No Silence for the Unsubjugated: Woeser in the Parisian Press

Han ideograms of self-praise tattoo the walls of the echo chamber of the PRC; millions of yuan are tilted downward as if out of dump trucks, rushing into the cultural bureaucracy which promotes an official and commodified version of Tibetan culture.  China is engaged in a great and perpetual project of unification, of 融合 [rong he].   Within that deafening and totalizing discourse of the People’s Republic of China, itself mixed in with no small amount of orientalism diffused in the form of cheap novels and exotic travel magazines, Tibetan writers who attack subjects at variance with the master narrative are, not surprisingly, marginalized.

The Chinese state is itself completely maladroit at self-administering a counterbalance, although small efforts are occasionally made.  A big-budget film about the 1950 liberation of Kangba (western Sichuan/eastern Tibet, which tellingly is administratively shorn from the Tibetan Autonomous Region) includes an oblique apology to Tibetans for the neglect caused by the 1957 anti-rightist movement.  Another small step forward: Melvyn Goldstein (the Rinpoche of Case Western Reserve University, of whose wisdom I partook in Cleveland in the 1990s, living with his Tibetan colleague, a former member of the government in exile and Chinese political prisoner) is allowed to collaborate with colleagues from Lhasa on a ground-breaking and must-read newly-published history of the most significant episode of the Cultural Revolution in Tibet.

But mostly, Tibetans are supposed to keep their mouths shut, or rather, fixed in a rictus while dancing, preferably to a pentatonic tune.

Woeser, the foremost modern Tibetan writer in the PRC, works to a different tune.  Her blog is a tremendous compendium of sources and discussion of Tibet’s past, present, and future, and, more importantly, it is wed to a tremendously productive drive in the realm of publishing.  You know, books! long arcs of data collection, synthesis, revision upon revision, reams of paper, daily experiments in form and expression…  Her new book of Cultural Revolution testimonies is a case in point.  And fortunately, she continues to produce (though under difficult circumstances) and her work has found an ever-wider audience in the West, particularly in Germany (this remarkable book on the Tibetan Aufstand of March 2008) and France/Canada.

And so to my task: a translation of a mainstream Parisian political magazine (roughly the equivalent of Newsweek, but mercifully bereft of Jonathan Alter and the other usual suspects and professional Beltway bloviators) and its profile of Woeser.  The tone is, like many pieces of French journalism which have a quasi-hagiographical function, a bit breathy, but it is nevertheless of interest to me and hopefully of use to you.  Given this blog’s consistent but not fully voluminous attention since mid-2009 to the (rather important) Sino-French dynamics of the Tibet issue, at the very least, it fits.

Ursula Gauthier, “La voix des sans parole: Depuis les emutes de Lhassa (2008) et d’Urumuqi (2009), Pekin a reussi a faire taire les insoumis.  Sauf une Tibetaine et un Ouigour, qui vivent et bloguent dans la capitale [The Voice of Those Without Words: After the Demonstrations in Lhasa (2008) and Urumuqi (2009), Beijing Succeeds in Silencing the Unsubjugated, Except for a Tibetan and a Uighur Who Live and Blog in the Capital],”] Le nouvel observateur, No. 2407-2408 (23 Dec.- 5 Jan.): 51.  Translated by Adam Cathcart.

For all the Tibetans, she is the voice of resistance to the red empire.  Her blog, “Invisible Tibet,” constantly under attack, blocked many times and now hosted abroad, has become the platform for an inventory of the daily violence inflicted on her compatriots.  For her courage, in 2007 Woeser received a Norwegian prize for freedom of expression, and in 2010 an American prize for courage in journalism.  Nevertheless, she does not take on an exalted air.  With her silk scarf, her ethnic jewelry and her fragile grace, she retains the look of a melancholic poetess of 20, broken between two identities.

On the one side, one quarter of her blood is Han: her grandfather was a member of the Kuomintang, her father was a high-ranking communist in the army, she had an exclusively Chinese and atheist education, a “naive belief in the generosity of the Party” extending into the very Chinese characters in which she writes.  On the other side: her “Tibetan soul,” her Buddhist faith and infinite respect in how she, like all of her compatriots, views the Dalai Lama.

