Inflammation and stories on religion

Women’s Rights in Egypt
Currently governed under Islamic Law as Egypt’s amended Constitution states, religion plays a major role within legislative policies. It has been a debate for several years as to whether the decline in women’s protection in Egypt is due to religious laws or the current socioeconomic environment. In order to approach the complexities of modern-day Egyptian society and women’s rights in Egypt, one must first understand the history of Islamic Law. Known for existing as more of an all-encompassing religion, Islam not only provides theological practices but also a way of living.

 Islamic Law

 Article 40 and 46 of Egypt’s present constitution explicitly states, “All citizens are equal before the law. They have equal public rights and duties without discrimination between them due to race, ethnic origin, language, religion or creed.” The second article of this same constitution declares “Islam is the religion of the state and Arabic is its official language. The principles of Islamic Sharia is the principal source of legislation.”

 Many women in Egypt (and other predominantly Islamic regions) are facing a dilemma concerning their religious and basic freedoms. Because Egypt incorporates Islam even within legal policies, it somewhat discourages other religions. This is why the second-largest religious community is Christianity, comprising approximately only 5% of the Egyptian population.

Women’s religious and basic human rights greatly differ from men’s rights and social roles. An example of this may include the regulations in regards to a woman’s attire. The hijab as well as other head and body coverings was initially symbolic of modesty within the Islamic religion. Moreover, although the Qur’an very clearly addresses men alongside women when proclaiming rules of “guarding their modesty,” men do not have to participate in the wearing of head/face coverings.

As of recently, though, the practice of adopting body and face veils into a woman’s everyday appearance has evolved into more of a preliminary societal standard. Because scripture claims that women exposing themselves to any man unrelated to them (besides children) is a sinful act, women experience pressure to adorn these religious coverings in public just to prevent shame, which only further enforces this oppression.

Socioeconomic Factors

This brings up the debate attempting to answer whether the lack of basic human rights for women is due to the Islamic nature of Egyptian society, or society itself? Women are hesitant to go into public without these coverings because of societal and religious pressures, but the act of preserving their modesty exists now as somewhat of a precautionary measure, as well.

In several impoverished countries or regions of extreme poverty, the economy is the primary factor in societal normalities. Women’s rights in Egypt undergo frequent testing, especially in areas of extreme poverty within the country. Because of scarce job opportunities and the dilapidated financial state of certain areas, women frequently endure mistreatment. They often cannot challenge their social or religious roles or financially provide for themselves. Their husbands, neighbors and, in some cases, their relatives, use this to their advantage which results in the very common sexual harassment of women.

Because of the different roles of Egyptian men and women, the deterioration of women’s rights in Egypt and sexual harassment of women has been a prominent issue since at least the ‘80s (this was the beginning of the selective documentation of sexual harassment cases in Egypt). Although the Qur’an prophesizes the equality of men and women under God, others in Egypt sometimes see women as lesser than. In this case, the argument that socioeconomic factors are separate from religious practices and laws is valid.

 Moreover, the United Nations conducted a census in 2013 revealing that an estimated 99.3% of women could encounter sexual harassment in Egypt. Meanwhile, another study concluded that about 86% of women reported that bystanders frequently ignore the aggression.

This demonstrates the frequency in which these dangerous acts happen in public. It is seemingly a social norm for women to not only have to uphold traditional religious roles but also to face arbitrary sexual aggression in public.

Solutions

As of 2014, however, Egypt is now addressing this violent aggression towards women. For the first time in Egyptian history, sexual harassers are undergoing prosecution and courts are holding them accountable. Egypt still requires more improvement, but more and more women are beginning to make others aware of this issue, even globally. The current economic state of Egypt is also developing. With an extreme poverty rate of 32% in 2018 and one of approximately 29% in 2020, Egypt is continuing to see a decline in extreme poverty.

 The societal and religious pressures persist, but Egypt is generating more discourse to help bring more attention to the issue of women’s rights in Egypt. Moreover, the debate over religion is increasing along with the dismantling of unjust socioeconomic systems.

– Caroline Kratz
Photo: Flickr

sex education in the PhilippinesThe general purpose of sex education is to inform youth on topics including sex, sexuality and bodily development. Quality sex education can lead to better prevention in STDs and unwanted pregnancy. Furthermore, it decreases the risks of having unsafe sex and increases responsible family planning. To help address issues, like overpopulation, high rates of teen pregnancy and the rise of HIV, the Philippines is gradually implementing sex education and accessibility to contraceptives.

