China’s quiet imprisonment of Muslims should disturb you

The Chinese government started a campaign, called the de-extremification policy, to socially re-engineer the Uighur Muslims of the province of Xinjiang through the use of technological surveillance and modern-day internment camps. 

The Uighur Muslims are a Turkic ethnic group who live primarily in the Xinjiang autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China. The population of this region consists of 21 million people, and of those, 11 million people are Muslim, making the Muslim population of Xinjiang a designated minority. At this very moment, the Chinese government have turned Xinjiang into a 21st century surveillance site with checkpoint and facial recognition software. Muslims are forced to install spyware on their phones to allow authorities to monitor their online activity. The surveillance has become more invasive, with more than 1 million Chinese-Communist party members being planted in people’s homes to spy on those who the party suspects are religious extremists. These spies report back with information about the extent of the Uighur’s religious beliefs, their uncleanliness, and drinking habits. 

If they are found to be extremists, the Muslims are placed in detention facilities. These facilities are equipped with prison-like compounds with walls, security doors, security fences, barbed wire, reinforced security doors, surveillance systems, secure access systems, watchtowers, and guard rooms. In these facilities, Muslims undergo psychological torture, ranging from studying the communist propaganda and swearing loyalty to the president—by giving thanks to him and wishing him a long life—to criticizing and renouncing their faith. 

The detainees undergo physiological torture as well, from being poorly fed, sometimes even being made to eat pork or drink alcohol (both of which are things disallowed by the Muslim faith), to being sleep deprived. If they are defiant, disobey a rule by refusing to be on duty, engage in a fight, or even arrive late to studies, it could result in waterboarding or tiger chairs—in which the detainee is bound for upwards of 24 hours. This horrid situation has reached a point to where many inmates have committed suicide, and entire families have disappeared.  

The Uighurs are in a constant state of fear, because the definition of extremism is too broad. Not watching the state TV is extremism. Not having their children attend state schools is extremism. Even complaining about children marrying someone of a different faith or ethnic group is extremism. Their ethnicity and their values are also being targeted. They can also be detained for spreading Halal items, giving their babies a Muslim name, and having a long beard or wearing a veil. 

According to the United Nations’ estimates, 1 million Uighur have been imprisoned, and the situation looks hopeless, because the information about this situation is incredibly hard to come by. The information that we have so far is from accounts of former detainees who have been rescued or have escaped. The UN have used other methods, such as scanning satellite footage, procuring documents of public recruitment notices, and construction bids to confirm that detainees are telling the truth and such horrid, backward thinking can exist in the world today.

So far, the United States has not been involved, but Republicans Marco Rubio and Chris Smith have proposed bipartisan legislation to have the Trump administration have China close these re-education camps. The senators have gone as far as asking the Department of Commerce to limit sales of tech that could be used for surveillance. Though I have strong doubts that Trump will issue a statement, something must be done. 

China is a leading influence in African countries—many of which are poor and have a large Muslim population—raising the possibility that these African governments will label Muslims as scapegoats for their problems. This situation mirrors what occurred during World War II with the imprisonment of the Jewish population. The Jewish people were labeled as the scapegoats for German woes, and lived under restrictions on what they could wear and the different ethnicities they could marry. They were kept under horrid conditions in internment camps, where many committed suicide and entire families were killed. 

In 2018, nearly 73 years from the end of World War II, a global superpower should not be able to revert back and echo the horrors of the past with facing judgement from the rest of the world. The technological advances that China has made mean absolutely nothing if they cannot ensure the safety and prosperity of their citizens—regardless of their faith.