According to estimates given by both United States intelligence and the United Nations, over a million ethnic minorities in “re-education centers” are currently imprisoned without trial in the far-western province of Xinjiang. If these estimates are even close to correct, China’s action constitutes, in the words of the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China, “the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today.”
Krygs, Kazaks, and most prominently, Uighur Chinese are being rounded up for what the government characterizes as security concerns stemming from terrorist attacks committed by extremist organizations. In reality, however, these people are being targeted just for their membership in ethnic groups that largely subscribe to the Islamic faith. In the “re-education centers”, which are more properly indoctrination camps, inmates are forced to renounce their Islamic faith and sing Communist Party propaganda songs for hours every day. There have also been reports of inmates being forced to eat pork and drink wine to prove their disaffiliation from Islam, as well as stories of torture and death.
Even for those lucky enough to avoid internment, life as a member in any of these minority groups has been made painstakingly difficult by the Chinese government. Xinjiang’s urban areas are layered with cameras equipped with facial recognition. The forcible extraction of biometric data like DNA samples and iris scans occurs with frequency, as well as the confiscation of travel documents – all without any probable cause.
China has never been a champion of human rights. However, the limited evidence that has emerged from Xinjiang is particularly troubling. The United States must not only be outspoken in its condemnation of this policy, but should take concrete measures – such as levying sanctions and closing Chinese embassies in major American cities – to address these serious human rights abuses. A flawed but nevertheless relatively outstanding human rights record has given the United States the right to speak on issues like the situation in Xinjiang from a position of moral authority. America is also the world’s largest economy, and the only nation that can hold its own with China in a sanctions war.
Disappointingly, the “Muslim World” has thus far been silent in regards to these abuses. Unlike transgressions committed by Israel or the West, majority Muslim countries – including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Iran – have said nothing about the large-scale oppression of Chinese Muslims. Pakistan, Egypt, and Malaysia even went as far as tracking down and deporting back to China Uighurs seeking refuge. The rationale for this capitulation on the part of the Islamic world is essentially economic, since many of these countries’ economies are closely intertwined with, and significantly dependent on, the Chinese. While this explanation clearly cannot be accepted as a legitimate excuse for selective inattention to egregious human rights violations, the consequential fact remains that these countries have proven to be unwilling to take action – which is why the United States must do so in their stead.
It is possible that the willingness of the United States to defend Muslims in China will help to address the widely-held belief among Muslims that America is at war with Islam. A shockingly large percentage of Muslims throughout the world have been persuaded that the United States are latter-day Christian Crusaders determined to conquer Muslim lands and eradicate Islam in totality. That narrative has discouraged civilian cooperation in places like Iraq or Afghanistan against extremist groups, and has been used by these extremists as a recruiting tool. To put to bed this narrative would save the lives of thousands, if not millions, of people. However, whether or not United States action on this issue results in a shift in public opinion, it is nevertheless the right thing to do.
Thankfully, it appears that things may finally be headed in the right direction. Last week several Members of Congress signed a bipartisan letter, calling on the Trump Administration to sanction Chinese officials and companies thought to be closely connected with the indoctrination camps and surveillance state in Xinjiang. Such measures would potentially deliver a foreign policy victory, and assist the incumbent administration in the upcoming midterm elections. We await a response from the Trump administration.
It is imperative that the United States stands up for the rights of Muslims who are oppressed in Xinjiang. They truly have nobody else to turn to.