Thursday, 9 July 2009

language matters

i have a couple of posts at the hand mirror today, one about sarah palin's resignation as governor of alaska, and another about a report by the equal employment opportunities commission about demographics of the professional workforce.

i'm pretty full of outrage today, and most of it will come through tomorrow on a couple of posts i've put up at the hand mirror. but one other thing that has me pissed off is to do with the civil unrest in western china. now i'll put down clearly my total lack of ignorance of the issues in this particular part of the world.

nonetheless, there is plenty to be pissed off about. the fact that it would appear that there has been significant and on-going discrimination against uighurs, leading to this current round of violence. the fact that so many innocent people have been killed during this current round of rioting. the fact that hundreds of people have been arrested, and their chances of a fair and transparent trial are not likely to be high.

of course i'm upset about all of these things. but the other thing that is really getting on my nerves is that in media coverage of this issue, the word "uighurs" is always (and i do mean always) preceded by the word "muslim". the chinese are described by their ethnicity, being han chinese but never by their religion.

as far as i know (and again, i admit that isn't a lot), this is an ethnic dispute and not a religious one. and in media coverage of the unrest in tibet last year prior to and during the olympics, you didn't hear the term "buddhist tibetans". even though most people would know that a good proportion of tibetans are buddhist and even though the dalai lama featured in much of the coverage, the descriptor was not used.

so i'm really failing to understanding why the uighurs can't just be described as such, without any religious descriptor being added. i can only conclude that it's another attempt to link muslims and violence, regardless of the underlying factors that have lead to this situation. and that is just sick.

in other news, this press release from the migrant action trust regarding their recent meeting with the minister of immigration may be of interest. let's hope that the minister does actually take some action regarding:

interim emergency measures for migrants in distress, short term solutions that can bring relief to affected persons and solutions to address a long term immigration policy that make New Zealand a preferred destination of would be migrants who can contribute to the growth of the economy of this country.


Hugh said...

I've often felt that the reason the situation in Xinjiang doesn't have nearly as high a profile in the West as that in Tibet is at least partly because Muslims don't have as positive an image in the Western eye as Buddhists do.

(The other part is that, in the Dalai Lama, the Tibetans have a leader who is very aware of the way Westerners see Buddhism, and ruthlessly exploit it)

All of that being said I am not sure that an erasing of the Uighur's muslim status, which plays such a large part in their cultural heritage, from news reports on the situation would be a good thing.

katy said...

Interesting post. I wonder what is behind the fact that "Uighur" almost always goes with "Muslim", my suspicion in the past had been that it was because no-one knows who the Uighur are, so it was just a kind of reference point.

"Uighur" is not an ethnic term, Turkic is the ethnic group, historically "Uighur" was used broadly to refer to people in Central Asia but more recently the term has been used to refer to the Turkic people who settled in this part of the very west of China, as opposed to the Turkic who remained nomadic in Central Asia.

From the little I have read it seems that the issue of autonomy has become more urgent as the proportion of "Uighur" people in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region has declined. Historically the Uighur were very powerful; they were horse traders who held the Chinese court ransom and made them buy horses they didn't want in exchange for silk cloth. Hard to imagine now! Central Asian friends have said that these people terrorised other people in the region and bad feeling remains. None of which is that relevant to what is happening now, which is awful. I just find the history of this part of the world absolutely fascinating (as my friends know).

Hugh said...

Katy, it's kind of ironic what you say - once again the comparison with Tibet is instructive. Tibet was also a rapacious kingdom that often plundered and conquered its neighbours, but seems to have totally erased that memory from popular culture.

Also... I'd be a bit careful with your phrasing. When you talk about "the Turkic people who settled in this part of the very west of China" you're implying that the area was under the authority of the Chinese state when they settled there - very much not the case. More accurately these people settled here, formed their own autonomous statelets and were then gradually brought under Chinese control - a process not really fully consolidated until 1949.