It is such an allusion which was found in one of her books in 2003 which deprived her of her post at a literary magazine in Lhasa.  She moved to Beijing and married the writer Wang Lixiong, who is passionate about Tibet and Xinjiang.  These two succeed in putting the condition of China’s ethnic minorities “on the radar of writers” in pro-democratic circles, to render more powerful their interest in the question.  The violations of cultural and religious rights of the non-Han, their brutality, are the subjects of debate in her treatises.

When, in March 2008, the events burst forth in Lhasa, Woeser’s blog, the sole source of information not controlled by the Communist Party, received 3 million clicks: “For my Chinese readers who believed like steel that Mao had ‘liberated’ Tibet, 2008 was a shock, an occasion to discover a bit of true history.”  Did a “pro-minorities” stance successfully follow?  “Not to exaggerate,” she says with a nervous smile.  “There is today a certain sympathy for Tibetans.  It is enormous, if one compares it to the Uighurs who do not receive even a shadow of sympathy.  As for the Mongols, no one gives a damn [tout le monde s'en fiche]…”

On Twitter, where she has 12,000 followers, for the most part Han, Woeser maintains a desperate chronicle of the Tibetan intellectuals who have been arrested — some for a sole article in a scholarly journal [revue savante] — tortured and totally condemned to heavy labor.  Like Kunchok Tsephel, an English professor who was condemned in 2009 to fourteen years in prison for “divulging state secrets” on his literary site.  “I have counted at a minimum of 60 or 70 cases, which do not include similar cases which no one has talked about,” she explains soberly.  “The elites are systematically watched.  But [the authorities] say it is not deliberate.”

There is, sadly, no online version of the above article with which you can check my French.  As compensation, please accept a little outro music for the other side of the Earth…

The “Ground Zero Mosque”: The View from China

I spent about an hour yesterday at China’s biggest mosque, which is located not in Beijing or Urumuqi, but in Xi’an, the hub of Shaanxi province and the gateway to the West.  I had been thinking over in my amateur way a few issues relating to Islam recently and, after gathering in the preparation for a call to prayer near one side of the mosque whose wall was, like so many other locations in Xi’an, partially smashed in the process of reconstruction, I thought it might be good to share this op-ed here.  If by chance it appears in print in a modified form, I’ll be sure to post the information. I was fortunate to get some feedback on an earlier version of this piece from Chuck Kraus, a young Xinjiang expert/China hand at George Washington University.  The New York Times, in the meanwhile, has a new blog post up about global views of the same debate, a post which includes some decent links to new animated videos from Taiwan about Islamophobia in the U.S.

The “Ground Zero Mosque”: The View from China

The recent furor over the proposal of a mosque and Muslim community center two blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York has attracted global attention, but few commentators seem to understand the potential potency of the issue in our relationship with China.  Like the United States and our European partners, China continues to deal with questions about the relation of Islam to the body politic and the proper role of that religion in public life.  In the wake of an uprising in Xinjiang, the Muslim region of China’s northwest among angry Uighurs last July, in China the answer has become, simply, repression towards and oversight of Muslims.  The Chinese government absolutely regulates the construction of new mosques.  The Uighur umma (religious community) is beholden to the edicts of Han-ethnicity bureaucrats from Beijing.  Uighur students and government officials are even not allowed to worship in mosques.

This is not a model which the United States should seek to emulate.

Moreover, to the extent that the US injects government control where it does not constitutionally belong, offering a mistrustful profile toward Muslim-Americans, we greatly weaken our ability to speak directly and forthrightly to China about its aggressive atheism, institutional racism, and human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Do Chinese really care about the “Ground Zero Mosque”?  Certainly Chinese elites are appraised of the issue.  If recent press reports are any indication, they are devoting particular analysis of late to the area that George W. Bush used to call “the broader Middle East.”  The withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq has elicited scepticism from the favourite newspaper of liberal intellectuals here, Southern Weekend, which yesterday opined that the American pledges to “build democracy” in Iraq had given way to a kind of cynical neo-Vietnam withdrawal, if not outright defeat of American principles.  U.S. commitment to democracy in Iraq may be perceived in China as a wash – in spite of the fact that it has yielded lucrative contracts for Chinese oil companies – and steady Chinese news coverage of the U.S. in Afghanistan does not seem to be favourable in the least in its emphasis on institution-building.  Recent US military drills in Kazakhstan garnered criticism as well.  If anything, scepticism toward American intentions in countries with Muslim populations seems to be rising.

