In China, the world’s last enclave of Stalinism, citizens are classified by their nationality. According to Big Brother, this is designed to protect the cherished national minorities, but chances are, if you’re a Uighur, Tibetan, or Mongol, you don’t see it that way. You might be told that you can’t have a child until you’re 26, and then you’re limited to one child per couple. If you violate these rules, you may be subjected to a forced abortion. (Though Chinese officials will swear that these rules don’t apply to national minorities.) You may have come from a long line of nomadic herdsmen, but you and your father have only known forced collectivization, as the state comes to manage every aspect of your economic existence. You’re sent to special schools which–in the guise of assuring you are trained in your own culture and language–make sure that you learn no English nor any other foreign language, so that you can’t communicate with outsiders. That means that unlike hundreds of thousands of your Han Chinese fellow citizens, you won’t be able to travel overseas to get a foreign education. You find yourself quickly becoming a minority in your own land, as Han Chinese assume all jobs with responsibility and importance and you are relegated to the margins of society. You might even call these policies “genocidal”—calculated to ensure the ultimate extirpation of your race. Or you might just say that Beijing follows the example of Comrade Stalin, the “father of nationalities,” who under cover of protection of the rights of minorities sought to exterminate millions of them.
So how do you react to the brutal hand of repression? Maybe you go out into the streets and protest. Maybe you pick up some stones and throw them, and violence escalates. This is what is happening in Ürümqi, Kashgar, and other cities of Eastern Turkestan. The region is now known as Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, and it is populated with various ethnic Turkic peoples of which the Uighurs are the most numerous. The Red Army entered and occupied Xinjiang in 1949, just a year before it annexed Tibet. America’s newspapers and broadcast media largely know nothing about the situation in this remote area and are fumbling about how to portray it.
But over at National Review, Andy McCarthy gives them a hand. He knows the answer. Evidently the protests are Muslim “terrorism”; Andy mocks their concerns and appears to be delighted with the heavy hand Beijing is bringing down on them.
I’d guess that Andy has never traveled to Turkestan and knows nothing about the plight of the people there. I am a regular visitor to that part of the world and have plenty of first-hand exposure. I still remember being taken on a tour of a glistening new plant in Ürümqi and being introduced to its senior staff. I paused and noted: every one of these people was a Han Chinese, imported from China proper to work in Xinjiang as part of the government’s official resettlement policy. After I asked several of the staffers where they came from, my handlers got wise to what I was up to. “Do you want to meet indigenous peoples,” he asked? “Perhaps that can be arranged, but it is difficult.” Yesterday, another Central Asianist with whom I was trading Xinjiang experiences recounted a conversation he had with Uighurs in Kashgar a few years ago. “What really upset them,” he said, “was the fact that the Chinese were emptying their prisons of convicted felons, offered their freedom if they would resettle in Xinjiang. And these convicted felons were put in positions of authority over the natives.” The message could not be clearer: Central Asians are third-class citizens, not to be trusted. And this is the sort of conduct which has led to uprisings, just like the one now occurring in Xinjiang, in Tibet, and other regions.
But of course, the Uighurs are Muslims. And that makes them into terrorists in the minds of the National Review legal affairs writer. Having taken meals with them and worked with them for two decades, I see things differently. They are proud of their Islamic heritage, and resentful of the heavy hand of the atheist Communist state. The changes in China since the early eighties have opened economic opportunities for the Han Chinese. But not for national minorities like the Uighurs. They don’t know much about America, but what they hear makes them jealous. They most assuredly are not America’s enemies, much as Andy McCarthy wants to make them into just that.