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A new trend in how dynastic politics works in India

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Ajaz Ashraf

The principle of primogeniture that has determined succession in India’s political dynasties is under stress. Former Haryana Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala recently overlooked the claims of his elder son, Ajay Chautala, to hand over the reins of the family-run Indian National Lok Dal to his younger son, Abhay Chautala.

In Bihar, after the Grand Alliance comprising the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Janata Dal (United) and the Congress swept to power in 2015, former Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav had his younger son, Tejashwi Yadav, appointed the deputy chief minister, signalling that he did not intend to pass the dynastic sceptre, so to speak, to his elder son, Tej Pratap Yadav.

 

These choices of the patriarchs have caused much heartburn to their children, even leading to a revolt in the Chautala dynasty. This can be ascribed to India’s ageist culture, which presumes that the patriarch’s eldest child, or the male next to him in age among his kin, is best suited to preside over the dynasty.

Indeed, ageism was what drove the conflict in Mulayam Singh Yadav’s family ahead of the 2017 Uttar Pradesh election. In that unseemly battle, the former chief minister’s son Akhilesh Yadav fought his uncle Shivpal Yadav for control of their Samajwadi Party. Akhilesh Yadav, then chief minister, ultimately trumped his uncle, who has since floated his own party, Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party Lohia. Ageists backed Shivpal Yadav as he is 18 years older than Akhilesh Yadav.

Ageism exerts its pull even when the age difference between contenders is minimal – Tej Pratap Yadav is only a year older to Tejashwi Yadav, but he has not reconciled to his younger brother being declared, last November, the chief ministerial candidate of the family-run Rashtriya Janata Dal. He had earlier been appointed the leader of the Opposition after the Grand Alliance government collapsed in 2017.

It seemingly riles Tej Pratap Yadav that since the coalition government’s collapse deprived him of his status as a minister, he has been an ordinary MLA. When his demand for a party post for a close aide was rebuffed, he tweeted that he was thinking of placing Arjun on the throne and retiring to Dwarka. Put simply, he, like Lord Krishna, had no interest other than to inspire the Yadav clan’s Arjun – Tejashwi Yadav – to fight the battle for chief ministership. It is by constructing an image of the selfless brother that Tej Pratap Yadav seeks to overcome the slight that, in India’s ageist culture, is inherent in his father overlooking him for the leadership of their party. On another occasion, he cautioned those who were trying to create a rift between Balram and Krishna, thereby likening himself to Balram, who loved his younger brother Krishna.

But Tej Pratap Yadav has also vented his fury. He once said, “Party people don’t receive my calls and say they have been asked by senior leaders to do so.” The lack of deference within the Rashtriya Janata Dal to his seniority has led to the Opposition invoking ageism to prick Tej Pratap Yadav’s pride. For example, Bharatiya Janata Party vice president Devesh Kumar was quoted as saying that though his party abhors dynastic politics, going by the Hindu tradition, Tej Pratap Yadav, being the elder son, deserved to be Lalu Yadav’s political heir.

Lalu Yadav set aside the principle of primogeniture because he thought Tejashwi Yadav was a better choice to lead the dynastic party. Although both brothers are school dropouts, Tejashwi Yadav acquired cosmopolitan polish studying in Delhi. He was a member of the Delhi Daredevils in the Indian Premier League, played a couple of Ranji Trophy matches, and an assortment of Under-15 and Under-19 cricket tournaments.

Mingling with people from diverse social backgrounds has provided the younger Yadav a persona that can help him connect with the expanding middle class. Though Tej Pratap Yadav is more in the mould of his father, earthy and rustic, Lalu Yadav still recognised Tejashwi Yadav as the man for the future.

As India has changed, so has Lalu Yadav. It was perhaps his desire to bring into his family an educated, English-speaking daughter-in-law that led Lalu Yadav to choose Aishwariya Rai as Tej Prasad Yadav’s wife. They were a mismatch – she was schooled at Patna’s elite Notre Dame Academy and graduated from Miranda House, Delhi. Perhaps Lalu Prasad thought the marriage could smooth Tej Pratap Yadav’s rough edges that his aborted schooling hadn’t.

