When discussing the atrocities of Nazis during the Holocaust, “Never again” is the slogan we repeat. “Never forget” is yet another slogan that appears during discussion of the September 11 attacks. But it seems that “Never discuss” is the slogan everyone silently supports in regards to China. While mass media is hugely critical of Trump, the Second Amendment of the US Constitution, Russia, and right-wing activists, it seems to be ignorant of Chinese policies.
Various reports state that almost one million Muslims are detained in Chinese “re-education camps”. The majority of them are Uyghur, Kazakh, and Kyrgyz people — Turkic Muslim minorities of China. Yet it is uncommon to see a news article reporting such atrocities. At the time of writing, a query on “China” on The New York Times website did not show anything related to this topic. Apparently, the detention of hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs was not important enough to make it to the news.
Uyghurs are the main inhabitants of East Turkestan or, as it is called in Chinese, Xinjiang. They have nothing in common with the Han Chinese, the main ethnicity of China. The Uyghur language is part of the Turkic language family, and thus, they share linguistic and cultural similarities with Kazakh, Uzbek, Turkish, and other Turkic-speaking ethnicities. For most of the time, East Turkestan, just like Tibet, was not a direct part of China. Only after the civil war did the victorious Communist Party establish a strict rule over the culturally separate region.
Chinese officials justify their measures as the “fight against the religious extremism”. Recently, as part of counter-extremist measures in Xinjiang, Chinese officials have been staying at homes of Uyghur people. Under this program, Uyghurs are forced to provide information regarding their religious and political views. Chinese officials also provide a mandatory “political education” program, which is hosted for at least a week every month. The program includes “warnings against dangerous ideologies of Pan-Islamism and Pan-Turkism” — political beliefs that pose a threat to Chinese Communist Party. Human Rights Watch had already said such measures “not only violate basic rights, but are also likely to foster and deepen resentment in the region”. But for China, with its vast resources and governmental power, there is nothing that can stop them from solving the “Uyghur question” once and for all.
The Washington Post told the story of Kayrat Samarkan, who was detained for being Muslim and his “suspicious” visit to neighboring Kazakhstan. Samarkan said that the population of the camp consisted entirely of Uyghurs and Kazakhs — not a single Han Chinese was imprisoned in the “re-education” camp. These camps force detainees to renounce Islam and praise the Communist Party. The most persistent ones are punished with beatings, tortures, and starvation. In another case, Omir Bekali, a Kazakh citizen visiting Xinjiang, was captured and detained in one of the many re-education camps in the region. He described mandatory daily classes where prisoners were lectured about the “liberation” of shepherding Turkic people by the Communist Party. Chants praising Chairman Xi and the party were required before meals. The comparison between “backwards Islam” and “progressive Communism” was present everywhere in the camp. Unable to bear such punishments, both Samarkan and Bekali tried to commit suicide. Eventually they were granted freedom, yet many fellow countrymen are still detained in de facto concentration camps.
Saying that the oppression of Uyghurs is completely ignored would be an exaggeration. Various organizations and media outlets do cover the topic, but the issue does not get the attention it deserves. If an Eastern European government builds a camp that “re-educates” refugees from the Middle East so that they “comply” with Western values, the public outrage would be impossible to ignore. No doubt the outcry would reach the United Nations. But China, by any measure, is not a European country, and so it does not get criticized as Hungary did for its treatment of refugees. One could give a counterexample, saying that Myanmar was under pressure for oppressing Rohingya people. But Myanmar, unlike China, depends on foreign aid. Myanmar, unlike China or Russia, is not able to impose heavy counter-sanctions in response to interfering with its inner politics. Even though Russia, despite being a strong and influential country, gets heavily criticized for its policies, we cannot compare it with China. Though Russia has an intimidating amount of firepower, it does not have a strong economical influence as China does. China is “too important” to be confronted now. It seems that for the West, it is not the time to play the “freedom and human rights” card.
Of all the things the world should do to prevent the new genocide, it does nothing. As long as China has a positive impact on the growth of the global economy and does not directly threaten other major players of the political arena, everyone will keep their eyes closed on the occupation of East Turkestan. The stakes in the great game of global domination are so high that players are even willing to ignore concentration camps being built in Xinjiang.
When Athenians sieged Melos, they justified it as “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” But let’s not forget that after Melos was captured, all native men were slaughtered, and the rest were sold into slavery. Will humanity prove that we are still the same cruel animals even after 2500 years? Time will tell.