When it comes to China’s perceptions of the US relations with the Muslim world, the appearance of Barack Obama and the President’s early speeches in places like Cairo have has hardly made a dent.  This is unfortunate, because, in the past, American policy toward human rights and democracy has served as a rallying cry for Chinese intellectuals and posed a clear theoretical alternative to a Chinese dictatorship that has no problem stating that “our policy towards ethnic minorities is 100% correct.”  In the wake of the Iraq fiasco and while prosecuting a war in Afghanistan, the United States should remain committed to repairing relations with Muslims around the world, particularly those in China.

The mosque issue – and the questions of some misguided Americans about Barack Obama’s alleged zeal for Islam – represent an opportunity for the United States to enjoy a “teaching moment” with China.

In a recent prominent full-page article in China’s top foreign-affairs newspaper, the Huanqiu Shibao (also known as the Global Times), Chinese journalists explained in great detail the attacks which the Republicans were levying on Obama over the Manhattan mosque issue.   In a keen choice of words, the article explains that the mosque question is “torturing the United States” and that it represents part of “the Muslim problem” in the U.S.  Amazingly, detractors of the mosque get most of the column inches.  Translated into Chinese, people like Rep. Peter King of New York State, a frequent guest on CNN, sound even more dogmatic about bringing Muslims under control than Hu Jintao, China’s General Secretary.  Fortunately, President Obama’s remarks at the Ramadan dinner at the White House are excerpted briefly, allowing for a discussion about the role of religion in the American constitution and Islam’s place in American culture.  Such allusions are the best that Chinese state media can do to lay out alternative models to China’s method of dealing with its Muslim population in the northwest.

We should not underestimate the power of American debates in providing fodder, if not some proscriptive road map, for Chinese elites in their own discussions about Islam and public life.  When FOX News commentators assert that every mosque is a terrorist feeding ground or make linkages between anti-state violence and practicing Muslims, these assertions are echoed in China.  In the Chinese context, views voiced by Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin and Peter King allow the Chinese Communist Party to point to American hypocrisy while tacitly spreading the idea that surveillance and government regulation of mosques is both necessary and constitutes a global norm.

In a long epilogue to the Global Times analysis of the “Ground Zero Mosque,” an anonymous Chinese source actually goes so far as to point to the debate in the U.S. as being indicative of a “Western sickness” in dealing with Muslims, as opposed to the enlightened policies of the Chinese Communist Paryt.  The US is then explicitly linked to recent enactment of restrictive policies toward Muslims in France, where veils have been banned in public schools and the executive branch has been aggressive in removing public expressions of Islamic faith (apart from a huge mosque constructed in Marsailles).  American racism is likened to anti-Arab racism in Sweden, and so on.  But even within this discouraging discourse, the American constitution is discussed, and the possibility of the U.S. building the mosque and moving forward with a more “harmonious society,” to use a common phrase here, is raised.

It is doubtful that American conservatives and opponents of the “Ground Zero Mosque” recognize that the content of their critiques is so heartening to repressive elements in the Chinese government and demoralizing to liberalizing elements in the PRC who, more than ever since 2001, are looking to the U.S. for the possibility of an alternative in its relations with the Muslim world more broadly.  The extent to which Americans tacitly or explicitly agree that all Muslims could be terrorists is the extent to which they help China to justify its repression of the Uighurs.  Rather, we should firmly stand on the side of religious freedom in China – as well as the United States.

Chinese Mosque

Hu Jintao in Xinjiang

Hu in first visit to Xinjiang since deadly rioting
Ivan Zhai ; Additional reporting by Reuters, Associated Press
South China Morning Post
26 Aug 2009

President Hu Jintao has visited Xinjiang for the first time since the deadly riots in Urumqi early last month and claimed victory against the “ three forces” of separatism, terrorism and extremism. Almost 200 people died and more than 2,000 were…read more…

Things I was going to explain before July finished [I]