But the marriage was also Lalu Yadav’s search for social respectability. Aishwariya Rai is the granddaughter of Daroga Rai, Bihar’s chief minister in 1970. The Rais are what could be described as the vintage Yadav family, and a marital alliance with such a family has social and political advantages. Tej Pratap Yadav, though, seems unwilling to subordinate his individuality to the dynasty’s larger interest.

Before initiating the divorce proceedings against his wife, Tej Pratap Yadav said, “I had told my parents that I did not wish to marry at this moment of time. But nobody listened to me…I am a simple man with simple habits while she is a modern woman, educated in Delhi, and used to living in a metropolis.” He has, till now, continued to rebuff his family’s pleas to make up with his wife.

Tej Pratap Yadav’s penchant for being his own man suggests that he can become a problem to Tejashwi Yadav, whose political graph continues to rise. The setting aside of the principle of primogeniture by his father may well become Tej Yadav’s rallying call.

Lalu Yadav could have tellingly courted modernity had he passed the dynastic crown to his eldest child, Misa Bharti. He did not because of patriarchy, it is contended. An MBBS, Bharti is in her mid-40s, many years elder to her brothers. So, both education and ageism favoured her. Bharti did have the first shy at power. Her political path might have turned out differently had she not lost her maiden Lok Sabha election in 2014. Bharti is said to have pressured her father to get her elected to the Rajya Sabha. It only seems to have whetted her political appetite.

According to The Telegraph, the night before the Grand Alliance government took office in 2015, Bharti flew into a rage. She wondered why she had been overlooked for a Cabinet berth despite being the eldest of Lalu Yadav’s nine children and the first among them to enter politics. It took Nitish Kumar and his advisor, Prashant Kishor, to pacify Bharti.

Her political ambition is why many looked askance at a comment she made last month: “Five fingers are never the same. In my family there are differences between my brothers. RJD is a bigger family.” Patna’s rumour mill went into overdrive, speculating why she had gratuitously disclosed the squabbling in the family. Bharti claimed her statement had been twisted out of context. She has all the makings of a contender to the family’s mantle.

In Uttar Pradesh, it was paradoxical of Mulayam Singh Yadav to send his son to an engineering college in Mysuru, then abroad and yet expect him to subscribe to ageism, which legitimises inequality based on age. As Mulayam Singh Yadav was not in good health in 2012, he and Shivpal Yadav decided to make Akhilesh Yadav the face of the Samajwadi Party in that year’s state election. They rightly thought that his command over the grammar of modernity would appeal to voters beyond the party’s traditional base.

The elders, however, maintained their tight control over the Samajwadi Party. Soon, two centres of power emerged – Shivpal Yadav in the party and Akhilesh Yadav in the governance structure. This situation became untenable as the 2017 Assembly polls drew close. Akhilesh Yadav’s future depended on whether he could wrest control over ticket distribution from his uncle. After all, if he were to lose, his standing would depend on the number of MLAs he commanded.

Akhilesh Yadav started asserting himself in late 2016, triggering a family feud that made headlines for weeks. He eventually won the fight for the party’s bicycle symbol. He may have lost the 2017 election, but his control over the party was established beyond doubt.

From Shivpal Yadav’s perspective, ageism was a justifiable reason for refusing to kowtow to Akhilesh Yadav. Filial love was another reason: Akhilesh Yadav’s control over the party implied that Shivpal Yadav and his son Aditya Yadav could no longer be principal shareholders in the dynastic enterprise.

