Why is Nobody Talking About the Internment of Uyghur Muslims?

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Illustration by Manne Green

China is enforcing apartheid, and not enough people are talking about it. The Uyghur people are being put into concentration camps for being Muslim, but China is calling it “re-education.” 

The Uyghur are a primarily Muslim Turkic ethnic group, with an estimated 11 million individuals indigenous to the western Chinese province of Xinjiang, also referred to as East Turkistan. The Chinese Communist Party took over the region in 1949.

Now, China is targeting Uyghurs who have not assimilated to Han Chinese culture with constant surveillance through facial recognition cameras, policing and DNA sampling. This is a blatant and unacceptable strike against Uyghurs’ personal freedom.

The Communist Party’s actions are a result of counter-terrorism legislation China introduced in 2015, aiming to de-radicalize terrorists. Reading between the lines shows when China said “terrorists,” it really meant Uyghur Muslims. The Chinese government’s reasons for detaining people range from fasting, avoiding alcohol, growing a beard, wearing a headscarf and praying, to just using WhatsApp. 

China hides behind their claims of combating extremism, but this is clear Islamophobia. It is shocking something violating human rights to this degree has gone under the radar. This legislation equates practicing one’s religion to terrorism. 

An estimated 1 million Uyghurs have been detained and transported to internment camps without being told where they are going. The Chinese government first denied the existence of these camps, but now addresses them as “vocational training” or “re-education camps.”

The camps are neither. 

China’s decision to “re-educate” is reported to be a result of ethnic riots in 2009 between Han Chinese and Uyghurs, killing around 200 people. According to officials, most of those who were killed were Han Chinese. The riots, and subsequent conflicts, are a justification for China to spend billions of dollars on surveillance and policing of Muslims in Xinjiang, using them as an example of the perceived extremism of Uyghurs, and therefore Muslims. 

There are no recent conflicts reported. 

This is just one example of how a government will use an outlier event as an opportunity to demonize an entire group of people. In China’s case, they’re using these events to exterminate an entire ethnic identity.

CBS News reported an ex-inmate in this camp was electrocuted and given unknown medications causing her to experience fainting, bleeding and infertility. China sends children of those in the camps to orphanages where they are brought up as Han, by force, all in Mandarin. These children will grow up to not remember their parents, their culture, their people or their language, all because their government is using them as a scapegoat.

According to the U.N., “genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” This includes “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group,” “killing members of the group” and “causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.” 

The situation at hand more than qualifies. This is genocide. 

China’s pointed rules do not hide how afraid the government is of Islam. China thinks “re-education” in prisons is the answer. Uyghurs are treated as second-class residents in China. This is just a glimpse of how harmful it is to continue to tolerate Islamophobia. We all need to be aware this is happening in the world today. 

The U.S. does not stand for this, but it must continue to demand that everyone in these camps be released immediately and push for sanctions if not. Continuing to work with China while this is happening won’t do any good. With time, these human rights violations will become more apparent. In case sanctions aren’t placed, people can choose to divest from buying products made in China. If we don’t act now, we will lose an entire group of people.