I was going to explain how the CCP is launching a new English-language magazine called Qiushi to bolster its theoretical marketability and soft power among the mild left of North America, and further to explain that the Party will spend 45 billion yuan this year on overseas Xinhua expansion which is quite possibly a sum more worthy than this year’s entire budget for Voice of America [Woods Lee, South China Morning Post 24 July 2009];

and I was going to explain before July finished that Barbara Demick of the Los Angeles Times is breathing the air and pounding the subways in Beijing reporting valiantly on the Xinjiang trials but is seemingly without an intrepid war photographer to probe West thus denying any opening for a modern Cartier-Bresson;  

and I further had reason to aspire to note a very pensive Op-Ed in Japanese by the stylist Issey Miyake translated into French by Michael Temman ["Hiroshima, Obama, et le flash de la mémoire," Liberation, 20 July 2009] which needed some attention even though it won’t make the rolls at immortal but by no means exhaustive Japan Focus;

and I had wished to think aloud about the likening by the portentious Jonah Goldberg on the scrunchy scroll of the LA Times op-ed page of our indifference to North Korean food shortages (indeed, bondage and gulags) to these failings to the Holocaust of the European Jews, and the prick of conscience which occurs when someone calls up Yodok and then goes all black-and-white with little film flecks by asking “What if you could have Google Earthed Auschwitz?” and that this would further call to mind the Chinese scholarship on the Holocaust as if to spark the question what Holocaust guilt could possibly motivate the northeastern Chinese to act in order to save young Moses before the boy starts to gather up dirt and stones to throw at imperialists across the river with his little hungry fists ["Never Again and North Korea," 21 July 2009]; 

and I had plans to explain, before July was out, the workings of Le Figaro among Chinese populations in north Africa, and the relation of how an article infests itself into a mind and the site of its initial exposure, and to ruminate on why the Ring-Bahn that circumscribes Berlin’s immensity or the outdoor S-Bahn, like the batty shuttle at JFK, arcs in a way that when combined with bicyclists shouting in French into their wet cell phones and then dissecting a relationship with a close friend, that as one reads about dry Algeria on a train full of soaked and genial Germans, that context is both abandoned and conceived of more fully, and that there were certain statistics in said article which was previously cited on this blog in a blast the Maghreb which a person can search on their own accord within files hinged herein;

and then I wished to remind myself of a joyful cartoon which marked the “Forum de Lyon” which will consecrate a huge 3 day conference on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, or as they say “Vingt ans apres la chute du Mur! 1989-2009; 3 jours de detabs, d’expression et d’echanges: Le mur doit disparaitre!” and then to make some obvious comparisons to China’s giant commemorative lacuna of what happened in 1989 way beyond just one day, that the pendulum is still swinging and that the North Koreans are also retrospecting on it, and to wonder why the Europeans again (even the youth!) are so hung up on yesterday while police from various Chinese localities will smash rags into the mouths of people who sing countermelodies to the regime-based slow karaoke coated in Mao faces which Mao never made, where Mao rides the yuan like a Warring States hostage in my pocket until the loan comes home;  

and what’s more I had hoped to talk about serious topics seriously, such as when Le Figaro reported from Italian ports with sensual headlines like “Deux yachts de luxe desinés àPyongyang saisis en Italie” ["Two luxury yachts made for Pyongyang are seized in Italy," 24 July] and one realizes that thanks to Sarkozy Le Figaro is a publication that knows yachts with a through understanding that I cannot approximate this afternoon in Orange County, an understanding that likely exceeds that of the landlocked editors of the Yanbian Morning Post or the teenaged classified ads salespeople for the Chengdu Ribao, and further to state that Le Figaro doesn’t get enough credit for stumping through to Kim Jong Il’s French heart surgeon and otherwise ferreting out little facts without resorting to interviews with Professor Shimomura of Mainichi Shimbun fame whose anonymous sources “in Kim’s family” seem to have been predicting his death for over a year

and then there was this funny little dense and droll construction, sort of like a good-natured tank defense of prose which Helmut Schumann had mortared up across the bottom fold of the front page of Der Tagesspiel in Berlin (“Nordkoreanischer Kindergarten: Atomwaffenstreit [North Korean Kindergarten: Atomic Weapons Dispute]“24 July 2009 which has all kinds of little comments about our Secretary of State and scolds her ever so gently that it would all make sense if North Korea weren’t so “boesartig und gefaehrlich” but that its two and half paragraphs proved too much for me to overcome  which is a salient lesson for a student who seeks to overwhelm the mind of a tired and grade-dispensing academic with a coiled effort of something that is far to short rather than windy in order to complete an assignment which no longer holds any capacity for joy, that one might take pleasure in building defensive works out of word-blocks as in days of yore;

