Making Holy War in Xinjiang: Strategies, Policies, and Academia on the Uyghurs and Islam

Posted: 2012年09月17日 in Original Thoughts

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To better understand contemporary Xinjiang violence and underlying analytic frameworks and discourses on Uyghurs and Islam that tend to portrait the Uyghurs as terrorists, extremists, and separatists, one has to look at China’s Central and south Asia’s strategies, local Xinjiang policies on the Uyghurs and Islam, and Han social and academic discourses on Islam and Muslims as a whole.

The Chinese strategies in Xinjiang and neighboring countries seem to be summarized in its anti-three forces campaign, namely terrorism, extremism, and separatism. According to Ma Dazheng and others, ethnic separatism, religious extremism, and international terrorism have become popular in the Middle East, mid-South Asia, and Central Asia since 1980s and they are the developments of the so-called Pan-Islamism and Pan Turkism (《东突厥斯坦国”迷幻的幻灭》,p.189). In other words, China’s anti-three forces campaign targets not only the Uyghurs in Xinjiang but also Muslim countries in Central and South Asia. This may explain why more and more military exercises have been carried out in Xinjiang, Ningxia, and Central and south Asian countries.

As a Xinjiangreview article hints that the so-called anti-three forces strategy is used to bind China with Central Asian states and thus to provide China a pretext to involve, penetrate, and finally dominate the region for energy and geopolitical reasons ( Otherwise, it is hard to understand that China has openly involved in fighting against the so-called three forces that, according to China’s scholars, have been social, religious, cultural, ethnic, and even political developments and trends in Middle East and Cetnral Asian Muslim countries.

This state strategy seems to be well understood and carried out by various Xinjiang departments, units, and even individuals to serve their own purposes and benefits. This is particularly true to security forces that anti-three forces campaign guarantees their continuous reception of funds, equipment, vehicles, and other forms of support from the central government. As recent photo posted on autonomousregion blog well illuminates, anti-three forces campaign has provided and justified local security departments to own luxurious automobiles like Mercedes Benz in this desert or semi-desert region in the name of fighting three forces.

For the militia organization of the Construction and Development Corps or Bingtuan, the occurrence and continuation of tension and violence with the Uyghurs help justify its existence, maintain its status quo, and monopoly rich natural resources such as water and land. Anyone who does research on Bingtuan economy can easily draws the conclusion that all Bingtuan cadres, by renting lands and distributing agricultural resources such as water and fertilizer, enrich themselves to such a degree that they possess expensive houses (often in Urumuqi or other interior cities), luxurious automobiles, and other unbelievable amount of wealth.

At individual level, it is interesting to notice that since the Republican era, all local rulers in Xinjiang (warlords, chairmen, governors, or secretaries) tend to convert the region into a militarized zone by exaggerating political and ideological threats from inside or outside. By doing this, these Xinjiang kings(so to be called by the locals because of their monopoly of power)on the one hand demand more resources from the central government in the name of security while on the other hand, making their position in the region unchallengeable and unchangeable and paving the way for further promotion in the central government. In contemporary Xinjiang context, Wang Lequan exemplifies how the so-called anti-three forces strategy has justified his monopoly of power and his long term tenure in Xinjiang and promoted him as vice secretary of the political and legal bureau in Beijing even after his dismissal in Xinjiang.

It is under the anti-three forces context in Xinjiang, ordinary Chinese citizens’ rights (Uyghurs and other non-Han populations) have been brutally abused. In the area of religious freedom, Islam has been unprecedentedly controlled and suppressed. As the most recent China’s ban on fasting during the Ramadan indicates, Uyghur Muslims’ basic human rights on pray, fasting, hajj, clothing, and other Islamic duties or tenets have been deprived of. Muslim women have even been encouraged and forced to undress their Islamic-Turkic headscarves. As a propaganda picture posted by Uyghurbiz, many local governments are even making Uyghur populated towns as “scarf-less” towns.

This harsh repressive policy towards Uyghur Muslims and Islam in Xinjiang has caused resentment not only from the Uyghurs but also from neighboring Muslim countries that Chinese citizens have become the target of Central and south Asian Muslim militants, as the recent assassination of a Chinese citizen (Jiang Hua) by Pakistani Taliban in Pashawar suggests.

In dealing with the Uyghur-China relations and China-Central Asia relations and in this strategy and policy formation process, China’s academics have (mis) played an important role. It is widely known in China that most experts or scholars of these areas (who are born after 1960s and have been trained in the West since 1980s) are more political than academic and are more familiar with the West (including theories and researchers) than with China’s own problems such as Xinjiang.
(Think about the role China’s Xinjiang experts play in the “Xinjiang 13” phenomenon,; also

One example can reveal the political nature of China’s Xinjiang (by extension, Central Asia) scholars and their intimacy with organizations, institutions, and individuals in the U.S. and Israel who are mindful of “anti-terror” in the Islamic world. Uyghur Human Right Project blog states that its staffs attempted to invite a China’s expert on “anti-terrorism”, Mr. Pan Guang, visit their office to discuss his accusation of oversea Uyghurs as supportive forces of terrorism in Xinjiang. except for groundless accusations of and attacks on oversea Uyghurs, this scholar has declined even a friendly visit to a Uyghur organization.

This example to some extent shed some lights on China’s academia especially on the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Uyghurs. Scholars on language, history, cultures of these regions or peoples have often been confined to universities for teaching; scholars of international relations and of anti-terrorism have mostly been consulted by government agencies. It is an open secret that some international relations institutes or research centers in China are run directly by foreign ministry or security departments. Even the so-called academies of social sciences are indirectly connected to state agencies through funding, consultation, and etc.

More importantly, back to China’s Uyghur studies, in the larger context of Israel-Arab conflicts and the U.S. wars with Muslim countries, China’s new generations of scholars of these areas (trained in the U.S.) have familiarized themselves with U.S.-Israeli generated and dominated discourses on Islam and Muslims in China and elsewhere. As a recent study by a student of Shibley Tahami at the University of Maryland indicates, Shanghai has quickly become China’s Israeli lobbying center due to its historical connection with Jews, academic and economic incentives provided by various Israeli institutions and organizations through various forms such as “fellowship” and “visiting scholars,” and the bridging role of Israel and Israeli lobbying groups played to connect China’s scholars with the West.

It is in these political and academic contexts that China’s academics have (mis)contributed much to China’s harsh and hostile policies (instead of civilizational dialogues as proposed by China’s top leaders) towards Islam and Muslims in Xinjiang, which in turn, unavoidably drags China into war with Muslims in Central and South Asia. The development of China-Muslim relations under current strategy and policy seems to develop into a holy war, a nightmare for the Soviet in 1970s and 1980s.

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