China Cracks Down on Islam by Forcing Muslim Shopkeepers to Sell Booze and Cigarettes

By May Wilkerson 06/09/15

The new regulations are part of an ongoing “strike hard” campaign against the religion.

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Chinese authorities in the province of Xinjiang are reportedly attempting to weaken the hold of Islam in the region by forcing Muslim shopkeepers to sell and prominently display alcohol and cigarettes, which are forbidden under traditional Islamic law. Businesses that fail to comply may be shut down and their owners prosecuted.

Xinjiang is an autonomous region in western China with a long history of discord between the authorities and the indigenous Uighur population, who are mainly Muslim.

The new regulations are part of an ongoing series of “strike hard” campaigns against the religion, which the government sees as repressive and condoning violence in the region. The campaigns have included banning women from wearing face-covering veils, men from growing long beards and government employees from attending mosque.

“We have a campaign to weaken religion here, and this is part of that campaign,” said Communist Party official Adil Sulayman. In one village, many locals abstained from drinking or smoking, which are deemed “sinful” by the Koran, and shopkeepers stopped selling alcohol and cigarettes in 2012 “because they fear public scorn.” Authorities in Xinjiang see this as “a form of religious extremism” that is “affecting stability,” he said.

A notice, posted on Twitter, ordered all restaurants and supermarkets in one village to sell five brands of alcohol and cigarettes in public view. It warned: “Anybody who neglects this notice and fails to act will see their shops sealed off, their businesses suspended, and legal action pursued against them.”

The area where the village is located had become “a hotbed of violent stabbing and shooting incidents between ethnic Uighurs and Chinese security forces,” a local news source reported. Authorities reportedly fear that the Uighurs are planning a violent jihad against the state.

But critics say the country has spurred violence and strengthened the hold of Islam in the region by its historic repression of Uighur rights. Forcing people to sell alcohol and cracking down on religious freedom could be counterproductive, they warn.

"These sorts of mechanistic and reactive policies only serve to inflame ethno-national tension without addressing the root causes of religious extremism, while further alienating the mainstream Uighur community, making them feel increasingly unwelcome within a hostile, Han-dominated society," wrote James Leibold, an expert on China's ethnic policies at Melbourne's La Trobe University. He said Chinese officials were "often flailing around in the dark" when tackling religious extremism.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.