Uyghurs: When “Turning Blind Eye” Lasts Forever

By Politics Zone Staff
Thursday, 24 October 2013 00:00

East Turkestan, China, has been the home for a group of Muslim Turks for 4,000 years; what is also known as Xingijang Uyghur Autonomous Region first saw Islam in the middle of the tenth century.

Xinjiang witnessed in 1933 and 1944 the establishment of an independent Eastern Turkestan Republic, which is located along the famous “Silk Road.”

By the rise of the Chinese Communist Party in 1949, the Eastern Turkestan Republic was cracked down to become a part of a government that aims at “diluting the religious environment” of Muslims by forcing them to accept the Chinese government brutal rule.

The Chinese government aims at pacifying Muslims to dissolve their dream of an independent Muslim state. Recently, it prominently positioned flags in mosques over the Mihrab — the traditional prayer niche that points the direction to Mecca. interviews Mr. Alim Seytoff on the status of Muslims in East Turkestan.

The prominent advocate for human rights in East Turkestan, Mr. Seytoff, is the President of Uyghur American Association (UAA) based in Washington DC and the Director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP). (OI): What is nature of the conflict between the Uyghurs and the Chinese government?

Mr. Alim Seytoff: The nature of the conflict between the Uyghur people and the Chinese government is that the authoritarian Chinese state intends to wipe out the Muslim Uyghur people as a distinct and indigenous people with a separate language, culture, tradition, values, and certain ways of life, so that it eventually and forcibly assimilate the Uyghur people into the Chinese culture to make them disappear from our modern world, just like the Manchu’s in today’s China.

Uyghurs are a proud nation who have a civilization of more than 3,000 years of history and who had established states and empires in the past, and they simply do not want to accept China’s ill-intentioned engineering for their future.

They want to remain who they are: Uyghurs and Muslims. Therefore, Uyghurs’ ethnic and religious identity is demonized and attacked vehemently by the Chinese government.

OI: Would you say that the Chinese authority is fighting Uyghur for being Muslims, for standing for their freedom, for having a different ethnicity other than the Han, or for other reasons?

Mr. Seytoff: For all of the abovementioned reasons. China sees the Uyghur people’s belief in Islam as a direct threat to its colonial rule in East Turkestan. Therefore, China attempts to criminalize Uyghurs’ religious identity, banning Uyghur men from growing beards and women from wearing veils; banning women and minors from praying in the mosques; outlawing religious education for minors; labeling Uyghur religious opposition as “terrorism” and “extremism;” and allowing extrajudicial killing of praying men in a worship service at Uyghurs’ houses.

The recent killings of Uyghur men are a good example. The Uyghur people are also under attack for demanding the very freedoms enshrined under China’s Constitution and Regional Ethnic Autonomy Laws. Chinese authorities also do not like the Uyghur people very much because they do not resemble the Chinese culture. Instead, Uyghurs are not oriental people. They are a Turkic Muslim nation who resembles the peoples of Central Asia.

In the past, the Chinese directors used Uyghurs in Chinese movies as foreigners. Therefore, it is very hard for China to justify that East Turkestan (Xinjiang) was part of China since the people living there are not really Chinese.

OI: To what would you compare the suffering of the Uyghurs: Palestinians, Muslims under Ataturk, Blacks in South Africa, Jews under Hitler, or others?

Mr. Seytoff: I am not familiar with the suffering of Muslims under Ataturk. But, the suffering of Uyghurs closely resemble the suffering of Palestinians, Blacks in South Africa, and even the Jews under Hitler’s rule before he started WWII. Uyghur suffering is like Palestinians, because we are under occupation and colonization, and treated as enemies by the Chinese security forces.

While Uyghurs rarely commit any act of terrorism, China labels them “terrorist” anyway for any kind of legitimate and even peaceful opposition. We are like Blacks in South Africa because we are facing apartheid enforced by the Chinese security forces. Chinese security forces patrol the Chinese neighborhoods in East Turkestan to protect them while they patrol Uyghur neighborhoods to crackdown on them.

The Chinese state, security forces, and courts protect the Han immigrants in East Turkestan while they use all state power to attack the Uyghurs.

Uyghurs are like the Jews under Hitler’s rule before he started WWII because Chinese state incited ethnic Han hatred towards the Uyghur Muslims since the massacre of Uyghurs by the Chinese security forces on July 5, 2009 in Urumchi City.

China used its powerful propaganda machine to portray the Uyghurs as ungrateful and uncivilized barbarians to the Chinese people and demonized them as the enemy — terrorists, extremists, and separatists — of the Chinese people.

That is how the Chinese people see the Uyghur people today. Chinese laws are there to protect the Chinese immigrants and laws are used against the indigenous Muslim Uyghurs. If China does not change such demonization of Uyghur Muslims and continue to portray them as the enemy of Chinese people, then Uyghur Muslims may even face future genocide.

