From The Worst Horse’s Mouth: “What’s a Weeger?” / Getting caught up on the Uighur riots

In China’s worst ethnic unrest in years, Uighurs took to the streets of Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang, on Sunday.

Rod Meade Sperry
12 July 2009

When my lovely wife came home from work the other day and asked me (what sounded like) “What’s a Weeger?”, I drew a blank. A “weeger“? Was it, I guessed, like Napoleon Dynamite’s beloved liger, some kind of hybrid of animal species? She gave me a look that said, “C’mon, you should know this,” and after a briefing informed by what little she’d just heard via the tail end of a radio news report, I set off onto the internet and discovered that she was talking about the Uighurs (or, Uyhgurs), and that, yes, I really should have known about them.

First of all, the good ol’ web told me that while some people do pronounce the word “weeger,” this is an Anglicization. More importantly, I learned that the Uighur people (more properly pronounced “ujˈgur”) are a minority ethnic group in China, which is predominantly Muslim. I hadn’t recalled hearing of them, but then remembered:

Just a day or two before I’d seen a post about the Uighurs on one of my favorite blogs, Precious Metal. “If Only Uighurs Were Buddhist,” read the headline, but – and I’m not proud to say this – I’d blown right past the story, perhaps because I simply didn’t know what a Uighur was and somehow dismissed the post as somehow unimportant. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The Precious Metal post replicated a story, written by a Muslim author, from Metro News. I’ve redacted some key parts for you here (though I surely would encourage you to read the whole post):

Pity the Uighurs — the wrong kind of minority fighting the wrong kind of enemy.

In China’s worst ethnic unrest in years, Uighurs took to the streets of Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang, on Sunday. They are believed to have been angered by government handling of a June clash between Han Chinese and Uighur factory workers in southern China, where two Uighurs died, news agencies reported.

The Chinese government quickly blamed exiled separatists, arrested dozens and tried to curb information flow by stifling the Internet. Yesterday, Han Chinese armed with iron bars and machetes went looking for revenge on Uighurs.

But as Reuters pointed out, the underlying cause of the unrest most likely was long-standing economic, cultural and religious grievances that have built up among the Uighurs over decades of tight central rule.

If only the Uighurs were Buddhists like the Tibetans, who just 18 months ago had their own uprising in Tibet’s capital Lhasa. We’d be having Free Xinjiang concerts already courtesy of Bjork, Sting, Bono and all those other one-named saviors of the poor and oppressed.

If only the Uighurs were a minority in a country that didn’t produce half the goods we use and which wasn’t quickly threatening to turn into a superpower. Perhaps then the U.S. State Department would issue more threatening words of its own. Instead, they’re Muslim and us Muslims don’t get much love these days. […]

So maybe I wasn’t entirely to blame for not having more of a grip on who the Uighurs were, and why their plight was important. And let’s face it — their story hasn’t exactly been receiving the kind of press that Michael Jackson’s death or even Obama’s (supposed) leering at a young woman has. Yes, that’s it: blame the media!

Only thing is, as a Shambhala SunSpace contributor, I’m part of the media. Oops. Not that any one person can be up on all things (and I surely don’t try to present as if that were true for me anyhow) but, it became clear to me that I should know about the Uighurs. That line, “If only the Uighurs were Buddhists…” stuck with me. If only they were, I would have known about them; goodness knows I’ve concerned myself with the recent uprisings in Tibet and Burma, here on SunSpace and elsewhere. But oppression and injustice anywhere should be Big News to anyone who feels some connection to Buddhism — because Buddhism isn’t about liberation for Buddhists only, but for all beings.

That being said, I’ve put together a sort of “Uighur primer” — a concise list of links and resources about the Uighur riots — so that you (and I) can get more up to speed on this story (which, thankfully, has been gaining some media steam). I hope you’ll share any pertinent links or thoughts in the comments.

Rod Meade Sperry. Photo by Megumi Yoshida, 2024

Rod Meade Sperry

Rod Meade Sperry is the editor of Buddhadharma, Lion’s Roar’s online source for committed Buddhists, and the book A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation: Practical Advice and Inspiration from Contemporary Buddhist Teachers. He lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with his partner and their tiny pup, Sid.