and then there was this really mainstream yet still uncovered and detailed somehow in the Huffington Post by this dude Andy Worthington who appears to be a totally interesting and Guantanamo-obsessed person which can come in handy when you learn as I did today on a little bit on LA Channel 7 newsbrief by someone who seemed so perky before stating that we the U.S. had apprehended a twelve-year-old six years ago as a terror suspect and brought him to Camp X-Ray in Cuba and then it was time to learn that swingman Lamar Odom had resigned with the Lakers and that the Grizzlies had not dealt to the Cavs and that therefore if Mr. Worthington were successful in his quest that the juvenile Guantanamo inmate would be sprung (so  much like Mr. Pu Yi’s entourage from the black gates of Fushun in 1961) and then Mr. Odom might have another eighteen-year old fan since the NBA is reaching out globally anyway;

and then I wanted to find an opportunity to state that the old socialist organ Junge Welt is still breathing in Berlin and had the most kick-ass and detailed article by its own correspondent and didn’t need the AP or the AFP or CCTV or BBC or Deutsche Welle to report about China’s booming wind industry, an article which I once had hopes to translate verbatim just for all the delicious tech-talk and then to link the whole thing to a surreal experience over Shaanxi and discussion of a certain lecture I attended in Hamburg earlier this month [Wolfgang Pomrehn, "China lüftet durch: Peking verstärkt Engagement fur erneuerbare Energien. Zwolf Windparks mit ingesamt 120 Gigawatt Leistung koennten 2020 knapp ein Zehntel des Bedarfs decken,"  17 July 2009, p. 9]; 

and what is more there was this amazing Liberation fold-out section about 1989…

Xinjiang in Le Figaro

Le Figaro publishes a solid dispatch from Turkey; translation below:

Laure Marchand, “Istanbul, capitale des refugies ouigours [Istanbul, capital of Uighur refugees],” Le Figaro, 20 July 2009, p. 6.

More than 300,000 members strong, the Uighur diaspora is able to count on the sympathy of Turkish public opinion, but Ankara spares its critiques against Peking for economic reasons.


Installed in a stampeded bazaar, Abulresit, a Uighur shopkeeper, does not address a single word to his neighbor, the Chinese grocer, whom he openly detests…[Of the Uighurs in Xinjiang, he states:] “We are the same blood, we are brothers.  This gave me the courage to speak on the telephone with my family, now staying in Kashgar.  This morning, I finally succeeded in connecting, but they immediately hung up, as they were to afraid to speak.”

This person who fled Xinjiang in 1997 and his whole circle were not lacking an outlet for demonstrations in Istanbul.  In the past week, there were burning of Chinese toys outside of the Chinese consulate and the hanging of banners in favor of “East Turkestan independence” on the esplanade of the great mosque of Beyazit.   In these days, thousands of Turks and representatives of the Uighur diaspora — more than 300,000 are members of their associations — filed through dozens of Turkish cities, responding to the appeal of Islamic and nationalist organizations.  Since the 5 July, the uproar provoked a wave of sympathy within Turkish public opinion for their distant cousins in Xinjiang, muslims who speak a Turkic language.  They are also reviving the ardor of nostalgia for pan-turkism, an ideology which promotes the unification of all the Turkic people.

But after seeing this surrender to emotionalism, fed by the photos in various publications, Ankara, confronted by the wrath [courroux, n.m.] of the Chinese authorities, will henceforth moderate its critiques.

