How Far The Fall

by Joshua Foust on 7/9/2009 · 14 comments

So by this point we know that Andrew C. McCarthy of National Review Online is a racist jerk for ascribing terrorist motives to all Uighurs because of a misplaced belief that the Uighurs released from Guantanamo were hardened al Qaeda terrorists and the riots in Urumqi and Kashgar are all the same.

Four years ago, National Review Online was a very different place:

Like Rebiya Kadeer, I am a Uyghur. We are a Turkic Muslim people who live in what is now northwest China. China calls our homeland the “New Frontier,” but we call it East Turkistan. As the protectors of the fabled Silk Road, my people have known and honored a diversity of ideas. Indeed, before converting to Islam, Uyghurs were Buddhists, Shaman, and Nestorian Christians. In addition to material goods, our central location led to an exchange of religions and cultures; we benefited from interactions with those from the West as well as the East.

Now we know only darkness. My homeland has been under Chinese Communist rule for the past 56 years. Uyghurs, like Buddhists in Tibet, are forbidden to pray or speak freely. When Western reporters talk about how China’s political situation is improving alongside rapid economic growth, I know they have not visited East Turkistan. Where I grew up, people today are still being executed for speaking out against injustice. East Turkistan is the only province in the People’s Republic of China where people are still being executed for political reasons. Of course, China no longer labels us “counter-revolutionaries” or “American running dogs.” Now Beijing calls us terrorists, hoping to legitimize their oppression by describing it as part of China’s war on terror.

President Bush is a man whose strongly held personal views are reflected in his policies. He knows about the plight of Uyghur Muslims in East Turkistan, and Tibetan Buddhists in Tibet, and his own religious beliefs lead us to believe that he is particularly sensitive to religious repression everywhere. It was significant that in October 2001, just a month after 9/11, he specifically warned China not to use the fight against terrorism as an excuse to persecute its minorities.

And so on. It’s actually an eloquent plea for why Americans should pay attention to the goings on in East Turkestan.

So what actually changed? Why was NRO all about Uighur freedom and the fight to be free of Han oppression in 2005, but in 2009 felt comfortable writing them all off as Islamic terrorists?

I think we all know.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 14 comments }

The Œcumenical Volgi July 9, 2009 at 6:01 pm

As much as I agree that McCarthy’s comments are objectionable (see link), it’s not fair to ascribe his views to NRO as an institution. He’s an individual contributor to a group blog. To the extent it remains unrebutted is probably a result of the lack of any foreign-policy specialists on the group blog.

Near as I can tell, neither NR the magazine or NRO as an institution has endorsed McCarthy’s views. If they do, have at them, but until then, it seems a little baroque to decide that a magazine largely concerned with American domestic policy has made a sinister change of position on East Turkestan (do they even have one?) based on a change of administration.

Josh Mull July 9, 2009 at 7:22 pm

I actually gotta go with Volgi on this one. Seems a little unfair to paint the entire NRO with McCarthy’s nonsense. It reminds me a little of when people refer to an individual diarist or blogger as “Daily Kos” or “Huffington Post” respectively.

However, this doesn’t excuse McCarthy, his (theoretical) editors, or the administrators of NRO for allowing this kind of garbage to hit the front page.

Anyway, why use such a volatile partisan source like NRO to begin with? Despite their individual claims of expertise, I wouldn’t use DailyKos for information on Afghanistan any more than I would use ForeignPolicy for information on Palin’s chances in 2012. It’s just not what they’re good at, right?

Joshua Foust July 9, 2009 at 7:31 pm

Well, but let’s rewind to September 13, 2001. Ann Coulter writes a column for National Review, in which she says:

We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren’t punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That’s war.

During the kerfluffle afterward, in which Coulter apparently refused to edit herself for legibility, Coulter supposed severed her relationship with NRO. In describing the incident, Jonah Goldberg says of the column itself:

Well, to be honest, it was a mistake. It stemmed from the fact this was a supposedly pre-edited syndicated column, coming in when NRO was operating with one phone line and in general chaos. Our bad.

In other words, when National Review, as a matter of editorial policy, disagrees with the contents of one of their writers, they come out and say so. More recently they have done so when individual writers—including Christopher Buckley, William F. Buckley’s son—have said they didn’t support McCain and chose to vote for Obama during the Presidential elections. In fact, they fired Buckley for breaking with NRO orthodoxy, and now he writes for the Daily Beast.

The point is: NRO exercises editorial control and distance when it suits them. In recent years, it has only suited them when it comes to a very narrow partisan agenda, even at the expense of contradicting their own record on the topic. In this case, they have chosen not to distance themselves or repudiate Andrew McCarthy for his reprehensible bigotry and autocracy sympathizing… for reasons I can’t say, but given their irrational hatred of Barack Obama the last year, it’s not difficult to guess.

Josh Mull July 9, 2009 at 7:49 pm

Excellent point, but for the record, you could have just reminded me that Jonah Goldberg was the editor. Me: “Oh yeah, got it now.” 😉

D. Henry July 9, 2009 at 8:31 pm

It looks like the Uyghurs like to use racism and discrimination as a cover to hide their laziness and unproductivity. Sounds familiar? In regards to the violent crime they committed, they should all be harshly punished. No one is above the law, including the minority Uighurs.

Oldschool Boy July 9, 2009 at 10:49 pm

D. Henry,
I do not think the discussion was about Uighurs

The Œcumenical Volgi July 10, 2009 at 1:22 am

The Coulter thing was a column, which are edited, not a blog post, which aren’t, to all appearances.

And I’m guessing that the editorial staff’s all being on a their fund-raising cruise at the moment may have something to do with their lack of comment.

But only they know for sure.

Nathan July 10, 2009 at 8:04 am

For those interested, I decided to run the IP addresses of all the commenters with innocuous, American-sounding names who are regurgitating in English many of the comments found on Chinese sites. They’re all in the US. Good to know the Chinese volunteer propaganda teams have forward-deployed elements.

Laurence Jarvik July 10, 2009 at 4:18 pm

Nathan, Did you find how many Chinese readers Registan has? I think more coverage of this topic from different perspectives–including that of Han Chinese–would be interesting, since there are 1 billion possible readers in China, which should raise Registan’s hit count…

Nathan July 10, 2009 at 5:22 pm

I don’t know the precise numbers, but there was an enormous spike immediately after the Urumqi riots.

Hong.liu July 11, 2009 at 11:32 pm

What you said is not true. So called east turkestan is not only homeland for Uyghur,but also homeland for Han Chinese, Hazak and other ethic groups.There are 9 millions of Uyghur who live in Xinjiang,but also there are 8 millions of Han Chinese who live in Xinjiang.We don’t understand Chinese name of so called east turkestan as new frontier,we understand it as new return of previous territory.You are telling lies to the world.we know that some Uyghur people want to get independence from China,but majority of Xinjiang residents disagree with idea of independence.

Nathan July 12, 2009 at 12:05 am

Just as it is ahistorical bullshit that East Turkestan has been, since time immemorial, the homeland of the Uighurs, it is ahistorical bullshit to assert that it is a Han homeland, comrade netizen.

Michael Hancock July 12, 2009 at 3:17 am

Nice of him to speak up for the “Hazaks” of Xinjiang. Those guys deserve a country someday. I think Kazakhstan is working on it. 😛

That being said, the increasing Balkanization of the world is not the answer. Registan is not fomenting a revolution, we are not asking for an Independent East Turkestan, no more than we are asking for an Independent Tatarstan. The fact remains, however, that inequalities remain and many Uighurs complain about being 2nd or 3rd class citizens. I doubt they are making everything up. I also doubt that the Han living in Xinjiang are having a field day – having been mobilized there [whether voluntarily or involuntarialy] to ‘develop’ the region, I imagine it is at least as bad as the Russian settlement of Central Asia: unwelcome, unassimilated, and in the end, unsuccessful. Not that I would wish either success, nor do I think they even know what “success” would look like, either than as complete absorption.

We are not the ones with a party line – and our “lies to the world” are not nearly as absolutist or one-sided as your truths. So sayeth Michael.

Joseph July 14, 2009 at 5:12 am

Hong Liu,

Amongst those Han Chinese that live in East Turkestan, can you elaborate on how many of those migrated into the territory after China occupied East Turkestan.

Just like the Tibetans, the Uyghurs are also seeing a steady migration of ethnic Han Chinese being sent by Communists in Beijing to secure the land for China. The only Han Chinese that used to live in East Turkestan earlier were the few Hui and they were also Muslims.

China is the last imperialist power, and it is time China put an end to its colonialism.

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