Earlier this year, a disturbing video started to make the rounds on social media. It showed what appeared to be hundreds of prisoners, shaved, blindfolded, and handcuffed, being loaded onto trains. The videos were reportedly shot by drones in Xinjiang, a large, semi-autonomous region in northwestern China. Their authenticity has been verified by western intelligence agencies. Confronted by the video, Chinese officials have unconvincingly played dumb.
The video isn’t the only worrying thing coming out of Xinjiang. There are numerous reports of forced abortions and sterilizations, sexual violence, separation of children from their parents, internment camps, and re-education schools. These campaigns aren’t totally new, but seem to be rapidly increasing in intensity and scope.
Xinjiang is different from most of China in that its largest ethnic group is the Uyghurs. They’re predominantly Muslim and speak a Turkic language that is written using the Arabic script. Ethnically and culturally, Xinjiang seems more like central Asia than the rest of China. And therein, it appears, lies the problem, at least as far as the Chinese government is concerned. It is because of these cultural and religious differences that the Uyghurs are being targeted, through forced abortion and sterilization as a means of “demographic genocide,” re-education schools where adults have their “religious extremism” corrected, and systematic isolating of children from the communities and families that pass on religion and culture. It’s noticeable that, on the rare occasions that western journalists have been allowed into these “schools,” none of the Muslim women are wearing head coverings, the curriculum sounds to western ears more like brainwashing than anything else, and the students aren’t allowed to leave until their teachers deem them ready.
The people subjected to all of this have not been convicted of any crimes. Instead, Uyghurs who have escaped to neighboring countries report that they or their family members have been sent to camps or “schools” for offenses like praying or quoting a verse from the Quran, behavior that the Chinese authorities claim is a sign of “religious extremism” that needs to be corrected. Uyghur college students tell of being forced to eat meals with professors during Ramadan, so that the university can be sure they aren’t fasting. Women have undergone forced sterilization procedures for having one too many children.
Of course, it’s difficult to be certain exactly what’s happening and to how many people, because the Chinese government doesn’t allow journalists to move freely. What we do know, however, from the consistency of reports from Uyghur refugees, from satellite images that show ever larger re-education compounds being built, from drone videos, and from leaked reports, is that the human rights abuses are widespread and systematic.
In a Facebook post on July 22, Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth and a member of the House of Lords, wrote,
As a human being who believes in the sanctity of human life, I am deeply troubled by what is happening to the Uighur Muslim population in China. As a Jew, knowing our history, the sight of people being shaven headed, lined up, boarded onto trains, and sent to concentration camps is particularly harrowing. That people in the 21st century are being murdered, terrorised, victimised, intimidated and robbed of their liberties because of the way they worship God is a moral outrage, a political scandal and a desecration of faith itself. … The Nazis called Jews vermin and lice. The Hutus of Rwanda called the Tutsis inyenzi, or cockroaches. When the world allows the dehumanisation of the Other, evil follows, as night follows day. Today, this is happening to the Uighar population in China and it must be challenged by the global community in the strongest possible terms.
These horrific actions demonstrate how dangerous it can be for people of faith when a government disregards religious freedom and individual liberty. As Christians or Jews or Muslims, as people of any faith or none, we should be appalled and outraged by the plight of the Uyghurs. As followers of Jesus Christ, we should pray for the Uyghur people and call on our national leaders to challenge China on these inhumane policies.
Famed theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote the following in response to the atrocities of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime of World War II, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” These words are as true today as they were many decades ago.
POVs are point of view articles from NC Family Staff and contributors