Wednesday, 29 February 2012
What's in a word?
It is perhaps too early to attempt to analyse the events of yesterday, where 20 people are reported to have died in a violent disturbance in Kargilik/Yecheng. Detailed and reliable reports are yet to emerge from the area, and it would seem foolish to attempt a full dissection of what precisely occurred and why.
However, there is a stand-out feature of the reports that have emerged; the immediate labelling of the Uyghur individuals involved as 'terrorists.' This is a common response by the Chinese authorities when dealing with high-profile incidents involving Uyghurs, be they violent or non-violent, and be they instigated by Uyghurs or not. The words 'terrorists' and 'separatists' are used interchangeably to mean the same thing, and are seemingly used to decry any Uyghur individual who engages in activism of any kind.
The effect of this is obvious. Very simply, the labelling of individuals as 'terrorists' allows the Chinese authorities to treat them as such. The Copenhagen School's theory of securitization posits that 'security' is merely a speech act; that is, by describing something as a security issue, it necessarily becomes one. By labelling Uyghur individuals as 'terrorists', the Chinese authorities seek and are granted legitimation to enact the liberty-limiting policies which they so clearly pursue in Xinjiang, in order to preserve the 'security' which is threatened.
A simple linguistic trick it may be, but it is a trick which the Chinese authorities use time and again in order to behave as they do in Xinjiang.