Thursday, 31 October 2013

Far from Reconcilation

The Chinese authorities are now calling the car crash and subsequent explosion at Tiananmen Square on Monday as a "terrorist attack".

According to the police, the three people in the car were Uighurs, and the jeep they drove had Xinjiang license plates. They were from the same family, with the driver identified as Usmen Hasan, his wife Gulkiz Gini and mother Kuwanhan Reyim.

The authorities have now detained five suspects that are apparently related to the incident, and are looking for two more people. The police also claim to have found a gas container, two meat cleavers, a metal bar and a flag printed with extremist religious messages in the burned-out vehicle.

While the police claim this is a "terrorist attack", I would rather describe it as a desperate protest against the central government repressing Uighurs and making their lives so difficult.

Physically they do not look Han Chinese, but geographically and politically they are a part of China. Much like the policy in Tibet, the government has encouraged mass migration of Han Chinese into Xinjiang, tearing down traditional homes on the grounds they are not earthquake proof and forcing residents to move into sterile apartment blocks. Uighurs are restricted in practicing their Muslim faith and many younger Uighurs know more Putonghua than their own native language.

After September 11, 2001, the Chinese used the excuse of terrorism to clamp down on Uighurs, claiming they were extremists influenced by the East Turkestan independence movement. Clashes came to a head in July 2009 when riots erupted in Urumqi, where Uighurs physically attacked Han Chinese.

Monday's incident in front of Chairman Mao Zedong's portrait at Tiananmen Square was no accident. Innocent lives were lost, which is why the authorities are calling it a terrorist attack, but the incident was meant to draw attention to the frustration of Uighurs as well as their determination to commit such a brazen act.

Uighurs are like you and me, people who are trying to make a living, retaining their culture and religion and yet the central government insists on making their lives even more difficult just because of their ethnicity.

They are warm people, family-oriented and proud of their traditions. Xinjiang has some of the most stunning scenery on earth and their food has a very rustic taste. Meanwhile the government will "prove" to the general population about how dangerous Uighurs are, and the public will believe it because they have so few interactions with this ethnic minority.

The government will never admit it was wrong in how it has governed Xinjiang and instead will probably impose even harsher restrictions on Uighurs as a result of Monday's incident. And so the conflicts between Uighurs and Han Chinese will never end.

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