Akhilesh Yadav’s control over the Samajwadi Party implied that Shivpal Yadav and his son Aditya Yadav could no longer be key shareholders in the dynastic enterprise. Photo credit: PTI

By forming his own party, Shivpal Yadav does not hope to capture power. His aim is to cut into the Samajwadi Party’s votes and prevent Akhilesh Yadav from establishing that he can win without his uncle’s formidable organisational skills. This could enable Shivpal Yadav to cannibalise the Samajwadi Party’s support and lay the foundation for an offshoot of the Yadav dynasty.

To this end, Shivpal Yadav will likely try to recruit Mulayam Singh Yadav’s family members who face existential anxieties. He will try to win over Akhilesh Yadav’s step brother, Prateek Yadav, son of Mulayam Singh Yadav from his second marriage. Prateek Yadav is married to Aparna Bisht Yadav, who unsuccessfully contested the 2017 Assembly election.

Aparna and Prateek Yadav cannot vie for the dynastic crown as long as Akhilesh Yadav retains control over the Samajwadi Party. This was why pundits saw signs of realignment when Aparna Yadav shared the stage with Shivpal Yadav. It is also in the BJP’s interests to deepen the fissures in the Yadav dynasty, a pointer to which was the state government’s decision to allot to Shivpal Yadav the palatial bungalow vacated by the Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati.

Indeed, ruthless succession wars have become a recurring aspect of our democracy. This is because modernity has dynasts tilt against the inequality inherent in the ideas of primogeniture, ageism, and gender-based exclusion that once glued together the Indian political dynasty.


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Opinion

The Mosque of the Two Qiblahs

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By Spahic Omer

This is an important historical mosque. It is one of the earliest mosques in Islam. It was established during the Prophet’s time for an outlying neighbourhood of Madinah. Its significance lies in the fact that after the Prophet (pbuh) received a commandment to change the qiblah or prayer direction from al-Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem to al-Masjid al-Haram (Ka’bah) in Makkah, the entire congregation led by a companion in this mosque changed direction in prayer. Henceforth the mosque was known as masjid al-qiblatayn (the mosque of the two qiblahs) as both qiblahs were faced in a single prayer.

Al-Bukhari in his Sahih reports the incident as follows: “When the Prophet (pbuh) came to Madinah, he stayed first with his grandfathers or maternal uncles from Ansar. He offered his prayers facing Baitul-Maqdis (Jerusalem and its al-Masjid al-Aqsa) for sixteen or seventeen months, but he wished that he could pray facing the Ka’bah (in Makkah). The first prayer which he offered facing the Ka’bah was the ‘Asr prayer in the company of some people. Then one of those who had offered that prayer with him came out and passed by some people in a mosque who were bowing during their prayers (facing Jerusalem). He said addressing them: ‘By Allah, I testify that I have prayed with Allah’s Apostle facing Makkah (Ka’bah).’ Hearing that, those people changed their direction towards the Ka’bah immediately. Jews and the people of the scriptures used to be pleased to see the Prophet (pbuh) facing Jerusalem in prayers but when he changed his direction towards the Ka’bah, during the prayers, they disapproved of it” (Sahih al-Bukhari).

 

Architecturally, the mosque was meticulously attended to by many personalities throughout Muslim history. Many expansion, rebuilding and renovation programs took place. Among the first ones to do so was ‘Umar II. The Ottomans excelled in the same regard too. The present form of the mosque dates back to 1987. It was constructed as part of various development initiatives in Madinah by King Fahd. The plan and design of the mosque referred to the Islamic traditional architectural language and vocabulary as a source of inspiration. “Externally, the architectural vocabulary is inspired by traditional elements and motifs in a deliberate effort to offer an authentic image for an historic site” (archnet.org). The architect was Abdul-Wahid al-Wakil from Egypt.

The mosque is much smaller than the Quba’ mosque. That is perhaps the case because it is not on the list of the places which the Prophet (pbuh) recommended to be visited in Madinah. The comparatively small size is an indirect invitation to people not to regard it as important for visiting as the explicitly specified places, and so, not to throng to it needlessly. The interior of the mosque is much similar to those of the mosque of Ahmad b. Tulun and some Fatimid mosques in Cairo.

