Muslim countries must stand up for their Uighur brothers and sisters

Muslim countries must stand up for their Uighur brothers and sisters
Comment: Leaders of Muslim majority countries must see past their economic ties with China, and collectively call out the repression of Uighur Muslims, writes CJ Werleman.
6 min read
01 Jan, 2019
Indonesian Muslim demonstrators stage a protest at the Chinese embassy, Jakarta [Getty]
China's crackdown on 12 million Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, or what was previously independent East Turkestan, continues to become ever more repressive and violent. 

An increasing torrent of testimonies from Uighur refugees and asylum seekers points to what might be the most systematic effort to ethnically cleanse a religious minority in Asia in decades.

Nearly two years ago, China began corralling the Uighur into what have been described as "re-education camps," with the objective of cleansing Uighur Muslims of their religious beliefs, and indoctrinating them with Chinese Communist ideology.

Reports of torture, beatings, forced disappearances and murder are as widespread as they are credible and corroborated. Activists claim as many as 3 million have been interned in these camps, which are now akin to the most heinous forced labour camps in neighboring North Korea.

I've interviewed more than a dozen Uighur Muslim refugees during the past year, and have collected the testimonies of many more. Their stories are every bit as horrifying as the most dystopic of all futuristic novels, with one man telling me how China imprisoned his wife and then sold their 1-year-old baby into adoption; while another described how authorities in Xinjiang tortured and murdered his wife.

The horrors taking place against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang have been documented and described in detail by activists, human rights groups and journalists alike, with lawmakers in the United States pushing the Trump administration to take strong action against Chinese government officials for its repressive measures against the ethnic religious minority.

China has bought the complicity of Muslim majority nation states

The international community has all the information and evidence it needs to finally put in place punitive measures against China for its programme of ethnic cleansing on a scale not seen since the darkest days of the last century. But alas neither the United Nations, nor regional security alliances such as the Arab League or ASEAN, have offered any meaningful statements of condemnation, much less policy prescriptions.

At the centre of this global silence, however, are the leaders of the world's 53 Muslim majority countries, whose passive complicity and inaction towards resolving the Uighur crisis is particularly disturbing.

In fact, not a single leader of a Muslim majority country has yet spoken out forcefully against China's incarceration of up to 3 million Uighur Muslims.   

Worse - consider that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a nefarious character with long and established ties to right-wing anti-Muslim groupscalled out Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for his silence on detained Uighur Muslims.

Khamenei "fancies himself the leader of the Islamic world, but his regime has been totally silent as China - the top buyer of Iran's oil - has persecuted and detained hundreds of thousands of its Muslim citizens," Pompeo tweeted.

Whatever his motive for an attack on Iran, Pompeo's remarks speak precisely to the reason why political leaders within the Muslim majority world have been reticent to express solidarity or support for their Muslim brethren in China: Economic interdependence.

In short, China, with its extraordinary economic reach and influence in Asia and the Middle East, has bought the complicity of Muslim majority nation states, which, in turn, affords China the political space to do whatever it feels like against what it considers its pesky indigenous occupants of Xinjiang; the Uighur Muslims.

In fact, a number of Muslim majority nation states are proactively supporting China's persecution of the Uighurs, with Egypt recently cooperating with Beijing to deport several ethnic Uighurs back to China, where they face imprisonment at best, and execution at worst. This followed similar moves by both Malaysia and Pakistan, as recently noted by Foreign Policy.

One can only imagine the collective uproar from political leaders throughout the Muslim-Arab world were Malaysia, Egypt, or Pakistan to deport Palestinian refugees to Israel, or were Germany to deport Syrian refugees to the Assad regime.

In December, Pakistan even defended its chief trading partner - China - by absurdly claiming news stories about Uighur Muslim repression are essentially a western media led conspiracy.

"Some section of foreign media are trying to sensationalise the matter by spreading false information," Mohammad Faisal, spokesperson for Pakistan's ministry of foreign affairs, told reporters in Islamabad.

In December, Pakistan even defended its chief trading partner - China

Clearly, the pretext for Faisal's ridiculous assertion rests squarely on the US$46 billion China has recently invested in Pakistan, an amount recently described by Pakistani government officials as a "game changer," and one that many Pakistani economists hope will turn the country's fortunes. 

In the age of Trump and rising authoritarianism, our world increasingly allows international relations realism and pragmatism to supersede morality, liberty, human rights and the rule of law, all of which augers badly for the Uighurs.

But, according to Nithin Coca, "T
here are subtler reasons the Uighurs are being ignored". He posits that it's relatively easy for the Muslim world to turn a blind eye to the plight of the Uighurs because they exist on the "edge of the Muslim world," as opposed to the Palestinians, for instance, who live right next to Islam's holiest cities.

Whereas Coca's assertion might've held some weight a year or two ago, it's somewhat out of date today, given grassroots protests and marches for solidarity with the Uighurs have been held in cities across the Muslim world, including Indonesia, Turkey, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and even Gaza. This no doubt reflects the way in which social media is helping bring increasing global awareness to China's brutal measures in Xinjiang.

With 2019 upon us, and with more and more Muslims around the world aware of the cruel realities faced by their brothers and sisters in China, the new year brings new hope that a leader of a Muslim majority country will put morality before money; human rights before greed; goodwill before international relations realism - and speak out against what is becoming the modern world's largest campaign of ethnic cleansing.

And if that is a leap too far, then consider support at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which describes itself as the "collective voice of the Muslim world," and which has noted "disturbing reports" of China's crackdown in Xinjiang, adding that it hopes China "would address the legitimate concerns of Muslims around the world."

A united and assertive OIC would put 53 Muslim majority countries in public opposition to China's repressive policies, rather than just an isolated one or two or few, which might just be enough to force or encourage China to change its path.

CJ Werleman is the author of 'Crucifying America', 'God Hates You, Hate Him Back' and 'Koran Curious', and is the host of Foreign Object.

Follow him on Twitter: @cjwerleman

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.