'Xinjiang Initiative' Unites Scholars in Opposition to Suppression of Uyghur Identity

'Xinjiang Initiative' Unites Scholars in Opposition to Suppression of Uyghur Identity
Credit: AP / TPG

What you need to know

Scholars are rallying together to call attention to the terrible suppression of more than a million Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

By Kevin Carrico and Jerome A. Cohen

Since 2016, Xinjiang’s ongoing “re-education” campaign against local Muslims has expanded into a vast system of concentration camps, currently estimated to hold nearly 10 percent of the area’s roughly 11 million Uygurs, as well as many of the smaller Kazakh minority. Prisoners are detained not because of any crime, but because of their ethnicity, their Muslim faith, their seemingly irreconcilable difference from China’s ethnic Han majority.

Countless lives have been destroyed, as people are held indefinitely in these camps, without due process. Detainees are pressured, under the watchful eyes of guards, to abandon their religious beliefs, and sing songs and repeat slogans praising the Communist Party of China and President Xi Jinping. Families have been torn apart. In some cases, they have no idea where relatives are held: people simply disappear.

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Credit: AP / TPG
Many monitoring cameras are set at Id Kah Mosque in Kashgarin, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region on June 28, 2018. It marked 9th anniversary of the bloody riots in China's northwestern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region's capital, Urumqi on July 5, 2018.

At this intersection of indefinite arbitrary detention, political indoctrination, family destruction and forced eradication of customs, an entire culture is being erased. These are horrific developments that should have no place in the 21st century.

What can be done? The silence of most China specialists is disturbing, yet also unsurprising. Those of us who know China best have many reasons to rationalize not speaking out. Doing so risks the wrath of a rising power that is determinedly hostile to criticism, and that closely monitors what scholars say and write about sensitive topics. Yet, none of these reasons should be sufficient to warrant silence in the face of crimes against humanity.

To encourage greater awareness and discussion of the ongoing abuses in Xinjiang, with more than a hundred other scholars, authors, artists, and other public speakers, we have begun a “Xinjiang Initiative” – pledging to use our public platforms to speak for those who suffer but cannot be heard.

Participants pledge to use every public event in which they appear to remind their audiences that roughly a million people are being held in extra-legal internment camps, and that these detentions are solely due to detainees’ ethnicity or religion. Participants are also encouraged to share personal stories of detainees to put a human face on these inhuman policies.

If you have a public platform to raise awareness of this appalling repression, please join us. Information about the Xinjiang Initiative, how to join and a list of signatories to date is at www.xinjianginitiative.org.

Kevin Carrico, lecturer, Macquarie University, and Jerome A. Cohen, director, New York University US Asia-Law Institute

This article was first published in the South China Morning Post and republished with permission from the blog of Jerome A. Cohen here.

Editor David Green (@DavidPeterGreen)

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