When the gas chambers of Nazi Germany were discovered and the horrific mass murder of Jews revealed to us, people across the world found themselves repeating two words, ‘Never again’. These words were a promise that the world will never again let this happen, and that it will not stay silent on such terrible crimes against humanity. Seven decades after the holocaust, a new totalitarian regime has emerged, more powerful and ambitious than the Nazis. It is a regime which has colonised its neighbours in the name of development and is perpetrating cultural and religious genocide at home. The world stands silent. The solemn pledge of ‘never again’ has been forgotten.
We are talking about the plight of Uyghur Muslims. Uyghurs are a Muslim minority group that live in northwestern China. These are essentially Sunni Muslims of Turkish ethnicity, part Central Asian and part European. They embraced Islam around 10th century AD. Prior to Islam, Uyghurs had embraced Buddhism, Shamanism and Manichaeism, but they had managed to maintain their unique identity. They have their own language, culture, cuisine, customs. They don’t look Chinese, they don’t feel Chinese, but they are forced to act Chinese.
The Uyghurs live in Xinjiang, the largest province of China, roughly the size of Iran, one-and-a-half times the size of Pakistan, and twelve times the size of Bangladesh. Xinjiang borders eight countries, most of which have Islam as their largest religion. But Xinjiang is part of atheist China. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) annexed this region in 1949 to prevent Russia from taking it over. At that time the Uyghur Muslims comprised 76 percent of the population and the Han Chinese just 6 percent. Today, Xinjiang is made up of 42 percent Uyghur Muslims and 40 percent Han Chinese.
Uyghurs have become the victims of forced assimilation because controlling Xinjiang is essential for the Chinese regime. It is the largest and strategically the most important region of China. It lies at the heart of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Xinjiang is China’s gateway to Central Asia and Europe. This region is also overflowing with natural gas and oil reserves. One-third of China’s natural gas and oil reserves are located here. Xinjiang contributes 60 percent of China’s cotton output and 38 percent of coal reserves. Billions of dollars are at stake, which is why Xinjiang is China’s most militarised region. It is estimated that one in three Chinese living in Xinjiang work for security forces and one in ten Uyghur Muslims living here is behind bars.
A total of ten million Uyghur Muslims are living in this region and almost one million are in jails. Those who are not under watch have to deal with the world’s most sophisticated surveillance system on daily basis. China says it is doing all this to curb terrorism, but the world says it is persecution. China sends these Muslims to concentration camps and calls them re-education camps or joyful training schools. The Chinese regime says that they are correcting extremist behaviour of these radical Muslims. But these camps are places unlike any on earth. The Uyghurs are subjected to political indoctrination, they are forced to memorise Communist principles, and those who disobey are tortured and sometimes executed. They face solitary confinement, deprivation of food, water and sleep, they are released only when they succumb to the beliefs and principles of Communist atheist China. But the release does not mean they are free; it means that they are in open jail. The Uyghurs cannot celebrate their festivals, they are forbidden to wear traditional dresses, women are not allowed to wear burqas, and young men aren’t allowed to keep a beard. The Communist party approves Friday sermons, the Chinese version of the Qur’an, and even names of Uyghur children. Those who disobey are publicly shamed and executed.
China is looking for more ways and means to shrink Uyghur Muslim population. The women here are subjected to forced sterilisation and abortion. They are victims of China’s “Pair Up and Become Family” programme. Han Chinese men are assigned to monitor Muslim homes. They assist, eat, work and sometimes sleep with Uyghur Muslim women. This is state sanctioned rape.
The UN has called it the world’s worst case of human rights violations, but calling it so does not stop it. What have the UN and other countries done to stop this? They have just raised concerns, nothing else. in July 2019, 22 countries raised concern against Chinese atrocities and on the next day 37 countries came up with a letter that whitewashed China’s crimes as counter-terror operations. The most shocking part was that 14 of these countries were Muslim-majority states and all of them members of the OIC, a body which ironically claims to be the collective voice of the Muslim world. When it comes to Uyghur Muslims of China, this OIC actually acts as the collective voice of China.
The writer is a Lecturer of Political Science. [email protected]