The Volgi has a lot of respect for Andrew McCarthy on a whole range of issues, but he paints with far too broad a brush here. He’s tarring an entire ethnic group with the terrorist affiliation of, what, twenty two guys at Guantánamo? Come on. This is simultaneously fatuous and bigoted.
The Uyghurs are a large ethnic and religious minority (at least ten million, probably more) in an oppressive—and profoundly racist—dictatorship. That their disquiet periodically bubbles up into rioting should be no surprise. And we should stand with them, as we do with the similarly oppressed Tibetans when it happens in Lhasa—as it does in Kashgar or Ürümchi.
There is no large-scale Islamist movement in Eastern Turkestan (which the Commies call Xinjiang* and the Gormogons are considering calling Uyghurstan just to piss them off). Though world neglect of the Uyghurs’ legitimate complaints could conceivably lead them to despair and turn to such violence and fanaticism. After all, that’s Hizb ut-Tahrir’s mission in life: to radicalize dissatisfied Muslims into fascist Islamists. When something that looks Islamist shows up in that region, then we can add it to our rogues gallery, as we did the small (possibly fictitious) Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM).
Historically, however, most organized Uyghur movements have been—as one would expect from a Turkic culture whose religious practice was dominated by Sufi orders—nationalist. See that flag up there? That’s the Eastern Turkestan Republic flag. It was briefly independent from 1933–1934. A second ETR popped up from 1944–49, also flying a blue-sky flag (blue being a sacred color in the Turco-Mongol tradition) with a Muslim crescent in star.
Their obvious model was Turkey—not the Soviets from whom they took aid. Hence the picture at right at the Eastern Turkestan Foundation’s Cultural Center in Istanbul. It‘s not just sucking up to the host government. Most Central Asian independence movements took Atatürk as their guide. Not insignificantly, Ahmad Zeki Velidi Togan, leader of the Bashkir independence movement, settled in Istanbul when the Red Army chased him out.
Uyghur leaders are resolutely secular, and while Islam serves to reinforce the Uyghur nationalism and their feeling of “difference,” Islamist-style ideology is all but absent.
So the equation of Uyghur ethnic unrest with Islamist terror is—I use these words advisedly—facile and stupid.
The riots’ indirect cause was a Han Chinese mob attack on Uyghur workers at a Shaoguan toy factory, sparked by a rumor that Uyghur employees were raping Han women. Eighteen Uyghurs were killed and three hundred injured. (Some video of the attack. One source translates one of the Chinese assailants screaming at his victim, “Aren’t you dead yet?”)
Subsequently, a thousand or so Uyghurs marched in the provincial capital of Ürümchi (“Wulumqi” on that map; thanks, Peking-friendly Google!) in protest—some said to be waving the PRC’s flag to call for the government to protect all its citizens. They were met by riot police who are said to have shot or beaten people, at which point the protest turned to riots.
This account is largely based on Uyghur-friendly sources and could well be in error, though it’s in absolute character for the PRC, so it looks credible at first glance.
What any of this has to do with Islam or terrorism is completely opaque to your Volgi. Unless Mr. McCarthy is willing to state a belief that all Muslims worldwide are necessarily given to religious fanaticism and hatred, he should withdraw his statement implying Uyghurs are inherently violent because they’re Muslims. If not, National Review should inform him that he no longer need comment on affairs touching on Islam, since they can be adequately expressed in the simple equation, “Muslims are bad” which can be easily appended under his name to any discussion of world affairs with a simple keystroke macro .
One hopes Mr. McCarthy was simply blogging off-the-cuff and will subsequently understand and regret that he’s essentially excused despotic and racist Communist oppression of a culturally and politically despised minority because of the minority’s religion. If not, well, reading him in the future will require choking down a huge quantity of salt.
*Though Wade-Giles is the official Chinese romanization of the Gormogons, we’ll let the ugly Pinyin stand in the Commie neologism.
Don’t ask impertinent questions like that jackass Adept Lu.