The Uighurs: who are they? The quasi-forgotten Muslims of China. Uighur activist Enver Tohti explained at Abrar House that East Turkestan has been the home of Uighurs of 2000 years. A free and independent country for most of them. Only in 1876 the Manchurians succeeded in invading the country, butchering nearly a million people. The conquerors renamed their conquest Xinjiaing. Ever since, the country has been under military occupation. Still, the Uighurs never relinquished their hope of independence. An Islamic republic was proclaimed n 1933, and again a Uighur state briefly before Mao took over after WW2. The Reds invaded in 1949 and again changed the country’s name. Today East Turkestan languishes under alien rule. The people’s sufferings have been ‘unimaginable’, Tohti said. And he spoke of cultural genocide.
Despite all the dangers, the Uighur spirit remains indomitable. It culminated in an uprising in the capital, Urumqi. ‘The worst riots since Tiananmen Square’. Apposite comparison, as a similar, cruel repression followed. And indeed Uighur militants struck at Tiananmen itself last year, as well as to other places in China. Many Uighurs have been sentenced to death and executed. That can only galvanise the resistance. The battle has now spread outside their homeland. Uighur attacks reach far and wide. The Communist cabal is desperate to crush its Muslim rebels.
It realises how their resistance might encourage other minorities to rise up. The spectres of separatism, terrorism and religious fanaticism are invoked. Human rights organisations paint different scenarios: a brutal repression, religious and cultural. Young men are punished for growing beards and women for wearing the hijiab. Worse, Beijing has altered the ethnic make-up of the population of East Turkestan by pouring in millions of immigrants, while forcing natives to emigrate. Uighur girls are lured away with false promises. Talk of ‘ethnic identity’ makes Westerners uncomfortable, but for the Uighurs it means a very simple thing: survival. The survival of their people, their culture and their religion.
Just a national rebellion, an oppressed people resenting foreign domination? More than that. Islam provides the inspiration, the ideology and the links with other struggles around the world. That is doctrinally correct. If you attack one part of the Umma you attack them all. There are Uighur prisoners in Guantanamo and Uighur jihadis fight in Syria. This is a national liberation of which the Islamic dimension is an intrinsic part.
The Uighurs surface in the medieval Travels of Marco Polo. A Jesuit missionary to China, Matthew Ricci, wondered why Marco Polo’s names of Chinese cities are not Chinese. After he met a Uighur man, the lights dawned: Marco had approached China via and with the Uighurs. A Turkish people who speak a Turkish language. So many of Marco Polo’s names are Uighur names, not Han Chinese. Father Ricci also noticed a difference in looks. Eyes not narrow, almond-shaped, but round, like Europeans’. Nor did they think of themselves as Chinese. And they would not eat pork. Blood is thicker than water.
‘In Xinjiang, Uighurs and other Muslim groups struggle against Sinification’. A line from page 255 of The Clash of Civilisations. That controversial Zeitgeist book, mentioned only in ritual refutations and shrill anathemas. But Professor Huntington was right. The people of East Turkestan are indeed rising in revolt against forced assimilation and colonisation. The Prof could have mentioned Hegel’s phrase, the cunning of Reason. It means events that occur at crucial times in human history. Causing tremendous upheavals that nevertheless result in the triumph of freedom. Only God, the mysterious, sublime Reason, knows...
China is a financial wonders of all wonders. Soon, it may become the world’s largest economy. The biggest producer of industrial and agricultural products. Its teeming cities seem the apotheosis of post-modernity. Immense skyscrapers, glamorous shopping malls, nouveau riches, trendy-looking Westernised young people, wealth and prosperity galore. Yet the Communist party is insecure. It fears not only religion but also the US military ships and aircrafts – including advanced stealth warplanes - that encircle China’s coast. Clearly, the idea is to intimidate America’s biggest economic rival. Might the CIA secretly aid the Uighur resistance? The plot thickens.?
The cunning of Reason. Communism, the intellectual and concrete embodiment of Hegel’s Reason, saw religious beliefs as doomed to final extinction. National sentiment, too, was prophesied to be on the wane, to be replaced by a universal classless society, an undifferentiated, miscegenated and amorphous humanity. The old Soviet Union was meant to be a prelude to that. All defunct nonsense. As the Uighur resistance shows, the enigmatic, transcendent Reason called God might have the last word.