Business

Behind the veil: China policies hurt minority businesses

KASHGAR: The Silk Road trading centre of Kashgar has been Muslim for centuries, but despite hordes of people thronging the main bazaar, Gulnur’s headscarf shop had barely any customers.

As violence increased last year in China’s far western region of Xinjiang, home to mostly Muslim Uighurs, authorities banned veils and other Islamic coverings — wreaking havoc on her business.

“We’re all branded as terrorists because of a few bad people,” said Gulnur, who is Uighur. “The Chinese don’t understand that we’re not all the same.

“Regulations like this will only alienate people,” she added.

It is an example of the challenges Beijing faces pacifying the region, where Uighurs accuse the Chinese government of discrimination and restrictions on language, culture and religion.

Xinjiang shares a border with Afghanistan and Pakistan and is culturally closer to Central Asia than China’s Han heartland.

Authorities blame the violence — which has increased in intensity and spread beyond the region in recent years, with more than 200 people killed in 2014 — on Islamist separatists.

In the past year many forms of Islamic dress have been banned and beards ruled out for young and middle-aged men as Beijing works to root out what it calls “religious extremism”.

Posters throughout the region list the prohibited “five abnormal appearances”: face veils, burqas, young women in tight headscarves, the beard restrictions, and any clothing with a crescent moon and star logo akin to the Turkish flag.

One propaganda image shows a woman in her 30s with a simple head covering looking in a mirror and seeing a smiling face, while a veiled female is confronted with a skeleton on fire.

Taxis throughout the region are not allowed to pick up customers wearing banned items. The city of Karamay has barred them from public transport, and Turpan has stopped burqa sales.

At a bazaar in Hotan, Patigul showed off what was once her most popular item: a 15 yuan ($2.40) white lace veil covering the bottom half of a woman’s face and held in place by surgical mask-style straps.

“The government has been discouraging wearing veils for years, but we never expected a complete ban and it’s hurt business,” she said. “We weren’t prepared, and suddenly couldn’t sell about half our inventory.” -AFP

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