f o r e i g n p a r t s young man heads for a lake and drowns himself. (‘Jumping over Satan’, by the way, is Uighur for masturbation.)
On the author’s return almost a decade later he sees evidence of progress – modern buildings, more businesses, a self-conscious attempt at bilingualism (there are notices in Han and Arabic) – but the downside is the steady growth of the Han population and the reduction of some Uighur districts to dolled-up tourist enclaves. ‘Folk Tourism Spot’, reads one new sign. It’s cultural elimination via ethnic prettification, in other words. The same strategy is in progress in the south of the province, notably in Kashgar, where the old quarters are being torn down in favour of cheap modern structures (a fate not confined to Xinjiang).
Relationships with other ethnicities are complex, with little suggestion of solidarity against the Han. The Kazaks are disliked because, though fewer in number, they are regarded with greater official favour and get more jobs, and the Hui – Chinese Sunnis – are vaguely resented too.
In his post-riots trip to Urumqi Holdstock witnesses (as I did) a ‘normalised’ but deeply nervous city, with police and troops at every turn. Beijing’s oft-proclaimed warnings that foreign extremists are active have been dismissed in the West, and yet a couple of Holdstock’s underground
‘Learning science to build and safeguard the motherland ’
contacts suggest that some Uighurs may indeed be edging that way. Three options, he is told, are open to them: the peaceful struggle; support by foreign countries to pressure the Chinese into a more benign treatment of minorities; or violence. ‘The third way is Taliban,’ his informant says, after eliminating the first two.
Holdstock has produced a timely and informative book on a part of the world about which we shall be hearing more, I suspect, for two interrelated reasons: Islamist terrorism and economic development. The idea that China will ever submit to separatist pressures, violent or not, can be ruled out, not just by its historical claims to the province – its contact with it dates back to the first century – but because of the abundance of oil, gas, gold and numerous other minerals in them there hills and deserts.
Xinjiang means ‘new frontier’, and at the current rate of immigration, road- and rail-building, mining and urban development, it could one day become a kind of Texas of the Gobi, in which the Uighurs risk playing the role of Mexicans. Here they come across as a woebegone folk, proud but downtrodden, whose main desire is that the world should know of their tribulations. In this Nick Holdstock has certainly helped. r
Most great British institutions had a ‘bad’ Bosnian war. John Major’s Conservative government resolutely refused to intervene to prevent ethnic cleansing, and stopped the Americans from doing so for as long as it could. The Foreign Office consistently argued for a ‘moral equivalence’ between aggressor and victim. The army, remarkable individual performances notwithstanding, showed a noticeable partiality towards the Bosnian Serb aggressors. The ‘experts’, both civilian and military, vastly overreckoned the fighting power of the Bosnian Serbs, and hugely underestimated both the effectiveness of air power and the advantages of exempting the Bosnian government from the international arms embargo (‘lift and strike’, as its American advocates called it). Parliament, both the upper and lower houses, generally echoed these arguments.
b r e n dan s i mms
Lives Go On he War is Dead, Long Live the War: Bosnia – The Reckoning
By Ed Vulliamy (The Bodley Head 256pp £20)
Amid this tale of failure, the Fourth Estate – British journalists – stood out. Men and women from print and broadcast media such as Maggie O’Kane, Alec Russell, Janine di Giovanni, Martin Bell and many others ‘told it as it was’: they exposed the horrors of ethnic cleansing and provided realistic assessments of the situation on the ground. Prominent among them was The Guardian’s Ed Vulliamy, who, together with ITN’s Penny Marshall and Ian Williams of Channel 4 News, uncovered the horrific Omarska detention camp in northwest Bosnia in the summer of 1992. His reports, and his subsequent book Seasons in Hell, showed that what happened to the Croats and Muslims of the region was not the by-product of war, but its very purpose: a calculated campaign of terror and displacement, launched out of the blue against a largely unarmed population by Serb nationalists intent on establishing an ethnically pure Greater Serbia on the ruins of the old Yugoslavia.
Twenty years after the outbreak of war in 1992, most journalists have moved on.
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