• Arwa Hanin Elrayess

China's Uighur Camps: re-education, or ethnic cleansing?

Updated: Dec 29, 2019

A Simplified Overview:

The Uighur Muslims, an ethnic minority in China, have been persecuted and oppressed for decades.

Recently, however, the Chinese government sharply escalated this persecution.

Millions of Uighur, ethnic Kazakhs and Uzbek, have been inhumanely detained in ‘re-education camps.’

These camps aim to erase detainees' identities and culture, whilst eliminating their devotion to Islam.

Who are the Uighur Muslims?

There are approximately 23 million Muslims in China, 11 million of which identify as part of a minority Turkic ethnic group called the Uighur.

Originating from central Asia, the Uighur’s culture and identity differs from that of the dominant native Chinese population (Han Chinese.)

China has long rejected the idea of them being an indigenous group and has repeatedly restricted any display of their culture, religion or identity.

In return, the Uighur have heavily resisted Chinese rule.

Why does the Chinese government detest the Uighur?

China claims that their governmental and social stability has been built on a certain way of life called the ‘Communist Party ideology’, and that this ideology should be applied in all walks of life.

Any form of resistance to these ideals is considered an attack on social and national security.

The Uighur's distinct identity, culture and Islamic practice contradict this ideology, as well as the cultural values of most of the Chinese population.

China’s government feared that citizens’ devotion to Islam could turn them into religious extremists and could encourage open defiance to China's government.

Therefore, to prevent Islam from interfering with non-religious life and the state’s functions, the government placed narrow limits on how Islam should be practiced, prohibiting:

  • The use of the Islamic financial system

  • Praying at home if there were friends or guests present.

  • Mosques and private Islamic organizations from organizing kindergartens or after-school programs

  • The teaching of the Arabic-language and Islamic religion in schools.

  • Fasting during Ramadan

  • Wearing the head scarf

In response to these restrictions, terrorist attacks and wider public unrest became frequent occurrences.

Furthermore, after a series of violent anti-governmental attacks reached a peak in 2014, the crackdown sharply escalated.

Ethnic Uighur and other Muslim minorities were forced into loyal supporters of the communist party.

This was done by establishing ‘re-education camps,’ aimed at changing the political thinking of detainees, their identities, culture and religious beliefs.

The 're-education camps'

The camps (which reportedly operate outside of the legal system) lock up ethnic minorities even before they commit a crime, rewire their thoughts and the language they speak, in hopes of reducing religious extremism.

Many Uighur have reportedly been detained without trial and no charges have been raised against them.

Over the past two years there are very few reports of anyone being released at all from the prison-like structures.

Inside the camps (according to released inmates)

The long days in the camps usually began with a jog.

Anyone who was not fast enough would be kicked and beaten.

Afterwards, detainees were forced to sing pro-governmental songs, such as: ‘Without the Communist Party There Can Be No New China,’ whilst performing forced labor.

Detainees would listen to pro-governmental lectures, write ‘self-criticism’ essays and recite communist laws.

Anyone who refused would be beaten.

The World's Response:

Chinese officials have condoned these camps stating that “in the past 21 months, no violent terrorist attacks occurred and the number of criminal cases have dropped significantly.”

However, the rest of the world considers this crackdown a “targeted cultural genocide” that ignores citizens’ basic human rights.

Many countries have retaliated in order to solve this humanitarian crisis.

For example, the US House of Representatives passed a bill requiring the Trump administration to toughen its response to the issue, whilst the UK has urged China to give United Nations observers “immediate and unfettered access” to the camps.

Does the Chinese government have the right to intervene when religious extremism poses a threat to national security, or is this a clear breach of basic human rights?

Is this an example of 21st century Nazi concentration camps, or is the government simply doing what's necessary to avoid religious terrorism?

Leave your opinions below:

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