Monday, July 27, 2009

Unrest in East Turkestan: Uyghur Nationalism vs. Transnational Jihadism in the Midst of Chinese Crackdowns

Uyghur mother and child protesting Chinese government human rights abuses in East Turkestan in July 2009

In early July, civil unrest and protests broke out in East Turkestan, also known as the Chinese (annexed) province of Xinjiang, which is the homeland of the Uyghurs (also transliterated into English as "Uighurs"), a majority Muslim Turkic people. The territory came under the rule of the Chinese Communists, under the dictator Mao Zedong (also spelled "Tse-Tung"), in 1949. The Chinese Communists' (hereafter "Chinese") military, the so-called People's Liberation Army, invaded and occupied Tibet the following year. In both regions, the Chinese initiated programs of resettling Han Chinese, the dominant ethnic group in historical China, in them. They have also created a fictitious history "tying" the Han people to Tibet and East Turkestan in an attempt to legitimate their military takeover. As in Tibet, Chinese imperialism has not truly been accepted and there are active nationalist movements in both region's, as well as in the Tibetan and Uyghur diaspora communities abroad. Uyghurs have faced social, political, religious, and economic discrimination, as well as territorial dispossession, from the Chinese government.

Map showing the People's Republic of China as it existed in the late 1940s, before the People's Liberation Army, so-called, invaded and essentially annexed several of its neighbors, most prominently Tibet and East Turkestan to the east of Beijing.

Generally speaking, the Uyghur nationalist movement, also popularly called the Free East Turkestan movement in Europe and the United States, is primarily composed of nationalists who seek to preserve their people's culture and history, and regain independence. However, there is also a small minority of Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples who support more radical responses to Chinese imperialism. Chief among these groups is the Hizb al-Islam Turkistani (Islamic Party) of Turkestan (Hizbul Islam Turkestani), which is also known as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). The current incarnation of the ETIM has its roots in the emergence of Uyghur religio-political activism in the 1940s and 1950s. Detailed background information on the movement can be found here. Analysts disagree as to whether the ETIM and the Hizb al-Islam are the same group. It is also debated whether the ETIM has ties to al-Qa'ida "Central" (AQC). The Chinese government, predictably, has made such claims, as has the U.S. Uyghur fighters have been captured in Afghanistan and are believed to have traveled to Chechnya and other locations in Central, Southwest, and South Asia to participate in ongoing conflicts there.

Unlike the vast majority of Uyghur nationalists, the ETIM seemingly adheres to an ideology closer to transnational jihadi groups such as AQC, though the ETIM's focus remains focused on East Turkestan and China. This is somewhat reminiscent of groups such as those operating in disputed Kashmir, many of whom adhere to ideologies of perpetual offensive militaristic jihad but remain focused, for the time being at least, on local or regional issues. The ETIM has bases of support not only in East Turkestan but also Afghanistan and Pakistan, where it has cultivated relations with local jihadi and Islamist groups.

The divisions in the Uyghur nationalists-separatist movement, and particularly between nationalists and transnational jihadis, can, in some ways, be seen as similar to those that exist in other national liberation struggles, such as those in Chechnya and Palestine. The Chechen nationalist struggle, for example, has steadily been taken over by more radical ideological elements, namely transnational jihadis of the AQC variety, mostly from abroad. Many of the most powerful resistance commanders in Chechnya during the late 1990s into the 2000s were foreigners, primarily Arabs and Turks. Nationalist resistance leaders such as Aslan Maskhadov were pushed aside by radical jihadis such as Khattab (killed 2002), Abu al-Walid al-Ghamdi (killed 2004), and Shamil Basayev (killed 2006). Basayev was originally a Chechen nationalist but eventually adopted the transnational jihadi ideology of his Arab allies Khattab and Abu al-Walid. For more on the Chechen conflict, see HERE.

