How Muslim World Fails Uighur Turks Amid Unfolding Genocide

While the U.S. imposes sanctions against the Chinese officials for its treatment of Uighurs, the entire Islamic world appears woefully impotent and morally blind amid ongoing genocide.

Abdullah Ayasun
Jul 12 · 8 min read
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A gruesome image of China’s concentration camps has been leaked to international media.

China shows no signs of backing down from its unrelenting crackdown on Uighur Muslims in semi-autonomous Xinjiang region even after the leaks of top-secret files documenting its overarching surveillance regime deployed against a population. What amplifies the Chinese impunity is the inertia and silence that have swept through the Islamic world as geopolitical considerations compromise their response to China’s genocidal practices against a Muslim minority group.

Previously on the frontline to challenge Beijing’s scorched-earth policies and cultural repression against Uighurs, Turkey, ran by a conservative Muslim government, is also silent these days. A parliamentary session on Friday revealed the depth of Ankara’s commitment to increase trade with Beijing, to the dismay of Uighurs, and in a snub to the opposition’s outcry in Turkey.

Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, a lawmaker from pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP), bristled at the acquiescence of the government coalition led by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its junior ally Nationalist Action Party (MHP) to Beijing’s financial clout amid signs of economic crisis. This is all the more ironic when someone examines the party program of MHP, which lends something of sacred meaning to solidarity with ethnically Turkic nations in Central Asia as part of its decades-old ideological creed.

In his encounter with Gergerlioglu, MHP deputy chairman Erkan Akcay exclaimed, “What would we do? Should we declare war against China?”

The HDP lawmaker responded with criticism about the inconsistency inherent in the government rhetoric and its meek policy toward China over the Uighur issue. During the tense parliamentary session, Gergerlioglu exposed the documents of a trade deal between Turkey and China signed during President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Beijing last year.

“Turkey sold its Uighur brothers for a $50 billion treaty,” he implored. Additionally, he also mentioned about a Chinese loan to Turkey at the behest of Economy Minister Berat Albayrak.

His active support for Uighurs landed him on the radar of the Chinese government, prompting the Chinese Embassy in Ankara to dispatch a group of diplomats to inform him about the real nature of Chinese policy in the Eastern Turkestan region. The lawmaker, a champion of purge victims and human rights in Turkey, divulged details of that meeting to his fellows in the Turkish Parliament on Friday in the same session.

In a tweet, he wrote: “I spoke twice in the parliament on East Turkestan. After that, #Chinese Embassy @ChinaEmbTurkey officials felt the need to visit and offer an explanation. I asked them about 325 intellectuals imprisoned in #China. They had no answers. #CoronaVirus #Xinjiang #HumanRights #Uyghur

There were some hints of change in Turkey’s subdued tone earlier this year. But the small-scale protests led by some civil society groups largely remained unnoticed below the radar while Ankara’s stance has never hardened since then.

Erdogan, the former champion of Uighurs when they faced a massive clampdown in 2012, seems to have resigned to realpolitik amid a looming economic hard landing due to the far-reaching impact of the global pandemic. Preserving the lucrative economic deals and the generous Chinese loans, the government apparently thinks, are too important to write off for the sake of a humanitarian cause even if the victims appear fellow Muslim brothers who share the same Turkic ancestral roots with Anatolian Turks.

China’s treatment of Uighurs became a matter of international controversy at this year’s U.N. rights council gathering. Both American and British representatives did not mince the words when they described China’s disproportionate and unjust policies against the Turkic people on the grounds of inflated terrorism threats.

The subdued reaction across the Muslim world only emboldens the Communist Party in Beijing, making Chinese ruling elites believe that they could buy the silence of Muslim countries through credit/loan diplomacy.

Undeterred by the toothless world reaction, China currently keeps nearly 3 million Uighurs at concentration camps under the disguise of a massive re-education program. It is a coded term to obscure what is indeed an obvious fact: a cultural genocide. The magnitude of clampdown generates a compelling need for ruminations to fathom the unfathomable: How does an entire world of 1.8 billion Muslims preserve silence in the face of an unfolding genocide?

It requires deep ponderation to fully grasp a joint “statement by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria and other majority-Muslim countries” when they prevented the U.N. from sending an independent delegation to inspect camps in Xinjiang region. The countries, which occasionally act as defenders of the faith, had nothing to say about the lingering agony of Uighurs.

There are a number of factors that sustain, in the words of a writer, this “reverential silence.” What China does is shaped by a twin-pillar strategy through the deployment of persuasion and pressure. Chinese delegation even accomplished to thwart a debate of its policies at a U.N. Forum by cajoling, pressuring, and seducing debt-trapped countries through a combination of methods involving the promise of financial help and the threat of economic boycott. China’s sheer size of trade with countries around the world engenders a mutual interdependence, which then serves to temper the compelling demand for punishment of those who orchestrate this genocidal program.

The element of the economy again looms large in the silence, even co-optation, of the mostly Turkic Central Asian countries where China builds the grand project of the 21st century: the Belt and Road Initiative. Kazakhstan and others seem dependent on the largesse of China. The Chinese economic muscle heavily weighs down on the decision-making of these countries where diaspora Uighurs face the prospect of extradition back to Beijing over bogus charges.

