I am writing this in the backdrop of a hunger strike started by the Islamic reformer Maajid Nawaz. Nawaz, a former Islamist, feels let down by his liberal counterparts for their reluctance to officially recognize the genocide of Uyghur Muslims unleashed by the authoritarian Chinese regime. What strikes me as odd is the fact that its the conservatives who are speaking out against the inhumane treatment of Uyghur Muslims by the Chinese authorities. Before grappling with this question, I’d like to summarize what’s happening in China.
Genesis of a genocide
The Uyghurs in Xinjiang have a history of resisting the Communist rule. The region currently known as Xinjiang was formerly East Turkestan or Uyghuristan. In 1949, a plane carrying East Turkestan leaders who were flying to negotiate with China crashed, killing all its occupants. This led to the disintegration of the nationalist movement and made it easier for the Communists to occupy the region.
The population of the ethnic Chinese population saw a 35 percent increase in a span of 27 years due to the policy of large scale migration. The liberalization of China in 1980s created a relatively tolerant environment for the Uyghurs. This didn’t last long. Opposition groups in China are technically illegal. However, the secret threat to the Communist regime primarily comes from groups centered in the Xinjiang province.
The separatist movement in Uyghur became evident in the 1990s. The execution of 30 independence Uyghur freedom fighters led to a massive uprising in the city of Ghulja in 1997. Protesters marched around the city, shouting slogans against the Chinese regime. The Chinese suppressed the movement mercilessly through use of violence, water cannon and tear gas. Around 100 were said to have killed in Chinese Gunfire(the official figure is much lower).
In the aftermath, thousands of Uyghurs were arrested. The process of otherization started. They were labelled as terrorists. Their freedoms were restricted. The Communist regime persecuted everyone who dared to speak against them. Criticism/propagation of “separatist ideas” through books, stories, news media, periodicals and cultural activities were explicitly prohibited. Article 105 of Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China prescribes life imprisonment for “slander/spreading rumor” against the socialist regime.
Uyghur writers and scholars critical of the Chinese regime are being persecuted. The writer Nurmemet Yasin was jailed in 2005 for writing a story titled “The Blue Pigeon”. The Chinese authorities claimed the story incited separatism. Yasin died 5 years later in prison.
Uyghur Muslims are forbidden from giving names which have explicit religious connotations to their children. Minors are forbidden from participating in religious activities.Around one sixth of mosques have been completely demolished. In an effort to “erode the ethnic group identity” of Uyghurs, graveyards are being destroyed. Around a million Uyghurs are detained in Chinese “re-education camps”(concentration camps,for all practical purposes). Individuals are held in these camps arbitrarily. According to leaked Chinese cables, the majority of individuals were held for being “untrustworthy”. Many individuals were held simply for the crime of growing a beard, wearing a veil and visiting a foreign website.
Horrific stories of what happens inside these camps have since come out from victims who have escaped. The victims are tortured, have to face beatings, brainwashing, are being forced to use the toilet front of security cameras, forcibly sterilized, given electric shocks,sexually abused and subjected to forced hard labor.
Leaked official documents reveal that the Chinese detain these individuals because their “thinking has been infected by unhealthy thoughts”. In 2018, the communist party member Wang Yongzhi was removed because of his reluctance to round up individuals arbitrarily. In 2017 alone, 12000 party members were investigated for alleged “infraction”.
Islamophobia and the hypocrisy of liberals
Leftists claim to stand up against Islamophobia. They claim that Narendra Modi’s regime has fostered a climate of Islamophobia and unleashed state sponsored violence. They rightfully outrage when a random bigot cancels his Zomato order simply because the delivery person belongs to a different religion. Yet, they remain silent on the state sponsored genocide and persecution of the Uyghurs.
Their deafening silence perplexes me. The reason behind their silence is their affinity towards authoritarian China. The general secretary of the Communist Party of India(Marxist) Sitaram Yechury claims that Indian communists have an affinity towards communists worldwide. He claims reports of Human Rights violation of the Uyghurs are “rubbish”, instead choosing to believe in the official narrative of the Chinese regime. Ironically, these same leftists claim that the Indian government is lying when it comes to Kashmir. They have more faith in the totalitarian communist regime of China than the democratically elected government in India.
These Renegades of social justice also claim that Hinduphobia is a “manufactured conceit”. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that Hinduphobia i.e. irrational hatred of Hindus as a group exists. This hatred is reflected in the brainwashing of a generation of Pakistanis through public school textbooks. Hindus are accused of betraying Muslims. They are represented in an extremely antagonistic manner. Pakistan’s leading English language newspaper “Dawn” has admitted that public school textbooks promote a bigoted view of history and propagate ideas about the inferiority of non Muslims. Hinduphobia isn’t confined to one nation. It also exists in democratic nations such as UK&US. This often escalates to physical violence. For instance, in 2019 a Swaminarayan temple was vandalized. Its walls were sprayed with “Jesus is the only God”. There are numerous examples of hate crime against Hindus.
Irrational hatred of all groups exist. Racism against whites exists. Black nationalist groups such as Nation of Islam believe in the superiority of black race over whites. They essentially want to create an ethno-state, one where blacks rule. According to Elijah Muhammad, the black man is the rightful owner of the earth. Hatred against whites has often led many Black individuals to shoot innocents. A notable case is that of Gavin Long. In 2016, Long killed 3 policemen in Louisiana during a shootout before being taken down by the cops. In one of his YouTube videos, he referenced the murder of 5 policemen in Dallas only 12 days earlier by a black nationalist. It was “justice”, according to him. Long claimed that “the abundance of Melanin in Black humans produces a superior organism both mentally and physically.”
A misplaced sense of superiority and persecution, regardless of race/political ideology, is what leads individuals to commit violence. This is not to say that their grievances are not valid. Extremist groups often use valid grievances to rope in members. Even the dreaded terrorist Osama Bin Laden was concerned about climate change! Legitimate grievances makes it easier to indoctrinate individuals.
The “tyranny of the discontinuous mind” sees everything in binaries. Thus, it conflates criticism of religion with criticism of the people. This is why individuals criticizing Islam or Hinduism for legitimate reasons are often labelled “Islamophobe” or “Hinduphobe”. The reasonable ones among us must understand that there is a clear distinction between the religion and the people who believe in it. The ideologically possessed mind reeks of hypocrisy. It chooses to believe in certain agitprop while rejecting others. It suffers from the same malady its opponent suffers from. It doesn’t stand for principles, despite its repeated accentuation on it. It only stands for its group. It is this blind love which forces many communists to turn away from systemic injustice/genocide simply because it is “their side” which perpetuates it. The left must recognize that issues of genocide are beyond partisan politics. We must stand against injustice in principle. No conditions applied.