f o r e i g n p a r t s the opponents of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, whom they wish to arm; Iran is supporting the Shia opposition in Bahrain. The Iranians, and their client Hassan Nasrullah of Hizbollah, back Bashar; the Saudis have loaned troops to Bahrain to smother Iran’s clients. In both countries, disaffected minorities occupy the areas that produce most of the oil: Shias in eastern Saudi Arabia and ethnic Arabs in western Iran’s Khuzestan. Iran and Saudi Arabia are likely to clash over the fate of their respective client enclaves within a disintegrating Syria. The loss of Syria to these forces of chaos may embolden Hizbollah to essay a more overt compensatory takeover of Lebanon.
The final pages of this otherwise fine book degenerate into a rant against banker- and rioter-plagued Western democracies, which, Bradley correctly maintains, have no moral authority to dictate to Arabs how their societies should be organised after the disastrous intervention in Iraq. How dare a country that underwent the parliamentary expenses scandal, in which Russian oligarchs hire ten-a-penny peers, and in which drunken brawls erupt in the Strangers’ Bar, lecture the rest of the world about governmental probity?
As an admirer of Ron Paul, Bradley deplores the strange axis of the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia, alliances that Obama has done nothing to broaden. His government still pays out the $1.4 billion that keeps the generals happy in their plush quarters in Cairo’s Heliopolis, primarily so they will maintain the Cold Peace with Israel. Pretending that the Muslim Brotherhood are not what they are, or desperately cutting the deck in search of so-called Islamist ‘moderates’, is not a serious policy. While Saudi Wahhabis may be responsible for most of the anti-Semitic poison throughout the Islamic world, Israel is banking on Riyadh turning off its radars when Israeli fighter-bombers head for Natanz and Qom. Bradley believes that if the US simply withdrew from the entire region, its problems would largely disappear, since without the spectre of the Great Satan, the Arabs would be forced to take a hard look at their own backward selves. Who knows, they might decide that mildly autocratic monarchies, such as Jordan or Morocco, would be the best political outcome. But who seriously thinks that Jordan would survive in an increasingly green-tinted region, especially if some sort of Palestinian state finds that expansion eastwards is the only way to go? Would the dozens of other active or simmering conflicts in the Middle East simply go away too? In that regard, Bradley is not pessimistic enough. To order this book for £8.79, see the Literary Review bookshop on page 9
Having something of a yen for the place after working on Sino-Soviet affairs in Cold War days, and been banned from travelling when I was at the British Mission in Beijing during the Cultural Revolution, I visited Xinjiang, China’s remote northwestern province, two years ago. As a VSO teacher of English Nick Holdstock spent an entire year there, not just in the capital city, Urumqi, but in the town of Yining, close to the frontier with Kazakhstan, and saw a lot more than me. His account is highly personal, and the better for it. He first went as a Mandarin speaker in 2001, having previously taught in south China, then returned in 2010. The dates are significant.
Tension between the Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese, centuries old, worsened in the 1930s when there was a move for Uighur independence, then again when Mao Zedong communised Xinjiang after 1949. More recently there have been sporadic outbreaks of revolt, notably in Yining in 1997, when martial law was declared. After 9/11, Chinese fears of al-Qaeda contamination – Xinjiang has frontiers with Pakistan and Afghanistan – resulted in new pressures on Muslims. And Holdstock’s reason for going back in 2010 was to review the situation after the vicious and bloody clashes in Urumqi in which hundreds were g e or g e wa l de n
One Big Unhappy Family The Tree That Bleeds: A Uighur Town on the Edge
By Nick Holdstock (Luath Press 358pp £12.99)
killed in the summer of 2009.
During his first stay he saw little evidence of the ‘one big family’ the Beijing government boasts about. Though the majority in Yining are Uighur (the province as a whole is approaching 50 per cent Han), 95 per cent of his students were Chinese, the official reason being that the Uighurs, educationally backward, had no interest in learning English. Holdstock brings out the startling degree of Han– Uighur resentment. Mutual loathing would not be too strong a term.
They literally can’t stand the sight of each other (for the Uighurs, the Han are ugly folk with no noses), or the smell: to the Chinese, the Uighur stink of sheep. Self-segregation was pretty much absolute: the only time he observed any kind of real socialising between them was over the bloody sport of cock-fighting.
All this despite the fact that in Yining, unlike parts of southern Xinjiang, the
Muslims (Sunni in the main) are far from fundamentalist: few women wear the veil and the men often drink and smoke. The Chinese see them as superstitious, dirty, degenerate, lazy and thievish druggies. To the extent that any of this is true – and drugs are a problem – Holdstock suggests that much of it is linked to high unemployment and institutionalised repression. While he was there the use of the Uighur language in further education was banned, the purpose (according to the government) being to widen employment opportunities. To Uighur eyes it is just another way to smother their culture. Though eroded by the relative openmindedness of the Han (in the town, brothels masquerading as hairdressers or beauty parlours are tolerated), sexual primness persists amongst the Uighurs, and chastity is still expected amongst unmarried women: discovering no blood on the sheet after his wedding night, one a p r i l 2 0 1 2 | Literary Review 7