LINXIA, China – Two years ago, alarming signs began to appear in this Muslim pocket in China's heartland. Prayer calls, once broadcast by local mosques, fell silent. The Koran, which was banned from sale, disappeared from the bookstores.
10 million members of the Hui minority hoped that the state's action would not materialize here in the fertile valleys and loess mountains of Gansu Province, as was the case in Xinjiang, the home of [other major's] Muslim ethnicity in China, the Uighurs.
Hope dwindled in April. Government cranes loomed over the Hui mosques. There was a video on social media showing workers taking apart the golden dome of the Gazhuang Mosque and hurling it into the prayer hall. The local Hui saw an unmistakable metaphor: The Communist Party, which once treated the religious life here with a light touch, now roughly ignored it.
"Women were crying; Others, like me, could not believe what happened, "said Ma Ha, a 40-year-old owner of a noodle shop. "We had 40 years of religious freedom. The winds are changing. "
Under her leadership, Xi Jinping, the Chinese government has intensified its efforts to assimilate ethnic minorities and restrict religions such as Islam, which it considers to be a vehicle of foreign influence. For two years, China has sent hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, Uighurs to so-called Uyghur centers on the border with Xinjiang, where they are taught to give up their religion and culture, and to engage in new state-mandated identities as secular Chinese.
] The tide of "sinification," as Chinese politicians call it, is increasing nationwide. A recent, unaccompanied journey through Gansu, a corridor that once introduced silk road caravans and Islam into imperial China, resulted in an accelerated campaign to assimilate another Muslim minority, the Hui, a Chinese-speaking people that has lately been free of separatism or extremism had recorded. 19659008] The campaign against the Hui does not include mass internment or ubiquitous digital surveillance, the most conspicuous aspects of the crushing of Xinjiang. But it is a purge of ideas, symbols, culture and products – anything that is not Chinese. It permeates life in an existential and worldly way.
Cupolas and minarets are demolished by mosques and replaced by curved Chinese roofs. Newscasts may not show pedestrians wearing traditional Hui skull caps or veils. The Arabic script is banned in public areas, so virtually every restaurant has a sun-drenched façade with dark tracks from which the word "halal" was scraped off.
Strict new quotas are throttling religious education to the degree that some Hui intellectuals predict People in two or three generations could become largely unreligious, like most of China.
The pressure on the Hui, the distant descendants of Persian traders, is increasing at a moment when Communist leadership is fueling popular support among the ethnic majority of the Han population. In official speeches, on television, and on billboards, the China Dream is often abandoned – Xi's vision of restoring China's historical power and wealth, culture and pride.
"The great rejuvenation of the Chinese people is actually a narrow-minded, xenophobic kind of nationalism," said Li Yunfei, an Imam from East China and one of the last dissident Hui writers. "Anything they define as coming from abroad, they strive to eliminate by administrative means."
A Communist Party Guideline passed by the German-based Advocacy Group World Uighur Congress in April 2018 instructed the party's central leadership to direct local authorities to reverse what it considered growing "Saudi" and "Arab" influences Viewing architecture, clothing, religious practice and language.
Although the content of the policy was confidential, government departments throughout the country have issued general statements confirming the implementation of their orders.
The 22 million Islamists are not the only ones affected by China's efforts to assimilate. Christian church towers and crosses were torn down throughout the country. Inspecting the Tibetan regions in August, party officials called on local officials to implement Xi's "important words on religious work," to tighten control over the monasteries, and "to focus efforts to sinicize religion."
Ambitious social reengineering is considered one of them Vanessa Frangville, Professor of Chinese Studies at the Université libre de Bruxelles in Belgium, reported on Xi's legacies.
By restricting religion, "it removes potential opponents of power," Frangville said. "Controlling the entire population through technology and ideology – that's what leading politicians dream of."
"We've gone back 40 years"
For centuries Gansu was a land of transition. In the hills where the Tibetan Plateau flattened into a prairie, vast Tibetan monasteries exerted more gravity than the emperors of far-off Beijing. In the Daxia Valley, Sufi preachers and pious warlords had transformed an old Silk Road Center called Linxia into a Hui Bastion decades before the Communist march in 1949.
Today, Beijing wants to assert its influence.
Recently, a local imam led a visitor past a flagpole with a fluttering red Chinese banner that officials had installed earlier this year. Along a courtyard wall, propaganda bulletins reminded the faithful of their greatest loyalty: the communist state before Allah.
"Islam has been in China for 1300 years. Apart from ten years of Cultural Revolution, it has always been transmitted from generation to generation without interruption, "said the Imam, who, like almost everyone in Gansu, spoke about the condition of anonymity for fear of government retaliation. "We have returned to the Cultural Revolution for 40 years."
In his classroom, where the number of religious students had dropped 90 percent in one year when new quotas came into force, the imam spoke about how the Qur'an was banned, and local publishers who printed the hadiths – Collections of the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad – were detained.
Most destabilizing, the imam said, was the feeling of foreboding How to please the central government for her to be on the side of caution, the imam said. Everyone else – from the rich Hui business people to the poor peasants – felt "completely paralyzed," he said.