Reproductive Health Act

The Philippines passed the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 (RH Act) after a 14-year wait. Through the act, the government integrated sex education into the public school curriculum for students ages 10 to 19. The Philippines also gave funding for free or subsidized contraceptives at health centers and public schools.

The government passed the RH Act in response to the many health issues impacting the country, such as infant mortality, pregnancy-related deaths and a rise in HIV/AIDS cases. Moreover, teen pregnancies in the Philippines are common, where 9% of women between the ages of 15 and 19 start child bearing.

Lack of knowledge about reproductive health is significantly associated with poverty, especially in regard to overpopulation. Therefore, the RH Act aims to help the population make informed decisions about their reproductive health. It provides more equal access to sex education, while also ensuring that the government reaffirms its commitment to protecting women’s reproductive rights, providing accessible family planning information, and hiring skilled maternal health professionals to work in both urban and rural areas of the Philippines.

Opposition from the Catholic Church

Around 80% of the Philippine population identifies as Roman Catholic. Accordingly, the Catholic Church largely influences the state of sex education in the country. The Catholic Church opposes sex outside of marriage and fears sex education will increase sexual relations. The Catholic Church consequently remains critical of the RH Act, increasing difficulties in putting the RH Act into concrete action.

Additionally, the Catholic Church opposes implementing sex education in schools as well as the distribution of contraceptives. The Church prefers to rely on parents to teach their kids about reproductive health. However, many families are either unequipped to do so or will not address the subject directly with their children.

The Implementation of the RH Act

In an effort to reduce the country’s rate of poverty, Philippine President, Rodrigo Duerte, ordered the government to provide access to free contraceptives for six million women in 2017. Duerte aimed to fulfill unmet family planning needs. This came after a restraining order was placed on the RH Act in 2015. However, the government appealed to lift the restraining order to continue applying the RH Act and addressing issues due to overpopulation.

In 2019, Save the Children Philippines — an organization with the purpose of supporting Filipino children — advocated for the Teenage Pregnancy Prevention bill. The organization also fought for requiring schools to fully integrate Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) into their curriculum. Save the Children Philippines hopes to combat the country’s high rate of teen pregnancy. CSE in the Philippines includes topics such as consent, sexual violence, contraceptives and others. The bill would also advance access to reproductive health services, further supplementing the goals of the RH Act.

Increased Conversation Surrounding Sex Education

In addition to greater governmental action, there are various organizations that are working to increase access to sex education and services in the Philippines. The Roots of Health is a nongovernmental organization that provides sex education to women in Palawan and Puerto Princesa. Started in 2009, the founders, Dr. Susan Evangelista and Amina Evangelista Swanepoel, initially provided reproductive health classes at Palawan State University in Puerto Princesa and have since expanded into free clinical services for young women. The Roots of Health provides services that assist with birth, reproductive healthcare, contraceptives, prenatal and postpartum check-ups, and ultrasounds. By 2018, they served 20,000 women and adolescents in the Palawan and Puerto Princesa communities, demonstrating that there is a growing grassroots movement towards reframing reproductive health in the Philippines.

Sex education will remain a controversial subject in the Philippines. Nonetheless, it is a developing matter that is expected to evolve with continued conversations between governmental, faith and nongovernmental actors.

Zoë Nichols
Photo: Flickr

Hajj Continued Despite COVID-19Mecca, the epicenter and fifth pillar of Islam, has hosted around 2 million Muslims in recent years. However, due to COVID-19, they had to downsize it in 2020. With 1.8 billion Muslims globally, Hajj is compulsory at least once in a lifetime. This year, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia limited the annual pilgrimage to Muslim residents residing within the country. An estimated 1,000 Muslims attended in an unprecedented attempt to mitigate crowds and spread of the virus. The allotted amount of pilgrims grew to ensure Hajj continued despite COVID-19.

Umrah Suspended

Umrah is a voluntary pilgrimage that Muslims can take at any point and often lasts only two hours. Millions perform it annually due to its short duration and low cost. It is different from the Hajj, which is longer and compulsory for all Muslims but often limited by physical ability and finances.

In March, Saudi Arabia reported its first confirmed coronavirus infection in the kingdom. A man who traveled to Iran, which at the time was the viral epicenter in the region, returned to Saudi Arabia and was quarantined immediately after diagnosis. The kingdom responded to the increasing rate of infection by suspending Umrah until further notice. As of August, COVID-19 has delayed visits to the holy sites of Medina and Mecca for Umrah regardless of residency, visa or nationality. Furthermore, travelers who possess an Umrah visa will not be allowed entry into Saudi Arabia.

