Lessons from Xinjiang: Disaster and ResponseWritten by Julen Madariaga on August 6th, 2009
I was not there and I do not know more than what is in the press. But in the light of the available information, I think it’s worth it to have another look at the events, and see what we make of it. Refer to the NYT diagram linked on the illustration, this paper is hardly suspect of pro-CPC, and the information included (from witness accounts) is about as detailed as has been published concerning the events of 5th May.
It all started with a protest in People’s Square, followed by a concentration along Liberation Road, which was met around 6.30 by the People’s Armed Police. Up to here everything is “normal” in the logic of street rioting: there were clashes and probably some victims from both sides. But Liberation Rd. is very central, many people live there and surely the NYT would have found at least a witness to mention it if hundreds of people had been killed or made prisoner at this point.
But it is afterwards, especially after 8, along the axes of Tuanjie and Dawan Roads, that the events are not normal by any standard of social disorder. Street riots, like other forms of violence, can have collateral damage, but this is not the case. The police was not there, the Han mobs couldn’t have been organized in such a short time, and the only way to explain those deaths is that it was a deliberate large scale massacre of civilian residents and passers by. This is consistent with what was written in other accounts by various newspapers.
The initial count of 123* Han casualties that has been more or less accepted by all sides as minimum is an astonishing figure for actions that happened mostly in the space of 5 hours and in such a reduced area. Looking at other riots in the region, including Xinjiang, Tibet or other Chinese areas, we see this ratio is completely out of range. This was not the heat of the fight in a political riot. It was cold-blooded persecution, the kind of actions that can only be the work of fanatics.
Who was behind the events
In its August 2 issue, the Hong Kong newsweekly Yazhou Zhoukan interviewed Heyrat Niyaz, a Uyghur journalist, blogger, and AIDS activist, the kind of person who is unlikely to be partial to the CPC. Heyrat speaks about the Islamic Liberation Party, Hizb-ut-Tahrir al-Islami, a pan-islamic international political party which is formally peaceful, but which has been accused in the past of inciting violence in Europe. This organization has spread very quickly in Xinjiang in the last decade.
As a witness in Urumqi, Niyaz notes the strong Kashgar accents of many of the protesters and the religious slogans that were heard in the protests. This brings to mind all the times the CPC has spoken of the menace of an Islamist group called ETIM, which might actually exist or not. In any case, some radical groups do exist, as was clearly seen from attacks like this one last year, where 16 policemen were coldly knifed and bombed after being run over.
I will not accuse any group without proof, as I would be guilty myself of the same “solid block” thinking I criticized yesterday. But what we have seen up to now should make any honest observer curious, and it certainly warrants further investigation in the field of radical islamism in Xinjiang. In a region bordered by countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is not at all unthinkable that frustrated youths take example of their counterparts across the border and find an escape in a perverted version of religion.
The Chinese government has handled the crisis relatively well, given the circumstances. Actually, the main objection one could make is the opposite of what most Western readers like to imagine: on Sunday 5th more force should have been used to avoid the murders.
If you think of it, you might agree that the CPC leaders are not precisely idealistic dreamers. When they let the foreign reporters into a place it is because they know they have nothing to lose, and this time they must have been pretty confident that they were not to blame. Also we have to admit that, even when in front of journalists, it is unusual in most armies in the World to exhibit so much discipline and restraint as the Chinese did in the aftermath of indiscriminate racist attacks against their own people.
A large part of the Western media were confused by this attitude, which perhaps explains why they left so early. Indeed, it is some food for thought and it can make some weaker spirits shrink, to consider that for the second time in a row (after the Sichuan disaster) China proves that, sometimes, an authoritarian regime can do things better than a democracy. It takes some solid convictions and some understanding of ones own ideals to be able to look at the World without the mould of good and evil.
In any case, there is little doubt – the Western media has given me no reason to think otherwise – that the Chinese double approach of media control and moderate police action has produced the best results during the crisis. It goes without saying that this only works as a short term formula to curb down the violence, and that much more will need to be done from now on to really solve the problems in Xinjiang. More about long term solutions in the next posts.
I will not waste time here to discredit Rebiya Kadeer, because from the beginning she discredits herself. She has provided no basis at all for most of the information she gave to the media, and some of her claims are so absurdly wrong that it actually makes me think she has to be innocent: someone who’s made it in business can’t possibly be such a bad liar. The only explanation is that she is totally clueless.
Click on the picture for one example of her latest claims.
More than anything, Kadeer gives the impression that she is desperate for TV time. She knows her time of fame is running to an end, and she is forced to place ever stronger claims, raising the stakes at each go to attract the tired audiences. As blogger twofish reflected, if she really cared about the future of Xinjiang, she might have grabbed this chance to send a message of peace and try to connect with the rest of the Chinese at a time when they were brutally attacked, earning perhaps the respect of the moderates.
But how has someone like Kadeer, a successful businesswoman in her time, imprisoned and then released by the CPC, ended up as de facto representative of the Uyghur people? Kadeer was called to play a role, and she plays it just fine. It is a role that has been written by the CPC, and by the Western media, and by the audiences and by the American NED, who is funding her. The story was written long before she arrived, a well proven plot that works with the public and will make everyone happy. It is all over again the Dalai Lama saga, and thanks to the copy-paste now the scriptwriters can relax and enjoy their Summer holidays.
Except, of course, that Rebiya Kadeer is no Dalai Lama, and neither her deeds nor her standing among the Uyghur justifiy any such comparison.
The Important Question
And now down to what many consider the crucial question: is Kadeer in contact or even financing the extremist groups who arranged the killings, or is she, as I suspect, totally ignorant of the reality on the ground? I don’t think we will ever find out. It is difficult to believe that the NED, funded by the American Congress, would sponsor anyone connected with terrorism; but if by mistake they did, I am sure they will take good care to hide all the proofs.
Note that, either way, the NED doesn’t come out very well from this story. Sponsoring an opportunist who jumps at the chance to get a name for herself while she coldly observes the killings of dozens is hardly in line with the objectives of a National Endowment for Democracy.
But really, is all this so important? I don’t think so. Kadeer will not last, and whether she is guilty or not, the peanuts that the NED pays her do not really change anything. Kadeer with her accommodated expatriate Uyghurs of the WUC cannot possibly control the operations of a terrorist group on the ground. And, as an inspirational role, I doubt it very much that she – a woman, twice married, business and PC background – could ever work for young islamist radicals. She will most certainly not turn into the new bin Laden.
No, the real questions for China and for the World are others:
Who was really behind the killings of 5th July? How will the prisoners be judged? How are the interethnic policies of the CPC failing? How is this failure feeding the bases of some violent groups? What is the connection of these groups with islamist terrorism and what is the probability of Al-Qaeda joining the party? And why is China the only Security Council country that hasn’t received a large-scale attack from islamists, in spite of the years-long Uyghur conflict?
And finally, where are the people that are supposed to be answering all these questions?
*See my comment below for the basis of this number.