“Under the guise of preventing terrorism, governments have been able to institute discriminatory and deadly policies targeting Muslim communities” (Aljazeera).
After a news blackout on the subject matter, the mainstream media has begun reporting on the Uighur concentration camps in China. The Uighurs are an ethnic group of Muslims that live in the Xinjiang province of western China. As many as 1 million Uighurs are being detained indefinitely at “reeducation camps.” While detained, the prisoners are forced to denounce their faith and pledge allegiance to the Chinese communist party.
Once the news broke, many western governing bodies and the UN Human Rights Council harshly admonished the Chinese government, and declared a humanitarian crisis. Many have accused these western governments of shedding crocodile tears because the Islamophobia that led to the concentration camps is the same prejudice that is widely prevalent in western politics. Islamophobia essentially guides American foreign policy in the Middle East and other majority Islamic regions.
In addition to the psychological abuse reported at these camps, they are allegedly being physically tortured with waterboarding and other heinous methods. These atrocities are the result of the Chinese government taking the stance that Muslims are extremists/terrorists and threats to security. Like any religion, there are some violent extremist groups, but the majority of Uighurs are moderate Sunni Muslims that are simply living their lives.
The autonomous Xinjiang region has been under Chinese control for decades, but many Uighur activists have been and still are calling for sovereignty in what they call East Turkestan. The Chinese government’s attempt to eradicate an entire cultural group is the result of years of ethnic tension from the Han Chinese people migrating to Eastern Turkestan and mistreating the Uighurs. At one point, the Muslim minority was protesting their unfair treatment and once they clashed with the Han Chinese, riots broke out. The 2009 riots resulted in roughly 200 people killed and hundreds of others injured.
In addition to ethnic tensions, another reason China is torturing and imprisoning the Uighur people is because they want to open up the Xinjiang region for their “Road and Belt Initiative.” The initiative aims to create a “belt” of terrestrial trade routes and a “road” of maritime shipping paths to connect Asia, Africa, and Europe. This massive infrastructure project is intended to boost China’s economy and increase its political influence. So greed and power lust is also a motivating factor in imprisoning the Uighur people.
These violations of human rights and religious freedom are possible because of a Chinese “counterterrorism” law passed in 2017. The government has banned the hijab and other veils/headscarfs, beards, and Muslim baby names. The Uighurs are prohibited from exercising their faith and are under heavy surveillance which violates their right to privacy. James Millward, a professor at Georgetown University, stated that the Chinese government is, “trying to expunge ethnonational characteristics from the people. They’re not trying to drive them out of the country; they’re trying to hold them in. The ultimate goal, the ultimate issue that the Chinese state is targeting [is] the cultural practices and beliefs of Muslim groups” (Vox).
Government workers take people from their homes without notice, leaving confused and terrified family members to try to figure out what happened. These camps are guarded by workers with chemical and regular weapons, and, “surrounded by imposing walls topped with razor wire, with watchtowers at two corners. A slogan painted on the wall reads: ‘All ethnic groups should be like the pods of a pomegranate, tightly wrapped together’” (WSJ).
So is anyone doing anything to stop China? Verbal action is all so far because any proposed sanctioning is unlikely to be passed by the larger legislative bodies. China’s status as the second largest economy means few, if any, governmental bodies will be brave enough to cross the world power. Some members of Congress are pushing bipartisan legislation that condemns and sanctions Xianjiang, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ). The current policy of the Trump administration, according to a State Department official, is, “it [the State Department] would not preview any possible sanctions, but…the US remained alarmed at the situation in China” (Vox). For now, it seems any official action, besides a few harsh statements, is unlikely. This makes sense because until the west can acknowledge and halt its Islamaphobic practices, it can’t really do anything to stop it in the east.