Thursday, August 14, 2008

A cultural crossroad

It can almost be called Al-Qaeda’s Tibet…China’s western Xinjiang Province, home to the ethnic Uighurs, a mainly Muslim minority in China. Chinese repression of the Uighur people has given extremist groups an opportunity to exploit this suffering, and turn it into a political tool. The East Turkestan Islamic Movement has carried out at least three violent attacks against Chinese police in security forces during the month of the Olympics, killing dozens of people, primarily ETIM fighters and policemen.

Seeing as I have never had the chance to come face-to-face with an ethnic Uighur separatist, I am not sure if liberating the Muslim people of western China is truly something they care about (terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda in Iraq or the Taliban routinely put this notion to rest by blowing up innocent Muslims, often dozens at a time, almost every day). Regardless, the attacks that have occurred during the Olympic Games have only provoked the Chinese regime into forcing its ironclad grip even tighter on the Uighur community who would like to have the chance to exercise their religion, language, and culture freely.

Below is a very interesting article I found on Al-Jazeera about this tense situation…note the map of the province above, which borders Afghanistan and Pakistan. It’s alleged that some ETIM fighters are receiving training in the mountainous tribal areas of these countries.

Xinjiang tense in wake of attacks

By Tony Cheng, in Kashgar

With the eyes of the world on the Olympics in Beijing, a lockdown is in force across China's western Xinjiang province.

After three separate attacks in recent days, the Chinese government is unsure who they can trust in this restless region, more than 2,000 km from the Chinese capital.

At a checkpoint outside the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar, a short distance from the site of Tuesday's fatal stabbing of three security officials, we found police relaxed, but no one was allowed to pass unchecked.

Heading back into the city, security was much tighter, with armed police forcing passengers to disembark from buses and cars to have their ID cards electronically checked.

Foreigners had their passports photocopied and their details entered into a computer.

A total of 31 people have been killed in just 2 weeks in the deadliest upsurge in violence seen in Xinjiang for many years.

Uighur exile groups based in Germany say the government has detained dozens of innocent Muslims in the wake of the attacks.

On August 4, Kashgar, close to the frontier with Afghanistan, saw the deadliest of the recent attacks when two men drove a truck directly into a group of jogging border police outside a small boarding house.

They threw what the authorities described as grenades, and continued the attack with knives.

By the time the attackers were overpowered, 16 policemen lay dead.

Reports in Chinese state media said police later found papers detailing a plan for "holy war" in the attackers' belongings.

It was a severe and bloody assault but with apparently very few witnesses - the owner of a nearby boarding house said she saw nothing.

When I asked a local shopkeeper how 16 people had died without his seeing any thing, he told me to go and ask the government.

The government itself has said little, despite claiming several months ago that there was a very real possibility of an attack from Muslim Xinjiang-based fighters targeting the Olympics.

But the simplicity of the weapons used - trucks, homemade bombs and knives - does not suggest the operations of a global "terrorist" network.

And the nature of the attacks appears more spontaneous than highly planned.

Kashgar's famous bazaar is still bustling with life, but in the wake of the recent violence everyone there seems a little
more wary.


Anonymous said...

It seems as if China's actions in the region are coming back around...the attacks being carried out by these groups do not suggest it is a very organized campaign, as the article points out.

programmer craig said...

China is only 4% Christian, and 1.5% Muslim, C.H.

I've never seen any evidence that Muslims are oppressed any more or less than any other group in China. I think somebody is just exploiting teh Muslims of China to cause problems for them. It isn't even rational to expect china to give up 1/6 of its territory to please 1.5% of the population, so any talk of "liberation" is misguided in my opinion.

Ethnic groups in Xinjiang, 2000 census

Uyghur 8,345,622 45.21%

Han 7,489,919 40.58%

"Han" are ethnic Chinese. So there's not a very big split by population in XinJiang. And 8 million people may sound lie a lot ins some countries, but not in China!

programmer craig said...

PS-It was Ghnegis Khan who unified China. Xinjiang has been part of China for as long as China has existed as a country. So I don't think it's right to talk of "liberation" - all of China's other provinces have as much right to want autonomy as Xinjiang. This isn't a "Tibet" scenario.

C.H. said...

I don't consider it a "Tibet issue", Craig, I was saying that the extremist groups, like ETIM, are trying to make this into one. As I also pointed out repeatedly, I don't believe ETIM is really interested in "liberating" Xinjiang so much as they are killing innocent people.

That would be like saying that the Islamic State of Iraq is interested in "liberating" Iraqis (by blowing them up).