The Hajj Continued Despite COVID-19

As of August 14, Saudi Arabia has had nearly 296,000 COVID-19 cases with an excess of 3,338 victims. As a result, Hajj, the main event of the Islamic faith, will see a dramatic downturn in 2020 — the first in decades. Saudi Arabia has 29 million residents, yet only 1,000 Muslims were initially allowed to attend this year’s pilgrimage due to the pandemic.

Muhammad Saleh bin Taher Benten, Minister of Hajj and Umrah, stated that the 2020 pilgrimage will be exceptional due to the pandemic. However, he assured that the area would implement strict precautionary measures to ensure that pilgrims remained healthy during Hajj. The country also went through an intense selection process with a period of quarantine required upon entering the holy cities. The quarantine was mandatory upon entry and exit. The Hajj continued despite COVID-19, but officials wanted to make it as safe as possible.

The Turnout

The annual pilgrimage officially ended on Sunday, August 2, with a larger turnout than expected. Therefore, Hajj continued despite COVID-19. Authorities allowed 10,000 pilgrims to enforce social distancing among local Saudis and foreigners that attended. Authorities ensured safety by requiring pilgrims to don a face mask and an electronic wristband to track their movements. Following the pilgrimage, health officials administered coronavirus tests, and they required all attendees to quarantine. Additionally, Saudi authorities ordered thorough sanitation of the site to reduce any risk of contagion.

– Michael Santiago
Photo: Needpix

The effects of poverty on the oppression of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, China
More than 40 different ethnic groups live within China’s Northwest region, known as Xinjiang. The two largest ethnic groups are the Han Chinese and Uyghur Muslims. The two groups do not speak the same language, nor do they share similar traditions. This creates a divide that widens due to the socio-economic disparity between the two factions. The Chinese government’s treatment of the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, through exploitation and other human rights violations, further exacerbated the issue. Unfortunately, fear of the Uyghurs has given the Chinese government a justification to detain and exploit millions.

The Issue of Poverty

The poverty in Xinjiang is most prevalent of any Chinese province at approximately 6%. However, certain regions suffer more than others. For example, Yutian County has a poverty rate of around 25%. Yet, the region has made great strides forward in poverty alleviation during recent years. In fact, more than 2.3 million people escaped poverty between 2014 and 2018. Xinjiang’s resource-rich areas have caught the attention of the Han Chinese. This, in turn, drives migration and economic growth. Additionally, the government has promoted various industries, employment transfers and citizen relocation, further driving down poverty rates.

Despite this, many Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang suffer exclusion from these benefits. Most prominently, employment discrimination prevents Uyghurs from obtaining jobs in these rising markets. As a result, a disproportionate amount of Han Chinese receives better jobs, furthering the economic disparity between the two groups. Furthermore, the rising number of Han Chinese in the region (currently at 40% of the population) has made the native Uyghurs feel distant from one another. The Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang fear the loss of their culture.

Conflict

Due to the exclusion and poverty that the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang experience, they tend to move closer to Islam. Some even go so far as to commit acts of violence. Regardless of the real reasons for the violence, many Han Chinese believe it is Islamic extremists causing violence. The Han Chinese believe this contributes to instability within the region as the Uyghur’s are fighting for independence. This, in turn, leads to widespread fear and distrust among the population.

The Chinese government responded to these acts of violence by claiming that Islamic extremists caused it. Therefore, the government must “reeducate” the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. Since 2014, China has suppressed the Uyghurs’ culture, language and religion in the name of national security, while claiming that the Uyghurs have full freedom. Police stations now occupy every few blocks and cameras are on every street. Some public areas are inaccessible and many people are stopped on the street for identification. Notably, many Uyghurs have had their passports taken and can no longer leave the region.

Crackdown

Since 2017, the government has been detaining approximately 1 million Uyghurs in reeducation camps, with their only crimes being that they are Muslim. Hundreds of camps are present today with 39, having tripled in size from 2017 to 2018. Construction spending has increased drastically by nearly $3 billion in recent years.

Information on exact conditions in the camps is difficult to discern. However, previous detainees speak of a prison-like environment, sexual assault, forced abortions or contraceptives, extreme surveillance and torture. Some say they witnessed people taking their own lives.

Additionally, many Uyghurs in these camps must work in factories across China. They experience exploitation, completely against their will. The products they produce are widespread. Approximately 83 international companies use this forced labor in their supply chain. Moreover, 20% of cotton products around the world came from this forced labor.

Policy, Legislation and Coalition of Aid

Many U.S. companies benefit from this system. Legislation must pass to prevent forced labor and condemn China’s actions. Most recently, the Senate passed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 (S3744) in June 2020. It placed sanctions on many officials responsible or complicit in the detainment and abuse of the Uyghurs.

