Zoya Azhar ’20
Assistant Opinions Editor
Though only France’s veil ban has received a great deal of attention from social media and news outlets, in actuality most of Europe has enacted some form of this ban. Countries such as Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Denmark and Switzerland have put some sort of veil or hijab ban in place.
Now China also has a veil ban in place. The order was passed by the Xinjiang People’s Congress and it is not clear what other items of clothing have been outlawed by the order. The measure will start being enforced this week and is apparently a ‘crack-down’ response to religious extremism in Xinjiang. In addition, there is also a ban on ‘abnormal’ beards and ‘extremist signs,’ though there is no explanation (further than that it encourages ‘religious fanaticism’) of what an ‘abnormal’ beard is. The authorities justify the action by saying that it is necessary to crack-down because religious extremism is threatening the Xinjiang’s stability as well as national security. It is important to mention that Xinjiang is home to 10 million Uighurs (a Muslim group) who complain about being discriminated against by the Han Chinese, and the state borders Kazakhastan, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The state has had a recent violent history, which has been thought to be caused by tensions between the Uighurs and the Han Chinese.
In the context of Chinese political ideology – one of authoritarianism and currently commandeered by the Communist Party – the measures against ‘radical Islam’ or religious presence in general, in China, may not seem so out of place. The Communist Party is officially atheistic and has a ban on openly religious individuals joining its ranks. Unlike the European nations mentioned earlier, China has also carried out what can be termed ‘repressive acts’ against other religions, such as Christianity. In 2015, a church elder was sentenced to five years’ deprivation of political rights for supposedly using Christianity to subvert state power. In the Henan province, Catholic and Protestant churches were being pushed into conforming to socialist ideals and church members were arrested, in addition to church crosses being demolished for ‘beautification’ reasons.
That being said, whether or not the action is in line with a country’s political beliefs and history, it is encroaching on a basic right to practice whichever religion an individual chooses to, however they choose to. This action specifically targets Muslims, which makes it part of a larger global narrative, where countries and groups are limiting a group’s religious freedom in the name of maintaining national or regional security. It is hard to believe this is the only response a governing body thinks to put in place, as if they have exhausted all other possible measures which could be useful without limiting basic freedoms. In addition, once must question whether politicians or groups put such measures in place after gaining a thorough understanding of the problem, or just because they recognize Islamic religious expression as being ‘other’ – something that must be got rid of simply because it sticks out, and so appears threatening, in a majority non-Muslim area.