Thursday, 1 March 2012

The problem of presumption

The world media's reaction to the violence of a few days ago in Kargilik/Yecheng has highlighted one of the main recurring problems of the reporting of incidents involving Uyghurs in Xinjiang; the problem of presumption.

When high-profile incidents occur involving Uyghur individuals, and particularly so when they involve violence, the Chinese authorities (as covered in yesterday's blog post) immediately label those Uyghurs involved as 'terrorists' and 'separatists'. The more sensible sections of the world's press know to maintain a level of suspicion when dealing with pronouncements from the Chinese authorities, and this should be regarded as helpful.

Yet there are still those who lazily ascribe political motivations to acts which could well be personal in nature. The presumption of political motivation works both ways; just as reports which take Beijing-based Chinese academic's words as truth should be looked upon with suspicion, so too should reports which immediately blame the violence on Han immigration, based on the accounts of one or two local residents. 

This is not to say that what occurred in Kargilik/Yecheng was not motivated by political factors. Perhaps those involved really were driven by extremist tendencies and wanted to bring terror and bloodshed to innocent victims. Or perhaps they really were simply desperate individuals who were tired of their culture and land being destroyed by, what they saw as, Han invaders.

Yet the problem is that, at the moment, we simply do not know. Whilst we may prefer clear narratives, such narratives are often not conducive to unveiling the truth. Presumption and assumption clouds the truth, and should be rejected.

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