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The terrorist attacks of 9/11 drastically impacted the lives of Uyghurs and other Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region. But while the ensuing Global War on Terror and worldwide Islamophobia has likely been a contributing factor to China’s repression of Xinjiang’s Muslims, Beijing’s professed “counter-terrorist” policy is primarily a continuation of its long- lasting resolve to assimilate the regions’ indigenous population and appropriate their homeland. Since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took over the resource-rich and strategically positioned Xinjiang region in the mid-twentieth century, tensions and occasional violent clashes have persisted between the indigenous Muslim communities and the Chinese party-state. Scholars like Graham   Fuller   and Frederick   Starr argue that the “Xinjiang conflict” forces Uyghurs and other local groups to forfeit their homeland and distinct identity for economic development, which benefits mostly Han immigrants and state-affiliated entities. The CCP tightened policies with the rise of unrest   in   Xinjiang   during   the   1990s , after a period of partial cultural and religious revival in the 1980s. Beijing feared loss of control over the province. The armed uprising in Baren in 1990, the violently suppressed civic protests in Ghulja in 1997, and the 1997 bus bombings in Beijing and Urumchi are instances of unrest in this period. After the 9/11 attacks, China was among the first to express support to the U.S. in the Global War on Terror (GWOT). Beijing quickly claimed a common security interest with the international coalition to garner support for its repression of Uyghurs at home and abroad. Upon China’s claims, the United Nations and other international actors considered Uyghur exile organizations as terrorist networks and the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay held twenty-two Uyghurs as suspected terrorists. But experts such as Sean   Roberts have argued that the GWOT gave China the opportunity to label any assertion of Uyghur rights as “terrorism” and to undermine international support for Uyghur dissent.1 Other scholars such as   Arienne   Dwyer and Gardner   Bovingdon noted that “terrorist” representation in culture and media, as well as the use of the word in official discourse, emerged only after 2001, whereas before 9/11 the Chinese authorities had labeled Uyghur dissent and resistance as “local nationalism,” “counterrevolution” or “separatism.” China’s generic labeling of all instance of violence in Xinjiang as “terrorism” is problematic. Pablo   Rodriguez   Merino   demonstrates that the majority of incidents in Xinjiang have not, in fact, been directed at civilians, nor are they politically motivated, premeditated, or indiscriminate. Therefore, they can hardly qualify as terrorism. Since Chen   Quanguo’s appointment as the regional party secretary in August 2016, the CCP supplemented their framing of “terrorism” with a massive “de-extremification” campaign aimed at the entire population, which included cultural   genocide and crimes   against   humanity, even when no signs of religious extremism are present. Contrary to China’s intent to frame Uyghur behavior and activity as “terrorism,” it is in fact China’s policies toward Uyghurs which, as Joanne Smith Finley argued, conform to the definition of state terrorism . These allegedly “counter-terrorist” and “de-radicalization” policies enable the CCP to solidify international partnerships with other authoritarian governments. Oftentimes, however, it is the leadership of Muslim majority countries, such as Saudi   Arabia , U nited   Arab   Emirates , or Pakistan , which have endorsed China’s campaign against Xinjiang Muslims.   China’s   meeting   with   the Taliban in Tianjin in July 2021, in which both parties resolved to eliminate Uyghur groups in Afghanistan, also indicates that the CCP’s policies are not propelled by concerns with terrorism and extremism — but instead aim to eliminate the distinct identity of Xinjiang indigenous communities and their autonomous diasporas. The West’s initial failure to see through China’s post 9/11 argumentation undoubtedly aided Beijing’s domestic and international justification of its drastic treatment of Uyghurs and other Xinjiang Muslims. Western governments’ consistent failure to act against crimes similar to those in Xinjiang, committed elsewhere   in   the   world , has also likely contributed to the normalization of Islamophobia and anti-Uyghur sentiment. A closer inspection of China’s so-called “counter-terrorist” and “counter-extremist” discourses and actions, however, indicates that the most recent policies in Xinjiang are merely an innovation of the CCP’s colonial intent to assimilate Uyghurs and other local Muslims and to take over their homeland and its resources. This is a policy goal which predates the terrorist attacks of 9/11 by decades.
