Friday, October 9, 2009

How Not To Help The Uighurs

A high-ranking al-Qaeda official is describing the recent ethnic unrest in China's northwestern Xinjiang province as the beginning of a holy war against the Chinese government. Abu Yahia Al-Libi called on China's Muslim Uighur (or Uyghur) population to conduct a "jihad" against the authorities in Beijing. Two quick thoughts:

First, Beijing doesn't need an excuse to crackdown on the Uighurs. Following riots this July in Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi, between Uighurs and ethnic Han Chinese, more than 1,000 Uighurs were arrested. But few Han were detained - and you would think in a riot between to groups you'd have a somewhat equal distribution in arrests... Uighur activists, meanwhile, say that in reality thousands of Uighurs were picked up by police and haven't been seen since.

The Uighurs accuse the Chinese government of carrying out a cultural genocide against them. They point to the Chinese government closing Uighur mosques and schools, arresting their clerics, suppressing the use of their language and engaging in a policy of mass migration - moving tens of thousands of Han Chinese into Xinjiang - in order to make the Uighurs a minority within their own historic homeland. In turn, the Chinese have long charged the Uighurs of being separatists and claim (by way of justifying some of their oppression)that they have links to al-Qaeda - a charge that China has never really been able to back up and a reason why Al-Libi's statement is potentially very bad for the future of the Uighurs in Xinjiang.

Second, tensions between Beijing and the Uighurs have been running high for some time now, the riots in July were an expression of those feelings. So in a way Al-Libi's statement seems like a case of the tail wagging the dog: he calls on the Uighurs to engage in a jihad, knowing that the unrest between them and Beijing will probably continue (and may get worse if Beijing decides to use Al-Libi as an excuse for further oppression), then where there is more fighting between them, Al-Libi can say "see they are heeding al-Qaeda's call!"

I hope cooler heads will prevail in the face of this ridiculous, self-serving terrorist's statement; but I doubt they will.
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