By: Emery Jochnau
The international community is becoming increasingly aware of what could potentially evolve into a cultural genocide in the Xinjiang region of China. Chinese authorities have been constructing detention camps to hold the Uyghurs, a Muslim minority group primarily located in the Xinjiang region, and has been committing numerous other human rights violations toward this particular ethnic minority group. China has demanded that the Uyghurs turn in their copies of the Quran and prayer mats to the Chinese government, shave their beards, and cease any other practices and items needed to adhere to Islam. China has defended its actions by claiming that these measures are a precautionary measure in the face of Islamic extremism and terrorism in the region. And while it is good that the global community is being made aware of these issues, it is also important to question why global powers like the United States are doing nothing to stop this.
This is an especially important question to consider within the context of a Trump presidency. President Donald Trump has received a lot of backlash for his decision to withdraw the United States from the United Nations Human Rights Council back in June 2018. The public understood this action as Trump putting human right issues on the bottom of his priority list, a fact that has infuriated American lawmakers such as Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Chris Smith. Legislators like these are making demands of Donald Trump to hold Chinese officials accountable for carrying out these human right violations against the Uyghur Muslims. The President’s staff has asked these demands to stop, saying that they will “sabotage” U.S.-China relations. This reaction is representative of what the United States government under Trump often prioritizes during times like these — economic alliances over accountability for blatant human rights violations.
The other question that is emerging is whether this decision has anything to do with the fact that the targeted group is Muslim. Islamophobia has been incredibly prevalent in Trump’s America, and the President himself has made comments against those who practice the Islamic faith. In 2015, for example, Trump called for a “complete shutdown” in allowing Muslims to enter the United States. Islamophobic sentiments are not new to Americans but it has been argued that these feelings have been intensified under the current president, making our silence on this particular issue even more resonant. The Uyghurs are being detained in mass detention camps and China is also putting surveillance videos around the Xinjiang region to track the movement of the Uyghur Muslims, a direct violation of their human rights, and still, America remains stagnant on holding the Chinese accountable.
While it may not be in America’s best interest to interpose in this situation directly because of the possible risks it could pose to our economic relations with China, there are alternative routes that we should be taking to aid the Uyghurs in their time of immense suffering. First, the United States could fund humanitarian groups that are working on the ground in China to address the situation. It should also continue to educate the masses on what is happening in the Xinjiang region. It is important that the public have access to the records and details of the events that are being carried out. While it is controversial enough that the United States has not attempted to assuage the issue in any manner, it would be even worse to keep Americans in the dark about what is taking place. America has taken the road of a witness before during times of ethnic cleansing before, and it would be foolish to make the same mistake again.
Photo courtesy of Malcolm Brown (malcsb) on Flickr.