“]PIC_3529“A sort of genocide”

As is his habit, it is the the prime minister who has had an especially harsh summer.    Upon his return from the G8 summit in Italy, Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared that Bejing was culpable for “a sort of genocide” in its opposition to the Uighurs.  The Minister of Industry and Commerce called for a boycott of Chinese goods, though afterwards he had to backpedal [faire machine arriere] and affirm that he was only expressing a personal opinion.  Embarrassed, the Foreign Ministry multiplied its declarations in an effort to reduce the tensions.  Its spokesperson borrowed the attitude of the Chinese authorities who “try to do their best to approach these events calmly [avec sang-froid]” and discarded [balaye] the possibility of bringing the repression of the Uighurs before the Security Council, where Turkey has a non-permanent seat.  Recep Tayyip Erdogan had evoked this possibility.  The chief diplomat, Ahmet Davutoglu, similarly picked up his telephone to assure his Chinese counterpart that Turkey respects the territorial integrity of China and had no intention to meddle in its internal affairs.  Yang Jiechi explained to him that the uproar in Xinjiang was orchestrated by the “three evil forces.”  That is to say, according to the Chinese news agency, “extremism, separatism, and terrorism.”  Ankara uses a similar terminology of qualification for Turkish Kurds who sympathize with the rebels of the PKK (Workers’ Party of Kurdistan).

Diplomatic Cacophony

In total, this diplomatic cacophony intervenes at the moment when various Turks are trying to reinforce their position in the Chinese market.  In the month of June, the President of the Republic, Abdullah Gul, went to China; this was the first visit of a Turkish head of state in fifteen years.  In visiting Urumuqi, he stopped in a traditional Uighur home.  In Beijing, he signed commercial contracts of a value of 1.5 billion dollars.

“Turkey has been dead for a very long time, and appears to be unable to face its own problems,” moans Hidayet Oguzhan, president of the Association for East Turkestan Solidarity and Education, situated in an askew [guingois] apartment above a beauty institute in Istanbul.  “This time, raised our voices, but damn [helas], I think that they [the Turkish government] will forget us rather rapidly under the pressure from Beijing.”  In the 1990s, the Uighur diaspora lost the right to use the phrase “East Turkestan” in its official activities.  In 2006, Ankara decided to no longer provide a visa to Rebia Kadeer, chief in the line of Uighur resistance, and now exiled in the United States.  The Prime Minister assures that a new visa will be granted in the event that she makes a new request.

translation by Adam Cathcart

7/25 Update: The New Dominion blog provides some further interesting analysis on the responses of Chinese bloggers to the various statements of Turkish leaders in support of the Uighurs.

Violence in Xinjiang: The View from Linjiang City, Jilin / 临江市

Views of Xinjiang violence from other ethnic zones

Often lost in the shuffle of news reports about Xinjiang is inter-minority relations; that is to say, how do various other Chinese minorities, or shaoshu minzu / 少数民族 view the actions in Xinjiang?  This would seem to be a consequential question for the CCP and for foreign observers who prognosticate future fragmentation for the PRC.  After all, “a spark can start a prairie fire,” and social movements have in the past shown a strange propensity to mingle together in opposition to the party-state.

In short, I think the answer is that the Uighurs have received no moral or physical support from their fellow minority groups.  In fact, it might be said that the Uighurs are hardly seen as meritorious or justified in their actions by other minority groups.  Skepticism towards the Uighurs among, say, ethnic Koreans, may be due to Xinhua’s clever and persistent reporting which fails to give readers/viewers any idea of the genesis of the rebellion (the “spark” applied at the factory brawl in Guangzhou in June) and portrays the rioters as elements of a foreign power.  Or it may be due to a certain passivity in China’s political milieu: why does this person stand up, make a ruckus, and thereby raise the level of surveillance on me?

(The same phenomenon emerges in conversations with practicing Buddhists and Tai Qi teachers in northeast China about Li Hongzhi and Falun Gong; the very constituency which might support his right to practice his religion has fallen under suspicion due to Li’s agitations, and thus complain about him, rather than the state authorities who are presumably justified in their crackdowns. )

But what about in Tibet?  Has any serious reporting come out of Lhasa or Dharamsala in the aftermath of July 7 to suggest that the Uighurs have developed linkages with, or borrowed techniques from, Tibetan resistance to Han assimilation?  Again, I believe it is unlikely.  Particularly at a time when the Uighurs are being demonized by the CCP media, even if they harbored some kind of latent emotional support for their northwestern metaphorical brethren, the Tibetans would be irrational to express it.   And one can only imagine that the riots in Xinjiang set the police in Lhasa and Qinghai a bit on edge.  If any readers have seen reporting on this issue, please comment!

