The Province of Xinjiang in China (an area half the size of India) is home to an estimated 22 million people belonging to various ethnic minorities. The largest of those ethnic minorities are the Uyghurs, which is a Turkic ethnic minority that is recognized generally as a Muslim minority, that makes up around eight million people. Just to give you some perspective, out of the 327 million Americans that live in the United States, there are an estimated 3.3 million Muslims.
Unfortunately, within the past few years, the Chinese government has been waging their own war on terror on the Muslim population, and since 2016 these so called “security” measures have become violent and extreme. To my utter shame as a Muslim, it’s largely not been discussed in the mainstream media — even in Muslim media — which only illustrates just how successful the oppression of our Chinese Muslim brothers and sisters actually is.
Human Rights Watch has written, “The Chinese government has imposed pervasive discrimination, repression, and restrictions on fundamental human rights, including freedom of religion.”
According to Adrian Zenz, a professor from Germany who has written extensively on these events, “The state’s proclaimed ‘war on terror’ in the region is increasingly turning into a war on religion, ethnic languages and other expressions of ethnic identity.”
The most alarming of these new government movements against the Muslim population includes the $108 million that has been spent building internment camps in which police forces carry out the “reeducation” of the Muslim minority.
The Washington Post estimates that “Between several hundred thousand and more than 1 million Muslims have been detained in China’s mass “reeducation” camps in the restive province of Xinjiang.”
To my utter shame as a Muslim, it’s largely not been discussed in the mainstream media — even in Muslim media — which only illustrates just how successful the oppression of our Chinese Muslim brothers and sisters actually is.
AP News reports that “The internment program aims to rewire the political thinking of detainees, erase their Islamic beliefs and reshape their very identities… Detainees who most vigorously criticize the people… are rewarded, and those who refuse to do so are punished with solitary confinement, beatings and food deprivation.”
Some survivors have stated that “In four-hour sessions, instructors lectured about the dangers of Islam and drilled internees with quizzes that they had to answer correctly or be sent to stand near a wall for hours on end.” AP News interviewed others about their experiences and one woman who identifies as an Uighur Muslim stated she “was held in a center in the city of Hotan in 2016. She said she and fellow prisoners repeatedly were forced to apologize for wearing long clothes in Muslim style, praying, teaching the Quran to their children and asking imams to name their children.”
The more I researched what was happening within this province, the more I realized that it actually takes very little for the government to feel the need to arrest you and send you to these Internment camps, and since the surveillance in this region is highly advanced very little expression of Islamic identity is permissible before you get taken.
The Washington Post wrote, “Beijing has turned the entire region into a 21st-century surveillance state, with ubiquitous checkpoints and widespread use of facial recognition technology, and has even forced Muslims to install spyware on their phones allowing authorities to monitor their activity online, experts say. Long beards and veils have been banned, and overt expression of religious sentiment is likely to cause immediate suspicion.”
This isn’t just a matter of illegally detaining, brainwashing, and torturing one million Chinese Muslims. This is a matter of carrying out the successful oppression of eight million Chinese Muslims, and forcing them into a state of fear so that they no longer feel safe practicing their religion, questioning their government, or even speaking their own language.
This article painted a picture for me in terms of what the atmosphere of the region is like as a whole. When I first heard about the internment camps, I assumed that all of the horrible things that were happening to Muslims were happening within the confines of the camp. There have been reports of forcing the detainees to eat pork, drink alcohol, watch propaganda videos, and “recite slogans such as ‘religion is harmful.'”
In fact, one survivor named Omir Bekali, who was actually a citizen of Kazakhstan visiting family in China, recalls his time being detained and stated, “The psychological pressure is enormous, when you have to criticize yourself, denounce your thinking — your own ethnic group,” said Bekali, who broke down in tears as he described the camp.”
But I soon realized that this war on religion and ethnic diversity had long since developed beyond the borders of the internment camps. This isn’t just a matter of illegally detaining, brainwashing, and torturing one million Chinese Muslims. This is a matter of carrying out the successful oppression of eight million Chinese Muslims, and forcing them into a state of fear so that they no longer feel safe practicing their religion, questioning their government, or even speaking their own language.
The Economist wrote an article describing the life that they endure on a daily basis and stated, “There can be four or five checkpoints every kilometre. Uighurs go through them many times a day.” Within the same article they specified that, “Islam is a special target. In Hotan, the neighbourhood mosques have been closed, leaving a handful of large places of worship. Worshippers must register with the police before attending….In Urumqi (the capital of Xinjiang) the remaining mosques have had their minarets knocked down and their Islamic crescents torn off… and some 29 Islamic names may no longer be given to children.”
The Chinese government is dedicating millions of dollars to the destruction of both religion and ethnic identity for multiple generations with the explicit intention that not a single Muslim will be left in China’s future.
I think one of the most terrifying things about this egregious violation of human rights is that this is not a short term plan with short term effects. The Chinese government is dedicating millions of dollars to the destruction of both religion and ethnic identity for multiple generations with the explicit intention that not a single Muslim will be left in China’s future!
One man that the Associated Press interviewed was a professor that was forced to be an instructor at the reeducation camps, and he recalled that once while he was teaching he “saw through the window 20 students driven into the courtyard. Two rows of guards waited for them and beat them as soon as they got out of the police van. He later heard that the internees were recent arrivals who had studied religion in the Middle East.”
When a government goes out of its way to beat the religious education out of its students, to shame the women out of the modesty they choose to display and force them to conform, to forbid the religious naming of the newborn children and terrorize those who speak their native language, to force the education of an ideology and the destruction of a way of life we are no longer witnessing a case of reversible discrimination — we are witnessing genocide.
Genocide is defined in Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
“You can’t uproot all the weeds hidden among the crops in the field one by one — you need to spray chemicals to kill them all,” the official was quoted as saying. “Reeducating these people is like spraying chemicals on the crops. That is why it is a general reeducation, not limited to a few people.”
The intent is clear. It has taken two years for China to round up one million Muslims and force them into these internment camps with absolutely no way of knowing when they will be released, and the Chinese government has largely gone unchallenged. There is nothing stopping them from rounding up the next seven million.
This is why we need to speak up. This is why we need to start creating noise about these atrocities and calling for international action to halt the targeting of our Chinese Muslim brothers and sisters.