National Geographic : 2009 Dec
a problem in Xinjiang, much as it had a prob- lem in neighboring Tibet. Along with regulating mashraps---those traditional gatherings---the state monitored services at mosques, afraid they might provide a platform for dissidents. In gen- eral, o cials downplayed the unrest as the work of isolated "ru ans" in a Uygur population that was otherwise blissful. In early September 2001, Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary Wang Lequan announced in Urumqi that "society is stable, and people are living and working in peace and contentment." A few days later Beijing received a potent and unexpected propaganda tool: September 11. As America and much of the West launched the "war on terror," China recognized the mo- mentum of global public opinion and chose a new tack. The shift happened so fast it came with an almost audible crack. On October 11 a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry described China as "a victim of international terrorism." en the government issued a report on unrest in Xinjiang blaming none other than Osama bin Laden. "It s an effective strategy," says James Millward, a professor at Georgetown University and an expert on Xinjiang, "because in America we see Muslims somewhere who are unhappy and maybe even violent, and we as- sume it s because of religious reasons." And just like that, the Uygurs---with the com- plexity of their culture, the richness of their past, the fullness of their grievance against the Chi- nese state---fell into a tidy classi cation. China asked the United States to include a group of militant separatist Uygurs on its list of terrorist organizations but was rebu ed---at least at rst. In December 2001, 22 Uygurs were captured in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where they may have received weapons training with the intent of battling the Chinese military back in Xinjiang. e men were rounded up by bounty hunters, handed over to U.S. forces, and sent to Guan- tánamo Bay. (Years later a U.S. court would order their release.) In August 2002 Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage traveled to Beijing to discuss, among other issues, America s upcom- ing mission in Iraq. While there, he announced a reversal in the U.S. stance: A militant Uygur group UYGUR HOMES ARE LIKE OYSTERS: ON THE OUTSIDE DRAB, BUT INSIDE, WALLS GLEAM, AND COLORED RUGS COMPLEMENT PAINTED CEILINGS. DAYBREAK in the village of Darya Boyi nds a daughter doing chores (le ). Brightly draped wooden platforms serve as beds, and a future meal of mutton hangs from a hook. Uygur activists complain that government programs pressure young women in villages to move east to work in factories. Following tradition in the city, women in Kashgar (right) take home gi s of atbread a er a wedding.