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(FYI) FT: The lost cause of China’s Uighurs

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  • Norbert Strade
    Financial Times Editorial The lost cause of China’s Uighurs August 5 2008 One of the side-effects of the September 11 2001 attacks on the US was the way it
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 6 8:27 AM
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      Financial Times

      The lost cause of China’s Uighurs

      August 5 2008

      One of the side-effects of the September 11 2001 attacks on the US was
      the way it enabled other countries to smuggle their unresolved conflicts
      under the umbrella of George W. Bush’s global “war on terror”. Russia’s
      assault on Chechnya suddenly became legitimate. Ariel Sharon got the
      green light to retake the West Bank by force. China adroitly used the
      opportunity to tar the Uighurs of Xinjiang, its biggest and westernmost
      province, with the brush of al-Qaeda.

      Now, on the eve of the Olympics, Beijing would have us believe the games
      are under threat from the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a tiny Uighur
      group that China persuaded Mr Bush, in his “either with us or against
      us” mood, to put on the US terrorist list. Monday’s incident in
      Xinjiang, in which 16 policemen were allegedly killed by Uighur
      separatists, may cause some alarm but the essential thesis is spurious.

      If the ETIM survives in western China – which is far from clear – it is
      the most rudimentary insurgency. Despite Beijing’s extravagant claims in
      the run-up to the Olympics, the small number of attacks appears to
      involve knives and primitive explosives. For Chinese security, this is
      no more difficult than swatting a fly. But the Uighurs do appear to be
      trying to use the Olympic stage to grab the spotlight.

      And no wonder. Their cause is almost unknown. A cultured people who
      founded the first Turkic state in the 10th century and published the
      first works of Turkish literature, the Uighurs had an episodic autonomy
      that ended with their forced assimilation by the People’s Liberation
      Army in 1949. Since then their culture, language and Muslim religion
      have been engulfed by Han Chinese colonisation. Discrimination over jobs
      and housing has only worsened with the discovery of oil and mineral
      wealth in Xinjiang.

      Xinjiang is in a similar situation to Tibet. But it lacks the religious
      radiation provided by the Dalai Lama or, in another context, a city
      built on combustible history like Jerusalem. It has no high-profile
      Hollywood star such as Richard Gere to emote for it; more people
      probably worry whether giant pandas mate than whether the Uighurs can
      survive as a culture and a people. If only they were Buddhists.

      Yet their restiveness is a flickering if forlorn hope that something
      like the break-up of the Soviet Union might happen to China, not a
      response to al-Qaeda. But if Beijing continues its bulldozer approach to
      minorities and robs the Uighurs of their identity, it could incite
      jihadism. China’s interpretation of the Olympics slogan “One World, One
      Dream” is not universally shared.

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