Particularly, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act emerged in March 2020 but has not passed into law yet. Additionally, many Uyghurs are stuck in U.S. immigration limbo, complicating their ability to seek refuge. Both proposals are crucial in helping significantly reduce the demand for forced labor. Further, people are urging the Chinese government to stop committing human rights abuses.

Many NGOs are working to bring attention to the crisis, as well as aiding the affected Uyghurs. Despite difficulties in offering direct aid, there exists a coalition of more than 250 organizations part of the End Uyghur Forced Labor campaign. The coalition demands companies eliminate any Uyghur forced labor within their production lines, within one year. Companies that agree must sign a pledge — applying pressure to all companies that have not yet signed. Also, the coalition organized advocacy days, began petitions and called on Congress to ban cotton from the Uyghur region. This additional pressure on companies will help end Uyghur forced labor. Hopefully, it will reduce demand for Uyghur labor and prevent their exploitation as well.

Hope Remains

Poverty in Xinjiang has reduced significantly. It will likely continue to decrease in the upcoming years. Additionally, numerous countries have applied pressure on the Chinese government. It is crucial that the U.S. does the same. Many NGOs have worked to raise awareness and apply pressure on governments and companies to eliminate Uyghur forced labor. Despite the many challenges that the Uyghurs have faced, hope remains for conditions to improve, with the support of the global community.

Elizabeth Lee
Photo: Flickr

latter-day saint charitiesLeprosy is a disease that plagues India. More than 1,000 leprosy colonies throughout the country house hundreds of thousands of its most vulnerable citizens, often unable to provide for their basic daily needs. The nation-wide shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened this, forcing the leprosy colonies into a state of emergency. Fortunately, the support of Latter-day Saint Charities has helped lessen this dire situation.

The organization has provided food, soap and basic necessary medical supplies to more than 9,000 families in 228 of the most vulnerable colonies. Shawn Johnson, the vice president and director of operations for Latter-day Saint Charities, said, “It is our hope that this assistance helps these individuals and families to maintain their dignity as human beings and their divine value as children of God.”

A Global Religion with Global Reach

Latter-day Saint Charities is the humanitarian arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Headquartered in Utah, the global religion has more than 16 million members. The charity operates solely with donations from the church’s members and others around the world. Since the organization began in 1985, Latter-day Saints Charities has contributed more than $2 billion in assistance to 197 countries around the world.

“We seek to work with some incredible global partners in providing assistance, love and support to those in the greatest of need irrespective of their religion, ethnicity, background, etc.,” Johnson said. “This work includes critical emergency response efforts, longer-term development initiatives and signature programs, and community engagement and volunteerism efforts. All of these things work in harmony to help bless the lives of others.” 

The organization sponsors relief and development projects in countries and territories around the globe and operates “both independently and in cooperation with other charitable organizations and governments.” Latter-day Saint Charities’ various global projects include food security, clean water initiatives, vision care and refugee response. Johnson noted that the organization also has programs that provide wheelchairs and other mobility devices to individuals in need. Additionally, he said that Latter-day Saint Charities has helped provide immunizations to millions of children and has helped save thousands of babies and mothers through its “helping babies breathe” program.

COVID-19: The Largest Ever Humanitarian Project

In 2019 alone, Latter-day Saint Charities worked in 142 countries and territories on 3,221 projects. With more than 2,000 partners, the organization aided millions of people worldwide. But according to the church’s leader, President Russell M. Nelson, this year’s COVID-19 pandemic has become “the largest-ever humanitarian project of the church.”

“In 2020, just for the COVID-19 responses alone, we have completed (more than) 500+ projects in 130+ countries all over the world. The overall number of projects for 2020 will likely greatly exceed the number from 2019,” Johnson said. “These emergency relief efforts have included providing personal protective equipment, food, water and shelter to some of the most vulnerable populations.”

“We also had a volunteer effort where members of the church and local communities provided close to a million hours of volunteer service to produce more than five million masks for front-line caregivers. We also worked to transition a portion of a Church-owned textile factory to produce medical gowns for front-line healthcare workers as well,” he added.

Volunteers Around The World

Along with the church’s more than 60,000 full-time volunteer missionaries and more than 30,000 church service missionaries, the organization also has more than 10,000 volunteer humanitarian missionaries around the world.

Over the past 35 years, Latter-day Saint Charities has been providing humanitarian relief for hundreds of countries worldwide and surely will continue to make a global impact this year — especially with their COVID-19 relief projects — and in years to come.