Several hundred people have been killed in East Turkestan/Xinjiang since the outbreak of the civil unrest and protests in early July. Han Chinese settlers have attacked Uyghur neighborhoods and civilians, and some Uyghurs have retaliated in kind. The Chinese autocratic government has blacked out news coverage from the region so that only its own account, which is of dubious reliability, can be told. The Chinese government has predictably blamed Uyghur human rights activists in the diaspora for fomenting the unrest, a charge which the Uyghur activists deny. Thousands of Chinese security forces are currently in the region and reports indicate that hundreds of Uyghurs have been arbitrarily arrested by the Chinese autocracy. Chinese hackers attacked the official web site of Melbourne International Film Festival in Australia because it was featuring a film about Uyghur human rights activist and exiled leader Rebiya Kadeer, head of the World Uyghur Congress, an umbrella for several Uyghur nationalist and human rights groups in exile. It should be noted for the bigoted and/or the ignorant that contrary to the popular "wisdom" that women do not and cannot rise to positions of societal power in the Islamicate world, that Kadeer is a Muslim woman who has done so (as are past heads of state in the Muslim-majority nations of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Indonesia....when has the U.S. elected a female head of state? Oh, that's right, never.)

Rebiya Kadeer

Most member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the worldwide representative body for Muslim-majority states, have remained despicably silent on Chinese human rights abuses in East Turkestan. There are a few noteworthy exceptions, chief among them Turkey's condemnation of Chinese human rights abuses against Uyghurs. The government of Sudan, under the military strongman 'Umar Hassan al-Bashir, has even "reaffirmed" its support of the Chinese government, with which it has lucrative business dealings. The Indian government also despicably bowed to Chinese government pressure by recently denying Kadeer a visa to visit Uyghurs and supporters for Uyghur rights in that country.

Uyghur protestors in early July 2009

The Chinese government, as many governments have done and continue to do, is playing with fire. By attempting to sideline legitimate voices for Uyghur human rights such as Rebiya Kadeer's, they are encouraging a growing disenchanted minority of Uyghurs to turn toward more radical ideological groups, such as the ETIM and Hizb al-Islam Turkistani.

Han Chinese settler thugs shout insults at a Uyghur man after breaking through a police line to attack a Uyghur neighborhood in the city or Urumqi on July 8, 2009.

Thousands of Chinese soldiers and security forces have flooded into East Turkestan, imposing martial law. Here, Chinese security forces attempt to block a crowd of Han Chinese settler thugs from attacking Uyghur neighborhoods on July 8, 2009.


An audio message in Uyghur from the latter was released on transnational jihadi web sites on July 17 condemning Chinese aggression in East Turkestan and pledging to seek revenge. Those readers familiar with Turkic languages will recognize many of the characteristically "Turkic" linguistic markers, such as the locative case. An English translation was released on at least one jihadi web site on July 26. The full text, with some edits for flow and clarity, appears below (I have provided some explanatory injections, but have not comprehensively edited the text other than to correct a some typos or misspellings):


Statement of the military leader of the Islamic Turkestan group
Amir Seif-ul-llah- 15 Rajab 1430‎

The statement of the military leader of the Islamic Turkestan group‎ on the occasion of the slaughter of the communists of our Islamic ummah in China and ‎in Urumqi (East Turkestan)‎

In the name of God, the most Compassionate, the most Merciful....

Praise be to God, and peace and blessings unto the Prophet [Muhammad], his family, companions and ‎those who aid them....

To proceed:

The Chinese Communists since their occupation of East Turkestan have committed group ‎massacres of the people of East Turkestan day and night, secretly and openly. Their ‎barbarous crimes developed day after day. From amongst these are that they are sending ‎the young men and women to travel into China using several tricks and when they go ‎there, they are enslaved and treated the treatment of donkeys. The best witness of what ‎we mention is the last massacre that was performed by the Chinese against the Turkistani ‎workers in the electronic toy factory in Juwandong whereof the story of the fight began ‎with a simple argument between the Turkistanis and the Chinese and it was more rightful ‎that the matter be raised to the court from the part of the one who thought they were ‎wronged.‎

