Pity the Uighurs — the wrong kind of minority fighting the wrong kind of enemy.
In China’s worst ethnic unrest in years, Uighurs took to the streets of Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang, on Sunday. They are believed to have been angered by government handling of a June clash between Han Chinese and Uighur factory workers in southern China, where two Uighurs died, news agencies reported.
The Chinese government quickly blamed exiled separatists, arrested dozens and tried to curb information flow by stifling the Internet. Yesterday, Han Chinese armed with iron bars and machetes went looking for revenge on Uighurs.
But as Reuters pointed out, the underlying cause of the unrest most likely was long-standing economic, cultural and religious grievances that have built up among the Uighurs over decades of tight central rule.
If only the Uighurs were Buddhists like the Tibetans, who just 18 months ago had their own uprising in Tibet’s capital Lhasa. We’d be having Free Xinjiang concerts already courtesy of Bjork, Sting, Bono and all those other one-named saviors of the poor and oppressed.
If only the Uighurs were a minority in a country that didn’t produce half the goods we use and which wasn’t quickly threatening to turn into a superpower. Perhaps then the U.S. State Department would issue more threatening words of its own. Instead, they’re Muslim and us Muslims don’t get much love these days. And just as importantly, the Uighurs are facing off with the wrong kind of enemy. If the “West” ignores Uighurs because they’re not as cuddly as the Tibetans or their leader the Dalai Lama, then where are the Uighurs’ fellow Muslims? Uighurs are a Turkic people who are largely Muslim.
Many Muslims pay attention only when the U.S. and Israel are doing the oppressing. China is the wrong kind of enemy. Look at Darfur, where the suffering goes ignored because its victims are black and because those who are creating the misery in Darfur are not Americans or Israelis. We only pay attention when America and Israel behave badly.
Speaking of Darfur, China is one of Sudan’s biggest trade and arms partners. Sudanese President Omar Bashir, who last year wanted to try a British teacher for insulting Muslims by naming a class teddy bear “Mohammed,” won’t be rushing to condemn Chinese oppression of Uighurs.
So perhaps Israel can save the day and invade Xinjiang.
– Mona Eltahawy is an award-winning Egyptian-born commentator and public speaker on Arab and Muslim issues. She reported on the Middle East for 10 years before moving to the U.S.