Mercy for China’s Uighurs

by Eric S. Margolis  

Reports coming in about China’s new gulag for Muslims
seem too awful to believe.  But the
United Nations and responsible media have revealed that hundreds of thousands
of Uighur Muslims from western China – and perhaps as many as one million -
have been shut away in a growing chain of prison camps designed to impose
ruthless state control over them and crush their culture and religion.

Who are these oddly-named people, China’s Uighurs?  Their homeland lies on China’s far western
region next to independent Kazakhstan and Pakistan.  The region, as I’ve seen, is arid, hilly and
very remote.  The Uighurs are a Turkic
people of ancient Muslim culture who have nothing in common with China except
proximity.  Their once independent nation
used to be called the East Turkestan Republic before it was invaded and gobbled
up in 1949 by Red China and, before that, by the Russian Empire.

A year later, Communist China began invading independent
Tibet.  China’s aim there was to crush
Tibetan national resistance to Chinese rule and wipe out as much as possible of
Tibet’s ancient feudal and religious culture. 
I infiltrated into Tibet in the 1980’s in time to see violent Tibetan
demonstrations and riots against the Chinese occupiers.  Four decades later, draconian Chinese rule is
well on the way to crushing the life out of Tibet’s ancient Buddhist culture.

The same process is happening now in Eastern
Turkestan.  This strategic piece of real
estate is part of the ethnic Turkish Central Asia that includes Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan,
Kyrgyzia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. 
Mongolia and Afghanistan are sometimes included.  In the late 19th century, there arose the
Pan-Turkic movement in Turkey that sought to unite Central Asia under the
guidance of Istanbul.  But in the end, the
Russian Empire and China occupied Central Asia until the collapse of the Soviet
Union.  Today, China is the last
remaining colonial master.

The Uighurs, a forgotten people, have been protesting and
resisting Chinese rule since the late 1940’s. 
Beijing has always seen Islam as a challenge to its absolute rule.  Uighur resistance has been limited and
ineffectual.  But Beijing had a big scare
when the US CIA set up camps in Afghanistan in the late 1970’s to train Uighurs
into an anti-Chinese guerilla force for use in a potential future US-China
war.  When the US invaded Afghanistan in
2001, the former CIA training camps for Uighurs were brazenly called ‘Islamic
terrorist training camps’ and blamed on Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida.

China has set about uprooting Muslim culture and
identity.  Religious devotions, beards
and traditional Islamic dress, the Uighur language itself, and historic customs
are banned.  Communist party members are
billeted in the home of Uighurs to keep a wary eye on them.  Schools are run by Chinese officials; Uighur
movements are restricted; mosques are shuttered.

Over the past year, China has reportedly been building
what are officially called ‘re-education’ centers in the region.  The UN reports that up to one million Muslims
have been locked away in these modern gulags, surrounded by barbed wire and
watch towers.  China’s prison complex,
known as ‘laogai,’ covers the nation, but the Muslim gulag appears particularly
brutal and intimidating.  Of course, a
million Muslims in China’s prisons pales in comparison to the two million,
mostly blacks, in US state and federal prisons (though none are charged with
religious crimes).

China’s strategy in Tibet and Eastern Turkestan has been
what I call ‘ethnic inundation.’  Han
Chinese are brought in from afar to settle Muslim and Buddhist lands,
relentlessly swamping the local population who become a policed minority.  Interestingly, Israel has been following the
same policy on the West Bank and Golan. 
Gaza has been turned into a giant, open-air prison for
Palestinians.  China’s Turkestan gulag
may surpass Gaza in the number of prisoners it holds.   Unsurprisingly, China rarely criticizes
Israel for its repression of Palestinians.

The Muslim world has done next to nothing to protest the
fate of the Uighurs.  Only Turkey, one of
the few Muslim nations with self-respect, is strongly rebuking China and giving
refuge to Uighur refugees.  Those
self-proclaimed ‘defenders of the faith,’ Saudi Arabia, have been mute to the
oppression in Turkestan – as mute as they have been to the savage mistreatment
of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, 800,000 of whom are now living in awful
condition in Bangladesh.

As with the sordid murder of Saudi writer Khashoggi by
Saudi agents, few dare rebuke the rich perpetrator of the crime.  No one wants to be on China’s black list.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2019

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