Source: Sam Tynen archive
September 8, 2021 Assimilation or Islamophobia?: Uyghurs and China’s Counter–Terrorist Discourse after 2001
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HOME HOME THEMATICS THEMATICS Source: Sam Tynen archive
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 drastically impacted the lives of Uyghurs and other Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region. But while the ensuing Global War on Terror and worldwide Islamophobia has likely been a contributing factor to China’s repression of Xinjiang’s Muslims, Beijing’s professed “counter-terrorist” policy is primarily a continuation of its long-lasting resolve to assimilate the regions’ indigenous population and appropriate their homeland. Since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took over the resource-rich and strategically positioned Xinjiang region in the mid-twentieth century, tensions and occasional violent clashes have persisted between the indigenous Muslim communities and the Chinese party-state. Scholars like Graham   Fuller   and   Frederick   Starr argue that the “Xinjiang conflict” forces Uyghurs and other local groups to forfeit their homeland and distinct identity for economic development, which benefits mostly Han immigrants and state- affiliated entities. The CCP tightened policies with the rise of unrest in   Xinjiang   during   the   1990s , after a period of partial cultural and religious revival in the 1980s. Beijing feared loss of control over the province. The armed uprising in Baren in 1990, the violently suppressed civic protests in Ghulja in 1997, and the 1997   bus   bombings   in   Beijing   and Urumchi are instances of unrest in this period. After the 9/11 attacks, China was among the first to express support to the U.S. in the Global War on Terror (GWOT). Beijing quickly claimed a common security interest with the international coalition to garner support for its repression of Uyghurs at home and abroad. Upon China’s claims, the United Nations and other international actors considered Uyghur exile organizations as terrorist networks and the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay held twenty-two Uyghurs as suspected terrorists. But experts such as Sean   Roberts have argued that the GWOT gave China the opportunity to label any assertion of Uyghur rights as “terrorism” and to undermine international support for Uyghur dissent.1 Other scholars such as   Arienne   Dwyer and Gardner   Bovingdon noted that “terrorist” representation in culture and media, as well as the use of the word in official discourse, emerged only after 2001, whereas before 9/11 the Chinese authorities had labeled Uyghur dissent and resistance as “local nationalism,”              “counterrevolution”              or “separatism.” China’s generic labeling of all instance of violence in Xinjiang as “terrorism” is problematic. Pablo          Rodriguez          Merino demonstrates that the majority of incidents in Xinjiang have not, in fact, been directed at civilians, nor are they politically motivated, premeditated, or indiscriminate. Therefore, they can hardly qualify as terrorism. Since Chen     Quanguo’s appointment as the regional party secretary in August 2016, the CCP supplemented their framing of “terrorism” with a massive “de-extremification” campaign aimed at the entire population, which included cultural genocide and crimes    against    humanity, even when no signs of religious extremism are present. Contrary to China’s intent to frame Uyghur behavior and activity as “terrorism,” it is in fact China’s policies toward Uyghurs which, as Joanne Smith Finley argued, conform to the definition of state terrorism . These allegedly “counter-terrorist” and “de- radicalization” policies enable the CCP to solidify international partnerships with other authoritarian governments. Oftentimes, however, it is the leadership of Muslim majority countries, such as Saudi    Arabia , U nited    Arab Emirates , or Pakistan , which have endorsed China’s campaign against Xinjiang Muslims. China’s   meeting   with   the   Taliban in Tianjin in July 2021, in which both parties resolved to eliminate Uyghur groups in Afghanistan, also indicates that the CCP’s policies are not propelled by concerns with terrorism and extremism but instead aim to eliminate the distinct identity of Xinjiang indigenous communities and their autonomous diasporas. The West’s initial failure to see through China’s post 9/11 argumentation undoubtedly aided Beijing’s domestic and international justification of its drastic treatment of Uyghurs and other Xinjiang Muslims. Western governments’ consistent failure to act against crimes similar to those in Xinjiang, committed elsewhere   in   the world , has also likely contributed to the normalization of Islamophobia and anti-Uyghur sentiment. A closer inspection of China’s so- called “counter-terrorist” and “counter- extremist” discourses and actions, however, indicates that the most recent policies in Xinjiang are merely an innovation of the CCP’s colonial intent to assimilate Uyghurs and other local Muslims and to take over their homeland and its resources. This is a policy goal which predates the terrorist attacks of 9/11 by decades.
© 2021 Oriental Institute, The Czech Academy of Sciences, Kevin L. Schwartz, and Ameem Lutfi
© 2021 Oriental Institute, The Czech Academy of Sciences, Kevin L. Schwartz, and Ameem Lutfi
Assimilation or Islamophobia?: Uyghurs and China’s Counter–Terrorist Discourse after 2001
Written by
Research fellows at the Oriental Institute, Czech Academy of Sciences.
If you are interested in contributing an article for the project, please send a short summary of the proposed topic (no more than 200 words) and brief bio to submissions@911legacies.com. For all other matters, please contact inquiry@911legacies.com.
CONTACT