A Dystopian Nightmare and a Deafening Silence – The Uighurs of China
Opinion

A Dystopian Nightmare and a Deafening Silence – The Uighurs of China

United Nations human rights panel says that more than a million ethnic Uighurs in China are held in what resembles a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy.”

Imagine that one morning when get out of bed you realize that your house is fitted with recording devices, that the government can hear every sound you make. Claustrophobic yet?

You decide to leave home and go to work or catch up with friends but every street you pass through has cameras with state of the art face detection technology watching over you. As you try to run away from the streets to the corners for safety, there are check points where IDs and irises are checked by police officers. The nightmare is not yet over.

As you reach your destination, you and your belonging are checked – body and bags, and you are subjected to yet another round of questions – about your family, ethnicity, culture and religious beliefs.

This personal and biometric information is now saved in a data base tied to your id and you are given a score on basis of which you are ranked – safe, normal, unsafe. This rating determines whether you can buy tickets, visit a mall, rent a house, check into hotels, rent apartments or visit neighborhoods and in the worst case scenario – sent to a re-education camp.

Welcome to China’s Xinjiang province, home to 1.1 million Uighurs who make up 1.5 percent of the Chinese population. The Xinjiang-Uighur region forms a major part of Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative. It is also home to a persecuted cultural and ethnic minority.

Who are the Uighurs

Uighurs are mostly of Turkic origin and speak Turkish, some of them are Kazakhs. The total population is around 24 million and about a half of them are Sunni Muslims.  They see themselves as culturally and ethnically close to the central Asian nations. Agriculture still forms a strong basis of the economy and several towns like Kashgar, the oasis city, are the key hubs of the famous Silk Route.

A Dystopian Nightmare and a Deafening Silence – The Uighurs of China

But for communist China all religions are backward and superstitious and  need to be tempered down, if not completed abolished. This is why they are against the Uighgurs and their faith.

Authorities say, the crackdown is  necessary to curb extremist activities, however, the  problem is that these extremists rose in response to the Chinese government’s decades old policy of subjugation and ethnic colonization. History and common sense both suggest that Beijing’s current policy is bound to be counterproductive – it will only set off a vicious cycle.

The Silence over the Suffering

What puzzles us about China’s “re-education” policy is that the Muslim leaders across the world have remained silent about this brazen attack on Muslims and Islam. While Human Rights groups have condemned Beijing’s actions, most Muslims have largely remained silent. Even when a few leaders have spoken up, they have been cautious with their words.

This raises an important question – why has the Muslim world so outspoken about issues concerning them, be it the Israel-Palestine conflict or the Kashmir problem has chosen to be compassionate about China. Those who claim to be leaders of the world have not even paid lip service to the barbaric treatment of Muslims by Beijing officials.

A Dystopian Nightmare and a Deafening Silence – The Uighurs of China

Money over Religion

China is the world’ second largest economy and is biggest trading partner of 20 out of 57 member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. The much acclaimed Belt and Road initiative is expected to pass through regions of the Middle East. The initiative brings with it a promise of huge commercial and infrastructure boost to these states. Even before this project was announced, China was providing economic assistance to the region. Take for example, Turkey, The Global Times reported that China would only help bring about economic stability to the region if it stopped being critical of China’s human rights violations. Meanwhile, Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel had also promised similar help, if Turkey corrected its own human rights violations. But then, it is easier to criticize others than clear one’s own mess, and Turkey, accepted China’s help. Similarly, in Pakistan, China bought in what can be termed as an endorsement of its re-education camp in return for the benefits that it would be providing through the Chinese-Pakistan Economic Corridor project.

The War is NOT against Islam but Radicalism

China has for long maintained that it is a law and order situation and that once extremist elements are eradicated, nationalism can be ushered it. Now if, Muslim leaders speak against this, it will against what they have been preaching – that Islam has nothing to do with terrorism. The problem is precisely this, china is not only curbing extremism but cracking down on modest religiosity and ordinary decency. September, last year, Pakistan was the first Muslim country to speak against Chinese onslaught on Muslims. But its silence was soon bought.  Federal minister for religious affairs, Noorul Haq Qadri, had alleged that China’s intensive regulation of Uighur activity is fueling extremism, rather than countering it. Beijing’s response was that nothing of this sort is even happening and later Pakistan accepted that media was just trying to sensationalize the issue

It is time Muslim leaders and the world understand that Islamophobia is not a phenomenon restricted to the west; it can exist in the east too. At least in the liberal democracies of the west, it can be criticised, in authoritarian regimes, dissent is simply curbed.  The fascination with China and its technology needs to end and the curtains lifted to reveal the true nature of the dictatorship. For the part of the world fascinated with dictatorship and threatened with the idea of democracy, remember that in a democracy you can at least hope to live with safety and dignity, you can ask the courts for help if your rights are violated, but in an authoritarian regime like China – you simply end up in a re-education camps.

Sanobar Fatma is an academician based in New Delhi. She writes extensively about polity, law and films. In her free time she likes to doodle. She tweets at @SanobarFatma

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