OI: The crackdown on Muslims through linking them to terrorism is a pattern that one can see repeated in several countries world-wide; how true is it the Chinese claim that Uyghur harbor terrorists in East Turkestan?

Mr. Seytoff: This is a complete fabrication by the Chinese state to justify its continuous occupation and colonization of East Turkestan and to justify the heavy-handed repressive policies against the Muslim Uyghurs. Prior to 9/11, China had never claimed it had faced any kind of terrorist threat from Uyghurs and had never used the word “East Turkestan” in public.

In fact, a week before 9/11, then Xinjiang Party Secretary Wang Lequan spoke to a group of Hong Kong businessmen that Xinjiang is stable and does not face any terrorist threat. Everything changed after 9/11.

China saw 9/11 as a historic opportunity to justify, otherwise unjustifiable, colonial rule as its own “War on Terror.”

Overnight, China claimed itself a victim of “Uyghur terrorism” and supported the US War on Terror for its own purposes. Since then, all Uyghur opposition, peaceful or otherwise, has been labeled as terrorism, extremism, or separatism.

But we are seriously concerned that current heavy-handed Chinese policies against peaceful Uyghur Muslims will eventually radicalize some of them. In other words, Chinese policies in East Turkestan are counter-productive at the moment and will eventually backfire.

OI: What do you think is the entity that should be responsible for extending its hands to help Uyghurs in their struggle for freedom?

Mr. Seytoff: The Uyghur people are an oppressed Turkic Muslim people fighting for their human rights, democracy, and self-determination under Chinese rule. Therefore, the Turkish world, the Muslim world, and the West should support the Uyghur people’s legitimate struggle. Turkey and the Central Asian Turkic nations should support the Uyghur people.

The Arab and Muslim nations should raise this serious issue with China. Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) should not allow China to commit cultural genocide in East Turkestan by forcibly assimilating Uyghur Muslims into Chinese culture.

The UN should put the Uyghur issue on the UN agenda as a priority and raise it directly with China since it is one of the five permanent Security Council Members. The US, as a leader of the free world, should also pursue a peaceful resolution to the Uyghur issue.

OI: How would you evaluate the position of the successive US presidents towards human rights violations in China in general, and the Uyghur case in particular?

Mr. Seytoff: The US is always concerned with human rights violation in China and raises it aggressively each year during the annual human rights dialogue. We deeply appreciate their strong support on the Uyghur issue. Since China takes the US position seriously, the strong stance of the US presidents is very important to support the Uyghur people.

We hope such deep concern of Uyghur issue by the US presidents will continue unabated until there is a peaceful solution to the Uyghur issue in East Turkestan.

OI: What makes you think that a soon-to-be superpower would give up part of what it believes to be its land for a minority like the Uyghur?

Mr. Seytoff: No empire will give its colonized land back to the colonized people. No authoritarian government will give back the freedom of the oppressed. The colonized people should rightfully demand their land and the oppressed should continue to struggle for their freedom.

Therefore, it is important for us to make an international case about how China acquired our land and how its government is brutally ruling our people. China cannot simply commit genocide against the Uyghur Muslims in the 21st century. It must find a solution for its own long-term interest — which is to find a peaceful negotiated settlement.

OI: Do you have a final word for Muslims all over the world?

How long will the Muslims all over the world stay ignorant of China’s cultural genocide of Uyghur Muslims and how long the Muslim countries will continue to turn a blind eye to Chinese atrocities against Uyghur Muslims?

Mr. Seytoff: When the Muslims all over the world usually hear about the most oppressed Muslims in the world, they tend to think of the Palestinians. When the Muslims all over the world usually hear about China, they tend to think of China as a great country and friend of the Muslims. Both are not true. I believe the least known but most oppressed Muslim group in the world is the Uyghur Muslims under Chinese rule.

Whenever something happens in Palestine, it is either on CNN or Al-Jazeera. Whenever something happens to the Uyghur Muslims, China shuts the Internet, blocks the information communications, ban of foreign journalists and diplomats to visit East Turkestan, and then just blame the Uyghurs for the purported violence and execute them as “terrorists” and “extremists.”

The entire Arab and Muslim countries are behind the Palestinians. There is not a single Arab and Muslim country that openly supports the Uyghur Muslims. Unfortunately, due to influential Chinese propaganda in the Muslim world, the Muslims have a romantic and distorted view of China.

China has never been a friend of Muslims. China is one of the most brutal persecutors of Muslims that attempts to wipe the Islamic identity of Uyghur Muslims. China courts Muslims countries for two things: cheap oil and silence on its severe persecution of Uyghur Muslims.

The question is: How long will the Muslims all over the world stay ignorant of China’s cultural genocide of Uyghur Muslims and how long will the Muslim countries continue to turn a blind eye against Chinese atrocities of Uyghur Muslims?

And if you are real Muslim and have seen the suffering and oppression of another Muslim, what is your obligation as an individual Muslim and as a Muslim state? If China hears the roar of the Muslim World today the Uyghur issue will be peacefully resolved tomorrow.