How Detainment of Uyghur Muslims Can Lead to Violent Extremism

Source: AP Feed News (2018)

By: JulieAnn Sickell, Ahmad Mohibi

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination criticizes the Chinese government for the enduring detainment and forced ‘re-education’ of Uyghurs in the western region of Xinjiang.

The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) goal of the re-education camps is to prevent extremism and provide vocational training. Detainees learn Mandarin, how to assemble electronics, and receive lessons on Chinese laws and the Constitution.

More than 10 million Uyghurs reside in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). Sources estimate anywhere between tens of thousands to over one million Uyghurs are detained in re-education camps. The Chinese government has deliberately abducted and tortured Uyghurs and destroyed their mosques to the ground.

China has a long history of re-education programs. Reform through labor (laogai) and re-education through labor (laojiao) were phased out in the 2000s as President Xi Jinping found them inappropriate for a modern society. However, a new re-education emerged to convert Falun Gong supporters called transformation through education. Current re-education programs in Xinjiang resemble the transformation through education programs China has previously enacted.

Uyghurs Muslims are treated as ‘terrorists’ and the rivals of the state. Numerous Uyghurs are trapped and have been deliberately quarantined from the socio-economic opportunities as well as political representation in the government. The problem dates back to the annexation of Xinjiang in 1950 to become officially part of Communist China since this annexation Uyghurs have been subjected to various human rights violations on the basis of ethnicity.

Multiple Chinese officials view Islam as an ‘illness’ or ideology that needs to be removed in order to prevent terrorism from spreading. Outrage over the clash in Urumqi in 2009 and the Kunming attack in 2014 provides further basis for ethnic-profiling of Uyghurs by the CCP. Both events were centered on ethnic tensions between Uyghurs and Han Chinese, the majority ethnic group in China.

The evolution of these attacks from mutual violence between Han and Uyghurs to the slaughter of 29 Han Chinese by Uyghurs allows the Chinese Communist Party justification for the creation of detention camps. By letting fears of instability control their actions, the CCP falls victim to Islamophobia.

When confronted about wrongful imprisonment in Xinjiang by the United Nations and the United States, China lashed back with adamant denial and critiques. The UN released a report expressing concern over the imprisonment of Uyghurs in the name of countering terrorism. The Chinese Communist Party denied that the existence of the re-education camps and once the report was released, they critiqued the United Nations for accusing them without proper facts.

A similar confrontation occurred between the United States and China. US lawmakers called for the officials involved with the re-education camps to be sanctioned. Hua Chunying from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not outright deny the existence of the re-education camps but critiqued the United States human rights record to defend the CCP’s actions.

The United States and the United Nations must continue to pressure China to end the detainment of the Uyghur people. China will continue to deny accusations until legitimate action is taken such as the sanctions initially suggested by US lawmakers.

The best option for the United States is to continue to encourage China to use the rule of law and to respect human rights or the repression of the Uyghur people will lead to extremism, not lessen it. Decades of repression surmounting in re-education camps provides a breeding ground for extremist thought.

Women and their Role in Violent Extremism

Recruitment of women by violent extremist organizations has increased in recent years due to their value as strategic, political, and social tools in service of the organization’s mission. They attract less suspicion, making them valuable in bombing missions, but they also are of deep symbolic importance in the organization’s daily progress.

Recruitment of women by al-Qaeda disturbs Iraq government

In 2016, Indonesian police arrested two women, Dian Yulia Novi and Ika Puspitasari, after they had planned a suicide bomb attack.[1] These occurrences are often puzzling to officials since it is usually assumed women are only indirectly involved in extremist organizations through supporting or hiding their husbands or other men. This is not necessarily true.

While the exact number of women in terror organizations is unclear, the recently collapsed IS caliphate sheds light on the tally, like the approximately 800 women who had joined Daesh that are now being detained in northern Syria[2]. Roughly 10% of radical Islamic groups’ members are women, a portion that is surprisingly large and inspires questions about why women join these organizations. [3]

Women join terror organizations for the same reasons men do, despite the disparity in numbers from each gender who join. While women are often portrayed as more “virtuous” and “passive” than violent, they are drawn to the community, the ideology, and the identity just like men are. The promise of liberation, empowerment, and a cause to live for draws men and women alike to extremist groups[4]. In recent years, both women and men have come from all over the world to join the cause they believe in.

The presence of women in violent extremist organizations is important due to the symbolic significance they carry. Women joining ISIS, for example, are vital to the ideological effort through social-media recruitment. They represent the future of the cause and perpetuation of the ideology as wives and mothers.[5] While research suggests that they are not involved in daily violence as much as men are, they are far from passive.

While there are some valuable accounts, more research is needed to shed light on the exact roles women play in these communities, and what potential impact they have. Terror organizations have long understood women’s significance to their cause. They are potentially even more dangerous due to the lack of suspicion they arouse, and the support they are able to inspire in young recruits.[6]


[1] Ayuningtyas, Kusumasari. Indonesian Seminar Outlines Women’s Roles in Terror Prevention. (January 26, 2018). 
[2] 800 female Daesh terrorists detained in northern Syria. (February 10, 2018). 
[3] Moss, C. (2017, July 2). Why Do Women Become Terrorists? The Daily Beast
[4] Attia, B. M.-E. and S. (2017, May 9). Female terrorists and their role in jihadi groups. 
[5] Baker, Aryn (September 6, 2014). How ISIS Is Recruiting Women From Around the World. 
[6] Says, A. E. (2016, October 28). Increasing number of women recruited by terrorists.