There are two minarets on the right and left sides of the main entrance. Though somewhat shorter, they resemble the four minarets of the Quba’ mosque. The bases of the minarets are square and the shafts octagonal. There are three balconies on each minaret, the second and third being supported by muqarnas. The first balcony marks the transition from the square base to the octagonal shaft. It itself is square, while the other two balconies are octagonal.

“The mosque can accommodate up to 2,000 worshipers. The main prayer hall adopts rigid orthogonal geometry and symmetry which is accentuated by the use of twin minarets and twin domes. Living accommodations for the imam, the muezzin and the caretaker are discreetly grouped in one block to the west of the main structure. The difference in level at the southeast corner of the site has been exploited to incorporate a sub-basement level which serves as the ablutions area for worshipers. To the north, where the ground level is lower, the prayer hall is raised one-story above ground level. Entry to the prayer hall is from the raised courtyard, also to the north, which can be reached by stairs and ramps from the main directions of approach” (archnet.org).

The prayer hall consists of a series of arches which support barrel-vaults running parallel to the qiblah wall. These vaults are interrupted in the middle by two domes which establish an axis in the direction of Makkah and its al-Masjid al-Haram. The main dome to the south is raised on a circular drum with clerestory windows which allow light to filter into the interior directly above the mihrab. There are 22 such windows filled with jaalis and colored glass. The second, false dome stands above the entrance. It is linked to the first dome by a small cross-vault to symbolize the transition from one qiblah to another. This slightly smaller dome does not have clerestory windows perforated in its drum. Both domes are supported by a combination of pendentives and simple forms of muqarnas, featuring only a few niches or alveoles. Domed are also some adjacent spaces of the mosque that provide extra facilities and services.

Before entering the mosque, one firstly steps inside a virtually enclosed arcade, whence he enters the mosque proper. This transitional arcade is covered by a series of miniature domes. The arcade reminds of entry sides in most Ottoman mosques, which are marked with porticos resting on wide columns and covered with small domes.

There are four rows of piers with which the arches are supported, each row having eight piers. In total, there are 32 piers, which is excessive for the size of the mosque. Moreover, the piers are huge, consuming much space inside the prayer area. They also accentuate the heavy mass of the building and its bulkiness.

The four corners of each pier have engaged columns, four columns for every pier. The columns are embedded in the piers’ mass and only partly project from their corner surfaces. They are cylindrical and plain, having no distinctive bases. Their capitals are decorated identically with stucco-work. They look like simple forms of the Byzantine capital. The same structural and decorative manoeuvre is found on the piers of the mosque of Ahmad b. Tulun.

There are five arcades parallel to the qiblah, corresponding to the number of barrel-vaults. In each arcade there could be three lines (sufuf) of worshipers, which means fifteen lines in total. Each line can accommodate about 120-130 worshipers. The women’s prayer section is on the second floor and occupies two arcades. The area is divided into two parts by the second or false dome. The area is protected by a wooden screen featuring latticework and ensuring peace and privacy.

The mihrab is rather deep and is gradually recessed. It has two depth levels, each level bordered by two columns that support the arched hood. Almost the entire mihrab frame, including the columns and the hood, are luxuriantly adorned with stucco-work featuring calligraphy, complex geometry and floral patterns. Of the two Qur’anic verses used as calligraphic embellishment, one is on the subject of qiblah (direction of prayer). The verse is partially used and its usage divided into two fragments, running across the extradoses of the two levels of the mihrab’s arched hood.

