In One Xinjiang City, Beards and Muslim Headscarves Banned from Buses
By Alexa Oleson (Foreign Policy)
A city in China’s remote western Xinjiang region has temporarily banned men with beards and women with Muslim headscarves from taking public buses. The extreme security measure, to be implemented for the duration of a sports competition slated to kick off in northern Xinjiang’s Karamay city on August 8, is the latest example of the kind of religious intolerance that some say has fueled growing anti-government feelings and radicalized the region’s Muslims, particularly the Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking minority concentrated primarily in Xinjiang. The QQ news portal and other Chinese news sites that picked up the report also ran a graphic showing the “five abnormal styles” that weren’t allowed on Karamay public transport. It showed pictures of women in full and partial veils, headscarves, and men with full beards and even a modest goatee.
The new rule also bans anyone wearing star and crescent symbols associated with the Uighur separatist movement from taking a city bus during the games, which wrap up August 20. The announcement of the new policy, carried in the local state-run Karamay Daily newspaper on August 4, underscores the region’s high state of anxiety following a string of deadly rampages by alleged Uighur terrorists. An attack by knife-wielding assailants in two counties not far from the Silk Road city of Kashgar on July 28 left 37 civilians dead, with 59 attackers gunned down by police, according to the government account. Uighur exile groups say Chinese police opened fire on Uighurs protesting government policies. It was the deadliest instance of ethnic unrest since riots swept the regional capital of Urumqi in early July of 2009. Two days later on July 30, an imam who was considered supportive of the Chinese government’s policies in the region was assassinated outside his mosque following a morning prayer service. On August 1, nine alleged extremists were shot dead in a corn-field hideout on the outskirts of southwest Xinjiang’s Hotan city.
The cluster of violence comes at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and follows reports of Uighur Muslim civil servants being forbidden to fast during the holiday. It also roughly coincides with a report from the New York Times on July 30 that cited prosecutors who said moderate Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti had been formally charged with separatism. If convicted, Tohti, a passionate supporter of Uighur rights whose supporters say has never advocated violence or independence for the Xinjiang region, could receive the death penalty.