View Full Version : The Right Way To Help the Uighurs

17-07-09, 01:42
The Right Way To Help the Uighurs

By Ellen Bork
Friday, July 10, 2009

Unrest in China's far western region, known as Xinjiang, should not come as a surprise. The communist authorities maintain intense and unrelenting pressure on Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority group. Over the past week, the violence that has killed at least 156 and injured hundreds more came after the ethnically motivated murder of two Uighur migrant workers late last month. Communist Party control of the media makes it difficult to know what actually happened when initially peaceful protests became riots. Chinese authorities have arrested hundreds, sent in troops and begun a propaganda campaign against the Uighurs. While majority Han Chinese have been photographed armed with baseball bats, axes and pipes, government control of the media ensures that most Chinese will absorb official propaganda depicting Uighurs as terrorists.

Comparisons to the uprising in Tibet last year seem apt. In Tibet, peaceful protests by monks were met with force, and demonstrations proliferated throughout the region. Like the Tibetans, Uighurs experience harsh repression of their religion and language. Like those of the Tibetans, Uighurs' efforts at asserting their identity are smeared as subversive by Chinese authorities and used as justification for further repression.

Unlike the Tibetans, though, Uighurs do not benefit from a well-defined U.S. policy supporting their political rights, autonomy and cultural identity.

In fact, the United States has distinct policies toward all of the major territorial or ethnic conflicts in China except in Xinjiang, which Uighurs call East Turkestan. Tibet's importance in American policy began with support for the Tibetan resistance in the 1950s and '60s and now takes the form of support for the Dalai Lama and the democratic government in exile as they seek autonomy under communist rule. The high-level post of special coordinator for Tibet was created at the State Department a decade ago. Taiwan has a defense commitment from the United States and unofficial but substantive relations through a quasi-diplomatic entity, both of which are underwritten by the Taiwan Relations Act. Hong Kong benefits from U.S. law setting out support for its autonomy, rule of law and limited democracy, as well as the considerable interest of the American business community.

None of these policies is perfect. Nevertheless, each reflects the U.S. interest in supporting autonomy, democracy, religious freedom and cultural identity, and each has enjoyed significant congressional support among members of both parties.

The task of supporting Uighurs has become more difficult than it should be. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, China capitalized on the American desire for cooperation in fighting terrorism -- and general suspicion of Muslims. The State Department's designation of the small East Turkestan Independence Movement as a terrorist organization was derided by human rights activists, who saw the danger of approving a freer Chinese hand, as well as scholarly experts on Xinjiang. Moreover, the detention of fewer than two dozen Uighurs at Guantanamo Bay dominates American perceptions of this ethnic group. Testimony before Guantanamo review panels and press interviews have indicated that the detained Uighurs were focused on China, not the United States, and most were cleared for release in 2003. Nevertheless, their cases, and the domestic political battle over closing Guantanamo, have unfairly stigmatized all Uighurs.

The U.S. priority on counterterrorism efforts has distracted Washington from the need to support a secular, democratic movement as a counterweight to potential radicalization. Traditionally, Uighur nationalism was secular and led by intellectuals. But Chinese communists, who consider any opposition as "splittist" or "terrorist," have sought to repress Uighur language and education. Moreover, the Communist Party's religious policies, along with a reaction to non-Muslim rule that scholars have noted in many countries, have led to a growing role for Islam in Uighur nationalism.

It is in America's interest to cultivate democratic, secular political thinking among Uighurs no less than among Iraqis or other Muslim populations.

At a modest level, America already supports this. In 2005, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice helped secure the release of Rebiya Kadeer, a Uighur businesswoman who lives in Fairfax County and leads the Uighurs in exile (even as two of her adult children are in prison in Xinjiang). Kadeer has condemned acts of violence by Uighurs as well as Han Chinese, and while Chinese officials reportedly blame Kadeer for the recent riots, she has said the Chinese police provoked the riots. The National Endowment for Democracy, an independent organization funded by Congress, supports the Uyghur Human Rights Project, which documents and disseminates information about Chinese abuses. Radio Free Asia broadcasts in Uighur one hour a day. These programs should be expanded and new initiatives undertaken.

The choice in Xinjiang is not between Chinese communist repression of the Uighurs and radical Islamism. It is time for the United States to choose another option and develop a Uighur policy rooted in democracy and secularism.

The writer is director of Democracy and Human Rights at the Foreign Policy Initiative.


17-07-09, 08:55
Dear Ellen Bork,

I am a German citizen and fully qualified German legal graduate with an LLM from the UK. I am half Turkish by decent.

The western world makes two awful mistakes:

Originally, the Turks around the Altay-mountain area, Siberia, and East-Turkistan were Tengriists, Shamanists, Buddhists. They adopted Islam when Persians and Arabs brought Islam to them from the 7th century onwards. Similarities of religious practices is obvious when one looks at Alevis, for example. The religious semah dance, which has its roots in Shamanism, is still today practiced in East-Turkistan.

I.e. to smooth the western fear of Islam - which, of course, is ridiculous as Muslims are human beings just like Jews, Christians and others - let me tell you that Uyghurs are not generic Muslims but have adopted Islam when it was brought to them. They are - from a western point of understanding - far less "Islamic" than many other Muslims in this world. Western media permanently taks about this "Uyghur Muslim minority" and thereby presents a wrong picture.

The western world must stop calling Uyghurs a minority within China. Doing so is dangerous and would have fatal consequences. Uyghurs have been living in East-Turkistan for thousands (!) of years. They have their own language and culture, which they want to maintain and live in. They do not want to be forced to be Chinese and ruled by a foreign people, i.e. China. If the western world accepts China`s version of Uyghurs being a minority, this will lead to the Uyghurs becoming finally a homeless people that sooner or later will die out. No people in this world wants to be governed by foreign forces, especially not within ones own homeland.

It is no secret what China has been doing with Tibet. It is also no secret that China has to deal with her over-population, scarcity of natural resources etc. The world must not tolerate a China that solves her internal problems on the expense of others. All the western countries unitedly need to do is to help East-Turkistan and Tibet to become independant.

The situation of Uyghurs has become similar to the situation of Jews in the 3rd Reich. And it is important that the western countries support the Uyghurs in their aim for independance. They`d become a homeless people otherwise and sooner or later would die out. A people needs a territoy. Everyone knows this. The British, when deciding the Balfort declaration for Israel, knew this too.

I am following Chinese news written in German language. It seems that China is hoping to get support from a Germany that is still willing to participate and tolerate a genocide. I can nothing but shake my head upon such wrong presentations made by China in hope that Germany gives her a hand.

I agree with you as far as US policy is concerned. I am sure the Uyghurs would appreciate help from the US to establish a political system in East-Turkistan similar to the US system. They surely would be very thankful indeed for being protected by the US in doing so. I see no reason why their religious faith should be conflicting. All Uyghurs I know like the US a lot. Uyghurs are seeking freedom, independance and liberty, i.e. the very fundamental US values. What they do not want is being taught and ruled by an old-fashioned communist regime that is trying to expand into their homeland. Understandably.