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China, the Fundamentalist Label, and Central Asia

Reader comment on item: "The Event of Our Era"

Submitted by Peter J. Herz (United States), Sep 9, 2002 at 12:58

As a former U.S. foreign service officer, two matters strike me as both critical and neglected in your article:

(1) China is important in this equation.

(2) Dropping the term "fundamentalist" when speaking of resurgent Islamic consciousness or neo-traditionalist ferment.

One player your article ignored is China. China has its own problems with Turkic Muslim separatism in Eastern Turkistan (Xinjiang), itself the home of the great grammarian Al-Kashghari. Further, increasing evidence of Islamic religiosity among largely Chinese-speaking Hui Muslims in Qinghai, Gansu, Ningxia, and Yunnan shows that the shadow of Central Asian events concerns China as well. Recent Chinese diplomacy has worked hard to turn official Turkish and Central Asian sympathies away from the plight of the Uighurs, Kazakhs, and Kirghiz of Eastern Turkistan, although it is likely that street-level opinion in the Turkophone world may well favor the separatists. The stakes are all the higher when one realizes that Eastern Turkistan is a region where Communist decay, aggrieved ethnicity, a resurgent Islamic consciousness, and the future of China's nuclear proving grounds come together.

I would also sggest that you and others drop the term "fundamentalist" when discussing religio-political ferment in the Islamic world. The term rose to prominence about the time of the Iranian Revolution, when Khomeini's victory caught both the American policy community and media with their collective pants down. Muslim dissidents got slapped with the "fundamentalist" label only because elite Americans treat their own pious Christian countrymen in the South and Midwest (or, in certain suburbs of New York and Washington) with a barely disguised contempt. Continuing use of this "fundamentalist" label for America's Muslim enemies (when was the last time you heard the Saudi rulers, the Amr of Kuwait, or the late Turgut Ozal so described?) suggests to believing and practicing Muslims worldwide that America both is and intends to be their enemy.

Besides, Dr. Pipes has expressed reservations about this label before, and could serve us all by pioneering the use of a different term.

Peter J. Herz

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