This blog was defending the human rights of the Uighurs a decade before the neo-conservatives for whom they are now a fashionable cause even knew of their existence. The Uighurs are the closest linguistic and cultural cousins of the Uzbeks, and the populations are contiguous. (China is not contiguous with Uzbekistan but Osh and the eastern Ferghana Valley in Kirghizstan are Uzbek majority areas).
The dynamic spread of Islam northwards and eastwards under the Abbasids, (much less commented that the expansion of its early centuries) and the temporary patronage of Islam by the Mongol Yuan conquerors of China, left very substantial Islamic populations throughout Eurasia, which later became subsumed into non-Muslim polities, including by the expansion of the Chinese and Russian empires. The persecution of the Uighurs is a historic continuation. For decades from the mid eighteenth century they were subjected to one of history’s most sustained and organised campaigns of mass rape of the female population by Chinese occupiers. In a historical perspective, it was the period of comparative tolerance that preceded the current massive attempt at cultural genocide which was the aberration.
I do despair of those on the left who excuse the mass imprisonment of hundreds of thousands and the extrajudicial killing of thousands, because it is China doing it and not a CIA aligned power.
The Uighurs are a people with the right of self-determination. They are not Chinese; their language, culture and religion are completely different. They have a clearly defined territory they have occupied continuously for many centuries. One of the problems with the British is that as an island, we tend to only think of colonies as places you sail to. Colonies you walk to is a concept we have not grasped. That is one of the reasons the left in the UK have such difficulty recognising that China is an Empire and Kashgar is a colony. The other reason is that whole “West Bad, Opponents Good” thing.
It is excellent to recognise that the Western powers have done a huge amount of evil in the world. It is a completely illogical step to assume from this revelation that they have a monopoly on evil. All major governments do evil.
Kashmir is the other pressing issue of a Hindu minority population under pressure. Six years ago I annoyed rather a lot of people when I warned that my personal experience of living among them for some months in India was that it was changing into an an “increasingly oppressive and rabidly conservative Hindu society”. I have viewed the rise of Modi and his Hindu nationalists with great concern, while Western governments have been much more concerned with seeking to benefit from India’s economic boom.
The revocation of the autonomous status of Kashmir and Jammu was a reckless and aggressive act of centralisation that was grossly insensitive to both the population and the history of the region – and I write in full awareness that there have been not only Muslim but also many Sikh victims of intercommunal violence over the years. The incorporation of Kashmir into India was a dreadful British error, semi-apologetically enshrined in its special constitutional position, now destroyed by Modi. It is only the statesmanship of Imran Khan which has averted a hideous war.
The Supreme Court of India’s firmly anti-Muslim ruling in the Ayodhya dispute, and the new immigrant citizenship law excluding Muslims (which has outraged the remnants of liberal India), are evidence of intercommunal policy which is all pushing in an anti-Muslim direction. Modi has been portrayed in the West as a moderniser. This is a fundamental error – he is just a populist in the Trump and Johnson mode who succeeds by stirring up feelings against the “other” in the population. The situation in India is destabilising and I fear more violence against the Muslim population is bound to ensue.
The Muslim populations of Central Asia now live in autonomous republics, none of which has transitioned to effective democracy, all of which have been more or less looted by oligarchs, all have continuing serious human rights problems, and all are increasingly under the economic sway of China (which is not, in itself, a bad thing). China remains something of an enigma. Its economic success continues to be staggering, if severely pollution creating. As I frequently assert, there has never been a power in the world of such economic dominance which has shown such a comparatively tiny appetite for military dominance. If you compare China to the USA in this regard the difference is striking. China has very few military bases outside China, the USA has eight hundred.
But the Central Asian “stans” only contain a minority of the Muslim colonies in Eurasia which Russia acquired in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, simultaneous with the expansion of the British Empire. Many of these colonies, with their overwhelmingly Muslim populations, remain part of the Russian Federation which – make no mistake about it – is still an Empire.
The Tatar are the most widespread of the colonial peoples within Russia. Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Cherkessa, Kabardino Balkaria and Karachai are all areas of Russia where I believe the original Muslim population, absorbed into the Russian Empire by conquest, will in the fulness of time achieve independence, in addition to the better-known Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia. The astonishing brutality of the Russian repression of the perfectly justified Independence movements of the latter countries cannot hold back the tide of decolonisation forever. Crimea, of course, should belong to the Tatars who were deported from their land by Stalin. Not Russia, not Ukraine, but Krim Tatar.
As I said earlier, even though Russia’s colonies were colonised contemporaneously with the British ones, and even though the indigenous populations are Muslim, we in the UK have difficulty perceiving them as colonies because they are contiguous with Russia by land and have been institutionally absorbed into the metropolitan. It is also worth noting that, largely but not entirely as a result of the Soviet period of running its Empire, Russia did a much better job of providing education, health and other public services to its colonies than the British ever did.
It is important to state that these colonised peoples are not Russians but separate peoples in the sense of the UN Charter, with very distinct cultures, histories, languages and religion, and thus they do have the right of self-determination. I do not deny that at present, outside the colonies of Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia, there is little evidence of separatist desire. But I expect that to change over historic time.
It is of course a personal irony that I am very often accused of being a Russian agent because I debunk ludicrous anti-Russian scares like the fake Skripal narrative, or the totally unfounded narrative that Russia has any desire to attack Western Europe. These scare stories about Russia are of course essential to the profits of the western military-industrial-security complex, and I debunk them because they are nonsense, and because of their propaganda power in controlling western populations. But while I have a deep-seated love for Russia, its culture and people, I know of no other commentator who calls for the Russian Federation to be divorced of its internalised colonies, an opinion the Kremlin would find outrageous.
The Eurasian Muslim populations were overtaken by history from around the seventeenth century and, Islam having expanded itself in Eurasia by conquest, the Muslims were generally themselves absorbed into larger Empires by conquest. In Central Asia they have in the last thirty years regained a kind of independence, but are still dominated by foreign imposed institutions and the colonial subordinate administrative and political class. In China and India the conditions of Muslims are worsening markedly. In Russia the brutal crushing of Independence attempts in some areas has led to the current position where the colonial status of the Muslim sub-polities within the Russian Federation is shunned by the entire world as a Pandora’s Box.
This is of course not in any sense a comprehensive survey. But sometimes it is useful to step back and try to see current events in a broader perspective, both historically and geographically. I do hope this gives some food for your own thoughts. I do hope that some of those thoughts are more profound than the notion that Russia and China, as diplomatic opponents of the West, are beyond criticism.