July 16th, 2009
06:02 PM ET

If China had drawn some stupid cartoons instead…

[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."]

Arsalan Iftikhar | BIO
AC360° Contributor
Founder, TheMuslimGuy.com

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.

Editor’s Note: Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer, contributor for True/Slant, founder of www.TheMuslimGuy.com and contributing editor for Islamica Magazine in Washington.

Filed under: Arsalan Iftikhar • China • Human Rights
soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Maria Cruz

    Rick, outstanding comment!

    July 17, 2009 at 9:26 am |
  2. Rick

    Even the Muslim communities seem scared of the Chinese, which is not surprising. Consider this; A religion that promises its followers40 virgins and life everlasting in paradise if they blow themselves up along with innocent women and children, and a government that encourages child slavery, kills its people if they disagree with their policies, obliterates Tibetans for reasons normal people cannot fathom, finances a country that has, and still is, committing genocide (Darfur), and stands by while North Korea threaten the rest of humanity with nuclear weapons while selling them goods and ignoring the United Nations embargo.
    They are a match made in Hell; a religion that will not stand up to its zealots and fanatics and who turn a blind eye to their atrocities, and a Country that believes that if they build these amazing buildings, and can hold the Olympic Games (even if they cheat), that it proves they have become a modern society when in fact they are more barbaric today than their ancestors were. A mutual admiration that will support the others murders and other crimes against humanity and not lose a minutes sleep in the process. God help us!!!

    July 16, 2009 at 9:49 pm |
  3. Lisa G Australia

    A thought provoking article. Things would be different if they were christian, look at the televisation of the attacks on christian churches in Iraq yet so little about this.

    Even muslims with their inherent dignity and willingness to die for their beliefs don't see fit to look in or protect their own, in this situation.

    Just like Orwell's Animal Farm, All animals (in this case people) are equal, some are just more equal than others.

    July 16, 2009 at 7:12 pm |
  4. Alyzabeth

    The world is a weird, sad place.

    July 16, 2009 at 6:57 pm |