Join our Mailing List

"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Terrorism and the Olympics

May 30, 2008

The New York TImes
May 29, 2008

KASHGAR, China -- The reports of terror plots emanating this year
from this Muslim region in the far west of China might seem fanciful:
A foiled plot to blow up a plane; a cache of TNT to bomb the Summer
Olympics; even a "violent terrorist gang" that planned to kidnap
Olympic athletes.

But these aren't whispers on the Internet. They're reports coming
from the Chinese government. So I flew out here to Kashgar — an oasis
on the ancient Silk Road, where the minarets and camels and carpets
provide a Middle Eastern ambience — to look for terrorists.

Instead, China's State Security Ministry found me. I had been in
Kashgar just a few hours when my videographer, who is ethnically
Chinese, called to say that two plainclothes officials were
interrogating him. They asked him not to tell me since American
journalists tend to be touchy about such things.

The interrogation was a sign of the authorities' anxiety about
stability in China's Muslim west. Separatists here in the Xinjiang
region aim to create the nation of "East Turkestan" and have
periodically blown up police stations — even bombed three public buses in 1997.

The Chinese government has claimed that 162 people were killed in
such terror attacks by Uighur separatists between 1990 and 2001.
Meanwhile, China has sentenced more than 200 people to death since
1997 for engaging in such separatist crimes.

Last year, Chinese officials said that 18 people had been killed when
police raided a Uighur terrorist training camp with ties to Al Qaeda.
The raid netted 1,500 grenades.

Then in March, China announced that it had foiled a plot "to create
an air crash," in a passenger plane shortly after it took off from
the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi. In April, the authorities said that
they had confiscated explosives from Uighurs who were planning
suicide bomb attacks.

"This violent terrorist gang secretly plotted to kidnap journalists,
visitors and athletes during the Beijing Olympics," The Associated
Press quoted Wu Heping, a spokesman for the Public Security Ministry,
as saying.

Then just this month, a crowded bus blew up in Shanghai, killing
three people and injuring many more. No one publicly claimed
responsibility, but it recalled the 1997 Uighur bus bombings.

Ronald Noble, the secretary general of Interpol, cited these
incidents -- and also reports of a separatist plot to disrupt the
Olympic Games with poison gas — and told a press conference that a
terror attack at the Olympics was "a real possibility."

It's not entirely clear what to make of all this, for as I strolled
around Kashgar I found the situation remarkably calm. I wasn't
expecting to uncover a terrorist cell, but I had anticipated more
hostility toward the government. Ordinary Uighurs I spoke with
offered measured complaints, but they weren't seething as Tibetans are.

"Nobody likes it when the Chinese all move in here,-- said a Uighur
shop-keeper. "Of course, we're all upset. But what can we do?"

One young woman offered a different take. "When I was a little kid,
my mom would tell me, 'Don't wander or the Han Chinese will steal you
away. They eat human flesh.' " She laughed and added: "But now we see
more Han, and we're not afraid of them. Relations are O.K."

Some young Uighurs criticized the Beijing Olympics, saying the Games
will drain local budgets. But I could have found stronger
anti-government sedition on any street corner of Manhattan.

The only excitement I found in Kashgar was playing pied piper to
State Security officers who tailed me whenever I left the hotel.

Normally, the Chinese government downplays security risks, but human
rights groups argue persuasively that China is using concerns about
Uighurs as an excuse to crack down on peaceful Uighur dissidents.
After 9/11, China declared its own war on terror in Xinjiang, but
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have documented that
this often has targeted Uighurs who are completely nonviolent.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration has largely backed this
Chinese version of the war on terror. Indeed, a Department of Justice
report this month suggests that American troops softened up Uighur
prisoners in Guantánamo Bay on behalf of visiting Chinese
interrogators. The American troops starved the Uighurs and prevented
them from sleeping, just before inviting in the Chinese interrogators.

That was disgraceful; we shouldn't do China's dirty work. It was one
more example of the Bush administration allowing the war on terror to
corrode our moral clarity.

We should encourage China to tolerate peaceful protesters even as it
prosecutes terrorists. But instead of clarifying that distinction, in
recent years we have helped China blur it. The risk of terrorism
during the Olympics is real, but that shouldn't force us to do
violence to our principles.

I invite you to comment on this column on my blog,, and join me on Facebook at
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank