So far no one has claimed responsibility for the latest terrorist attack in the northwest of China. That was also the case with the most recent attack which the Chinese government blamed on Uighur separatists. However, should there be an organization behind the bloodbath that was carried out on May 22 at a market in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang province, it should know: nothing can justify such needless acts of brutality. The attack was not an act of heroism, but an act of mindless violence against innocent people. Our thoughts are with the victims - people who early this Thursday were simply going about their business, buying fruit, vegetables, meat or making a living selling items at the market.
The terrorist attack shows that an increasing amount of repression alone will not be able to prevent such violent acts from occurring. In Urumqi, as in other Turkic-majority cities in the region, there is such a heavy security presence that an increase seems hardly possible. Activities carried out by secret services could also hardly be more extensive than now.
In 2009 Uighurs started attacking Han Chinese in Xinjiang after the death of two migrant Uighur workers in southern China. Under a stifling blanket of "ethnic harmony" - as ordered by China's Communist Party - disquiet slowly sweltered and eventually led to an outbreak of violence. Since then, Beijing has generally been suspicious of China's Uighur population.
The violence resulted in the death of 200 people. For every step Uighurs try to take towards their interests, China's Communist Party sees the danger of separatism or Islamism. Moderates – people who aim to promote the exchange between the Han Chinese and Uighurs – are silenced. What is happening now is what a leading mind of the Central Institute for Nationalities (Minzu University) lamented about Tibet: Beijing's iron fist policies are upsetting people who are not per se against Chinese rule.
Those in Beijing are wondering why the Uighurs are not happy about the economic development of their region and don't become ardent supporters of the Communist Party. What officials seem to forget, however, is that it is mostly migrant Han Chinese who are profiting from these developments. The local Uighurs, on the other hand, are clearly disadvantaged.
They don't really have any say in economic or political affairs or in the region's administration. And party cadres don't understand that preserving a cultural identity is about more than just folklore; while Uighurs are encouraged to greet tourists or make TV appearances in bright traditional costumes, singing and dancing to traditional songs, vast parts of the old town of Kashgar are being torn down without any say from the people living there. And the fact that no public servant is allowed to wear a beard that has any religious significance reinforces the feeling that they are seen as foreigners in their own lands.
Act of desperation?
It has happened before in China that individual perpetrators have blown off steam by running amok. A day before the attack in Urumqi, a man in the central province of Henan killed seven people with a knife. A number of attacks have been carried out at schools and kindergartens.
Beijing, of course, will investigate the attack in Urumqi. But it would do well to not blame an entire population for something that might possibly have been carried out by someone acting alone. And when it comes to their "iron fist" politics: would a good doctor keep increasing doses of a certain medicine that doesn't work, but has a long list of harmful side effects?