Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Kashgar Xinjiang: Terrorism, Protest or Racial

So there has been more strife in Xinjiang this time in Kashgar occurring the eve of Ramadan the weekend of July 30-31.

22  people have been killed in two incidents one on Saturday night and one Sunday afternoon.

What do we make of these incidents especially that they follow so closely on the July 18 incident in Hotan?

Are they reflective of an increasingly 'restive' Xinjiang especially as it concerns the Uyghur ethnic minority? Are they localised issues that get out of hand or are they, in the words of the Chinese government, "Premeditated terrorist attacks"?

In looking at the 'Uyghur question', as I have for the last decade, one is hampered by a lack of reliable information. There are three players whenever an "incident" occurs: the Chinese government, emigre Uyghur organisations and the Uyghurs who actually live there. Who then to believe?

Well in this trinity there are only two groups that have a voice, the all controlling Chinese Government and the emigre groups. Unfortunately the Uyghurs in situ are voiceless and independent witnesses are rare

So how then does an independent observer come to understand what is happening in Xinjiang and with the Uyghur people? How does one make a value judgement on the information provided?

There are three ways to view these incidents. One can accept the Chinese government version of events out of hand, or, one can believe the Uyghurs emigre groups, or, one can view each incident independently as a stand alone occurrence.

Whichever way we approach it the latter way has to be unscientific as it will be based essentially on what could be called informed gut feel. We just do not have access to independently verified unbiased information to do anything other. This gut feeling can however come from a knowledge of many things. Knowing history is a vital part of the analytical process. Knowing where general issues that exist had their genesis, knowing the character of the participants and their motivation in doing or saying something and the circumstances of the "incident', it's timing, location, "target" and modus operandi.

In looking at incidents like Hotan or Kashgar my process is as follows:

Firstly, I always start with a basic premise and that is that the incident is not a terrorist incident in the normal understanding of the word.

It is my belief that there is no organised Uyghur terrorist group or groups. Never has been and, more than likely, never will be. There have been terrorists that have been Uyghur but there has not been "Uyghur terrorism".

ETIM, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, so often cited by the Chinese and western press does not exist. The one man that could even loosely be said to have been associated with any idea of promoting such a movement was killed many years ago. 'ETIM" It is a catch all used by the Chinese Government because the United States in it's rush to fight the "War on Terror" hastily recognised this "entity" so as to garner favour and support of the Chinese. The US knows it does not exist and it's proscription was an expedient.

Further, the Uyghur do not and never have had a "national identity" per se. The Uyghurs would not say I am an East Turkestani from Kashgar. They do associate themselves as being an ethnic identity but that is it. Historically Uyghurs are tribal. Their history has been one of a group of khanates. Even the Uyghur Empire of the 8th and 9th centuries was a grouping of Uyghur khanates. Today you are firstly a Kashgar Uyghur or a Hotan Uyghur and so on.  As such it is my contention that what happens in Kashgar, for example, is because of local issues not nationalistic ones. The vision of an East Turkestan by your average Uyghur does not exist in reality apart from the emigre groups and perhaps some young people. There is no flow on from one towns 'incident' to another town. The 2009 Urumqi tragedy despite it's enormity did not travel to the likes of Yinning and Kashagr despite these two areas being very sensitive.

The Uyghurs had half an opportunity in the declining years of Qing Dynasty and the loose rule of the Nationalists to do something as a united people but didn't. You will read about the East Turkestan Republic that was "established" prior to the Communists but if you do some more research you will find it was a motley crew that had no real influence over the majority of Uyghurs. It was a short-lived Soviet-backed  "republic" which existed in the 1940s  in only three northern districts of  Ili, Tarbaghatai and Altai  with virtually no influence outside those areas (If they even had much within them) which, only too quickly, without any "national consensus" gave the shop away to Mao.

When we have an incident such as Yinning 1998, Urumqi 2009 and the ones in Hotan and Kashgar now, we are seeing these caused from local issues, albeit, as a result of general Chinese policy concerning the Uyghurs throughout Xinjiang. It is as a result  of the culturalicide of the people, the Han Chinese' xenophobia and extreme racism and the massive influx of Han Chinese, especially during the Cultural revolution and after as a result of Chinese government strategic and economic exigencies. Not to mention of course, the CCP's fear of religion's ability to undermine it's authority.

Having said all that an incident could be as simple as the result of ordinary crime. The Uyghurs like all people's  are not exempt from common or garden variety crime. I do not believe the Hotan incident falls into this category, Urumqi and Yinning certainly do not but Kashgar has very much the feeling of a crime gone wrong.

There are in my view three types of "incidents" involving Uyghurs in Xinjiang, racial, local anti-government protest and criminal. The Hotan incident, if it occurred at all to the degree reported was a local anti-government protest. Police stations are the representative face of the Government, if you want to attack the government you target a government office or police station. If you want to attack the Han as a race you attack, like in Kashgar, their businesses where they make their profits. Thus the initial attack in Kashgar on a local Han restaurant, hardly a "high value" terrorist target of highly trained terrorists, was either racially motivated or a crime gone wrong.