One morning in 2003, I ran into a boy flogging newspapers energetically outside the gate of Xinjiang University. “Good news! Häsän Mäkhsum is dead!” The name didn’t ring any bells for me, but the article identified him as the mastermind of an “East Turkistan Islamic Movement”, an organisation the American government had recently listed as a terrorist organisation. America’s decision to do so lent significant credibility to China’s claims to be prosecuting a “war on terror” in Xinjiang.
Two decades on, this war has come to pervade and restructure the whole of Xinjiang society. Academics I was studying with in 2003 have disappeared; re-education camps have taken in friends and their relatives. China’s war on terror, Roberts argues in this timely book, is better thought of as a “war on the Uyghurs”.