But the chinese as they are used to oppress the Turkistanis, did not raise the matter to the ‎court and gathered all the workers of the company who numbered 6000 and called the ‎police and called whoever they could of the common Chinese from outside the company ‎and all of them attacked the Turkistani workers in the company who numbered 800 and ‎‎200 were killed while 400 injured. The people of Turkistan asked the Chinese government ‎to judge the killers of their sons, but the government did not care about them and did not ‎value them. Therefore the people were forced to perform revenge attacks against the ‎government and they tried to take revenge from the Chinese and that resulted in a huge ‎clash that took place between them. The role of the police in this was to stand by the side ‎of the oppressors and slaughter the oppressed where of 1000 people were killed as a ‎result and more than 2000 were injured and those who were put to the prisons their ‎number exceeded 2000‎.

And we declare to the wicked Chinese Communists that:

And we say- don’t claim that there is no protector or defender for the nation of Muslim ‎Turkistan, for God is their protector and defender and He is ever living and never dies, if ‎they call unto Him, He will answer them, and if they ask of Him , He will give them, and ‎He is capable of destroying the tyrant chinese in a single second if He wishes ;

And you should know that for this Muslim people there are men who will revenge and the ‎time has drawn close when the horses of God will clash against you by the will of Allah, ‎so wait, we are with you waiting‎;

And we say to the Chinese- no matter how much you increase your tyranny and ‎oppression and destruction of our Muslim brothers and develop your ways of torture and ‎randomize in the forms of torturing our brothers, then don’t think that you will be able to ‎enslave them, and know that the people of the defiant Turkistan are just about to rise, its ‎men and women, in all the parts of their country and they will make you taste hell, for the ‎safe time for the bomb that had been planted against you is over‎

So O' heroic mujahideen [warriors of faith] of the youth of Turkistan stand up in the name of God to ‎protect your Muslim people and kill the Chinese Communists wherever you find them ‎and trap them and plot for them in every way; [He is adapting a Qur'anic verse here]

For God the Almighty has said, ‘God will grant victory to the one who helps Him’‎;

And I appeal to all our Turkistani brothers to return to their religion and to hold on to the ‎book of God and the sunnah [traditions] of His messenger, and to repent from deviated beliefs and ‎wrong thoughts and every word and deed that opposes this religion. And return to the ‎mercy of Allah and do not take help except of it, and draw close to Him by performing ‎your duty as much as you can and leave the forbidden no matter how much it is adorned ‎before you by the Satan, and strive your best to bring victory to the religion of God the ‎Almighty;

And ponder over the saying of God, the Almighty:

‎“Do men think that they will be left alone on saying, "We believe", and that they will not ‎be tested?”(Surah al-Ankabut 2)‎

We pray to God the Almighty to torture our enemies as a whole and the Chinese ‎especially from His side or by our hands, and to grant us steadfastness on what pleases ‎and satisfies him from jihad in His way and to avenge His enemies. Ameen [Amen].

And in the end I say, the Prophet (peace be upon him), the truthful, told us that there is no ‎barrier between the call of the oppressed and Allah, so let all of us turn to God, the all ‎hearing, the all seeing and humble ourselves before Him, and pray to Him during the ‎night and in the day to ease our hardship and to honor us with establishment in our land ‎so that we establish His law on His land, and to release His slaves from the oppression of ‎disbelief and its transgression.

And in the end we ask God to forgive our brothers and sisters who died in the massacre ‎and to make them enter into the vastness of His paradise, He is capable of it.

And God is dominant over His decree but most people know not‎!

Peace be unto you, and the mercy and blessings of God be upon you.

Military leader- Sayf Allah (literally, "Sword of God")

‎15 Rajab 1430‎

Translated by Dar Al Murabiteen Publications

Listen to the audio message.

A major release from the amir (commander) of Hizb al-Islam Turkistani about the ongoing civil unrest is expected soon:



What is needed are more human rights activists like the brave Rebiya Kadeer and fewer radicals, like those in Hizb al-Islam Turkistani, and autocrats like those who rule China and its occupied territories.

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