– Emma Benson

Photo: Flickr

Tzedakah
“Tzedakah” (pronounced suh-dack-uh) is the Hebrew word for “righteousness” or “justice.” The word relates to “tzaddik,” the name for a righteous Chasidic spiritual leader. Both words come from the Hebrew root word “tzedek,” meaning justice. Tzedakah is an ethical obligation that the Torah mandates, also known as a “mitzvah,” or law. Many Jews give tzedakah before Shabbat (the sabbath) and festivals (such as Purim and Shavuot). Its intention is to show the Jewish people’s determination to improve the world.

What Does it Mean to Do Tzedakah?

Though many Jews typically perform tzedakah by giving money, many Jews do volunteer work to pay their dues. Examples include volunteering at a soup kitchen, participating as a school field trip chaperone or visiting the elderly or sick. The Jewish sages of the Mishnah taught that every Jew has something to contribute, whether it be money, time or attention.

Jews who give money for tzedakah usually give it to organizations that help the poor, Jewish institutions and charities, humanitarian causes or Torah schools. The Shulchan Aruch (a legal code in Orthodox Judaism) gives some guidelines as to where donated money should go to first. For example, a Jew with a struggling family member should give money to them before they give it to an organization outside the family. Similarly, local charities and organizations take priority over ones that are farther away.

Many Jews give tzedakah in multiples of 18 because the Hebrew word “chai” (pronounced hai), meaning “life,” has a numerical value of 18. For example, one may give $18 to a Torah school or $360 to a local Jewish organization. Alternatively, they may volunteer at a school field trip for 540 minutes (9 hours).

The Pushke (Tzedakah Box)

Before the destruction of the first and second Holy Temples in 586 BC and 70 AD respectively, there was a designated chamber where people could deposit donation money in a box. Poor people would then enter the temple in a respectful manner and receive the money that people had left for them. The tradition of a tzedakah box persists in many Jewish homes today. Only now, instead of poor people entering strangers’ homes and taking the money themselves, Jews simply go to the charities they wish to support and drop off money there.

Jewish Charities Associated with Tzedakah

The following organizations are specifically Jewish or Israel-focused. Not all Jews donate to these charities, and there are many who donate to organizations that have nothing to do with Judaism. They also commonly give donations to schools, synagogues and halfway houses.

  • ALEH (founded in 2003) is an organization that has an association with Aleh Negev in Israel, a village that gives rehabilitation, medical care and education to disabled Israelis.
  • Yad Sarah in New York primarily gives home and healthcare services to the elderly and the disabled.
  • The LIBI Fund (founded in 1980) combines a body of donations to helps fund Israeli Defense Forces.
  • American Friends of Magen David Adom (founded in 1940) helps American Jews donate to Israel’s national emergency medical service.
  • Regional Bikur Cholim (founded in 2013) is a nonprofit organization from New York that gives food and care packages to people in need.
  • Yad Eliezer (founded in 1980) distributes care packages and food stamps to people living in poverty.

While not comprehensive, this list helps illustrate the many organizations that help Jews engage in tzedakah. Through these charitable contributions, Jewish people have the power to make significant progress in the fight against poverty in their communities and around the world.

Kia Wallace
Photo: Flickr

Citizenship Amendment Act Protests in IndiaBlood, tears and the echoes of piercing cries have filled India’s capital New Delhi for weeks now. People participating in peaceful anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests in India have face the wrath of violent police officers. India’s youth has taken to the streets to fight against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The CAA allows for the marginalization of the Muslim community by restricting their ability to gain citizenship in India. This has created great discomfort for many of the 138 million Muslims currently living in India, who make up around 13.4% of the total population.

The bill appears to be most beneficial to Hindus, who account for 80.5% of India’s population. Its introduction has caused a national uproar as it highlights century-old religious intolerance in India. Many argue that the bill is in violation of Article 15 of the Indian constitution, which prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. The public has drawn similarities between the current situation and the problematic partition of Pakistan and India.

How does the CAA actually affect citizenship?

The CAA specifies that illegal immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh can receive Indian citizenship if they have proof of residence for six years under the condition that they affiliate with Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian religious communities. However, Muslim immigrants from the same countries must have proof of residence for at least 12 years; it is argued this component contravenes Article 14 (equality for all people) and Article 15 of the Indian Constitution. The bill reduces the Muslim community to “second-class citizens” based on their religion alone.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his dissatisfaction with the Citizenship Amendment Act protests in India. He defended the bill, claiming there was no harm in trying to uplift the religious majorities in India, especially because they were discriminated against in other countries, like Pakistan. His party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has previously promoted policies and ideologies that favor Hindus and disfavor Muslims.

