We all want to see the Winter Olympics in China, the Lunar New Year treat. But before we marvel at the freedom of Nathan Chen as he performs his revolutions on ice or feel the big air of snowboarder Chloe Kim’s gravity defiance, remember the Uyghurs first.
They don’t feel any of that freedom.
The Uyghurs’ movements in the Chinese province of Xinjiang are restricted. What they do. What they say. How they pray.
The name phonetically is “We-ger.”
But when it comes to the Muslim minority in China, the sense of “we” is forced, as in the Uyghurs’ forced assimilation into the Chinese mainstream. It’s really the systematic erasure of Uyghur culture.
It’s done in such a way that human rights advocates would say it earns China the gold medal in oppression.
Some are even using the word genocide.
The Journal of Genocide Research in 2020 said many at first doubted the word should be used at all. But as British scholar Jo Smith Finley said, “More have shifted closer to this position, and others beyond our discipline have joined in.”
Genocide. Probably not “mass killing,” like Pol Pot in Cambodia. But considering China’s restrictions on Uyghurs having children, and taking children away from families, it all falls within the conventional definition of the term, according to Naomi Kikoler, director of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in the latest Smithsonian Magazine.
In fact, I’d recommend you check out that Smithsonian article, “Is China Committing Genocide Against The Uyghurs?”
China has placed anywhere from one to three million Uyghurs caught praying or practicing their Muslim religion in re-education camps. It qualifies as the largest mass internment of an ethnic-religious minority since World War II.
The Chinese government said it closed the camps in 2019. But satellite images from 2020 show they were still in operation despite China’s official denials.
When acknowledged, China called the camps vocational training. But survivors of the detentions say they were prisoners, some subjected to torture, rape, and beatings.
And then when people “graduate” from their indoctrination, they are sent to organized labor, or forced labor assignments with western companies like Adidas, Amazon, Apple, and Google. Some are calling it a form of slavery on top of all the other personal and religious restrictions.
All this because the Uyghurs are Muslim, and that makes China label them as terrorist threats to the state.
The lucky ones are those who’ve managed to flee the country in what has become the Uyghur diaspora.
In the U.S., there are thousands of Uyghur Americans who are able to keep their language and culture intact. But many still wonder about their families and friends left behind. Contact is nearly impossible.
And yet China will overcome it all using the games as a propaganda tool of Olympic proportions. The games despite Covid. All is good in China. Though we all should know better.
NBC is serving up the Olympics in a variety of ways and offered a small discussion on the Uyghurs on Thursday night before the opening ceremonies. Andy Browne of Bloomberg News called what China is doing with the Uyghurs “the suppression of culture, and of ethnicity,” a “massive program of social engineering.”
But he said the Chinese government denies it all and calls any mention of genocide the “lie of the century.”
Jing Tsu, Yale University Comparative Literature professor, softened the discussion and said the games were important to “keep the channel of human to human contact.” She said without it, “we won’t know what’s going on.” The alternative “would be to let a country like China go dark.”
But given the censorious nature of the Chinese government, China is already dark. In fact, with the crackdown of press freedoms in Hong Kong, the individual case of the tennis star Peng Shuai (who has been kept mostly out of sight since her allegations against a high government official) , and in the broader case of the Uyghurs, China keeps us in the dark.
So now we have both sides. Let’s party with Nathan and Chloe?
Not so fast.
Keep in mind the Uyghur issue is one of the few bipartisan issues in American politics. Democrats and Republicans actually agree.
In 2020, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used the term “genocide.” And no less than Donald J. Trump signed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020. It passed the Senate by unanimous consent, and passed the House 413-1.
Divided government? Maybe for voting rights, Build Back Better, and SCOTUS nominees.
What China is doing to the Uyghurs should unite us in America.
In December, President Biden signed into law the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act to make sure goods from Xinjiang do not enter the U.S.
Prior to the Olympics, Biden said he would not go to the games. Though the athletes are attending, the U.S. is staging a diplomatic boycott.
Putin, of course, is attending and has met with China’s President Xi, and what a photo op. The two autocratic bullies. Putin can talk Ukraine. Xi can talk Uyghurs. They’re using the Olympics as a truth shield. And it spoils the games.
How can you experience seeing Nathan Chen gliding freely on the ice, when you know how little freedom there is in China?
Just remember the Uyghurs.
I’ll talk about this and more on my web talk show, Emil Amok’s Takeout, livestreamed at 2pm Pacific, on FaceBook and YouTube, and on Twitter. Catch it recorded on www.amok.com