Nobel Politics

another post from Dave, who is making my job really easy…

It seems that former South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon is going to be the next Secretary General. China, among others, pushed hard for an Asian Secretary General this time around and word has it they took a shine to Mr. Ban during the Six Party Talks in which he played a key role.

But coming right on the heels of the SecGen process will be the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize, and Uyghur activist Rebiya Kadeer is tipped to be in the top three contenders, with a 15 to 1 shot according to Australian bookies. The other two nominees, former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, are running at 2.75 to 1 and 3 to 1 respectively.

Nobel insider Stein Toennesson, head of the Oslo Peace Research Institute (PRIO), says of Rebiya: “She’s the ideal candidate: she’s a woman, she’s Muslim and she’s Chinese”. Interesting way to phrase it, since the first two criteria have to do with approval, the last criteria is one of condemnation. And the Chinese wouldn’t see it as recognition of one of their own: they claim Rebiya is a terrorist.


Interesting that it is phrased that way, and others close to the Nobel committee have suggested China needs to be taken down a notch. I have no idea what political forces have greater lobbying power on the Nobel judges, but a Rebiya win would put a Nobel in the spotlight, since China would respond quite loudly. The other two nominees good works in Indonesia just won’t make the same splash.

I personally am cool with Rebiya getting the prize. Uyghur issues have been slowly becoming known, but a good swift kick into Nobel territory would hopefully make them less obscure.

Dalai Lama: It didn’t help so much with the independence game, but my book tour schedules have been full ever since. See you on the circuit, Rebiya!

I would like to take the opportunity, however, to point out that Xinjiang and Uyghur issues are surrounded by a thick fog of propaganda war – on both sides. The Chinese claim 5,000 years of history? A Uyghur historian responded with a book claiming 8,000 (or was it 10,000?) based on the Xinjiang mummies (though academics by and large consider the mummies and modern day Uyghurs to be disparate groups). Uyghurs claim Rebiya as a hero? The PRC labels her a drug dealer, terrorist and, when that fails to take, tax cheat. China claims they work for women’s equality? Uyghur activists claim that Chinese oppress Uyghur women.

And that is where I take a grain of salt with Rebiya. After she was released and dropped off in Chicago, Rebiya immediately got back to campaigning in the U.S. The Uyghur lobby, modest as it is, had her ready to go, and her second husband (she was jailed for mailing him newspapers) worked for RFA – where she gave this interview (proxy required). Rebiya’s central accolade, besides wrongful imprisonment, is her activism for Uyghur women, as she described:

RFA: Tell me about the Thousand Mothers Movement, which you founded. Kadeer: I witnessed first-hand that Uyghur women were uneducated and dependent upon their sons, and their husbands. Educated women were very rare. There weren’t many of them. And through my experience in business, I learned a lot more. They didn’t know what was going on in society; their lives were very circumscribed. Through my experience with my business, I learned a lot more. And I wanted to teach Uyghur women to stand on their own two feet and take care of themselves and be independent. That way, they could learn a lot more than they could by locking themselves up at home. I learned that for a nation to move forward, its mothers must go forward as well.

Where did this oppression, this lack of education come from?

Kadeer: I had two marriages. During my first marriage, I was just like the majority of Uyghur women. I stayed home, cooked, took care of my kids, and depended on my husband to bring money home. I was just a wife, and mother to six children. Then, I noticed that my husband wasn’t bringing enough money into the house, and the family was kind of suffering for lack of money. So I was quietly doing a little business on the side. I was making clothing, I was distributing it and selling little things that I stitched, little things I made. And then I was discovered by the Chinese authorities. So the Chinese government, the Chinese local officials, told my husband – my ex-husband – to divorce me. They put pressure on him to divorce me because they accused me of secretly doing business. They said that it was wrong for me to do secret business. So they pressured my ex-husband to divorce me. So my ex-husband was forced to divorce me at the time.

And this is where my BS meter goes off. Perhaps in a previous era a danwei (work unit) would have (and certainly could have) pressured him to do so (they used to greenlight marriages and divorces), the vast majority of Uyghur women I know today who were told to stay at home, be live-in moms, not do business, not pursue education, they weren’t told this by the Chinese government. They were told this by insecure, traditionalist husbands and families, as is so often the case in traditionalist cultures worldwide. And the idea of the Chinese government preventing Uyghur women from getting work… actually, in my experience, young educated Uyghur women were more likely to get a job out of university than a Uyghur man, because apparently Han employers find those moustaches really scary. I would argue that discrimination by the Han community falls far more heavily on Uyghur men than women. Remember, resumes in Xinjiang (and China at large) have a picture, gender and ethnic nationality clearly printed at the top. My guess is that Rebiya is speaking diplomatically here. She later says,”Many men in my country respected me. So when these women, Uyghur mothers, followed my example, they saw the good things that we were accomplishing together. They understood, and every day they understood more.”

Step by step, they understood. My point here is not to dismiss the criticisms of PRC policies in Xinjiang, which I consider necessary, but that there is some parsing to do here and I believe everybody who follows the issue ought to at least consider this. Traditional attitudes among Uyghur men make them very uncomfortable with a wife being the breadwinner, which is further exacerbated by discriminatory hiring practices. Danwei work units in Xinjiang still seem to hold more power than their counterparts on the jet-setting coast, but overwhelmingly the message for women to stay home doesn’t seem to come from the government, but from Uyghur society itself. To be sure, there are a great many heinous and questionable policies that the PRC has applied in Xinjiang, but in pursuing what is sadly a pipe dream of independence, Uyghur activism has had to vilify Han Chinese and the PRC government at the expense of being honest about the faults of Uyghur culture. It’s similar to American politics today, where a take-no-prisoners fight ensues on any issue, and the facts get left behind.

Here’s hoping Rebiya doesn’t use a Nobel to launch scorched earth propaganda, because I don’t think she’s going to get her dream of independence, and in the meantime thousands of Uyghur men and women will continue to suffer the same inequalities.

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