Linjiang City Hall; it lights up at night in mockery of the North Koreans across the river

Linjiang City Hall; it lights up at night in mockery of the North Koreans across the river

I was fortunate to spend an extended period in June and early July in the border regions between the PRC and the DPRK (North Korea), meaning that I was reading about and trying to process the Xinjiang violence in that extreme northeastern milieu.

Putting on my shoes at a public bath in Linjiang, Jilin province, a little city on the upper reaches of the Yalu river, I participated in the following conversation:

40-something Han guy mopping the floor [40HG]: “Hey, did you hear about the revolt in Xinjiang?”

Youngish American professor [YAP]: “No.  What happened?”

40HG: “Oh, a bunch of terrorists came in and starting killing people; it was really bad.”

YAP: “Really?”

40HG: “Yes, I saw it on television; then it was on the Global Times website too.”

Matronly Korean cashier [MKC]:  “Terrorists?  Was it the, the Dalai Lama?”

40HG: “The Dalai Lama? No he’s in Xizang [Tibet], not Xinjiang.”

MKC: “Ohhhhh, I thought it was him.  Wasn’t he the big terrorist?”

40HG: “Sure, but not with this thing.  He’s in Tibet.”

YAP: “So what’s happening now?”

40HG: [Smiling]  “Oh, the government is smashing them [真压他们]; it’s not going to last long.”

Later that night, a major rain cleared out most people from a big outdoor market.  Underneath a tent whose pockets were sagging deeply with water, I had a long conversation with a noodle-maker about international politics which touched on Xinjiang.  “This is a small thing [就是个小事],” he said dismissively of the Uighur action.  “The government will handle it and it will be over soon.”   His eyes blazed a bit, but not in support of some revolution. He then turned back to complain about policy privileges granted to Korean minorities in his small city.

Although Xinhua sought to whip up sentiment on this issue and link the Uighurs to foreign wirepullers (more on that subsequently), it appears that the violence in Xinjiang is stimulating nowhere near the passions that the Tibetan uprising did in spring of 2008.

Uighurs in Guantanamo – Will Nine Go to Munich?

Hamburg’s Die Zeit features a brace of editorials debating if Germany should accept the request of the Obama administration to take 9 of the 17 remaining Uighur detainees from Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay in order to facilitate the closing of the prison there. The Uighurs have the ability to destabilize relations with the PRC, however, since both the US and the PRC agree that the ETIM [East Turkestan Independence Movement] is a terrorist organization.

Here are my just-posted YouTube readings and [soon-to-arrive] thumbnail translations of the editorials, which are pretty fresh”

and some background news, including an interview with their lawyer, from Voice of America:

Here is my partial translation of the article below:

But [of course we should accept the Uighurs, it is] self-explanatory!  Practicality and humaneness require us to accept the request of the United States.  Barack Obama had hardly been in office for 48 hours when he already made it known that he intended to close the Guantanamo prison camp within one year.  For this he deserves highest recognition – and every [possible] assistance.

Recall that the Europeans had for years pressured [gedrängt] George W. Bush to put an end to this instutitionalized law-breaking.  [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel put it this way: “The existence of this prison is not in accordance with my understanding of respect for human rights [Rechtsstaatlichkeit].”

Our answer to the question of the Americans can only be enunciated thus: Whichever [of the convicts] is unguilty, whoever for understandable reasons the Americans do not want to have making their new homes in the U.S., whoever also cannot go back to their [original] homes on account of new anguish that would fall upon them, can find refuge with us.

In the meantime, here is the full text of the pro argument which I read above [no further text by me in this post, it is exclusively from Die Zeit]:


Sollen wir Uiguren aufnehmen?

JA sagt Matthias Naß: Das ist politisch klug

Häftlinge im US-Lager Guantánamo auf Kuba: Soll Deutschland neun freigelassene chinesische Uiguren von dort aufnehmen?

Häftlinge im US-Lager Guantánamo auf Kuba: Soll Deutschland neun freigelassene chinesische Uiguren von dort aufnehmen?

