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The Uyghur ‘Terrorists’ of Xinjiang

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The time has come for the international to stand up and voice its concern on the atrocities being committed by Beijing on the poor Uyghurs under the garb of ‘war on terror’.

NILOOFAR QURESHI

Beijing claims being a ‘victim’ of terrorism perpetuated by what it refers to as “East Turkistan terrorist forces,” comprising the Muslim Uyghurs of Xinjiang Autonomous Region (XAR).  Beijing has alleged that the “East Turkistan Islamic Movement,” which purportedly has links with Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaida as well as many other Central and West Asian terrorist organisations is waging a “holy war with the aim of setting up a theocratic ‘Islamic state’ in Xinjiang.” While this allegation leveled against the Uyghur community is indeed damning, Beijing has unfortunately failed to provide even a shred of credible evidence to support its claim.
Since Beijing has always followed a ‘no-nonsense’ policy while dealing with terrorist activities in its restive XAR, nothing seemed unusual when its security forces gunned down nine Uyghur ‘terrorists’ who had on November 16, allegedly ‘attacked’ a Police station in Serikbuya township in XAR.  Even though not much is known about what actually happened on that day, whatever little that has come to light is something, which even those hardliners who are convinced that terrorists deserve no mercy and the only recourse in dealing with them is with an ‘iron fist’ would,  to say the least, find abhorrent.
In the absence of any independent sources to provide authentic details of the incident, one has little choice but to rely on what has been stated by the Chinese authorities and sources sympathetic to Uyghur cause. As per the official statement posted by the Xinjiang regional government on its microblog, assailants armed with knives and axes attacked the local Police station killing two police officers and injuring two others. The official China Daily newspaper, without giving any details of why and how this incident occurred, said the nine attackers were shot dead “on the spot”, identifying one of deceased as a Uyghur named Abula Ahat.
Coming close on the heels of the October 28 suicide attack by car borne ‘terrorists’ in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, this attack on a Police station that the authorities claim was “a violent terrorist attack, which was carefully planned, organised and premeditated,” seems to confirm Beijing’s assertion regarding the presence of a well organised Uyghur terrorist network in Xingjian. However, the unusual thing about this incident was that instead of explosives, the SUV used in the ‘attack’ had only “devices filled with gasoline” and it is the use of such a primitive method of attack that raises suspicion.  A news report has quoted Michael Clarke, a professor at  Griffith University in Australia who had studied Xinjiang as saying, “The footage and photos that have been made available suggest a sense of randomness about the attack even though officials have said it was premeditated … it’s perhaps not as sophisticated as it’s made out to be.”
Coming back to the Police station attack, why did the Uyghurs, who were only armed with knives and axes, knowing very well that they would be confronting a well- armed posse of Policemen, choose to attack a Police station and presumably, the Chinese authorities too must have realised this. Thus, in an apparent attempt to portray the Uyghurs as habitual perpetuators of violent acts, the government controlled China Daily made it a point to remind the world that this was the same Police station that had previously been attacked by Uyghur ‘terrorists’ in April. Readers would recall that during this attack, the Chinese authorities had claimed that ‘terrorists’ hacked and burnt to death 15 security personnel and that the six attackers killed were all Uyghurs.
However, if the version of Radio Free Asia (Funded by the US government), is to be believed, then the latest incident sends a chill down the spine. Quoting a Uyghur activist whose identity has not been revealed, it has claimed that when the incident occurred, “There were around 40 to 50 people gathered around the station. They shouted to the police not to shoot, capture them alive and try them.” However, disregarding the fervent public appeals, the Chinese authorities went ahead and shot the assailants dead. Even if one was to discount the statement made by the anonymous Uyghur activist as being prejudiced, the question which comes to one’s mind is, were the ‘attackers’ such a grave threat to the lives of the Policemen that there was no other option but to shoot them dead?
As per Beijing’s own admission, the nine deceased Uyghur ‘attackers’ were armed with only knives and axes. Thus, it is evident that they could have only inflicted bodily damage on those who came within their reach and the fact that the number of people actually targeted in this ‘attack’ was less than half the number of the attackers proves the point. Therefore, if the Chinese security forces wanted, then they could have easily incapacitated the attackers with the use of non-lethal means such as tear gas and rubber bullets or even by shooting to cause non-grievous injuries. However, the prompt ‘elimination’ of the attackers clearly indicates that the aim of the security forces was not to apprehend and bring the assailants to justice, but to ‘set an example’!
While Beijing is well within its rights to deal sternly with what it perceives as “all illegal terrorist activities,” its State policy of highhandedness in dealing with dissent leaves much to be desired. The Uyghurs are historically a peace-loving community of devout Muslims and it’s just their refusal to give up their religious beliefs and practices as well as preserve their cultural identity that has made them the target of persecution. Having failed to marginalise the Uyghur identity through indoctrination, creating a demographic imbalance in XAR by settling people belonging to the Han community, as well as subjecting the Uyghurs to economic deprivation, Beijing has sought use the excuse of ‘terrorism’ to subdue this unfortunate community. And by portraying the legitimate Uyghur movement, which is merely seeking basic legitimate rights for its people as an attempt to establish a theocratic ‘Islamic state’ and linking it with the Al- Qaida, Beijing has succeeded in fooling the international community.
It is rather unfortunate that the international community, which waxes eloquence on preservation of human rights and the right to religious freedom, remains oblivious to the sorry plight of the Uyghurs, who are victims of China’s repressive policy of persecuting its ethnic and religious minorities. However, what is more disturbing is the stoic silence of the community of Muslim nations, which has turned a Nelson’s eye on the unimaginable restrictions being imposed on Uyghurs to practice even the basic tenets of Islam. Documented in the 2008 US State Department Human Rights Report, some of these harsh measures include:
•    Prohibition of teaching Islam outside home to elementary-and middle-school-age children and disallowing children under the age of 18 from entering mosques in some areas.
•    Reserving the ‘right to censor’ sermons by ‘imams’ and requiring religious preachers to study “new collected sermons” compiled by the government- created Islamic Association of China (IAC) Committee, aimed at building a “socialist harmonious society.”
•    Restricting State employees from observance of Ramadan and prohibiting closure of restaurants during the periods of fasting. The Kashgar Teachers College reportedly implemented a series of measures to prevent students from observing Ramadan, including imposing communal meals and requiring students to obtain permission to leave campus. School authorities also made students gather for a school assembly at a time of day coinciding with Friday prayers.
•    Strict regulation on publication of religious material with the government controlled Xinjiang People’s Publication House being the only publisher officially permitted to print Muslim literature.
Under the guise of combating terrorism, the Chinese are themselves terrorising the poor Uyghurs and it is time that the international community and more so, the Islamic world raises its voice of concern against the blatant and unwarranted suppression of this oppressed people. The time has come for the international to stand up and voice its concern on the atrocities being committed by Beijing on the poor Uyghurs under the garb of ‘war on terror’. Let us therefore not be fooled into believing that in the day of Kalashnikov and bombs, there still exists a “well organised” band of Uyghur ‘terrorists’, who despite having links with the dreaded Al-Qaida possess nothing more than just knives, axes and SUVs with “devices filled with gasoline” instead of explosives to carry out ‘terrorist’ strikes!
(The writer is a New Delhi based journalist and can be reached at: niloofar.qureshi@yahoo.com)

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