Who will speak for the Uyghurs?
When it comes to the question of the oppression of minorities in China, most people will be familiar with the case of Tibet. Yet, not much international attention is paid to the oppression of the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs in their ancestral homeland of Xinjiang, the resource rich ‘autonomous’ region in the northwestern corner of China. In recent years, Xinjiang, what many Uyghurs call East Turkestan, has become a policy priority of the Chinese Communist party (CCP), for political, strategic and economic reasons.
In the name of combating Islamic extremism the Chinese state has embarked on a massive repression program against the Uyghur population that has created a human rights crisis that has reached totalitarian proportions. The Chinese state seeks to eliminate potential and imagined obstacles to their project for Xinjiang, which is to use it to extend it’s Belt and Road initiative and dominate Central Asia in true neo-imperialist style.
According to the UN, there is an estimated number of a million prisoners held what is referred to as “political re-education camps”, something the Chinese state obviously denies.They are usually without any charges leveled against them. Prime candidates for this hellhole are mostly those who are seen to display excessive signs of religiosity, or accused of having contacts abroad, even speaking Chinese ‘improperly’ can get swiftly thrown into these modern day gulags. Daily torture and grinding interrogations are a daily experiences for detainees. The more lucky ones are ordered on pain of torture to recite nationalist slogans ad-nauseum and reject their religious identity in a degrading attempt to force them to prove their loyalty, like a humiliated serf, to the Chinese state.
If one was to walk streets of any city or town in Xinjiang you would find a situation that resembles an occupation by a foreign colonial army against an indigenous population viewed as an internal enemy by the Chinese state. Police stations are everywhere, checkpoints are ubiquitous where Han Chinese go through without hassle or trouble as Uyghurs have to endure degrading inspections and their freedom of movement curtailed reminiscent of apartheid South Africa. Xinjiang is also a laboratory for the CCP to test out new surveillance and repression methods that will eventually be deployed on the rest of the Chinese population. Surveillance cameras have a very pervasive presence on the landscape of many Uyghur cities. Residents are required to install spyware on their phone, mandatory GPS trackers are installed in cars and the DNA of all residents between the ages of 12 and 64 are collected and put on a database.
Moreover, women seen to be wearing long skirts have it cut short on the spot overseen by police officers. Other forms of cultural stigma and oppression they face include restrictions on the length of facial hair for men, the naming of children, burial rites and even not being allowed to use their own language in schools.
This Orwellian nightmare doesn’t end in the streets. One would think, perhaps naively, that for all the hardships and daily humiliation Uyghurs have to face in public, that their homes would provide some sense of sanctuary and security since it is the one sphere citizens hold complete sovereignty over. No. Unfortunately, Uyghur families are made to accept Communist party officials into their home (they don’t exactly have a choice) as part of the so called ‘home stays’, where families are supposed to provide detailed information about their political views and their private lives. Stays can in some cases last up to at least one week per month. Families are also subjected to ‘political re-education’ (translation: indoctrination) from the live in officials. This is pure assimilationism and social engineering by the Chinese Communist party.
It is very clear from this that the Chinese state has created a police state in Xinjiang like no other. It views Uyghurs not as citizens with their own sense of individual autonomy, but as subjects who are the property of the state. Even when Uyghurs go on the Hajj pilgrimage they are made to wear electronic tags so that the Chinese state can monitor their movements in case they think about wandering off. In a time where anti-Muslim sentiment is rising globally, and in some cases translating into deadly consequences like in Burma and India, those of us who care about liberty, equality and human dignity must stand up to this prejudice wherever it rears its ugly head. And we must especially stand up for the rights of our Uyghur brothers and sisters against totalitarian cultural colonialism and for liberty, autonomy and self-government.