China has a particular policy for Indonesia, the largest Muslim country on earth. Repugnant though they were in the beginning, a Wall Street article clearly demonstrates how Indonesia’s clergy and ruling elites emerged subdued after China’s massive propaganda. The Muslim Arab countries in the Middle East fare no better. The economy-oriented explanation fails to entirely account for their muted response while a mix of geopolitical and other dynamics seems to play a moderating influence in their reaction.

The “halal organ harvesting” network is one of the nastiest and often-overlooked aspects of the murky relationship between China and the Gulf, (mostly Saudi customers). A report constructs a definitive account of the $1 billion death trade beyond a reasonable doubt.

And this is no mere claim of one witness or some minor media report.

“The China Tribunal, a group that’s investigating the organ harvesting, said at a tense meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council that the Chinese government was taking hearts, kidneys, lungs, and skin from groups including Uighur Muslims and members of the Falun Gong religious group,” according to Business Insider.

The ever-expanding crackdown on Uighurs originally focused on uprooting cultural and societal elements in a sustained campaign to destroy Uighurs’ linguistic and religious identity. Within the course of this brutal engineering of the cultural landscape, the government’s terror campaign recently began to target leading intellectual figures of the Uighur culture. It has had a chilling impact in Xinjiang where hundreds of well-known artists, writers, and musicians have been swept up by the security forces over the past few years.

Abdurehim Heyit, a renowned folk music artist, died of torture in prison last year. In remarks to the New York Times in the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar in 1999, he said about what music meant to a community of people whose indigenous culture teeters on the brink of extinction:

“Music is one of the most important parts of Uighur culture. People here can wear American T-shirts, but their hearts stay the same. The music, because it’s such a symbol of the heart, changes slowly.”

People are simply sent to concentration camps for the most ludicrous reasons such as wearing a hijab, growing a small beard, speaking their Turkic language whether at home or in the public, invoking Quran or “Allah” in their daily life. The list of brazen allegations presented by the Chinese authorities as “markers of extremist expression” has been well documented by the international media outlets, no matter how pervasive the existing censorship in the region.

Yet, the monumental scale of the state terror has no bounds. There is even worse. To thwart the population rise among Uighurs, the regime appealed to inhumane tactics of sterilization of the women, an extensive report by Associated Press recently revealed. “Birth rates in the mostly Uighur regions of Hotan and Kashgar,” the AP reported, “plunged by more than 60% from 2015 to 2018, the latest year available in government statistics.”

Previously, many scholars or China observers appeared shy about deploying the term ‘genocide’ to describe what was happening in Xinjiang. The report of enforced sterilization of women to ensure birth control, for some people, amounts to genocide without any doubt.

“It’s genocide, full stop. It’s not immediate, shocking, mass-killing on the spot type genocide, but it’s slow, painful, creeping genocide. These are direct means of genetically reducing the Uighur population.” (Joanne Smith, Newcastle University, AP)

Appalled by the Associated Press investigation, at least 78 U.S. senators and members of Congress sent a letter to the White House to press the Trump administration for sanctioning the Chinese officials for their involvement in rights violations against Uighurs. They also demanded an independent U.N. inquiry in order to determine whether the Chinese practices indeed constitute genocide. Their efforts swiftly paid off as the U.S. slammed CCP officials with sanctions and visa bans this past week.

After years of equivocation, the U.S. administration finally came to take concrete steps against the Communist regime for its treatment of Uighurs. On Thursday, the U.S. imposed sanctions against the three senior officials of the Chinese Communist Party over their perceived role in the sprawling human rights abuses.

“The United States will not stand idly by as the CCP carries out human rights abuses targeting Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and members of other minority groups in Xinjiang, to include forced labor, arbitrary mass detention, and forced population control, and attempts to erase their culture and Muslim faith.” (Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State)

China vowed with reciprocal measures, signaling an escalation of tension between two global powers whose relations have soured over the Covid-19 pandemic and trade wars.

The plight of Uighurs has mostly fallen on deaf ears across the world. The Western world appears impotent and internally distracted by the formidable challenge of the latest pandemic. The Islamic world is hit hard by the global pandemic in similar measure. And the more states turned inward, the bolder the Chinese government became in its brutal handling of Uighurs. The pandemic, viewed from the region, became a nightmare for the suffering Muslim minority.

While the entire Islamic world appears woefully impotent and morally blind in the face of Chinese repression against Uighurs, it again befalls on a non-Muslim country — the U.S. — to take the lead in international efforts when it places sanctions against the CCP leadership. And the White House telegraphs that it would go further with additional measures if Beijing fails to end its genocidal practices.

Dialogue & Discourse

News and ideas worthy of discourse.

Abdullah Ayasun

Written by

Virginia-based journalist and writer. Politics, culture, art, and technology. American political affairs, Turkey, the MidEast, and beyond. Twitter: @abyasun

Dialogue & Discourse

News and ideas worthy of discourse. Fundamentally informative and intelligently analytical.

Abdullah Ayasun

Written by

Virginia-based journalist and writer. Politics, culture, art, and technology. American political affairs, Turkey, the MidEast, and beyond. Twitter: @abyasun

Dialogue & Discourse

News and ideas worthy of discourse. Fundamentally informative and intelligently analytical.

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