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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Is Peking really the place for the Olympic spirit?

September 25, 2008

By Abu Bakr Rieger
Globalia Magazine
Independent Forum
Wednesday, 24. September 2008

The “Strike Hard” Campaign

Just a few months before the opening of the Olympic Games, the world is
becoming aware of the tragic situation of China’s minorities. The idea
of a peaceful Games seems distant, especially in view of the dramatic
situation in Tibet. The message we are getting is simple: political
resistance by minorities in China is not only subject to official
defamation, it is downright dangerous. Even the Dalai Lama, who enjoys
an almost cult status in Europe, was promptly designated a “Terrorist”
by the Chinese government – a tactic which has been applied again and
again to leading representatives of the minority living in East
Turkestan, the Uighurs. “Peking is once again attempting to define the
Uighurs as terrorists in the run-up to the Olympic Games,” says Asgar
Can, Vice President of the Uighur World Congress. To do this, China
refers to the staged-looking, violent actions of a small minority.
China’s rhetorical interest in the official pronouncements of the “War
Against Terror” is because of the numerous possibilities which the
declaration of a state of emergency nowadays offers. It is on this basis
that the State and its Party – which is always in the right – justifies
the operation of new camps, persecution and torture. Many of these camps
are occupied by Muslims. Now no-one can say they know nothing about this.

Indeed, the fate of the Uighurs, whose terrible situation has for
decades barely been mentioned in the European public arena, is another
shameful blight on the Chinese multi-racial state. No other ethnic group
in the People’s Republic is exposed to such massive and arbitrary
violence by its security forces. According to a report by the Society
for Threatened Peoples, more than 700 politically justified death
sentences have been handed down and carried out against Uighurs since
the middle of the 1990s as part of what is known as the “Strike Hard”
campaign. Only one Tibetan was condemned to death in Tibet during the
same period. As in Tibet, the Chinese government is striving steadily to
enlarge the influence of the Han Chinese by means of large-scale
resettlement schemes. Muslim Uighurs can often only practise their
beliefs on pain of death. According to the Society for Threatened
Peoples’ report, mosques and Qur’an schools are being closed
arbitrarily, religiously and culturally important writings and books are
burned in public, the celebration of Muslim festivals is forbidden, and
Imams are forced to attend Communist Party re-education courses.

The authoress Rebiya Kadeer is one of the few Uighurs known to the
world’s public. In her bestseller, Die Himmelstürmerin (The Great
Idealist), “China’s No. 1 Enemy of the State” tells of her life. Her
relatives paid for her courageous criticism of the central Chinese
state’s methods with prison and torture. No surprise then that the World
Uighur Congress and Rebiya Kadeer support “a boycott of the Olympic
Games, because the inhuman, anti-human-rights activities of the
dictatorial Chinese government are contrary to the Olympic spirit of
peace and peaceful coexistence.”

The Uighur human rights activists living in Germany are also denounced
regularly as “terrorists” by China. Fortunately, however, despite
considerable pressure from the government in Peking, the German security
authorities do not share this malicious view. If you meet these Uighur
asylum-recipients in Germany, then you will find the reports about the
situation in the China confirmed by personal accounts that are hard to
forget. Abduljelil Karakash of the East Turkestan Information Centre in
Munich reports that conditions in East Turkestan have worsened since the
recent events in Tibet. The oppressive activities that are already known
have in fact intensified. The latest measures include, for example, the
imprisonment of 3,000 young women solely for wearing headscarves.

Abduljelil has been struggling for years with minimal means to break the
consensus on East Turkestan. It is no easy task, since reporting is
strictly monitored, even in the event of humanitarian catastrophe. An
earthquake in part of East Turkestan which killed large numbers of
people received no mention at all in either Chinese or foreign media.
Independent journalists are deterred from visiting East Turkestan and
are told that an “acute risk of terror” exists there, and that the
government cannot guarantee their safety.

Some Uighur organisations have even found refuge in the USA. As in
Kosovo, the rules of an alleged geopolitical confrontation between the
West and the Muslims do not apply here. China’s attitude towards
“radical Islam” is in fact quite pragmatic and flexible when it comes to
their geopolitical interests. The extreme Hizb ut-Tahrir in Central Asia
– which is viewed by Peking as a geopolitical opponent to the USA – is
ignored by China and is even said to be active in East Turkestan. China
– behind the scenes at least – would also like to see the Western Allies
fail in Afghanistan.

According to the Western line of argument, China should quietly continue
to democratise as part of strengthening trade relations – on the side,
so to speak. The obvious advantage of this approach is firstly that it
does not cost anything. The drawback is that the persecuted minorities
quite simply might not survive such a long-term strategy. The Middle
Kingdom has until now been practising, unhindered, a new form of statism
which could be defined as “authoritarian capitalism”. Authoritarian
capitalism trusts in the power of the market alone, and has, in the
words of the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, long ceased to need
democracy to pursue its course.

Of course, the subject of a serious Olympic boycott is an awkward one,
given the economic importance of China. The regions of Tibet and East
Turkestan (Chinese: Xinjiang) are major sources of raw material to fuel
the new superpower’s upturn. To the West, the territorial integrity of
China, not the implosion of the state, continues to be the guarantee of
the much-welcome upswing. The methods behind this upswing may be
fascistic, but the prospects of profit have so far eclipsed any
effective criticism. The Volkswagen Group, for instance, reported not
only record sales in China in 2007, but also growing profits. Volkswagen
is also one of the committed lead-sponsors of the Games, yet it shows no
inclination to regret this morally dubious engagement. In its latest
statement, the German Olympic Sports Confederation speaks about Tibet
but ignores the situation of the Uighurs, and in the end supports
Germany’s participation. Most politicians and sports functionaries do
not mention the Uighurs or their representatives at all in their
statements. That is no coincidence. To today’s Uighurs, Peking is the
wrong place for the spirit of the Olympic Games.
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