The United States, having invaded and militarily occupied Afghanistan, imagine it then enforcing the English language upon the Afghani people, facilitating a mass colonization of that country with American settlers, imposing draconian restrictions on religious freedoms and practice, establishing a regime that governs through martial law and denying political and civil freedoms, decides in Washington DC to construct an ethnological theme park to enable tourists to ogle at traditional Afghan culture. Such a scenario would invite charges of racist colonialism and inevitably draw parallels with the ‘model villages’ set up by Hitler to convince international opinion that Jewish culture was respected and flourished under the ‘care’ of Nazi-Germany.
There was of course a troubling period during the establishment of the United States which witnessed a brutal assault upon the cultures of indigenous peoples, marginalized, oppressed and under siege from westward expansion, their lands stolen, traditions and culture suppressed. Similar colonial aggression and racist intolerance was imposed upon peoples within the British Empire during the 19th Century. Such actions derive from a darker side of humanity, which some claim have been consigned to history by ‘progressive liberal nations’, not sure the people of Fallujah in Iraq would agree, poisoned by Depleted Uranium courtesy of the Pentagon! The chaotic aftermath of the Second World War, and emergence of human rights and international law, along with the creation of the United Nations (UN) was (in theory at least) to seek an end to colonialism and the suppression of peoples.
Unfortunately in drawing up UN charters and statutes, during the highly polarized and politically charged climate of the Cold War, definitions and agreements as to what constituted ’colonialism fell into two basic camps, one defined by former colonial powers such as Britain, whose empire was an overseas possession, and communist powers such as the Soviet Union and China, who argued forcibly to ensure political control and sovereignty over peoples and lands they had subjugated, such as Tibet and East Turkestan. They were happy to agree to an end of colonialism, but only the blue-water variety, where the dominant power controlled nations overseas. On that dubious basis they were unwilling to accept that their annexations and rule over Tibetans, Uyghurs, Mongolians, or Kazakhs, and all the occupied nations of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, were colonial. It was not in their ideological, political and economic interest to acknowledge that reality.
This resulted in subsequent UN Charters on colonialism and the rights of peoples, in terms of national self-determination (independence) essentially supporting the political and territorial integrity of states, in which peoples were not afforded the right under international law or UN Charter to independence per se, but were granted minority rights such as autonomy. This left both the Soviet Union and China in complete, unchallenged control of territories that had been annexed and beyond international or United Nations interference.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union the world was left with one last great land empire, communist China. Under the socialist flag of China’s expansionist aggression and colonialism continues to suppress formerly independent peoples, such as Tibetans and Uyghurs, while imperialist policies exploit and erode those cultures. Like other empires there is a racist component to Chinese rule, in which the professed superiority of Han China presides with arrogant and violent patronage over so-called minority peoples. One very nauseating example of that attitude, and not too removed from the imaginary scenario that opened this post, is the so-called ‘National Ethnic Minorities Park’ in Beijing. Supposedly designed to protect so-called ethnic heritage, at this claimed anthropological museum, Tibetans, Uyghurs and others peoples are employed to daily perform, against a culturally themed architectural backdrop, various traditions for the benefit of tourists.
Sitting there, watching the sickening burlesque of propaganda performance, are visitors aware of the manipulation and distortion they are exposed to? Is there any recognition that the very cultures on display are violently imprisoned and abused by the same communist regime which claims to be protecting such peoples. Anyone possessed of intelligence and integrity would of course not endorse this obscene mockery of Tibetan and Uyghur culture, and be opposed to any action that may legitimize China’s colonialism and exploitation of occupied nations such as Tibet and East Turkestan.