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China Letter-News and Human Rights

China human rights news with focus on the Uygur of Xinjiang, Tibetans and Tibet, Chinese mining workers, religion, corruption and censorship.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Another Academic on Uygur Terrorism

The Jamestown Foundation

I would like to take issue with several assertions made by Dr. You Ji in his article “ China’s Post 9/11 Terrorism Strategy” (The Jamestown Foundation. www.Jamestown.org 15/04/04) especially as they regard the issue of Uygur “terrorism” in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous region in China..

In his article Dr Ji states that

“ China has not been free from transnational terrorist acts, with some Chinese minorities spurred into armed protest against the central government by ethnic separatism, Islamic fundamentalism and al-Qaeda's networks.”

He goes on to say

“..insurgents” for Xinjiang independence (Jiangdu) have launched successive attacks to destabilise Chinese rule since the late 1980s.”

Let us look at these totally unfounded statements. Firstly, that the Uygur as a people have been “spurred” into “armed protests” against the Han Chinese Government. Dr Ji’s choice of words would have the reader believe that the Uygur people as a whole are engaged in a continuing sizeable armed conflict with the Han Chinese with a view to destabilising Han rule. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

It is true that a majority of Uygurs consider the Han presence in Xinjiang/East Turkestan as being a colonial occupation. They believe that Han policies are detrimental to them as the indigenous peoples and that they are discriminated against as to race and religion. They also believe that it is the objective of Han policy to destroy Uygur culture to facilitate assimilation of the Uygur ethnicity into the Chinese nationality.

It is not true however that the Uygur people, as a whole or even in majority, support armed insurrection as a means of throwing off the yoke, as they see it, of Chinese rule. Yes, they would in their hearts long to see a free “East Turkestan” that is without doubt just as the Tibetans hold similar dreams. In that sense then they can be viewed as “separatists”. But holding a dream of “separation” from China and actually having the will or ability to enter into armed insurrection to achieve it is quite another thing.

Dr Ji’s asserts, rather poetically, that the Uygur are “spurred” on also, in whatever they are supposed to be doing, by “Islamic fundamentalism” as well as by association with the ubiquitous al Qaeda network. He then goes on to say that the Uygur and al Qaeda share common ideological goals.

I wonder if the good Doctor has actually ever been to Xinjiang or even seen any pictures of Uygurs?
The Uygur people are Muslim predominantly, that is without question, but they are Sunni Muslims and adhere to the Hanafi school of Islam that is renowned for its moderation and liberalism. It bears now relation whatsoever to the “brand” of Islam followed by the likes of the fundamentalist Taliban of Afghanistan fame or al Qaeda.

One only has to look at pictures of Uygur woman to see that fundamentalism is not an issue in Xinjiang. Generally they dress very much in a western style with make up and jewellery. Whilst a majority will wear a head scarf there are very few who wear a hijab that is a basic dress form of Islamic fundamentalism.

As well alcohol is used in moderation by some Uygur which is something that certainly would not be tolerated in a fundamentalist society. I do not believe anyone with even a little knowledge of the Uygur would call them “fundamentalists” or believe they are “spurred” on in anything they do by “ Islamic fundamentalism”

Then Dr Yi claims the Uygur have an ideological brotherhood with al Qaeda and share common goals. Again nothing could be further from the truth. The Uygur, unlike al Qaeda, are by and large, pro western and pro American. They look to the west to support them and many consider their so called “Muslim brothers’ in Central Asia and throughout the Arab states to have failed to offer them support. It is common sense, China is an economic lure for the central Asians and for the Arab world the “enemy of my enemy is my friend”.

So ”Separatism”, “Islamic fundamentalism” and associations with al Qaeda ”spur” blighted Uygur to “successive” attacks on the mighty Han regime to “destabilise” it? I do not know what Dr Yi understands the word ‘successive” to mean but for mine it is acts following one after another with the inference of a close time frame. Without going in to a detailed rebuttal of the Doctor’s statement I can not see the very limited number of violent actions perpetrated by the Uygur against the Han since 1949 or even since the 80’s as being “successive” What has been independently verified, as distinct to what the Chinese Government claim, could in nobody’s terms be called “successive’ with all the implications that choice of word entails.
At best violence being perpetrated by Uygur on Han has been extremely sporadic since 1949, of little real consequence and hardly what one could call organised or “successive” to the degree one would expect from “professional” terrorists organisations.

Dr Yi also characterises this so called “Uygur terrorism” as having a well defined programme built on base networks at” home and abroad” and that they are able to elicit a positive response from the general population.

Anyone with the vaguest understanding of the Uygur will know that if they have one problem as a people in all their dealings with the Han Communists is that they are not able to rally and organise effectively. Many commentators have remarked that it is due to a lack of common purpose and shared “identity” that has hampered the Uygur in achieving any positive concessions from China.

I am sure that Dr Yi should know that the concept of “Uygur” as a ”nationality” is something that existed for a short period in the 8th and 9th centuries CE with the Uygur Orkhan empire, but, went out of vogue with the Uygurss move to present day Xinjiang from Mongolia. It was only resurrected as a concept by “Uygur’ intellectuals in the late 19th century. Even as late as the 1960’s you were a Kashgarlik before you were an Uygur.

This lack of identity and common purpose makes it impossible for the Uygur to become organised with a well “defined programme” of action let alone “terrorism”. Since the short lived East Turkestan Republic (that by the way only held sway over 25% of the Uygur population in it’s short history) the Uygur have been unable to throw up from their midst any person or group to take on the mantle of “Uygur” leadership.

There are no organised Uygur “terrorist” groups active in Xinjiang, at least not to the degree a casual reader would think from perusing the Doctor’s article. There is no “Pan Turkism” (it is a rather outmoded concept since the demise of the Ottoman Empire and the Soviet Union) There are no organised terrorist organisations outside Xinjiang either. There is, full stop, no such thing as an “Uygur terrorist organisation” as the world understands the concept.

I can not prove that something does not exist but someone writing as the doctor has written is bound to backup his assertions with at least a modicum of factual data and not rely seemingly on information gleaned from Chinese propaganda or the likes of the “People’s Daily” or “Xinhua” the news organs of the Chinese Communist Party.

Two things in closing, every commentator in the world, bar Dr Yi, agrees that the Han Chinese are now at least at parity with the Uygur in terms of population numbers if not significantly ahead. Not, as Dr Yi infers by his use of outdated data (2000 census figures are out) that the Han are a minority in Xinjiang.

Finally I do agree wholeheartedly with Dr Yi that the Chinese have done quite well out of the “War On Terror”