Muslims in northwest China’s Xinjiang, the Uyghur homeland, endure a constant barrage of state-sanctioned violence. For hundreds of thousands of people, that violence comes in the form of incarceration in “reeducation” centers for which officials just recently attempted to provide legal justification. Those who have been spared this fate have not escaped the state’s assault on their freedoms. Although they are not confined to the reeducation compounds lined with razor wire, they are nonetheless subjected to institutionalized Islamophobia and omnipresent surveillance.
At night, Ürümchi, the region’s capital, pulses with red and blue lights. In the city’s Uyghur districts, “Convenience Police Stations” bristling with face-recognition cameras stand sentinel every 200 meters. Checkpoints are everywhere. Cameras, gates, face-scanning machines, and metal detectors at the entrance of every residential area, shopping center, and large place of business have turned the city into a high-tech labyrinth where only people with the right faces and passbooks can move without running into walls. The city is a giant police lab where Muslim minorities are treated as test subjects in an anti-religious experiment. The walls, gates, and police are part of an attempt to eliminate unwanted forms of Islamic practice.