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The State-Sponsored Disappearance of Muslim Minorities in China

Top American officials are standing idly by while an authoritarian country, once again, is attempting to eradicate a religious minority through cultural genocide. Reports of Chinese internment camps have been emerging for the past year, but recent satellite images and daring reporters have confirmed the existence of the massive camps. Since the satellite images were obtained the Chinese government has been forced to stop denying the reality of their internment camps. Instead, China now advertises their camps and their goal of assimilating the 12 million Muslims who are a part of the ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region. It is estimated that two million Muslims have been arrested in the Xinjiang region, although counting the numbers and names is difficult because the internment camps keep little to no documentation. The Chinese government is arbitrarily arresting and, subsequently, brainwashing Uyghurs (also known as Uighurs), Kyrgyz, ethnic Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities into an obedient, Chinese-speaking labor force that is loyal to the Communist Party. Communist authority papers explain that the Chinese government is simply caring for those “infected with an ideological ‘virus’” and wants “to treat those contaminated by Islamic beliefs before “illness arises.” The international community needs to recognize the risk of these discriminatory ideologies. Internment camps for ethnic minorities and the perception that a particular religious group is an underclass of peasants who are a nuisance to society and could contaminate the “normal,” or, in China’s case, the group of Communist Party abiding citizens, are dangerous precedents that must warrant action.

Although the Chinese internment camps for Muslims are currently more focused on psychological torture than murder, the degrading and controlling camps, posed as “re-education” centers, lay the work for cultural genocide. People in China are targeted based on cultural stereotypes that are listed in an official directive that enumerates warning signs that a person may be “infected” by the virus of Islam. Warning signs of a dangerous, radical Muslim include growing a beard as a young man, praying in public, or trying to give up smoking or drinking. In the camps, civilians are forced to renounce their religious beliefs and write self-criticism essays. They work in factories for little to no pay and face physical and verbal abuse by guards. They are forced to listen to lectures and sing songs praising the Communist Party. Until they remember every word to the nationalist hymns they are denied breakfast. Innocent civilians are being held captive and are being brainwashed solely for their status as a religious minority. A 29-year-old Uyghur mother named Mihrigul Tursun testified to the United States Congress about her experience being tortured in a Chinese “re-education” camp. She described how she had infant triplets when she was first detained, but the authorities separated Tursun from her babies and one of them died. She described being tortured through sleep deprivation and an electric chair, how she began having seizures and losing consciousness, and how she begged the authorities to kill her instead of continuing to torture her. Tursun recalled the authorities telling her that Tursun’s son and mother had died, that her father was serving life in prison and that her family was torn apart because of her. These “camps” for Muslims in China are, in reality, prisons.

Similarly to a number of previous oppressive rulers, the Chinese government is presenting their internment camps to the average citizen as a necessary measure to protect civilians from the radical ways of Islam. Chinese Communist propaganda portrays the systematized detention of Muslim Chinese citizens as a charitable act for those who live impoverished, backward lives due to Islam. The state-controlled Xinjiang Daily recently commended the forced ethnic assimilation in the internment camps: “education and training will make them into ‘modern people,’ useful to society.” Meanwhile, the Communist government has been able to arrest and brainwash an estimated two million Muslims.

The government has enforced disappearances and arbitrarily detained so many Uyghur Muslims, that there is virtually no Uyghur family in Xinjiang without one or more family members arrested and forced into labor detention. Tursun’s family is just one example of the many Uyghur families that have been forced to denounce their familial ties and separate their children. In fact, so many Uyghur families have been split that too many children became homeless. In response, Xinjiang has needed to build new and expand boarding schools to organize the masses of children whose parents are imprisoned. The Chinese government is effectively destroying the foundation of ethnic Muslims in China and is progressing towards the eradication of a religious minority.

Once shrouded in secrecy, the Chinese tactical annihilation of the minority Muslim culture is gaining recognition. Jewish people were being detained in Germany, but until news of the gas chambers reached the international community, there was not sufficient action to protect innocent people. The Chinese government is beginning the steps of a strategized religious genocide, but the international community is, this time, aware. Now, leaders of the world must act. Without the aid of international forces, the Holocaust would have taken many more lives based on religious persecution. It is estimated that the number of Muslims currently detained in the Xinjiang region is roughly double the amount of Jewish people killed in Auschwitz during the Holocaust. The internment camps in China are torturing individuals based on religious persecution and have the potential to worsen.

In order to prevent catastrophic consequences, the international community must collectively ensure that the Chinese government stops the secretive and arbitrary arrests of Muslims. The United Nations has recognized the importance of freedom of religion since it was established in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Nevertheless, the United Nations and many leading Western countries have failed to take any concrete action to ensure China closes their internment camps. Recently, The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act was introduced as a first practical step for the United States government to take in response to the authoritarian regime’s systemic human rights abuses. The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act was a bipartisan act introduced to the United States Congress in January 2019, “To condemn gross human rights violations of ethnic Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang, and calling for an end to arbitrary detention, torture, and harassment of these communities inside and outside China.” The legislation recommends a ban on exports of United States technology that the Chinese government could use in its efforts to torture and oppress the Uyghurs, it recommends sanctions against human rights offenders and more. It is critical such legislation is passed so that China has an incentive to stop their annihilation of a religious minority.

Photo: “Uyghur Protest outside White House