What if the Uighurs were Christian rather than Muslim?

Violent clashes in China underscore an ugly reality of the War on Terror.

Published July 6, 2009 12:07PM (EDT)

(updated below - Update II - Update III)

According to The New York Times this morning, violent clashes between Chinese government forces and Muslim Uighurs -- that country's long-oppressed minority -- have left at least 140 people dead and close to 1,000 injured.  This incident in Western China highlights an important fact about America's "War on Terror."

Just imagine if the Uighurs were a Christian -- rather than Muslim -- minority, battling against the tyrannical Communist regime in Beijing, resisting various types of persecution, and demanding religious freedom.  They would be lionized by America's Right, as similar Christian minorities, oppressed by tyrannical regimes, automatically are.  Episodes like these -- where a declared Tyranny like China violently acts against citizens with whom we empathize -- are ones about which, in general, the American political class loves to sermonize.

But the Uighurs are Muslim, not Christian, and hostility towards them thus easily outweighs the opportunity they present to undermine the Chinese Government.  Rather than support and venerate them, we instead spent this decade declaring them to be "enemy combatants" and locking them up in Guantanamo -- despite the fact that they have never evinced any interest in doing anything other than resisting Chinese persecution, and have certainly never taken actions against the U.S. (as even the Bush administration ultimately admitted).  Yet even now, both Congress and the administration actively block release into the U.S. even of those Uighurs we wrongfully imprisoned for years, while the Right screams with outrage -- and fear -- over the administration's commendable efforts to find a home for them elsewhere.

For all the Serious analysis about the War on Terror, so much of it has been driven by nothing more complex or noble than sheer hostility towards Muslims.  Muslims generally -- not just Al Qaeda -- replaced Communists as our New Enemy and became the new enabling force for our endless state of War and never-ending expansions of executive power.  Rather obviously, the Uighurs were swept into the Enemy category solely by virtue of their status as Muslims.  What more compelling evidence of that could be imagined than the fact that we imprisoned -- and continue to imprison -- people at Guantanamo whose only political interest is in resisting oppression by the Chinese government?


UPDATE:  On a related note:  there is much worthwhile commentary about Joe Biden's statements yesterday that Israel is "entitled" as a sovereign nation to attack Iran and the U.S. would do nothing to stand in its way.  Marc Lynch examines what Biden likely meant and did not mean, but more importantly documents that it was perceived in the Middle East -- including in Iran and Israel -- as the U.S. giving the "green light" to Israel.  Digby explains the particular stupidity of the U.S. appearing to threaten Iran with an Israeli attack -- of all things -- in light of the current political turmoil inside that country.  And Chris Floyd describes how the "principles" invoked by Biden apply only to the U.S. and those within "the golden circle of imperial favor," while those disfavored by the U.S. are explicitly denied such rights.

There are so many hypocrisies embedded in what Biden said that it is impossible to note all of them.  Last August, Biden himself demanded that Russia -- at least as "sovereign" a country as Israel -- withdraw from Georgia and threatened recriminations if they did not.  The U.S. is now demanding that sovereign Israel cease West Bank settlements.  The entire effort against Iran is based on an attempt to dictate that sovereign country's nuclear policies.  The whole world knows that telling other countries what to do is what the U.S. does generally, and that the massive amounts of various aid we give to Israel allows us to dictate its actions particularly. Given all the ways we enable Israeli actions -- financial, military, diplomatic -- there are very few people who would interpret an Israeli attack on Iran as being done without American approval.

All that said, I think Biden's comments yesterday were more the by-product of the unique ineptitude and plain dumbness that Biden often exhibits rather than a conscious attempt by the Obama administration to announce some new policy.  I say that mostly because Biden himself repeated the same comments back in October, 2008, when he told so-called "members of the Jewish media" that whether Israel attacks Iran "is not a question for us to tell the Israelis what they can and cannot do."  That's just how Biden speaks when asked about Israel, and that was true before yesterday.  Still, whether intended or not, our general willingness to constantly threaten military action against Iran, and to refuse to publicly oppose Israel's threats, is rather obviously inconsistent with our attempts to depict Them -- those irrational, barbaric Muslims -- as the root of all hostility and aggression.


UPDATE II:  On an entirely unrelated note:  Dan Abrams, formerly of MSNBC, launched a new wesbite today devoted to reporting on the media world (Howie Kurtz profiles it here today).  The site (Mediaite), among other things, maintains rankings of media influence using puportedly objective metrics.  Their ranking of the top print and online columnists is here, and it ranks my "column" at # 9 (tragically just behind Charles Krauthammer's but ahead of Karl Rove's, Peggy Noonan's, David Brooks' and Kurtz's).  Attempting to quantify influence this way is a dubious proposition, but since the influence (or lack thereof) of blogs is a commonly debated topic among many here (including at Salon today), it seems worth noting.


UPDATE III:  So predictable:  ordinarily, on the Right, there would be nothing more Satanic than a tyrannical Communist regime suppressing the religious freedom of its citizens -- except when the minority in question is Muslim, in which case they side with and adopt the propaganda of the Communist regime and disgustingly depict the regime as the victim.  The Muslims resisting persecution are -- needless to say -- "terrorists."

By Glenn Greenwald

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