The Banality of the Urumqi Massacre

by Anne Kader


Speech on the 7th anniversary of the Urumqi Massacre


By Mamtimin Ala


Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,


On 5 July 2009, tens of thousands of Uyghurs took to the streets in Urumqi to demand justice for the brutal killing of Uyghurs a few days ago in Shaoguan city, China. The protest initially aimed to express the disappointment of Uyghurs with the government’s mishandling of the incident in a peaceful way. It was, however, met with brutal suppression. As a result, more than 156 people died, many were injured, and more than 1400 Uyghurs were arrested.


The Urumqi massacre reveals not only the long-term ethnic discrimination of Han Chinese against Uyghurs but also the deceptive nature of the Chinese political narratives and propaganda discourses: “harmonious society”, “unity among ethnic minorities,” and “common future.”


As one of the darkest days in modern Uyghur history, 5 July 2009 profoundly marked the end of all political lies, deceptions and illusions constructed by the Chinese authorities. It changed and will change the fate of Uyghurs, old and young, male and female, rich and poor, forever. We will never be the same again, nor will China be.


As defined by Hannah Arendt, it is the manifestation of “the banality of evil”. It is the banality of the massacre’s perpetrators. They think of themselves as neither perverted nor sadistic but terribly and terrifyingly normal. And yet, this stern normalcy in question is far more disturbing. It shows us the monstrous face of unchecked, unquestioned and unrepented evil. Extraordinary and unprecedented as it is, the massacre, unlike any other form of evil, is systematically being carried out by a so-called great government in the eyes of millions worldwide. And, ironically, the perpetrators pride themselves on being the creator of five thousand years of “great civilization.” However, the full expression of their violence blurs the boundary between civilization and barbarity in the blink of time in Urumqi.


One may surmise that the Urumqi massacre disappeared more quickly than it had appeared. Still, for the same reason, it will come into being as the resultant normalcy with its menacing force and shapeless insurgence. Nowhere is the significance of this truth exposed more alarmingly than in killing innocent and defenceless Uyghurs in light of the moralization of politics. The Chinese government encouraged the perpetrators as “good” Chinese to revenge on the “bad hooligans” — the Uyghurs. Consequently, the Chinese mob brazenly sought revenge based on these falsified rumours. They committed heinous murder because they believed it is normal and reasonable to kill Uyghurs with impunity and with no feeling of guilt. Their ideology, whether it be political or moral, justifies and condones the oppression and destruction of others.


The protest in search of justice and freedom on Sunday in Urumqi questioned the legitimacy of Chinese rule in the beloved land of Uyghurs. While this question does not easily fade away, it proves equally and immediately unanswerable for one of the totalitarian nations on earth, China. In a similar vein, and with hardly any more exaggeration, it will always haunt the memories of the Chinese for good.


Chinese army and police forces slaughtered hundreds of Uyghurs to avoid answering this painful and challenging question. However, the Chinese government faced the full display of Uyghur’ will to resist: they will never give up on their fight for their freedom. They still ask the same question repeatedly until the Chinese government acknowledges that violence would not be the ultimate answer. China may kill many more Uyghurs in the days and years to come, but it can never kill the fundamental human desire for truth, justice, and freedom that Uyghurs aspire for.


By now, the Chinese political elites are mulling over the most challenging choice in modern history. It is either to commit sweeping genocide against Uyghurs as a crime against humanity or to pay heed to the plight of Uyghurs more rationally and morally. It is the choice of either making Urumqi a new Holocaust concentration camp for Uyghurs or turning it into a place where a constructive dialogue replaces recurrent violence. Suppose the first-choice results in the desecration of all human values in Chinese society. In that case, the second choice reconciles it with what it has refused to reconcile—the voice of conscience, which only makes us human and places us on the same footing with others.


In either case, this voice itself, weak or vulnerable as it might seem, seizes China in an ineluctable grip, despite its military might. It is also the same voice that disrupts the numb silence of those who are too weak to speak out for the truth and injustice they witness.


Thank you!



This is the speech I delivered in front of the Chinese Embassy in Canberra, Australia, as President of the Australian Uyghur Association on 5 July 2016.

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