Week 11: September 7, 2020
While we have mostly focused on national issues, it is also critical that we continue to educate ourselves about injustice happening worldwide. This week we want to center the conversation around the tragedy occurring to Uyghurs in China. Uyghurs are a group of Muslim Turkic culture. The majority live in northwestern China, and others are located in other much smaller Asian countries. The Chinese government’s systematic targeting of Uyghurs escalated almost exactly six years ago because of a terrorist attack where eight Uighur Muslims stabbed 141 people on a train, killing 31. Of the eight accused criminals, four were killed on sight, and the other four were sentenced– 3 to death, 1 to a life sentence. And yet, Xi Jinping believes, for the safety of the country, he must punish all Uyghurs, then eradicate the religion.
Estimates of up to 3 million Uyghurs, under the guise of ‘re-education’ against the ‘virus’ of Islamic radicalism, have been separated from their families and forced into concentration camps with aspects remarkably similar to those in World War II. Officials told relatives of detainees that these camps were a “chance for free education,… to eradicate erroneous thinking” and “a great foundation for a happy life for your family.” However, contrary to government statements, residents are being forced, unpaid, to labor for over 30 companies including Nike, Gap, and H&M. Additionally, prisoners are subject to rape, torture, beatings, electrocutions, and other extreme bodily and mental harm. In further attempts to try and destroy Uygher culture, the Chinese government has forced conversion to Han culture, implemented forced sterilization upon Uygher women, and separated hundreds of thousands of children from their parents. Once separated, state-run shelters raise the children under a different belief system, effectively ending the Uighur culture.
Although the horrors inflicted on the Uygher people may seem irrelevant to us, many aspects of these oppressive tactics are reflected in past and current U.S. policies. We have had ‘re-educating’ campaigns that forced Native Americans into boarding schools in the attempt to destroy their culture. Deep rooted fear against Japanese people in World War II led to the creation of American concentration camps with horrific conditions. In the wake of 9/11, one group of terrorists became representative of an entire religion. The U.S. responded with an islamophobic ‘war on terror’ that led to a wave of hate attacks on Muslims, along with the introduction of surveillance policy and government organizations like ICE that have repeatedly been used to target specific groups. In striking similarity to China, ICE has been used to target immigrant communities of color, and has separated children from their parents, and held immigrants as prisoners in crowded, dirty, and inhumane conditions.
As a nation, we are not as far from this atrocity as we would like to think. Under an administration that has encouraged hateful and discriminatory policies under the guise of ‘national security’, it is critical that we do not allow our judgement to be clouded by fear.
For our sources and to learn more, see the articles below:
• What similarities can be drawn between our criminal justice system (with a specific focus on prison labor policies) and what is happening in China?
• At what point does ‘security’ become a means for targeting minority groups? How can we hold people and organizations accountable for fear-based bias and ensure that the entire community’s safety is maintained?