Xinjiang: terror makes headlines —not repression

At least 30 are dead and over 90 injured after attackers in Urumqi, capital of China's restive Xinjiang region, ploughed two SUVs into shoppers at a vegetable market, while hurling explosives from the windows. The vehicles then crashed head-on and one exploded. China's Ministry of Public Security, with typical redundancy, called it a "violent terrorist incident." (BBC News, AP) While this was the worst so far, such attacks are becoming alarmingly frequent in China. A militant group called the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) apparently took responsibility for the April 30 suicide bombing at Urumqui's rail station. (The Guardian, May 14) Radio Free Asia reported on May 9 that more than 100 relatives of one of the men identified as the bombers in the attack have been detained. The police chief in Gulbagh, the village where the attacker hailed from, actually admitted to RFA's Uighur service that most of the detained were women and children. As recently as May 20, RFA reported that police opened fire at a protest by hundreds of Uighurs angry over the detention of several women and middle-school girls for wearing headscarves in Alaqagha township, Kucha county, Aksu prefecture. Although the account could not be confirmed, residents said they feared several were shot dead. On May 21, Reuters reported that 39, all with Uighur names, were sentenced in a rare mass public event to terms of up to 15 years for such crimes as "distributing recordings with extremist content" and "promoting ethnic hatred."

So while spectacular terror attacks in China make brief headlines in the West, the ongoing repression and humiliation of the Uighurs that fuels such attacks is noted only by the US State Department-funded Radio Free Asia, or websites like that of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, which ran the above-cited Reuters story. There is obviously a vicious cycle of repression and terrorism fueling each other underway in China. The Uighur exile leadership increasingly looks to Washington as a patron, while the Uighur resistance on the ground in Xinjiang (now launching attacks clear across China) seems increasingly wedded to a jihadist ideology. Is there any way to loan solidarity to the Uighurs without playing into the hands of either Great Power intrigues or political Islam?