Xi calls for stability in Xinjiang, but doubts remain

Over the weekend, the unrest in Xinjiang continued to draw commentary. AFP reported that China President Xi Jinping chimed in, calling for stability in the region.

Xi gave instructions on “how to handle the case, deal with the aftermath, and maintain stability in Xinjiang”, the state-run Global Times said on its website, citing a local report, and without quoting Xi’s remarks directly.

The official record describes Uighurs implicated in the fight as terrorists who were motivated by jihadist ideology, but BBC's Damian Grammaticas visited Selibuya, where the conflict occurred, and found a different narrative among the locals.

Rather than "terrorists", local people told us the violence involved a local family who had had a long-standing dispute with officials. The family, we were told, were very religious. Officials had, for a long time, been pressuring the men in the family to shave off their beards, and the women to stop wearing full veils covering everything but their eyes. Local government regulations, we were told, stipulate that women must not wear full veils, and only men who are over 40 years old are allowed to grow beards.

Whatever the correct narrative, the clash brings up the big question again of the influence of Salafi-jihadism among Uighurs. I've set out my personal argument in November 2012 when I published "Revisiting the Salafi-jihadist Threat in Xinjiang" and I believe the current ambiguity surrounding motivation supports my conclusions. Whether or not the Uighurs in question intended to carry out violent jihad, the lack of religious freedom and the perceived threat to ethnic preservation is likely the ultimate root cause of unrest.

CNTV has some footage of the scene.