By: Sruli Fruchter  | 

A Genocide in the Making: China’s Uighurs Need Us

I’ve always lambasted the bystanders of history. Whether it was the world’s silence during the Holocaust or the Rwandan Genocide, I was perplexed at their indifference to injustice. Now, as a Uighur Muslim genocide is materializing in China, I’m questioning if I’m becoming a bystander myself.

Since 2017, in Xinjiang, China, the Chinese Communist Party has forcibly detained over one million Uighur Muslims in internment camps. The crimes they committed? Well, those include myriad egregious offenses, such as wearing headscarves or face veils, growing out beards, fasting during Ramadan, attending mosque services or even referencing Quran verses. In other words, Muslim identity is deemed threatening to the Han Chinese majority. Like the best of history’s authoritarian leaders, Chinese President Xi Jinping is working to eliminate that threat.

Living in a police state, the 11 million Uighurs in Xinjiang have their online activity tracked, assigned government officials who report on their home life and mandated spyware on their mobile devices. Their every breath is monitored and recorded. This is the privileged life afforded to those outside the estimated 143 internment camps, as the inside accounts tell a more harrowing story. While the camps’ primary objective is political indoctrination and expunging Muslim identity, countless leaked documents and first-hand testimonials revealed that detained Uighurs are often subject to psychological and physical abuse, rape, and torture. The personal accounts are horrifying, each worse than the next.

Leaked videos have shown Chinese authorities boarding shackled and blindfolded Uighurs onto trains like dogs in a pound; we can all bear witness to China’s atrocities. Our history as Jews has shown us what this leads to, and that truth is becoming more evident by the day: This is a genocide in the making.

According to some experts, recent reports about China’s widely enforced sterilization and abortions of Uighur women already meet the United Nations’ criteria for genocide, which includes “Imposing measures intended to prevent births” of an ethnic or religious group. Yet, the international response has been painfully slow, if not completely absent. While President Trump recently signed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020, which authorizes U.S. sanctions against Chinese officials persecuting the Muslim minority, moves like this should have been initiated months, if not years, ago. In Oct. 2019, over nine months ago, more than 20 countries at the United Nations condemned China’s detention of Uighurs, but the consequences since have been futile or nonexistent. How grave must China’s brutality become before our world leaders are forced to act? History suggests that effective action may never come, so long as people don’t demand it.

This is among the most pressing human rights issues we’re facing today. We have a moral imperative to stop China’s tyrannization. If I’ve learned anything from my Bobi and Zaidy’s terrors in the Holocaust, it’s that silence is injustice’s best friend. As Jews, our historical persecution — whether it was Roman brutality or the Spanish Inquisition — has demonstrated the consequences of oppression left unchecked. 

The Chinese government believes they are justifiably treating the cancer of their country, antagonized by flare-ups of violence in past years. An ideology of this nature should alert intolerable sirens in our hearts. China has defended these self-described “vocational training centers,” insisting that Uighurs’ human rights are not infringed on, while simultaneously barring foreign investigators and journalists from visiting these internment camps. This is nothing new.

Where is the international outrage? We live our lives without the slightest acknowledgment of Uighurs’ reality. Their family members are kidnapped in the night, their actions are under the watchful eye of a draconian government and their freedoms are stripped away in internment camps. They’re being forced to abolish their Muslim identity. China’s crimes must be stopped, or we’ll find the Uighurs’ demise in a future textbook.

I know that I can’t solve the Uighurs’ plight, nor can I single-handedly prevent their developing genocide. However, I can use my voice to raise awareness, petition my representatives to demand change and utilize social media to start a conversation. These are the gifts Hashem entrusted us with, and it would be callous to discount them. Silence is perhaps the greatest injustice of all; being a bystander is not an option. We must act in whatever way we can. As Elie Weisel taught us, “What hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor but the silence of the bystander.”

To learn more about the Uighurs’ human rights crisis, see here or here.

Photo Caption: A Xinjiang internment camp from 2017
Photo Credit: Wikipedia