[cnn-photo-caption image="http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/07/13/china.uyghur.deaths/art.police.afp.jpg" caption="Police brutality in China killed two ethnic Uighurs earlier this week."]
The recent violence in China’s western Xinjiang province has been called the ““worst civil turmoil since 1989.” This human rights catastrophe has led to the deaths of nearly 200 Uighur ethnic Muslims in the region.
But what if rather than cracking down on the Uighurs, China had drawn sophomorically offensive cartoons (a la Danish newspapers circa December 2005) instead? This different approach probably (and sadly) may have inspired a more global outcry from the greater Muslim world.
Not since the now infamous Tiananmen Square tragedy of 1989 has the world seen such civil turmoil inside China. The tension revolves around the fulcrum of ethnic identity, societal discrimination and flat-out racism between the predominant ethnic majority Han Chinese (from the eastern parts of China) and minority ethnic Uighur Muslim populations indigenous to Xinjiang province along China’s western frontier.
Xinjiang is a massive western region that accounts for nearly one-sixth of China’s total land area. And it is home to the majority of the Uighurs in China. At its height in the 9th century, the Uighur empire stretched from the Caspian Sea into eastern China. The Uighurs also managed to establish independent republics twice during the 20th century before being annexed by the People's Republic of China in 1949.
Since then, the Chinese government has actively promoted the migration of the dominant Han Chinese to Xinjiang, and since the 1950’s the region's ethnic Han community has grown from 5 to 40 percent of the region's total population.
Although the region has seen enormous economic growth in recent years, local Uighurs have become increasingly resentful of Beijing’s political and economic control. After an Uighur uprising in 1990, for example, the Communist Party took steps to accelerate the integration of Xinjiang into China by stepping up migration into the area and increasing the security presence of baton-wielding police forces. It took control over freedom of religion in the region as well.
According to BBC World News,, Chinese authorities say more than 140 people have been killed and hundreds more wounded in riots in the mainly Muslim region since protests erupted last month. According to a recent article in Newsweek magazine in June, a resentful laborer spread rumors that Uighurs had raped two Han Chinese women, leading a vengeful Han mob to attack Uighur workers. When authorities were slow to the arrest the attackers, Uighurs in Xinjiang took to the streets in protest.
Moises Naim recently noted in Foreign Policy, that “…In different countries, mullahs, imams, and assorted [Muslim] clerics have found the time to issue fatwas [religious decrees] condemning among other practices, Pokémon cartoons, total nudity during sex for married couples, and the use of vaccines against polio, not to mention Salman Rushdie. They have yet to find the time to say anything about China's practices toward Uighurs…”
Prominent Uighur Muslims like Rebiya Kadeer (who was once celebrated by the Chinese government as the richest woman in China) have been vocal against the Chinese government’s policies of what they consider to be discrimination for years, saying that its policies “keep many Uighurs poor and badly educated.”
Outside of China’s borders, however, there has been scant coverage of the violence. And the greater Muslim world has been largely silent on the human-rights abuses taking place in the region.
One reason for this large silence may be that most people have never heard of Uighurs before. Since they are not Arab, it is not surprising that their plight is not within the current zeitgeist radar of the greater Muslim and Arab world.
Furthermore, an even more sobering thought occurs when one thinks that perhaps if the Uighurs were not Muslim we may have seen more media coverage of their situation. What would the American evangelical Republican apparatchik do if the Uighurs were Christians? We can assume that they might be indignant towards China and their continued human-rights abuses against the Uighurs.
Either way, sadly, if the Chinese government had drawn some moronic newspaper cartoons instead, we might have heard some more global condemnations (from all sides of the global political velvet rope) on these blatant human-rights violations occurring on our global watch today in China.
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