That the mihrab niche has two recessed levels could be symbolically interpreted as the two stages of establishing the qiblah: firstly towards Jerusalem and secondly towards Makkah. Thus, on the extrados of the outer mihrab’s level, the following Qur’anic words as the first part of the verse in question are inscribed, representing the first and preliminary stage of establishing the qiblah: “We have certainly seen the turning of your face, (O Muhammad), toward the heaven, and We will surely turn you to a qiblah with which you will be pleased” (al-Baqarah, 144). And on the extrados of the inner mihrab’s level, the following Qur’anic words as the second part of the verse are inscribed, representing the second and final stage of the qiblah establishment: “So turn your face toward al-Masjid al-Haram. And wherever you (believers) are, turn your faces toward it (in prayer)” (al-Baqarah, 144).

Next to the mihrab stands a minbar or pulpit. It is made of wood and exhibits excellent workmanship. In terms of size and overall appearance, though, it bears a resemblance to the marble minbar in the Quba’ mosque.

Extending through the entire southern qiblah and left eastern sides of the mosque are two rows of small niches, one above the other, containing copies of the Holy Qur’an. Their openings are in the shape of pointed multi foil arches. On the qiblah side, there are 128 such niches, and on the left eastern side, 80. Each niche contains 14 copies of the Qur’an. Furthermore, all 32 piers on their right and left sides contain two more similar niches. The exception are eight piers that border the mosque’s axis towards Makkah under the two domes. Those piers have only one niche each, on the sides that do not face the axis.

Finally, on the opposite side of the qiblah, right above the entrance, there is in stucco-work a medium-size image of a mihrab niche. The image is two-dimensional and symbolizes the first qiblah towards Jerusalem. It is deliberately made fairly modest and raised high above the ground, so as not to draw much attention to itself and thus, perhaps, incite excessive symbolism and some untoward behavior. Across the image runs the axiom that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.

The axiom intimates that the change of the qiblah was solely about affirming the Oneness of Allah and the prophet-hood of Muhammad (pbuh), and that the truth of Islam is universal, absolute, timeless and all-encompassing, including the earlier prophets, their own prophet-hood missions and their own peoples and legacies. The change of the qiblah must not be viewed through the prism of prejudice, narrow-mindedness and self-interests.

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Opinion

Never Belittle Your Firm Belief in Allah

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By Shaimaa Elhomossany

One of the most shared human experiences is emotional suffering. Whether it comes from rejection, criticism, failure, disappointment, illness or loss, emotional suffering is always a heavy burden, commonly experienced, yet carried individually. Regardless of how much effort we put to neutralize or change our perception of it, we remain vulnerable to its consequences. Surprisingly though, emotional suffering is necessary for our journey in life. Allah designed this world, enclosed with suffering and pain, not only as a test but also as a means to get to know Him and draw closer to Him. This is why the Messengers and Prophets – peace be upon them all – may have had the greatest share of suffering, yet had the closest relationship with Allah.

Understanding the following will help us better approach, deal with and ultimately benefit from emotional suffering:

 

1) Suffering is an opportunity to advance in our spiritual relationship with Allah

It’s important to understand that the utmost goal of our lives is to worship Allah, as He says:

“And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.”

(Quran – 51:56)

This helps us realise that the most important work of our lives is to become the best servants of Allah that we can be. This servitude, however, entails acknowledging our vulnerability, helplessness, and dependability, because otherwise, we would be self-sufficient, omnipotent and unapproachable; we would be divine!

The truth is, we humans are created helpless, weak, exposed and constantly in need, so that we may seek refuge from Allah’s power. He can compensate for our weakness with His might, and from His sustenance, He provides for us. Only when in our utter helplessness we seek refuge, can we taste a level of closeness to Allah that doesn’t come from anywhere else.

We need to foster a new level of trust in His abilities, firm belief in Him and His watchfulness over us, so that we may be empowered to go through any hardship in life with Him and by Him, instead of weak and alone. Only through this opportunity can we establish a genuine servant-master relationship based on a true understanding and experience of Allah’s divinity and Lordship. Only when we understand where we stand in that relationship can we perfect the mission of our existence.