Further, members of the party have openly labeled Muslims as “terrorists” and have asserted that Hinduism is the dominant religion. Recently, BJP representative Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath claimed that the protests are stopping India from becoming a global power. However, he offered no explicit elaboration as to how they are doing so. It is evident that influential parts of the Indian government support and promote anti-Muslim sentiments.

Jamia Millia Islamia, a university in New Dehli with a significant population of Muslim students, is a center for Citizenship Amendment Act protests in India. Despite the peaceful nature of the protests, several videos of physical harassment at the hands of law enforcement have surfaced. This footage shows police charging students with lathis; many criticized this act for being unwarranted.

The Path to Equality: Pleas to the Supreme Court

Awareness about the CAA’s unjust components has spread across the country. Because of this, numerous petitions against the act have been filed at the Supreme Court of India. This same method was implemented previously against Section 377 of the Indian Constitution, which criminalized homosexuality. The Supreme Court later repealed the law thanks to the various protests and petitions filed across the country.

As the government continues to defend the bill, the public’s last hope is the Supreme Court, the only institution that can stop the implementation of CAA. On January 22, 2020, the Supreme Court did not issue a stay on the petitions filed against the bill and instead gave the central government four weeks to respond. This further angered the public and has continued to help the youth hold consistent protests all around the nation. However, as of March 5, the Supreme Court announced that it will consider petitions against the CAA after resolving matters pertaining to the Sabarimala issues.

The path taken by the protestors has proven to be effective in the past. The youth of India aim to strike down the CAA in court with the law on their side. Citizenship Amendment Act protests in India display the changing mindset of the country’s youth. These protests also promise hope to those ostracized by the government on the basis of religion. As religious tolerance is now a priority for the majority of India, unfair practices promoting inequality are bound to disappear in the near future. As for the present, the Supreme Court will decide whether CAA can be implemented in India within the next few months.

Mridula Divakar
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Religious Persecution in China
The idea of a Chinese monoculture is integral to the Communist Party’s control over its citizenry. As a result of the Chinese centralized government, religious persecution in China has arisen as a consequence of the country’s ethnic composition.

Chinese nationals are predominantly Han Chinese (more than 90 percent), while the remaining population is divided into 56 minority ethnic groups—each having distinct cultures and belief systems. As a communist nation spanning an enormous territory, China has strategically excluded these minority groups from its vision of the Chinese nation-state. 

Since assuming power, President Xi Jinping has exerted intensifying pressure over China’s religious and spiritual communities. This affront on global religions—including Buddhism, Christianity and Islam— continues to take place in China. The surveillance and detainment of clergy members and religious dignitaries have accompanied the closure and destruction of churches and monasteries.

In Western China’s Xinjiang province, the Communist Party has begun to corral and ‘re-educate’ the Muslim Uighur demographic under the guise of national security. This targeted campaign against the Uighurs has been the subject of worldwide criticism and stands as a blunt example of China’s disregard for basic human rights.

The Uighur Muslim minority experiences the highest degree of religious persecution in China, primarily because of their proximity to the Middle East and supposed threat to the Chinese Communist Party. Xi Jinping has attempted to curb the potential for domestic terrorism and insurgency in the majorly Muslim province of Xinjiang through a series of legal measures to police, deny and indoctrinate.

Indoctrination Camps

In response to an escalation in anti-government violence in 2014, the Communist Party launched a large-scale indoctrination campaign against the Uighurs. Following an attack that year, the Communist Party expanded its surveillance and grip on the region. Such efforts culminated in the building of a ‘re-education’ facility located in a remote part of the Taklamakan Desert. 

Today, the world recognizes this facility as an internment program; the re-education camp quickly became the site of the most alarming religious persecution in China. Under these oppressive living conditions, Uighurs must renounce Islam and submit to party dogmas. To date, estimates determine that these facilities have detained at least 1 million Uighur Muslims.

Limitations on Movement

Beginning in 2016, the Chinese government imposed a Passport Recall Policy on the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. With the pretense of terrorism prevention, the policy restricts Xinjiang residents from being able to freely travel, especially to zones that it deems high-risk (i.e. the Middle East). When applying for passports, Xinjiang residents are subject to rigorous and invasive bureaucratic procedures not required of citizens hailing from other provinces. These include arbitrary application and passport renewal fees, as well as the processing of biometric data (DNA, blood samples and 3D imaging, etc.). 

