The Karamay city government in China announced a ban on “abnormal” clothing and hairstyles associated with Muslims from public transport last week to combat potential terrorist activities during the 13th Xinjiang Sports Games between Aug. 8 to 20, 2014.
The announcement was released on Aug. 4 with a poster depicting the so-called “five abnormal appearances”. Twitter user @uponsnow highlighted the news with a copy of the poster:
— uponsnow (@uponsnow) August 5, 2014
Face veils, hijabs, burqas, outfits with crescent moon and stars and men with long beards — the above five types of people are forbidden on public transport. Outfit with crescent moon and stars are banned.
The relationship between the Uyghur people in China's western Xinjiang region and the Chinese government is tumultuous. Ethnic tensions have at times resulted in deadly clashes between Uyghur activists and authorities. The current clampdown came after bloody ethnic unrest broke out in Kashgar city on July 28. Thirty-seven civilians were killed, while police gunned down 59 suspected assailants, according to the government's official account.
Charles Liu from Nanfang.com noted that it is likely the “temporary measure” will become a long-term policy. As early as June 4 this year, authorities in Xinjiang began pressuring the public to stop wearing Muslim outfits because it is “not normal”. Last month, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Xinjiang government even banned its civil servants from the religious practice of fasting.
The news on the ban of the “five abnormal appearances” was highlighted in major news portals and social media. Public responses were rather extreme. On the one side, many have shown their support for the policy, with some even suggesting that the ban be extended all across the country. Below are some frequently seen pro-government comments (via Chongqing morning post's Weibo comment section):
- The ban should not be restricted to Karamay City, the whole country should ban [such outfits]
– Many countries have banned wearing such extreme religious outfits in the public.
– Support without any doubt, iron fist is needed.
– Muslim should become secular or they don't have any exit!
– This is the right way. Religious practice should be restricted to temples. The public space should be secular.
On the other side, many have questioned the effectiveness of the ban. Below are picks from the comment section of Weibo user Dapeng777's news highlight:
- [Such a policy] is man-made conflict, anyone would be pissed.
– I don't like terrorists and feel uneasy about those wearing moon and star outfits. Sometimes I am also frightened by those Xinjiang people wearing black dresses. But long beards don't mean anything and should not be connected with terrorists. If they are banned from public transport, the more traditional Xinjiangese will be frustrated.
– Loyalty defined by ethnicity. After all these years, same attitude prevails. Discrimination based on nationalism will only deepen conflicts.
– Karl Marx also had long beard since he was young…
– [The ban] reminds me of the racial segregation in South Africa.
Judging from the prosecution of moderate Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti, who advocates for ethnic reconciliation, and this recent extreme policy targeting Muslim outfits, the vicious circle of violent protests and repression will carry on. As Henryk Szadziewski, a senior researcher for the Uyghur Human Rights Project told Foreign Policy, “Chinese officials seem to be holding a line that ‘you are either with us or against us’, and punishing accordingly”.