Book Review of “The War on the Uyghurs”: How a People Became “Terrified”

An excerpt from Darren Byler’s review of Sean Roberts’ The War on the Uyghurs

Prior to the US declaration of the Global War on Terror, Uyghurs were described occasionally as “counterrevolutionaries” or as “separatists”, but never as terrorists. Working in concert with Chinese state security in a Beijing-based investigation, in the early 2000s US intelligence officials took up this rhetoric at least in part as a way of

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building stronger bilateral relations between the two nations.  

. . . By January 2002, the Chinese State Council Information Office had issued a public report that revised the history of Uyghur civil protest and political violence by changing the label of “separatism” to that of “terrorism” – as illustrated by the scholar Gardner Bovingdon in an encyclopedic appendix in his book The Uyghurs: Strangers in their Own Land (2009). Over the next two decades, like many Muslims around the world, the Uyghurs have been “terrified.” When the Xi administration formally declared the so-called “People’s War on Terror” and in 2014 told local authorities to show “absolutely no mercy,” it turned Uyghurs into a dehumanized other. In state discourse Uyghurs have been represented as demons and rats, in an echo of rhetoric that accompanied concentration camps in both European and North American contexts, for Jews and Japanese-Americans respectively.