‘Never again’ happens once again: Uighur Muslims are targeted

Sarah Bdeir, Contributor

In the Xinjiang province in China, Uighur Muslims are being targeted. About a million Muslims have been put into concentration camps since April 2017, contrasting the worldwide message that concentration camps will “never again” exist.

However, this crisis has not received media coverage until late 2019. According to Chris Dingwall, special instructor in the sociology and history departments at Oakland University, it’s because “regimes like China that enact racist policies will go to great lengths to suppress the news and also present what they’re doing as good.”

What has been happening in the region is a long awaited fight. Not only are the Uighurs subjected to be put into detention centers, but the situation is dramatically worse than previously thought. According to Alan Epstein, special instructor in the political science department at OU, “there are three prongs to controlling and simulating the Uighurs in a rapid fashion.”

The first step is forced assimilation and control.

“China has created detention centers rounding men and women, mainly adults, they’re putting them in detention centers, which the Chinese call vocational training centers, where they’re trying to teach them job skills and especially Chinese, and getting them to undergo indoctrination where they learn to ‘love the motherland,’ become patriotic to China, love the Chinese communist party, embrace the Chinese language, and move away from Islam,” Epstein said. “The Chinese argue these are not detention centers but vocational training centers to give people job skills, Chinese language skills so they’ll be able to escape poverty and integrate better into Chinese society.”

In addition to the control aspect, the Chinese have found a way to monitor every aspect of the Uighurs’ lives. Epstein said, “As a way to propel this assimilation, Xinjiang and many places have been turned into a police state.” 

For every 500 people, they have set up a police station, checkpoints and roadblocks, security cameras everywhere (including people’s homes) and facial recognition technology. All social media behavior and contacts are monitored via an app everyone must have. Through this app, an electronic profile is built for you and stored in a social credit system, where, depending on how low or high someone’s score is, they are granted different privileges and job opportunities. If anyone is suspected of any Islamic practices like reading the Quran, they are put into a detention center. 

Epstein’s second piece to assimilation is forcing the Uighurs to leave their farms. About 80% of China’s cotton is grown in Xinjiang, and the Uighurs are being forced off their land to work in factories. If the Uighurs refuse, they are put into detention centers. 

The third and final element is the use of boarding schools. The children of parents who are in detention centers or forced to move to factories are being sent to boarding schools. They are being culturally assimilated. Even parents are sometimes sending their children to these boarding schools for a good education. 

The situation for the Uighur Muslims is only escalating. With persisting forced assimilation, the Uighurs are a continuously oppressed minority in Xinjiang. 

Epstein said OU students can aid in the situation by doing one thing: spreading awareness. 

“There are groups across the country that have been concerned about what has been going on in Xinjiang,” Epstein said. “Amnesty International has been outspoken, Human Rights Watch has been outspoken, Uighur Groups in New York have been outspoken … Write your person in Congress to be more active to pressure the administration to speak out against this. Because, really, it’s something occurring in a strong foreign country, all we have is the power of public opinion.”