Never Again? Let’s look at the ongoing Uyghur Genocide

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The Holocaust Memorial Day is held every year on January 27 and it seeks to commemorate the genocide of six million European Jews and millions of people who were systematically murdered during the World War II. It also commemorates genocides in Bosnia, Darfur, Rwanda and Cambodia, the premise of the day is to recognise that genocide is made up of many stages as it does not simply take place in a vacuum. The notion of genocide is amplified by repressive state policies, discrimination and racism that contributes to a draconian society.

The phrase, ‘Never Again’ is echoed throughout international institutions, boardrooms and parliaments, yet our governments are failing to act on the ongoing genocide of Uyghur Muslims in their homeland of East Turkestan. This blog post aims to provide key information on the ongoing genocide of the Uyghur Muslims that has taken place through a culmination of repressive Chinese state policies that have designated the Uyghur people as the ‘other’ in the society. The blog post will also contain a list of useful resources that will help you to stand in solidarity with the Uyghur community.

The Uyghurs are a Turkic ethnic group that primarily reside in the North West region of China that is known as Xinjiang (translates to ‘’new territory’’) Uyghur Autonomous Region by the Chinese government. However, for the Uyghur people, East Turkestan is the name of their homeland that has been subjected to repressive policies, ethnic and cultural genocide that aims to eradicate the Uyghur community. As of now, Uyghurs are facing systematic state-led surveillance, persecution and torture that can be regarded as crimes against humanity. The Uyghur people are mostly Muslims and are one of the oldest ethnic groups in Central Asia, totalling around 12 million in population numbers given by the Chinese government.

Credit: Anadolu Agency

It is important to note that Uyghurs are not Chinese Muslims but are Turkic Muslims that have their own customs, traditions and cultural identities. However, in recent times, the Chinese state has carried out forced assimilation policies that have contributed to the dehumanisation, marginalisation and colonisation of the Uyghur Muslims. For a short period of time in the 1950s, the Uyghur people were promised the right to self-determination for their homeland, East Turkestan but that was soon broken in 1955 when the Chinese government under Mao Zedong established the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region. It must be noted that the region is autonomous in name only as China has embarked on a series of policies such as resettling millions of Han Chinese with the aim to transform the demographic nature of the region. Gradually, the Chinese government would enact many programmes and policies that consisted of labour camps, political indoctrination, banning religious practices, forcing Uyghurs to abandon their culture, destroying places of worship, forced sterilisation and torture.

For the past five years, the creation of internment camps for so-called re-education or forced labour sites has resulted in the incarceration of over one million Uyghur Muslims. The number of facilities is around 300 to 400 and consist of detention centres, prisons and so-called re-education camps. In recent investigations and accounts, Uyghur women have spoken about the systematic rape, torture and sexual abuse that takes place in the so-called re-education camps. The utter dehumanisation of the Uyghur people can be regarded as an attempt to destroy the community. Since 2017, China has destroyed many religious sites and graveyards in the name of counter-extremism and aims to diminish any signs of separatism in society. The Chinese government has used various reasons such as reducing religious extremism as an attempt to destroy two-thirds of mosques in Xinjiang. The notion of practising Islam is deemed to be a sign of extremism and as a result, the Chinese state has prevented any visible signs of practising Islam such as banning the Islamic greeting ‘As-Salamu-Alaykum’ (translates to peace be upon you), the Quran, prayer mats and other forms of religious symbols.

The report titled ‘Break Their Lineage, Break Their Roots’ by Human Rights Watch, has found many abuses committed against the Uyghurs. The report states that Beijing has implemented ‘’policies of mass detention, torture and cultural persecution, among other offenses.’’ This includes chilling forms of surveillance such as state officials staying at the home of Uyghur Muslims in order to strengthen ethnic unity and administering facial recognition systems around the region to detect movements of the Uyghur people. In 2018, Huawei submitted a patent on the technological ability to detect whether a citizen was Han Chinese or a Uyghur. The video surveillance company, Dahua, has created alarms that would alert officials when a Uyghur is detected and included a feature that would detect Uyghurs who has supposed concealed terrorist tendencies. It has also come to light that Hikvision, a global camera manufacturer, implemented facial recognition systems at the entrance of around 967 mosques, emphasising the draconian and Islamophobic nature of the polices.

In an investigation carried out by Associated Press, it was found that the Chinese government are using measures to rapidly reduce birth rates within the region. Examples of tactics are sterilization, pregnancy checks, usage of IUDS and forced abortions. The failure to comply with the population control methods can lead to hefty fines and mass detention. For example, in certain parts of the region, the declines in birth-rates were around 72.9% between 2015 and 2018, this trend continued in 2019. Dr. Joanne Smith Finley is a reader in Chinese studies at Newcastle University and has stated that the current events are a form of genocide, regarding it is as a ‘’…slow, painful, creeping genocide’’ and the methods are ‘’…direct means of genetically reducing the Uyghur population.’’

It is not new for states to utilise the threat of terrorism or the ‘Global War on Terror’ to implement draconian counter-extremism policies on certain communities such as Muslims in the name of eradicating potential threats within society. For the Chinese state, the forced assimilation of Uyghurs under the pretext of the ‘Global War on Terror’ led to the formation of educational programmes in the 2000s that would eventually ban the Uyghur language and instead, Mandarin Chinese would become the compulsory language throughout every educational institution across the region. The tool of political indoctrination aims to destroy the Uyghur identity by banning Islamic practices such as praying, growing a beard and celebrating religious festivals such as Hajj.

Credit: William Vandivert THE LIFE Picture Collection – Getty Images

As well as learning about the atrocities that are being committed against the Uyghurs, it is vital that we learn about the culture and identity of the Uyghur people. One of the many aims of genocide is to destroy one’s culture, heritage and identity and as a result, it is vital to learn more about the Uyghur traditions, language and art. This can be done by supporting Uyghur businesses, reading Uyghur literature and amplifying the voices of the Uyghur activists who are keeping the spirit of their homeland and community alive. Documenting one’s history is an imperative step for many communities who are facing colonialism, subjugation and repression as this is a case of the oppressed and the oppressor, colonised and the coloniser. Remembering the Holocaust Memorial Day must encourage us to stand up against oppression across the world. Standing in solidarity with Uyghur Muslims is a moral duty and a form of resistance that we must adhere to and learning from genocides throughout history, we must actively stand up against the injustices that are taking place in the region. We must call on the international community to raise awareness and take steps to combat the ongoing genocide and the systematic cleansing of the Uyghur community. We can not afford to look away.

‘’If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.’’ – Desmond Tutu

A poem by Uyghur poet Ghojimuhemmed Muhemmed

Translated by @/jlfreeman6 on Twitter

List of useful resources to learn more about the Uyghurs:

  • ‘’Like We Were Enemies in a War’’ – China’s Mass Internment Torture and Persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang – https://xinjiang.amnesty.org/

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