2) Feeling Sad Doesn’t Contradict Being A Good Believer

When we hear stories of Prophets, it is obvious that sadness is an integral part of these stories. Often, we can relate to their suffering. Take Prophet Yaqub, for example, whose story is anchored with sadness and struggle, and who acknowledged his emotional pain and opened up to it, but never allowed it to belittle his firm belief in Allah.

Or Lady Mariam, when the pain of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm tree, and in her intense emotional and physical suffering she said,

“Oh, I wish I had died before this and was in oblivion, forgotten.”

(Quran- 19:23)

Despite that, she still occupies the status as one of the best women in Islam.

The best among all, Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, when burying his child Ibrahim said,

“The eyes are shedding tears and the heart is grieved, and we will not say except what pleases our Lord, O Ibrahim! Indeed, we are grieved by your separation.”
So, whatever ordeal you are dealing with in your life, don’t feel guilty about being open to it and interacting with it. The most important thing is not to go so far into sadness that you cross the line with Allah while grieving, by displeasing Him or turning away from Him in despair.

3) Don’t Reject It, Accept It

Knowing that this suffering chose you specifically over many others requires some contemplation. It was meant to be, and nothing that is meant to be is haphazard, on the contrary, there is always a good reason for it.

As we learn from the story of Prophet Musa’s encounter with Khidr in the Quran, nothing happens without a divine reason behind it. However, sometimes we, like Prophet Musa, are unable to truly understand what this reason is. This is especially true when things happen that seem bad or unjust. All we can do is learn to accept that there is a reason for it and have complete faith in Allah’s plan.

There is nothing we can do to stop the storm, until we realise that it’s not the storm that hurts, it’s resisting it that does. Learn to flow with your suffering and let it carry you to the other end, and trust me, there, you will meet a very different version of yourself. Just realise that the only way out is through.

4) Don’t Look At How It Is Affecting You, Rather Look At Who Brought It upon You

If we look at emotional suffering in and of itself, it will be very hard to deal with. However, if we look at it as something coming from the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate, the Source of Peace, the Reliever, the All Aware, the Watchful, the Responder to Prayers, the Wise, the Doer of Good, the Guide, and the All Comprehending, you will find there is no need to worry and you will be confident that no matter how difficult it may seem, Allah will send down His subtle kindness and gentleness along with it, making it easy for you. So, fix your heart towards the sender, not the consequences.

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Opinion

China’s brutal crackdown on the Uighur Muslims

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By Jen Kirbyjen

China was sharply criticized for its mass detention of members of the Muslim Uighur community at a United Nations Human Rights Council meeting on Tuesday — but the country pushed back, saying that the condemnation was politically motivated.

Western governments, including those in Europe, the United States, and Canada, had the harshest words for China. The United States chargé d’affaires Mark Cassayre demanded that China “abolish all forms of arbitrary detention” for Uighurs and other Muslims minorities, and that China release the “possibly millions” of individuals detained there.

 

China’s Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng dismissed these and other comments as “politically driven accusations from a few countries that are fraught with biases.”
China has detained as many as 1 million Uighurs in so-called “re-educationcenters” and forced them to undergo psychological indoctrination programs — like studying communist propaganda and giving thanks to Chinese President Xi Jinping. Chinese authorities have also reportedly used waterboarding and other forms of torture on the ethnic minority.

Xinjiang, where about 10 million Uighurs and a few other Muslim minorities live, is an autonomous region in China’s northwest that borders Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Mongolia. It has been under Chinese control since 1949, when the communist People’s Republic of China was established.

Uighurs speak their own language — an Asian Turkic language similar to Uzbek — and most practice a moderate form of Sunni Islam. Some activists, including those who seek independence from China, refer to the region as East Turkestan.

Once situated along the ancient Silk Road trading route, Xinjiang is oil- and resource-rich. As it developed along with the rest of China, the region attracted more Han Chinese, a migration encouraged by the Chinese government.

But that demographic shift inflamed ethnic tensions, especially within some of the larger cities. In 2009, for example, riots broke out in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, after Uighurs protested their treatment by the government and the Han majority. About 200 people were killed and hundreds injured during the unrest.