"The Xinjiang policy is already being implemented here. At least we're moving in that direction, "the imam said. "We were born and raised in China, our passports are Chinese, our ancestors are Chinese, how do you want us to become Chinese?"
A day laborer named Ma Junyi looked tense as he made his way along the Binhe Mosque Linxia, one of at least three in town, walked across the shifting sands.
Residents were concerned about new restrictions that reduced Madrassa's class size to 30-a quota that was enforced by sampling, Ma said For 18 years, like his 9-year-old daughter, it was forbidden to enter the courtyard of the mosque.
"We know that leaders have their reasons," said Ma. "But how can we pass on our traditions? as if we were dying out. "
An American Model
In 2008 and 2009, China was shaken by racial turmoil in Tibet and Xinjiang involving hundreds of Han, Uighurs, and others Tibetans died.
In the following years, a remarkably open discussion on China's ethno-politics flourished on campus, in journals and even on television. Two of the most influential voices were Hu Angang, a conservative intellectual at Tsinghua University in Beijing, and Hu Lianhe, a mid-career civil servant who later prevailed in the ranks of the Communist Party.
In 2011, the two Hus, unrelated, jointly published essays criticizing the long-standing policy of recognizing China's 55 ethnic minorities. They gave them preferential treatment on university admissions issues and regions where peoples such as Uyghur and Tibetan with some autonomy lived.
The Hus pointed out that religious and ethnonationalist impulses played a role in the downfall of the Soviet Union – a warning story obsessively studied by the Chinese Communist Party. They called for a "valorization" of the policy and pointed to a model that they believe China should consider: the United States.
"The politics of the early crucible. , , It was a powerful Anglo-Saxon policy that mainly absorbed other ethnic groups into Anglo-Protestant groups, "they wrote in a paper that recorded waves of US immigration from southern Europe and later from Latin America. "Although the norms of pluralism have become very strong in recent years, ethnic differences tend to disappear."
The articles sparked controversy in China. But today, they are the most-cited articles on the subject, Hu Angang said. They helped Hu Lianhe become a top official. Last year, he defended China's Xinjiang policy in front of a United Nations panel in Geneva.
In an interview and in emails, Hu Angang said his ideas were often misunderstood in the West. He said he was not in favor of enforced assimilation, he said, but the wisdom of Chinese ethnopolitics has been backed up by data showing that the standard of development in Xinjiang and Tibet surpasses neighboring countries plagued by poverty and chaos.
"Ethnic harmony and social stability are the reasons greatest, most important public good, but invisible and immaterial as fresh air.
A Silent Downfall
Weeks after Linxia, the video was stunned by mourning worshipers howling at their demolished Gazhuang Mosque. A retired party secretary sat in a nearby farmhouse picking platter of braised chicken.
Is China attacking Islam? Nonsense, he said.
First, the Linxia government is paying for the reconstruction of the Gazhuang Mosque – with a Chinese-style roof. The workers dropped the dome, but it was an accident. And the viral video was uploaded by the mischievous boy Hui, who has since been punished with a 24-hour prison sentence and released. The party was not only charitable, but also forgiving.
"Why is a dome so important?" The official said as he shuffled to a cloakroom and removed his Hui skull cap in favor of a sun hat. "I can exchange my hat. You can replace a dome. The government does not say that you can not be Muslim or that you force to be Buddhist or Christian! "
Residents had been worried about the direction of things, he conceded, but quickly dismissed the thought. "I tell people that they have to trust me, we are not in danger," he said. "And people trust me."
The bottom line was that China had the right to do things its own way, he said.
"How can Americans possibly teach China about religious freedom?" He said. How many Muslims killed America in Iraq and Afghanistan? If you ask the Muslim world whether they prefer America or China, they would probably say China.
In a high-rise building near the modest inner city of Linxia, Suleiman, a public sector employee with 30 employees, and Communist Party members, most of whom are Hui, were caught in a certain band.
Party members and officials are forbidden to make Hajj pilgrimages, which, according to Suleiman, are the duty of every Muslim. Linxia City employees are not seen praying and Hui contractors are being asked to remove the skullcaps when they meet with city officials According to Suleiman, Chinese Christians are also under pressure from the state, but it does not appear to be widespread Aversion to Christians, no explosive potential.
] "I'm afraid there will be mass movements against Muslims someday," he said. "I'm scared because China has been hit by mass movements since antiquity."
A voyage through Linxia, where once eight great mosques, a bazaar, and warlords formed the center of Hui life, is a visit to the Sinization Campaign with meticulous logic.
Along the highway approaching the city, a wall of black tarpaulin perfectly prevents motorists from seeing the minarets of Jiajianan Mosque in the distance. On the main street, officials covered Islamic arches with flagstones with a Chinese motif, chrysanthemum flowers. In a government-run museum, the curators removed skullcaps and scarves from mannequins in an exhibition on Hui culture.
In the next room, an exhibition on local history celebrates how mosques in the region were rebuilt in the 1980s. Part of the context is missing: many were dragged away by communist zealots in 1957 during a mass mania that was sparked by Chairman Mao Zedong. "They cook us slowly like frogs."