October 4, 2014

LEE | How to Not Treat Religious Minorities

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By CRISPINUS LEE

A recent statistic shows that the majority of ISIS’s non-Levantine fighters arrive from Europe, North America and Oceania. The largest percentage of respective Muslim populations arose from Finland, with an alarming .071 percent. It seems appropriate to note that none of the listed states with high numbers of ISIS fighters exceeded one percent. Regardless, Western states expectedly carried out measures that would potentially defend them from radicalism within its borders, from tracking funding to arresting suspected fighters returning to their home countries.

As the United States, we continue our “crusade” against the ISIS threat, but a dreary prophecy may be played out in the near future if the U.S. does not tread carefully. Recent news, perhaps not as eye catching as ISIS or Ukraine, involved the Chinese Xinjiang region.

Contrary to popular belief, China is home to 50 ought ethnic groups that live alongside the predominant Han people. China’s actions as a centralized state, both conquests and compromises, fester the peoples that may not agree with Beijing. One only needs to cast an eye at Hong Kong to realize this phenomenon. But a far older dispute has already been in move. Xinjiang, China’s largest province is home to the largely Muslim Uyghur population.

China’s work to consolidate its states, noticeably in the Western world, was crude and brutally effective. In reality, the process still continues. The fiascoes in western China, particularly Tibet, but more recently Xinjiang are evidence for this statement. China’s adaptation into a Westphalian state caused the new central authority to butt heads with most of its new possessions. Though the claims of Tibet and Xinjiang extend back to the Qing, the new policies involving religious and political suppression have riled up the populations in the region. The East Turkestan movement that calls for the independence and autonomy of the Uyghur people caused only more problems for Beijing. The Uyghur rights movement, though moderate, has developed a militant faction that perpetrated or is suspected to have carried out several attacks, including the knifing at Kunming in 2014. China’s repression of Ramadan, or any other method of cracking down on the Uyghurs, has not thinned the flow of radicalism.

Interesting, the legislation on religious suppression in China does not apply to all of the peoples comprising China. The Hui people, also predominantly Muslim are not necessarily subjected to the similar legislation that the Uyghurs are. This reality arguably comes from the fact that the Han and the Hui are considered culturally similar and are geographically proximal, while the Uyghurs are distant and a bit more than just different.

China’s dilemma presents an important reality for us Americans. I am reminded of the story of Joseph Kurihara, a World War I veteran from the territory of Hawaii. His gallantry was responded to in the year of 1942 when Executive Order 9066 incarcerated Japanese American citizens. A legislation mired in fear and opportunism, the act interned Joseph. By the end of the war, a disillusioned Joseph Kurihara made his way to Japan, a country he knew as much about as any other American at the time.

Pride in freedom of religion and speech is an important aspect of American ideology, but the employment of such tactics that alienate and potential aggregate citizens would be a poor choice to say the least, considering that many are being threatened for their religion. There is a desperate need to recognize that the American public to arrange and engage in dialogue for understanding instead of jumping to conclusions that may characterize the conflict as a tussle of cultures. Accepting that the notion of Americanism is a creed that tolerates religions and believes in political egalitarianism would do us much good at this time.

Crispinus Lee is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at cl2272@cornell.edu.

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