Throughout our conversation Iparhan broke off to joke with her Han friend Mei, whom she had brought for an excursion outside the city. Iparhan is typical of more and more Uighurs, who are educated in Mandarin at an increasingly younger age and leave Xinjiang to attend college in eastern China. Though on the surface their integration would seem to neutralize them as potential threats, in many ways they are the greatest threat to China. As Human Rights Watch’s Nicholas Bequelin explains: “The source of political and religious radicalism in Muslim societies has often been people who were both educated and disaffected.”
Iparhan said there were many others like her. “It is this way everywhere, there is no chance of success opened to us.” It is this fact, she told me, that helped her to see through the propagandistic side of her education. “Many of my Han classmates simply believe what the teachers or the government tells them. If they hear it is foreigners who caused a problem in Xinjiang, they believe it, they don’t ask for proof and they don’t ask why,” she complained. “I think because growing up we know we are a minority and then we see discrimination everyday we learn not to listen to the government.”
Even if the economic realities on the ground are addressed, Bequelin still believes the region will remain restive. “The promotion of economic development cannot make up for restrictions on cultural expression, and there is no look to change these cultural policies. Ultimately the party leadership is still clenching onto ideological clichés that encourage ethnic polarization.” Across Xinjiang’s urban areas young Uighur kids have become reliable speakers of crisp Mandarin. If in a matter of a decade the Chinese government can succeed in forcing the province’s education system to switch from Uighur to Mandarin, it doesn’t seem unrealistic that it could at least partially succeed in teaching cultural understanding, instead of falling back on banal socialist phrases.
But for now the government has shown itself content to simply squelch violence and retain stability at all costs.