China's Failed War on Terror: Fanning the Flames of Uighur Separatist Violence
Berkeley Journal Middle Eastern & Islamic Law, Vol. 2, No. 61, 2009
64 Pages Posted: 3 Nov 2011
Date Written: 2009
In terms of race, ethnicity, and religion, China is a surprisingly diverse nation. Although only 9 percent of China's population is comprised of ethnic minorities, over 60 percent of its vast landscape is pocketed and overlaid with diverse minority ethnic groups, together constituting 108.5 million people. China's diversity, of course, does not extend to politics, and its communist regime has demonstrated laser-like focus over the past several decades on assimilating China's minorities into the Han-dominated political, social, and religious mainstream, or, at the very least, extinguishing any independent impulses these groups might harbor. Although successful with some of China's smaller and less-distinct minorities, Beijing's efforts to assimilate minority populations have generated violent conflict among a handful of minority groups, most famously, of course, in Tibet. But Tibet is not alone in its resistance. In fact, the Uighurs — a group of over 18 million Muslims in China's arid and oft-forgotten northwest with close ethnic ties to Central Asia — have become one of China's primary targets in its crackdown on domestic separatist movements.
While tensions between China's Uighur population and its central government have been high for well over a hundred years and have throughout that history erupted in violence (violence which, for a brief time, culminated in independence for the province), historically, those tensions have only rarely manifested themselves through terrorist violence.
That can no longer be said. A little over ten years ago, China implemented its Strike Hard (da fa) campaign against any region with separatist sympathies, including Xinjiang, the Uighur homeland. The campaign's explicit goal is to "hit at enemy forces, purify society and educate the masses," and in the years since its initial implementation, the Chinese government periodically has renewed its Strike Hard campaign, deploying additional forces to the region and tightening restrictions on cultural expression and religious practice. In addition to the Strike Hard campaign's religious and political implications, China's industrialization policies, directed at integrating the region's ethnic minorities into the economy, have instead forced them to the periphery, engendering bitter anti-Han sentiment. Many Uighurs are convinced that China's ultimate goal is to overrun their homeland, outlaw their Muslim faith, and erase their cultural distinctiveness altogether.
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