Although many of us don’t feel the pain of our Uyghur brothers and sisters that are oppressed by the Chinese government, the least we can do is try to get the information about them and share it. Because we have to understand that the most powerful tool in the world is media, including social media. We might have noticed that for months, foreign media have relentlessly reported on the mass incarceration and cultural suppression of China’s Muslim Uyghur minority.
History of the Uyghurs
In recent years, China’s juridical system stated that it aims to “Sinicize” Muslims or to make “religion more Chinese”. Thus, concentration camps have been built across Xinjiang – an autonomous region in northwest China – over the past few years which the state claims them to be “reeducation centers”.
Xinjiang is the largest administrative region of China and borders eight countries – Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia, Tajikistan, Pakistan and India. Its population is mostly Uyghur. Most Uyghurs are Muslim and Islam is an important part of their life and identity. In addition, Uyghur Muslims also have their own language, Uyghur, formerly known as Eastern Turki, which is a Turkic language with 10 to 15 million speakers. The language is spoken solely by the Uyghur inhabitants of Xinjiang and populations in the diaspora.
China’s Xinjiang province itself is home to approximately 10 million Uyghur Muslims – known as the indigenous to Xinjiang. But in the period of the Han Dynasty – the first Chinese dynasty – it established control over the western regions. Thus, most of the Chinese claim Xinjiang as part of China.
Xinjiang’s economy is specialized in agriculture and mining, and trade across the famous Silk Road. Therefore, the Chinese government wanted to prevent it, which threatened their empire’s from controlling the Silk Road and the wealth it generated. Besides that, Xinjiang also connected to the rest of China by rail networks.
China prohibits beyond religion
Hence the problem is not solely because of the economy. Islam, and basically any other religion, is seen as a problem for China. Uyghurs are forced to reject their faith and have to promise their support to China’s ruling Communist Party. In some parts of China, practicing Islam has been made prosecutable. People who are caught praying or fasting, face the threat of arrest. Growing a beard or wearing a headscarf is also forbidden. There’s absolutely no freedom of religious expression in China.
In 2015, China forced Uyghur Muslims to drink alcohol and eat pork, which both are restricted by Islam, learn Mandarin, memorize and recite Communist Party songs. Uyghur Muslim women were also forced to marry the non-Muslim Han men. The Chinese government promoted the mass movement of Han Chinese – the largest ethnic group in China and probably in the world – into the country’s hinterland, including Xinjiang, which has effectively reduced Uyghur Muslims to be the minority in their own native land.
According to a UN panel, more than one million Uyghurs and other ethnic minority Muslims are held in mass detention centers in the remote western region. Furthermore, according to a 2018 Amnesty report, open or even private displays of religious and cultural affiliation or the possession of books or articles about Islam or Uyghur culture, can be considered “extremist” under the regulation. So, culture is the problem too.
Uyghurs is thus always associated with separatism and terrorism, and the Chinese government sees Islam as a “mental illness”. China is abusing human rights by violating almost every article of the Declaration that it supported at the UN. Now, the Uyghurs do not have any control over their own education, media, employment, and they have no voice in the region’s government.
Although the Chinese government denied all of these, recently, the authorities in China’s Yunnan province have closed three mosques established by the Hui Muslim – another ethnic minority.
The absence of the international Muslim community
Unfortunately, until today, almost the whole major Muslim countries are quiet. No single Muslim country has publicly condemned China for the alleged mass incarceration of Uyghurs and other ethnic Muslim minorities, except for Turkey. In Indonesia, the press coverage for the Uyghur case lead to political attention.
Acknowledging the existence of Uyghurs is very fundamental. As a Muslim community, a global community, we should be speaking out against China’s ethnic cleansing program. In what world is killing and brainstorming children, separate them from their parents, and engineering an entire generation of Uyghur Muslims to turn their back on their religion and culture, not a crime against humanity?
According to Santayana’s philosophy, history repeats itself. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” and his observation echoes a somewhat more cynical version written earlier by the German philosopher Friedrich Hegel: “the only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.”