Tibet scholars rarely tread upon the subject of strife between Tibetans and Chinese . This is likely due to the fact that such strife in is a taboo subject inside and outside .1 The official line in China is that interethnic relations are harmonious. Alternative views, particularly with respect to contemporary conflicts between Tibetans and Muslims in Northeast Tibet (Amdo), are treated with much sensitivity, with the result that Chinese, Tibetan and foreign scholars working in Tibet usually practise self- censorship on the subject. In the Tibetan exile community the subject is similarly avoided as it reveals a dark underside of Tibetan nationalism. Instead, most references to Muslims in publications from the exile community or from supportive western scholars tend to focus exclusively on the small Muslim communities that settled in and other towns of Central Tibet prior to the Chinese take- over in 1950 (e.g. Cabezon 1997: 13–34). These are euphemistically referred to as ‘’ and their relations with local Tibetans were, indeed, harmonious. However, this literature tends to ignore the military confrontations that took place between Tibetans and certain Chinese Muslim warlords in Amdo as recently as the 1930s and 1940s. They also sidestep the fact that during the reforms of the last two decades, Tibetan aggression has come to be increasingly directed against the Muslim minority in Tibet, despite

1 In this paper, ‘China’ refers to the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) and ‘Tibet’ refers to all of the Tibetan areas in China, including the Tibet Autonomous (TAR) and the Tibetan areas that have been incorporated into the of , , and . 160 ANDREW MARTIN FISCHER the fact that present by far the strongest exclusionary force in the local economy. This chapter addresses these issues with a specific focus on the role of lamas and religious discourse, complementing my previous working paper on the political economy of recent anti-Muslim boycotts by Amdo Tibetans (Fischer 2005b). In that paper I reflected on theories of , such as primordialism and essentialism—which emphasise the deeply entrenched if not intractable historical roots of interethnic animosity—and instrumentalism and constructivism—which emphasise invented traditions and contemporary factors, such as elite manipulation of ethnic identities in the pursuit of political or economic interests as factors which drive conflict. I argued that each of these theories alone is largely inadequate to explain or predict the evolution of ethnic conflict, insofar as they seek to identify and isolate underlying explanatory variables, such as strong/ weak states versus weak/strong societies, ethno-linguistic or religious fragmentation and enclave economies. Instead, ethnic conflicts are generally the outcome of complex historical continuities that possess both inheritance and creativity, with the result that various theoretical stances can be taken towards any particular case. For example, current Tibetan-Muslim conflict can be easily interpreted either as primordialist, on the basis of deeply entrenched patterns of Tibetan-Muslim encounters, or as constructivist or instrumentalist, on the basis of political economy considerations inherent in the modern period. As an alternative, I suggested that these theoretical views can be more aptly synthesised through a focus on the processual factors of exclusion and the impulse for social protection, which mould or guide conflictive encounters between groups, whether the conflicts themselves be deemed of a primordial or other nature. Under this light, ethnic conflict can be analysed as one possible outcome of the impulse for social protection, conditioned by the exclusionary propensities that accompany social change, and framed within the normative dimensions of social action and order. The advantage of this perspective is that it emphasises the processual factors that create the conditions for the conflictive dimensions, inherent in any relationship or social order, to degenerate or become exacerbated. In this chapter I illustrate and develop this approach to Tibetan- Muslim conflict, basing my analysis on extensive interviews conducted with two reincarnate lamas in Amdo in 2004, along with