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The Times on the Xinjiang Province of China

Yesterday, there was an article in the tabloid section of The Times (which Samizdata does not link to, although the author of the article has also written this book on the subject), on the treatment of the Uighur people in the Xinjiang province in far western China, the point of which was that this (Muslim) ethnic minority have for a long time been treated appallingly badly by the Chinese authorities, that the world largely doesn’t know about this, and that this is bad.

This is all entirely true, and the Chinese authorities are indeed a nasty bunch of thugs, but the point I am getting to is something else. For three quarters of the way through the article I find the following statement

Behind every protest at this treatment, Chinese officials see only the sinister hand of Muslim fanatics, backed by foreigners, plotting to split the motherland. And the screw has tightened since President Bush’s declaration of a war on terror after September 11.

Is it me, or is there something deeply odd about the way this has phrased? Rather than a crackdown occurring as a consequence of September 11 itself, a dreadful atrocity caused by Muslim fundamentalist fanatics, it is somehow the consequence of the fact that President Bush and America has responded to this. (America is maybe guilty of neglect in this case, but somehow implying that it is in any way George Bush’s fault is surely stretching things somewhat). And the fact is the same organisations rooted in Saudi Arabia that funded and spread the fanaticism that led to September 11 are also doing their best to spread that same fanaticism to every Muslim in the world, and very legitimate grievances such as this one are a tremendous source of recruits. Regardless of how badly they have treated their ethnic minorities (and in this case the answer is “extremely badly”) I do understand why the Chinese are worried.

The article goes on

History shows the Uighurs to be pacific, and lax in their religious observance. No doubt there are today some religious fundamentalists inside Xinjiang. No doubt inflammatory literature, not to mention weapons, is being smggled in. Certainly there are militants (especially amongs the young urban unemployed) both inside and outside who would like to overthrow Chinese rule.

But Islam should be seen as the vehicle, not the cause, of Uighur grievances, and separatism as a mark of despair at the lack of citizens’ rights or a share in their own future

This is all largely true as well. The trouble is that it is also true about the forms of Islam traditionally practiced throughout large portions of (non Middle-Eastern) Asia. Islam in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Phillippines and various other places is traditionally relatively moderate and often mixed with pre-Muslim practices. However, the flow of oil-money from Saudi Arabia to the rest of the world has led to a spread of fundamentalism and terrorism to many of these places, and has made it very difficult for the opponents of such fundamentalism to speak out. Wherever there is a grievance, this money and this influence has largely had an influence akin to pouring petrol on a fire. A war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, which was fighting another very legitimate grievance, somehow evolved into the Taliban.

To be truthful, the situation of the Uighurs is sufficiently wretched that not much will make their situation better short of the complete collapse of the People’s Republic of China. The developed world’s neglect of this particular situation is certainly less than admirable. But a further spread of Islamic fundamentalism to that part of the world may well make it worse, and certainly won’t make it better. And a great many things we can do to minimise that spread are, in my opinion, worth it. And given that the fundamentalism has spread and is spreading mostly from Saudi Arabia, anything that can be done to reduce our dependence on Saudi Arabia and anything that can be done to isolate Saudi Arabia is likely worth it, including the invasion of and occupation of Iraq.

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5 comments to The Times on the Xinjiang Province of China

  • Michael,

    An excellent analysis with important conclusions. Well said all round.

  • anon

    I think the words you’re looking for are “root causes”

  • Sandy P.

    I thought China also has problems w/splodydopes on their buses in that part of the world.

    They were trying to work with them, but couldn’t.

  • Chris Josephson

    Thanks for the info. I was unaware of these people.

    “America is maybe guilty of neglect in this case, but somehow implying that it is in any way George Bush’s fault is surely stretching things somewhat.”

    EVERYTHING bad that happens in the world is the fault of: The US or Pres. Bush. Just something we Yanks have to get used to and live with!! Anyone have a cold or not feel well? SOMEHOW, you can blame the US. Makes people feel good to have someone to blame. Blame the US and feel better!!

    Actually, blaming the US has become so common that I’m surprised when I read an article about something bad happening that doesn’t blame the US.

  • Scott Hillis

    China’s treatment of the Uighurs is pretty bad, but not that much worse than its treatment of ethnic Chinese, either. Sure, there is religious oppression, but that also applies to Chinese who practice Christianity, too. In general, ethnic minorities in China are probably worse off than the general populace, especially when it comes to consideration for official positions, etc. But some of these ethnic groups, particularly the Tibetans, have been simply fetishized by Western activists. Tibet would very possibly be an even more oppressive society today if left to its own devices (though if the British had opted to exert more influence that may not be the case). The only reason the region is a poster child for activists today is because the charismatic Dalai Lama had to leave the country and managed to learn a lot about democracy and human rights. The history of the Uighurs, rife as it is with double-dealing, backstabbing and assassination, doesn’t give one much hope that they would have developed a peaceful and modern civil society on their own, either. My point is not to excuse Chinese brutality, but to show that is exerted over each of the 1.3 billion people in the country and not just a couple of cherry-picked ethnic groups with funny hats. Every time I see a “Free Tibet” bumper sticker I wonder why they don’t have a “Free China” one as well.