Die Namen von neun Uiguren stehen auf der Liste, die Barack Obamas Sondergesandter Daniel Fried unlängst der deutschen Regierung überreicht hat. Sie sitzen derzeit wie etwa 250 andere Häftlinge im US-Ge fangenenlager Guantánamo auf Kuba. Deutschland, so die Bitte der Regierung Obama, möge die Uiguren aufnehmen, um die Schließung des Lagers zu erleichtern. Nach Einschätzung eines US-Gerichts stellen die neun keine Gefahr dar. In ihrer Heimat in China drohen ihnen neuerlich Haft und Folter. Soll Deutschland den Männern Asyl gewähren? Darüber ist in der Großen Koalition in Berlin heftiger Streit entbrannt. Außenminister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) ist für ei ne Aufnahme, Innenminister Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU), aber auch einige SPD-Innenpolitiker widersprechen.

Aber selbstverständlich! Vernunft und Menschlichkeit gebieten es, der Bitte der Vereinigten Staaten nachzukommen. Barack Obama war keine 48 Stunden im Amt, da hatte er schon verfügt, das Gefangenenlager Guantánamo innerhalb eines Jahres zu schließen. Ihm gebührt dafür höchste Anerkennung – und jede Hilfe.

Schließlich haben die Europäer George W. Bush jahrelang gedrängt, dem institutionalisierten Rechtsbruch ein Ende zu setzen. Angela Merkel hat es so gesagt: »Der Einsatz solcher Gefängnisse ist nicht vereinbar mit meinem Verständnis von Rechtsstaatlichkeit.« Nun, endlich, soll das schändliche Kapitel abgeschlossen werden.

Unsere Antwort auf die Anfrage der Amerikaner kann deshalb nur lauten: Wessen Unschuld erwiesen ist; wer Amerika nach überstandener Folter verständlicherweise nicht zu seiner neuen Heimat machen möchte; wer aber auch nicht nach Hause zurückkehren kann, weil ihm dort neuerliche Verfolgung droht, der sollte bei uns Aufnahme finden.

Nun aber haben scheinheilige Hüter der Inneren und Äußeren Sicherheit einen Streit entfesselt, als wollten die Amerikaner unsere Sicherheit aus den Angeln heben! Als wollten sie sich trickreich vor Schadensersatzprozessen schützen (die doch von München aus genauso leicht zu führen sind). Als wollten sie den Zorn Pekings, das in den Guantánamo-Uiguren lauter ostturkestanische Terroristen sieht, auf die naiven Deutschen umlenken (die doch nach dem Dalai-Lama-Empfang im Kanzleramt längst wieder gute Geschäfte mit China machen).

US-Vizepräsident Joe Biden hat beteuert: »Die Leute sind wirklich unschuldig. Wir sind bereit, sie nach allen unseren Kräften zu unterstützen, damit sie sich schnell integrieren können.« Natürlich, man kann den Chinesen mehr glauben als Biden. Man kann und man sollte mögliche Verbindungen der Uiguren zur separatistischen Islamischen Bewegung Ostturkestan prüfen.

Nur ist bei all den Rufen nach »mehr Informationen« vor allem eines herauszuhören: Ausreden, Ausreden, Ausreden! Es ist die alte moralische Wurstigkeit, die schon der Kanzleramtschef Frank-Walter Steinmeier im Fall Murat Kurnaz offenbarte. Irgendwas wird an den Vorwürfen schon dran sein! Im Übrigen: Was geht uns das alles an?

Aber reden wir nicht von Moral, reden wir von politischer Klugheit. Guantánamo ist in der islamischen Welt zum Synonym für die Doppelmoral des Westens geworden. Wohlgemerkt: des Westens, nicht Amerikas allein. Denn europäische Staaten waren beteiligt – weil Flugzeuge der CIA hier zwischenlandeten; weil es Indizien dafür gibt, dass auch in Europa Gefängniszellen zu Folterstätten wurden; weil Verdächtige nach Syrien, Pakistan oder Ägypten überstellt wurden, wohl wissend, was ihnen dort bevorstand.

Nun kommt Barack Obama, sucht das Gespräch mit den Muslimen, will die Ignoranz, den Hass der Bush-Jahre überwinden. Und beginnt dieses Gespräch mit der einzig richtigen Geste: Guantánamo zu schließen. Und wir wollen ihm dabei nicht helfen? Wenn wir den Respekt der Welt – und den Respekt vor uns selbst – verspielen möchten, wäre dies der richtige Weg.


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