Saturday, July 18, 2009

Why China has to crush ethnic minorities and their culture

Why China has to crush ethnic minorities and their culture
By Susenjit Guha

As official Chinese reports continue to paint the Uighur Muslim minority as the villains in the recent rioting in Urumqi city in the backward Xinjiang province---the worst in decades---the world wonders whether a communist government or the majority Han Chinese, or both are intolerant of ethnicity among them.

While human right violations, as the world terms them, are continuously debunked by China as an internal matter, moral and ethical accountability is something that the country cannot avoid as the Asian tiger prowls around the global space that is under-girded by conscience. Communist China considers ethnic minority culture and religion as circumspect and a threat to the closed society that it is. It was evident from the heavy handed crackdown on Uighurs as well as its past record with the people of Tibet .

Communist China shuts out ‘negative’ information on ground realities that flies around and is available at the click of a mouse, keeps foreign journalists away from conflict and disaster zones to keep the official take on the situation ‘sacrosanct’. Mainland Chinese are fed information that always shows the outside as the ‘big bad world’. But there are few buyers in the world outside as they have seen human rights continuously violated and tamped down with brutal state power.

That is why China feels threatened when documentaries on Uighurs are shown in democracies like Australia and does all it can to stop them from being aired. Death figures of the Han Chinese population in the riots were ratcheted up and that of the Uighurs scaled down.

Tracing their roots to Turkey , the minority Uighurs follow Islam that has made it convenient for China to also link their deep rooted dissent to the call for a holy war and al Qaeda to make it resonate with the west. And the terror group had in their own way also bolstered the Chinese argument by threatening revenge for the killing of Uighurs in the riots.

Any analogy is fine as long as does not morally rub communist China the wrong way. Beijing’s version by Xinjiang's governor, Nur Bekri, in a televised address, dismissed Rebiya Kadeer, in exile in the US and ‘mother’ to all Uighurs---as the vamp who incited the violence over long distance telephone. Some time back China also made a mockery of analogies by calling Dalai Lama, the exiled leader of the Tibetans, a terrorist.

But why did the Uighurs flare up and invite a backlash from the majority Han community as well as the state?

Although development is taking place in oil rich Xingjiang, there has been a furious demographic change with the Han Chinese coming in and filling up jobs. Gwynne Dyer writes in The Korea Times, “The development creates an economy that the local people are not qualified to work in, and Chinese immigrants come in to fill those jobs instead.” While the Chinese authorities feel that the Muslim ethnic minorities never had it so good with so much progress taking place, the Uighurs feel threatened by the filling up by the Hans. Uighur population has fallen to 45% while the Han Chinese population is up to 40%. It irked the Uighurs as they formed nearly 90% of the population six decades ago.

But why does China continue to crush down on ethnicity and sort of sell the logic that the population is benefiting from developmental projects with such pomposity?

It has a lot to do with Communism as a state policy where a monolithic population is easy to control rather than minorities with a popular and traditional culture in their midst. Cultures that are several centuries old can be a threat to a society where the majority of the population are kept cerebrally closeted and make to think, breathe and believe in tandem with the state.
Among the fiercest critics of China are the expatriates while the rabid supporters are among those from the mainland Chinese population. They use the internet to launch counter attacks on the critics of Chinese policies. India ’s sympathy for Tibetans attracts reminders of the presence of troops in Indian Kashmir to keep the place under control without appreciating that the largest democracy is also a place where multiple cultures and religions flourish and does not get repressed.

Chinese state propaganda on TV, trucks and banners are kicking up a storm about the evils of extremism, terrorism and separatism in Xinjiang and in predominantly Muslim, Hotan, close to Urumqi .

If exclusive nationalism gets so fierce with state pomposity and media support, then global apprehension of a link to marauding Nazism on the same grounds 70 years ago cannot be faulted. It has all the makings of a threat as free speech and thinking and protests are not what the mainland Chinese are expected to do.

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