Monday, July 06, 2009

The Uyghur struggle in China and the American “war on terror”

Riots have broken out in western China leaving 140 dead and over 800 injured. The conflict pits Uyghurs, a Muslin population in China who primarily live in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China, and the Han Chinese, the dominant ethnic group in the country. Activists for the Uyghurs say their peaceful demonstrations turned ugly after provocations and attacks by Chinese authorities while the Chinese government claim terrorist involvement.

The Uyghur (also spelled Uighur) people are a Turkic ethnic group living in Eastern and Central Asia including parts of China. Many Uyghurs feel they are discriminated against by the government and their culture is being destroyed by the influx of Han Chinese into their traditional homelands. According to the L.A. Times:
"Uighurs have suffered for years under racial profiling and unjust government policies that have painted the entire Uighur population as criminals and terrorists," U.S.-based Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer said in a statement released last week.

The Uighurs say that an influx of ethnic Han Chinese into their traditional homeland has diluted the Uighur culture and led to high unemployment. China considers Uighur activists to be criminals and terrorists for their opposition to Beijing's rule over Xinjiang.
The situation is reminiscent of the situation in Tibet. However, the Uygur situation has an added twist that they are predominantly Muslim. The Chinese government has used this to paint activist groups as part of a larger Muslin terrorist network and used this fear-mongering to justify their suppression. Until recently, the U.S. “war on terror” bought into this rationalization and prisoners at Guantanamo include Uyghurs. Glenn Greenwald speculates that if Christians rather than Muslims fighting they tyranny of Beijing, then the American might have been different.
According to The New York Times this morning, violent clashes between Chinese government forces and Muslim Uighurs -- that country's long-oppressed minority -- have left at least 140 people dead and close to 1,000 injured. This incident in Western China highlights an important fact about America's "War on Terror."
Just imagine if the Uighurs were a Christian -- rather than Muslim -- minority, battling against the tyrannical Communist regime in Beijing, resisting various types of persecution, and demanding religious freedom. They would be lionized by America's Right, as similar Christian minorities, oppressed by tyrannical regimes, automatically are. Episodes like these -- where a declared Tyranny like China violently acts against citizens with whom we empathize -- are ones about which, in general, the American political class loves to sermonize.

But the Uighurs are Muslim, not Christian, and hostility towards them thus easily outweighs the opportunity they present to undermine the Chinese Government. Rather than support and venerate them, we instead spent this decade declaring them to be "enemy combatants" and locking them up in Guantanamo -- despite the fact that they have never evinced any interest in doing anything other than resisting Chinese persecution, and have certainly never taken actions against the U.S. (as even the Bush administration ultimately admitted). Yet even now, both Congress and the administration actively block release into the U.S. even of those Uighurs we wrongfully imprisoned for years, while the Right screams with outrage -- and fear -- over the administration's commendable efforts to find a home for them elsewhere.

For all the Serious analysis about the War on Terror, so much of it has been driven by nothing more complex or noble than sheer hostility towards Muslims. Muslims generally -- not just Al Qaeda -- replaced Communists as our New Enemy and became the new enabling force for our endless state of War and never-ending expansions of executive power. Rather obviously, the Uighurs were swept into the Enemy category solely by virtue of their status as Muslims. What more compelling evidence of that could be imagined than the fact that we imprisoned -- and continue to imprison -- people at Guantanamo whose only political interest is in resisting oppression by the Chinese government?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I believe before you start writing an article concerning other country's wrongdoings. Please examine your own country's first.