagued by bouts of deadly violence
Ethnic minority in China: a woman prays at a grave near the tomb of Imam Asim in the Taklamankan Desert. Uighurs are a Turkic-speaking distinct and mostly Sunni Muslim community and one of the 55 recognised ethnic minorities in China. Although Uighurs have traditionally practiced a moderate version of Islam, experts believe that some of them have been joining Islamic militias in the Middle East
Communist Party vows to continue war on terror: Chinese state media say the threat remains high, so the Communist Party has vowed to continue its "war on terror" against Islamist extremism. For example, Chinese authorities have passed measures banning many typically Muslim customs. The initiative makes it illegal to "reject or refuse" state propaganda, although it was not immediately clear how the authorities would enforce this regulation
CCTV cameras are being installed: many residents say the anti-terror drills are just part of an oppressive security operation that has been ramped up in Kashgar and other cities in Xinjiang's Uighur heartland in recent months. For many Uighurs it is not about security, but mass surveillance. "We have no privacy. They want to see what you're up to," says a shop owner in Kashgar
Ban on many typically Muslim customs: the most visible change is likely to come from the ban on "abnormal growing of beards," and the restriction on wearing veils. Specifically, workers in public spaces, including stations and airports, will be required to "dissuade" people with veils on their faces from entering and report them to the police
Security personnel keep watch: authorities offer rewards for those who report "youth with long beards or other popular religious customs that have been radicalised", as part of a wider incentive system that rewards actionable intelligence on imminent attacks. Human rights activists have been critical of the tactics used by the government in combatting the alleged extremists, accusing it of human rights abuses
Aside from the prohibition on Islamic names, local Xinjiang officials have, at times, strongly discouraged or prohibited Islamic veils, while government-linked commentators have called for bans of mosques with domes or other Middle Eastern architectural styles.
Uighur activists and human rights groups say that radical thought had never gained widespread traction, but restrictions on religious expression are fuelling a cycle of radicalisation and violence.
The names listed on the government document disseminated by Uighur groups include several related to historic religious or political figures and some place names. "Imam," ''Hajj," ''Turknaz," ''Azhar" and "Wahhab" are on the list, as are "Saddam," ''Arafat," Medina" and "Cairo."
Judgment calls about which names are deemed to be "overly religious" will be made by local government officials, according to Radio Free Asia, the U.S.-funded radio service which first reported the naming directive.
For instance, "Mehmet," the widely seen Turkic version of "Muhammad," is considered "mainstream" in Xinjiang and would likely be permitted, RFA reported.
Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the overseas World Uighur Congress activist group, called the naming directive a policy bearing a "hostile attitude" toward Uighurs.
"Han parents choosing Western names are considered trendy, but Uighurs have to accept Chinese regulations or else be accused of being separatists or terrorists," Raxit said. (AP)
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