Who Are the Uighurs?
The Uigurs are a Turkic people living in Central Asia. The majority of Uighurs are Sunni Muslims, and their history in Central Asia stretches back to ancient times. Historical Chinese records discuss the Uighurs as early as the 3rd century CE. The Uighurs attempted to create an independent state in the early 1900s, but the area instead came under China’s sway.
Approximately 11 million Uighurs live in the autonomous Xinjiang region of China. Uighurs speak a language that goes by the same name, and, in addition to China, Australia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan all contain Uighur populations.
The Uighurs, however, still often refer to the land as East Turkestan. The region was renamed Xinjiang in 1949 after the Chinese took control of the area which was known as East Turkestan. The region has economic significance for China because it produces most of China’s natural gas and has an abundance of mineral and oil resources.
China’s Agenda Against the Uighurs
China has gradually reduced the rights and freedoms of the Uighurs living under its control. The BBC notes that college students of Xinjiang claimed the state had forbidden them from fasting during Ramadan. Also, Uighur officials in the regional government of Xinjiang report having been barred from mosque attendance. Chinese Communist President Xi Jinping ordered that “religions in China must be Chinese in orientation” and that religions must “adapt themselves to socialist society.” The Islam of the Uighurs certainly does not align with this agenda.
The Senate Foreign Affairs Committee published a report that says the Chinese Communist Party is committing awful human rights violations in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Beginning in April of 2017, China began imprisoning Uigurs in internment camps without specifying the length of their imprisonment. Though exact numbers are uncertain, Chinese authorities have detained at least 800,000 Uighurs, but the actual number may be as high as more than 2,000,000.
The Chinese Communist Party’s excesses in seeking to control its citizens’ speech and lives is demonstrated in their campaign against the Uighurs. Chinese President Xi Jinping stated, “the Party exercises overall leadership over all areas of endeavor in every part of the country.”
This “leadership” has led to the banning of U.S. social media, impeding the US press from reporting on Chinese affairs, and imprisoning Chinese citizens who voice countervailing opinions against the government.
(Source: Council on Foreign Relations)
In July 2020, the UN Human Rights Council received a letter from 22 nations – mostly from Europe – condemning the Chinese leadership, stating there were “disturbing reports of large-scale arbitrary detentions of Uighurs.” However, another 37 nations – including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar – defended China, hailing their government’s protection of human rights through defending their nation against “terrorism, separatism and religious extremism.” The Council on Foreign Relations suggests that other Muslim nations have remained silent to avoid jeopardizing their economic relationship with China.
British Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has called the atrocities a “desecration of faith itself” and went on to say,
“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.”Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, The Jerusalem Post
When news of human rights violations like this appear in the news, holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel’s words ring true. He says, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere…” Wiesel encourages us to stand up for justice and fight for the oppressed. We must take the light of Christ inside of us and shine it into even the darkest of places.