The Chinese government, however, blamed the protests on violent separatist groups — a tactic it would continue to use against the Uighurs and other religious and ethnic minorities across China.

Xinjiang is also a major logistics hub of Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, a trillion-dollar infrastructure project along the old Silk Road meant to boost China’s economic and political influence around the world. Xinjiang’s increasing importance to China’s global aspirations is likely a major reason Beijing is tightening its grip.

All of which means China has increasingly tried to draw Xinjiang into its orbit, starting with a crackdown in 2009 following riots in the region and leading up to the implementation of repressive policies in 2016 and 2017 that have curbed religious freedom and increased surveillance of the minority population, often under the guise of combating terrorism and extremism.

The Chinese government justifies its clampdown on the Uighurs and Muslim minorities by saying it’s trying to eradicate extremism and separatist groups. But while attacks, some violent, by Uighur separatists have occurred in recent years, there’s little evidence of any cohesive separatist movement — with jihadist roots or otherwise — that could challenge the Chinese government, experts tell me.

China’s crackdown on the Uighurs is part of a policy of “de-extremification.” It’s generated repressive policies, from the banning of certain Muslim names for babies to chilling reports of torture and political indoctrination in so-called “reeducation” camps where hundreds of thousands have been detained.

Communist China has a dark history with reeducation camps, combining hard labor with indoctrination to the party line. According to research by Adrian Zenz, a leading scholar on China’s policies toward the Uighurs, Chinese officials began using dedicated camps in Xinjiang around 2014 — around the same time that China blamed a series of terrorist attacks on radical Uighur separatists.

China escalated pressure on Muslim minorities through 2017, slowly chipping away at their rights with the passage of religious regulations and a counterterrorism law, according to the Uyghur Human Rights Project, a pro-Uighur group based in Washington, DC.

In 2016, Xinjiang also got a new leader: a powerful Communist Party boss named Chen Quanguo, whose previous job was restoring order and control to the restive region of Tibet. Chen has a reputation as a strongman and is something of a specialist in ethnic crackdowns.

Increased surveillance and police presence accompanied his move to Xinjiang, including his “grid management” policing system. As the Economist reported, “authorities divide each city into squares, with about 500 people. Every square has a police station that keeps tabs on the inhabitants. So, in rural areas, does every village.”

Security checkpoints where residents must scan identification cards were set up at train stations and on roads into and out of towns. Authorities have reportedly used facial recognition technology to track residents’ movements. Police confiscate phones to download the information contained on them to scan through later. Police have also confiscated passports to prevent Uighurs from traveling abroad.

Some of the targeted “de-extremification” restrictions gained coverage in the West, including a ban on certain Muslim names for babies and another on long beards and veils. The government also made it illegal to not watch state television and to not send children to government schools. The government reportedly tried to promote drinking and smoking, because people who didn’t drink or smoke — like devout Muslims — were deemed suspicious.

Chinese officials have justified these policies as necessary to counter religious radicalization and extremism, but critics say they are meant to curtail Islamic traditions and practices.

The Chinese government is “trying to expunge ethnonational characteristics from the people,” James Millward, a professor at Georgetown University, told me. “They’re not trying to drive them out of the country; they’re trying to hold them in.”

“The ultimate goal, the ultimate issue that the Chinese state is targeting [is] the cultural practices and beliefs of Muslim groups,” he added.

“Re-education camps” — or training camps, as the Chinese have called them — are perhaps the most sinister pillar of this de-extremification policy. Experts estimate as many as 2 million people have disappeared into these camps at some point, with about 1 million currently being held.

The Chinese government first denied these camps even existed. When confronted about them at the United Nations in August, officials claimed they were for the “assistance and education” of minor criminals. China’s state-run media has dismissed the reports of detention camps as Western media “baselessly criticizing China’s human rights.”

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