Twenty-two countries this week at the UN condemned China’s violation of human rights of the ethnic Kazakh and Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region. Shockingly and rather shamelessly, not one of these countries who wanted China “to refrain from the arbitrary detention and restrictions of movement of Uighurs and other Muslim and minority communities” was an Islamic or Muslim-majority nation.
It’s lonely to be a Muslim in the world today.
If there was a first prize for collateral damage caused by terrorism, it would hands down go to Muslims. The rampant and audacious human rights violations of Muslims world over is somehow justified by each and every country in the name of terrorism.
Muslims are supposed to be constantly apologetic and ‘course-corrected’. For example, an Uyghur Muslim in China is taught Mandarin, told to abandon Islam, made to think that the Communist Party is the only reason the world still hangs on its axis. And why? Just for having the ‘audacity’ to be a Muslim in a country run by an atheist party.
What’s happening in Xinjiang
What many people don’t know is that the Xinjiang province — that shares its borders with India, Afghanistan and Mongolia — is an autonomous region, much like Tibet. In fact, independent Xinjiang was incorporated into China by the Communist Party in 1949.
What also is not a mere coincidence is reports of excesses against the Uyghur Muslims of Xinjiang increasing from 2016 when Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo was given the leadership of the region and transferred from Tibet. The clampdowns intensified and stricter security measures were put in place.
Initially, China had completely denied any form of detention of Muslims in Xinjiang. But it later retracted and gave a watered-down explanation for what should realistically be called concentration camps, but are instead being called “vocational, education and employment training centres” by the Chinese government.
It is estimated that over a million Uyghur Muslims have been interned in these camps, which is “modern China’s version of erstwhile Soviet-era Gulags”. The Chinese justify it as a crackdown on terrorism and extremism.
Muslims – the perpetual step-child
Muslim nations mainly comprise powerful Gulf nations, namely Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, and Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. All of them, along with many other nations like Malaysia and Indonesia, are sitting silent on the human rights violations of the Chinese Muslims.
Why? Obviously, money.
China has become an economic power to reckon with. After the US decided to cut its aid to Pakistan, China came to its rescue. What China gets in return is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The CPEC is a heavy investment project valued at an estimated $60 billion.
The CPEC comes under another mammoth project estimated to be over $1 trillion known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This project will connect China and the whole of Asia with Africa and Europe. Seventy-one nations have reportedly signed up for this, wherein roads, ports and shipping lanes belonging to these nations will work as a single network. In short, world dominance.
This is why China kept vetoing listing Masood Azhar as a global terrorist at the UNSC – it needed to maintain strategic relations with Pakistan. This is also why Imran Khan, whose heart bleeds for the Rohingya Muslims and the Kashmiris, hasn’t even squeaked for the Uyghur Muslims of China.
Beggars can’t be protesters. I get it.
But the Gulf nations are rich. Yet, they went a step ahead and commended China’s treatment of its Muslim at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit held this year in March. What’s a bigger slap than that on the face of Uyghur Muslims? The OIC, comprising 57 member states, laughably aims to be “the collective voice of the Muslim world”.
What they said about Uyghur detentions really wasn’t “the collective voice of the Muslim world”.
What it actually is, is the collective voice of nations who stand as much guilty when it comes to the human rights violations in their own countries. Also, the fact that China is the world’s biggest crude oil importer puts things in perspective.
Egg or the chicken?
Chinese media, on the other hand, has a take of its own. The Chinese media claims that the only reason the government intervenes in Xinjiang is to maintain the ‘unity’ of China since ‘Uighur separatists’ are trying to separate Xinjiang from China.
China claims that it is the extremist views of these separatists that they are trying to curb through the “vocational education” in detention centres. In fact, this was confirmed by Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, who said: “China has the right to carry out anti-terrorism and de-extremisation work for its national security”.
The contrarian view is that because of the excesses on the Uyghurs, separatist sentiment is brewing in the region. Commentators argue that because Xinjiang is a natural resource-rich province, the government seeks to have complete control over it as opposed to the ‘autonomous’ status it currently holds.
The fact remains that the voice of the ‘wronged’ is not coming from where it should have – Muslim nations. These countries could have cornered and isolated China into agreeing on their terms and conditions over the treatment of Uyghur Muslims. China is equally dependent on these economic projects. Many countries are opposing the Belt and Road Initiative. So, China has no other option but to depend on the nations that are silent.
The trouble with the silence is that it will only promote further human rights violations in autocratic nations as well as in countries that are witnessing the rise of Right-wing nationalism. If China can do it, with the kind of documentation and evidence that speaks volumes about its treatment of Uyghur Muslims, anyone else can.
That is how anti-Semitism could manifest as the Holocaust — the world chose to sit as silent spectators. It is doing so again.
The author is a political observer and writer. Views are personal.