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The Plight of Uighur Muslims in China

The Uighurs are Turkish-speaking Muslims originating from Central Asia, who mainly live in Xinjiang, Northwest China. The People’s Republic of China annexed the region of Xinjiang in 1949 when the Uighurs were the vast majority-which represented 76% of the population-and the Han Chinese were the minority. After 70 years, the region’s Uighur population reduced to 42% while the Han Chinese population ballooned to 40%, an exponential increase from 6.7% in 1949. Although the Uighurs technically live autonomously, the Chinese government is tightening the grip on the Muslim minority.

A satellite image of an internment camp in Xinjiang via Google Earth

Currently, the Uighurs are the victims of the cultural genocide that is being led by the Chinese government. They are being relocated to large camps with towering, prison-like walls that surround the whole area, disguised as a “re-education school.”

What exactly is a “re-education school”? It’s a label that glosses over the cruelty of the forced assimilation of Uighur Muslims. According to the Chinese government, the students are taught propaganda material, such as the Chinese language, and are “combating extremism”- but it isn’t clear what exactly they are learning. “Xinjiang has become an open-air prison — a place where Orwellian high-tech surveillance, political indoctrination, forced cultural assimilation, arbitrary arrests, and disappearances have turned ethnic minorities into strangers in their own land,” Kumi Naidoo, secretary-general of Amnesty International

An image of a “re-education” classroom via Chinese state television




Photos taken inside the classroom by the Chinese government display an alarming absence of headscarves — a common religious accessory female Uighur Muslims wear, suggesting that there is a reinforced dress code. Firsthand accounts mention that every morning they have to sit through singing Communist songs, chanting “Long live Jinping!” and are being forced to eat pork, which is Haram-forbidden food.

Besides brainwashing inside classrooms, prisoners are also mandated to take part in forced labor. While committing ethnic cleansing, the government is also profiting off of persecution. Inside these internment camps, there are numerous factories, such as a noodle factory, textile manufacturers, and printing factories. Some of the products made at these camps also land in US soil and you might have been in contact with items made by the hands of Uighur Muslims.

The government is refusing to acknowledge the atrocities they have committed, and defend their actions by stating that it is for the greater good. They explain that the forced labor will “turn them from ‘nomads’ into skilled marvels,” and that these camps are “vocational education centers” made to combat terrorism. A Xinjiang governor stated that these camps make “Uighurs’ life more colorful.” These statements extremely downplay and romanticize the persecution of the Uighurs, and show the Chinese’ hasty efforts to cover up reality.

The truth is that the culture of the Uighur people is suffering an orchestrated mass extinction. They are suffering through political indoctrination, torture, brainwashing, and renunciation of their faith. The government does not acknowledge the genocide they are conducting, and defend their actions as describing it as a “war on terror”. This war is on the marginalized group, rather than the terrorism they mention.

This genocide isn’t just within the confines of the camps. Laws are targeting this minority group, such as making it illegal to refuse to watch state television, not send children to government-run schools, wear veils or grow long beards-a part of Uighur culture. Even the slightest of a hint that a person is Muslim sends them to a camp. These people are also under surveillance 24/7, using AI and facial recognition devices, and each individual search history is filed through.

Why this genocide hasn’t picked up as much traction as other orchestrated ethnic cleansings? It is because cultural genocide is technically not a crime in international law, and the government hasn’t recognized it and labels it as its fight against religious extremism — a global issue that applies to other countries like the US.

The US has also played a role in imprisoning Uighur Muslims, which was recently revealed. 22 Uighur men were sent to Guantanamo Bay, although they are now freed and were not sent back to China. It was decided that this resulted from a detention error, however, the damage was done already. The US ultimately played into the persecution of the Uighurs.

As many countries are turning a blind eye to this genocide, the need for people to take action has never been stronger. To the readers who want to take initiative — you can send messages to the Chinese government through here, contact your national government to adopt measures, or simply spread awareness through word or social media.

Featured Photo Via AP/Ng Han Guan

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