China’s Muslim genocide has been, unsurprisingly, pushed out of the mainstream media cycle after a few revelatory newsbreaks that led to no action. After all, when a fly lands on America’s VP during a rousing debate, or when the car market in the UK is doing well, what room is there to discuss the genocide of a small Muslim-practicing ethnic group in a country with influential economic ties?

Background

The Uighurs are a Muslim, predominantly Turkic-speaking ethnic group from China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang. Even before the now-infamous camps, Uighurs were subjected to extraordinary surveillance, required to give blood, DNA and biometric face scans, denied permission to leave Xinjiang, and detained in huge numbers. This maltreatment has been protested for years by the Uighur people; each protest violently suppressed with the Uighurs labeled as “a violent separatist group.” The launch of China’s Belt and Road Initiative has only exacerbated the Uighurs’ plight. Under the trillion-dollar infrastructure project, Beijing has been more invested in tightening its grip on the Xinjiang region. Seizing the opportunity to clamp down on revolution by further homogenizing the Chinese population while simultaneously ascertaining their economic gain, the Chinese government began “reeducation efforts” against Uighurs and other Muslims in 2014. These efforts culminated in the “reeducation” camps that have been running since 2017.

Inside the Camps

Information on what actually happens in these camps is - predictably - limited. Nevertheless, stories of abuse and appalling conditions have been surfacing. Detainees are forced to pledge loyalty to the CCP, renounce Islam, hail the Chinese government, and learn Mandarin. They are held in prison-like conditions, with cameras and microphones monitoring their every move, many of them tortured and subjected to sleep deprivation during interrogations. In particular, women have faced the brunt of the persecution with numerous stories of sexual abuse, including forced abortions and having contraceptive devices implanted against their will. Some released detainees contemplated suicide or witnessed others kill themselves. Children whose parents have been sent to the camps are often forced to stay in state-run orphanages. Their ethnic and religious identities are all but erased as they are forced to assimilate into wider Chinese society. 

In a move that mirrors post-9/11 European and American rhetoric, the Chinese government is deflecting the humanitarian cries of the UN and other world powers by stating that its anti-Uighur sentiment is simply anti-Muslim. Understanding that it’s much easier to defend the global conflation of Islam with terrorism, China has resolutely established “a war on terror” as its excuse. 

Global inaction surrounding the Uighurs’ plight:

Having developed the blueprint for this Islamophobic oppression, the West has been inactive in its opposition to China’s genocide, save for the occasional protest or stern letter. 

There is much to critique about the West’s inaction, especially since it is their orientalist propaganda that created and fuels current-day global islamophobia. However, there has been even less action - support even - by majority-Muslim countries. Thirty-seven nations (including many majority-Muslim countries) have voiced their support of China, saying that the “grave challenge of terrorism and extremism” forced China to “undertake a series of counter-terrorism and de-radicalization measures.” 

This betrayal is heartbreaking, yes, but more importantly, it is infuriating. These countries’ ruling entities have not only disregarded the outrage of the Muslims living within their states, but they have also ignored the cries of millions of incarcerated and brutalized Muslims worldwide. In their defense of China’s attack on the Uighur people, these countries have taken our religion, our scripture, in vain. Their vocal support, well… it has a very distinct loudness.

So it goes that the world is sitting back and watching yet another cultural genocide in action. We ooh, we ahh, we protest for a bit, and we ensure that we have our excuses at hand: “There is simply nothing we can do.”

 

 Let’s talk about what this says about us. 

 

The plight of Muslims in China is a testament to an indifference to human suffering:

In order for human beings to live in this kind of society - where there’s man-made, avoidable suffering everywhere - we must be desensitized to human suffering. We must learn to ignore the poor, the homeless, the Indigenous. In order for us to create this hardened shell of indifference, we must leave our emotions - the most human, visceral thing about us - behind. As Audre Lorde explains in her essay, “Poetry is Not a Luxury,” we are taught that there is such a thing as thought without feeling (”logic”) and that our emotions are inferior to it. As she writes:

If what we need to...move our spirits most deeply and directly toward and through promise, is discounted as a luxury, then we give up the core… of our power... we give up the future of our worlds.

 

If we allow our outrage and our empathy to continue to be labeled as a “luxury,” an inefficient waste of time, then this genocide - like countless others that came before it - will not be the last. If we don’t help each other shed the apathy, the blind eye we have acquired, there will never be a last. We will pass on the ooh’s and the ahh’s to our children and force them into the shackles we’ve come to lean on: “there is simply nothing we can do about it.” 

 

On the other hand, if we allow ourselves to lead with our dreams, with our searing love for each other, no oppressive institution can survive us. Not a single one.