Forced Labor

The idea of indoctrination through labor is reminiscent of inhuman labor practices from the Cultural Revolution, which had the intention of bolstering party loyalty. Comparatively, Uighurs and other Muslim detainees released from the Xinjiang camps must work in Chinese factories. Accepting lowly factory jobs is often a condition of release from the camps. In many cases, preexisting restrictions on mobility leave factory jobs—such as textiles and agribusiness—as the only employment options available for those released. As early as April 2018, the local government hatched the factory labor program, aimed at utilizing citizen labor to bring lucrative industries to the region. 

Solutions

While Uighur religious persecution in China has gained international attention the issue persists; there are various ways to aid protection of human rights for the Uighur population.

One way to advocate for the human rights of the Uighur population is to support the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), a nonprofit subsidiary of the Uyghur American Association (UAA). UHRP works to advocate for democracy and human rights in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People Republic of China. The sensitive geopolitics of the region can cause the relief efforts of international human rights organizations to become ineffective. UHRP helps to bolster relief efforts by supporting victims in telling their stories, increasing global media coverage of the religious persecution in China and exerting pressure on the perpetrators of this crisis.

Additionally, with increased awareness in the United States, the U.S. House recently passed an Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act. If enacted, this legislation would direct resources to China that will address human rights infringements and abuses. Supporting endeavors such as these will aid to end arbitrary religious persecution in China.

Elena Robidoux
Photo: Flickr

 

Everything You Need to Know About the Protests in India
People in India gathered on December 19, 2019, to protest the government’s intensified religious discrimination. Around 25,000 people filled the streets of Mumbai and 10s of thousands more protested other major cities in India. On Dec. 11, the Indian government passed a new Citizenship Amendment Act. This act makes religion a qualification to gain citizenship. As the people continue to disagree with the actions of the state, here is everything that people should know about the protests in India.

Reasons for the Protests

The Citizenship Amendment Act promises to expedite the citizenship statuses of people of religious minorities in the countries neighboring India. This includes Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and many more, however, it excludes Muslims. Many of the protestors view the bill as an anti-Muslim sentiment in India, coming to a legislative light under Prime Minister Modi, even though Islam is the second-largest religion in India. It also sparks the fear that the 200 million Muslims with citizenship currently living in India could have their status called into question in the future.

Who are the Protestors?

Most of the protestors at the forefront are students from some of India’s most acclaimed universities, like Jamia Milia Islamia University (JMIU) in New Delhi, Tata Institute of Social Sciences and IIT-Bombay. The first protest at JMIU turned violent. In addition, there was rampant police brutality against Muslim students. Consequently, this sparks other universities to stand in solidarity against police brutality. Police officers threw tear gas into the library and hit some nonviolent students with batons.

Violence in the protest

The protests in India as a whole have resulted in the arrests of thousands of people, of which authorities arrested around 5,000 “preventatively” and 23 died. Six people alone died in Uttar Pradesh, a city in the north. However, the police chief of the area, Prakash Singh, claimed that the police did not fire any bullets and that they used only tear gas and batons on peaceful protestors. Despite these claims, the causes of death have yet to receive a public release. The most recent wave of peaceful protests in India has been in violation of an act temporarily preventing gatherings of more than four people at a time, heavily restricting the right to protest at a time of mass civil unrest.

Internet and Cellular Service Shut Downs

The internet and cellular services shut down in parts of the country, specifically the state of Uttar Pradesh. Prior to the cut, authorities arrested over 100 people. As of the end of 2019, there were inflammatory or inciting posts on social media regarding the CAA. Additionally, the police chief backs this move as a means to prevent the circulation of fake news and to stop the apparent fear-mongering of the CAA opposition.

The scale of the public outcry against the Citizenship Amendment Act shows that the fight to maintain India’s position as a secular state is far from over, although the authorities have stopped protestors. Protestors have had international support as well. On December 18, 2019, many people protested outside of the Indian consulate buildings in New York City, Chicago and San Francisco. As the protests in India rage on, the country remains torn over the discriminatory nature of this new law, and what it means for its democracy as a whole.

Anna Sarah Langlois
Photo: UN Multimedia

Destruction of the Thracian BulgariansThough somewhat obscure today, the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians refers to the systematic expulsion of the native Christians (Bulgarians, Greeks and Armenians) in Eastern Thrace. These atrocities occurred during and after the Second Balkan War of 1913. Additionally, it involves some of the figures later complicit in the Armenian Genocide of World War One. Historians increasingly view the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians as a prototype for subsequent Ottoman campaigns of ethnic cleansing.

