City of Brass

City of Brass


The Uyghur uprising in China

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

Horrific repression of the Uighurs (or Uyghurs, depending on how you transliterate their name from Mandarin) in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang:

Several hundred people were arrested after a protest, in the city of Urumqi on Sunday, turned violent.

Beijing says Uighurs went on the rampage but one exiled Uighur leader says police fired on students.

The protest was reportedly prompted by a deadly fight between Uighurs and Han Chinese in southern China last month.

The BBC’s Chris Hogg in Shanghai says this is one of the most serious clashes between the authorities and demonstrators in China since Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Eyewitnesses said the violence started on Sunday in Urumqi after a protest of a few hundred people grew to more than 1,000.

[…] The Xinjiang government blamed separatist Uighurs based abroad for orchestrating attacks on ethnic Han Chinese.

But Uighur groups insisted their protest was peaceful and had fallen victim to state violence, with police firing indiscriminately on protesters in Urumqi.

The Chinese government is already putting filters on Twitter, YouTube, etc to prevent people from doing the kind of eyewitness reporting of the facts that we saw in the Iranian protests. Even so, there is a fair amount of chatter on Twitter, though the “#Uyghur” channel is not trending as yet.

The Uighurs are an ethnic group in China who are predominantly muslim. The Communist regime has systematically repressed their culture and religion, which makes them an interesting case study because the majority of Chinese are of Han ethnic origin. This puts Uighurs in cultural, religious, and racial opposition to the regime and the Chinese mainstream.

There isn’t nearly as much public awareness of Uyghur culture or repression in the west as there is of, for example, Iranians – the most prominent recent mention was of the group of Uighurs wrongly detained in Guantanamo Bay prison, which the Bush Administration had decided to release upon review of their case. It fell to Obama to actually try to find a home for these men, since they could not be returned to China for fear of persecution. Initial plans to release them to the United States were vociferously attacked by Islamophobic Republicans as “letting terrorists free on US soil” – a truly despicable slander for these innocent people who’d suffered so much injustice already. As a result most of them were resettled in the tourist island nation of Palau, leading to yet more sniping about terrorists in paradise.

Glenn Greenwald touched on the treatment of the Uyghurs by the political class by asking the question, “what if the Uyghurs were Christian instead of Muslim?”

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 outrageand fear — over the administration’s commendable efforts to find a home for them elsewhere.

I largely agree as far as the demonization of the Uyghurs in Guantanamo are concerned, but it should be noted that the Iranian protestors garnered automatic sympathy. This is a movement that literally shouts Allahu Akhbar (God is Great) from the rooftops and whose ultimate salvation may lie in a council of muslim clerics, so whether the sympathy will persist remains to be seen. Still, it’s clear that being muslim is not an automatic disqualification for a sense of camraderie; unfortunately the Uyghurs have yet to be accorded it.

For actual facts instead of spin, Chinese blogger Wang Daiyu has been blogging about the Uyghurs for years, and we’ve also been following their travails at Talk Islam for some time. If there’s any silver lining to the crackdown in Xinjiang, it’s that maybe the plight of these people will be subject to more light and less distortions.

Related: this (graphic) video from the BBC. Also see #Uyghur and #Xinjiang on Twitter. Plus, Indian blogger Indscribe had a post a year ago about the remarkable survival of the Uyghur language.



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