Uyghur icon Rebiya Kadeer on how Beijing misuses anti-terrorist rhetoric:
Beijing’s actions in Tibet are the best-known example of this policy, yet it is no different in northwest China, the ancient homeland of the Uighur people. In 2009, the state’s response to mass demonstrations for democracy and human rights was to beat and shoot at protesters, and to randomly arrest male Uighurs on a mass scale.
China’s leaders have enthusiastically offered a justification for the repression of Uighurs that is not available to them in the case of Tibet. For while most Tibetans are Buddhists, Uighurs are overwhelmingly Muslim. So the Beijing regime presents its campaign against the Uighur people’s peaceful struggle for self-rule as part of the global battle against Islamists.
The hypocrisy on display here is astonishing. China, after all, has consistently supported radical, anti-Western currents in the Middle East. It is a stalwart ally of Iran’s murderous regime and has opposed international measures to curb Syria’s rulers. In Libya, China supplied Gadhafi’s dictatorship with weapons until the last possible minute.
Even before 9/11, Beijing was effectively encouraging al Qaeda, using its position on the United Nations Security Council to oppose sanctions against Afghanistan’s Taliban after the attack on the USS Cole in 2000.
Meanwhile, China has skillfully taken advantage of the West’s ignorance of Uighur history and culture to insert itself into the antiterror camp.
As practiced by the vast majority of Uighurs, the religion of Islam has nothing in common with the radical Wahhabi and Salafi strains that have caused such terrible strife in the Middle East and South Asia. Just as we reject communism, we reject clerical rule. We aspire to a democratic state in which religion is a matter of individual conscience.
Indeed, if China had honored its 1955 commitment to the autonomy of the Uighur people, there would probably be no conflict. Our demands—to fly our own flag, to reap a fair dividend from the oil, coal and other natural resources flowing through our region, to end the mass transfer of Chinese settlers into our territory—are hardly unique. Some leading European democracies have reached similar arrangements with their constituent nationalities, such as Spain’s Catalans.
Rather than negotiate with us, China’s rulers prefer to label the Uighurs as terrorists, with myself as their leader. I am often asked why such a powerful state apparently regards me—a slight, elderly woman who has spent many years in Beijing’s jails—as an existential threat. I always reply that China should fear not me, but the consequences of resisting the legitimate demands I articulate. For as the Soviet Union and then Yugoslavia demonstrated, states that refuse any compromise with their minorities can easily implode.