Today, the descendants of Thracian Bulgarian refugees remain attached to their Thracian heritage. Amazingly, this is despite gradual assimilation into the dominant culture of Bulgaria. The Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians remains a point of contention between the governments of Turkey and Bulgaria.

9 Facts About the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians

  1. Although the Ottoman census of 1906-1907 indicated a Muslim majority in five of Eastern Thrace’s counties, non-Muslims possessed numerical and cultural significance. Moreover, both Muslims and non-Muslims occupied positions across the empire’s social strata from peasant farmers to imperial administrators. Therefore, despite Ottoman claims to the contrary, Eastern Thrace’s character transcended a single religion and ethnicity.
  2. The Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians consists of mass deportations and atrocities against Thracian Bulgarians, Greeks and Armenians. This arose from the late Ottoman Empire’s suspicion of non-Muslim minorities. The transformation of Eastern Thrace from a core to a peripheral territory occurred following the Balkan wars of independence. Ottoman officials saw ethnic minorities as a liability to the cohesion and security of the state. In place of deported or massacred Thracian Christians, the Ottoman state settled Muslim refugees from the western Balkans.
  3. With the expulsion of Bulgarian forces and the Ottoman reoccupation of Eastern Thrace during the Second Balkan War, non-Muslims faced accusations of disloyalty and subversion. Locals and officers alike singled out Thracian Armenians in particular as untrustworthy. These assumptions played on ethnic prejudices that precipitated the 1906 Adana massacre. They would reach a fever pitch during the Armenian Genocide of World War One. Thus, in Malgara, occupying Ottoman forces accused the local Armenians of appropriating property from Muslims, which incited a mob to murder 12 Armenians and raze 87 houses.
  4. On July 14, 1913, the recapture of Rodosto (present-day Tekirdag) from Bulgaria by Ottoman volunteer forces occurred. Local Christians and Jews were told they must surrender “government” property. In framing local non-Muslims as unjust appropriators of property, this stirred volunteers arriving by an Ottoman battleship. Further, they despoiled the town’s unarmed non-Muslim inhabitants, killing 19 people in the process and displaced others. This constitutes one of the most serious massacres of the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians.
  5. Mass expulsions of Thracian Bulgarians and Greeks, punctuated by intermittent killings, characterized Ottoman policy in Eastern Thrace. This occurred even after the September 29, 1913 peace treaty between Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire. Where voluntary deportation proved unfeasible, the Interior Ministry resorted to tax and labor levies to coerce emigration. The government signed three population exchange agreements between 1913 and 1914. These agreements were biased in favor of Muslim refugees from Balkan countries and against Christian refugees from Ottoman Thrace. This granted de facto legitimacy to a long-established reality arising from the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians.
  6. Enver Pasha played a role in fomenting violence against the Bulgarians and Greeks of Western Thrace across the Ottoman-Bulgarian border. Later, Enver Pasha became one of the architects of the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek genocides. Led by Enver Pasha, a coterie of fighters forded the Maritza river and razed 22 Bulgarian villages to the west of the Maritza river. Reportedly, these forces killed thousands of Bulgarians. However, the Ottomans did not regain Western Thrace.
  7. The process of resettling refugees in the wake of the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians placed a strain on the Bulgarian state and people. The experience of property expropriation without compensation left the refugees initially reliant on the assistance of the Bulgarian government and people. Substantial aid only arrived in the 1920s when the League of Nations provided loans to permanently house the refugees (incidentally, the first methodical policy of its kind).
  8. Attempts to preserve the cultural uniqueness of the Thracian Bulgarians spurred the formation of the Thracian organization. This organization protested the 1925 Agreement of Friendship between Bulgaria and Turkey. The agreement essentially validated the uncompensated appropriation of Thracian Bulgarian territory by the newly-established Turkish Republic. Though the post-World War Two communist regime suppressed Thracian associations, the fall of communism promoted their resurgence. Today, the associations seek to maintain the Thracian culture within Bulgaria and Turkey without advocating for an explicit right of return.
  9. In 2011, the Bulgarian Parliament voted for a proposal urging Bulgaria and Turkey to negotiate compensation for property expropriated during the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan displayed a willingness to negotiate over the matter in October 2010. The issue of compensation remains unresolved.

Although it transpired over a century ago, the legacy of the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians persists. Descendants of those directly affected especially recognize the importance of this history. The role as the prototype for the genocides of the Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians during World War One is also key. Further, this confirms that the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians is anything but peripheral to an understanding of the twentieth century’s upheavals.

– Philip Daniel Glass
Photo: Wikimedia Commons