The Uyghurs (Uighurs, Uigurs) are an ethnic group of Turkish descent who is currently being suppressed by the Chinese government. Why is China overpowering the Uyghurs? The main reason is that the Uyghurs follow the Islamic faith. China has a Communist government, and they seek to purge religious faith from their society because religion does not align with their beliefs.
Marx and Engels are German philosophers who wrote “The Communist Manifesto,” which are political documents detailing what Communism is and outlining the goals of the political movement. Marx also wrote about how religion makes humans oppressed. He said religions are illusions created for humans to try and find true happiness. It is believed in Communism that religion should be abolished. Marx states in his book “Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right,” that “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness (Marx, Karl).” China believes in this exact philosophy and has been a part of the Communist Party since the Mao era (1949). In more recent times, China states they have created “re-education” camps to help re-educate the Uyghur Muslims, but saying they are “re-education” camps is simply a cover-up for the horrendous mistreatment that is happening to the Uyghur Muslims.
The oppression against Uyghurs enables China to portray all Uyghur Muslims as extremists and terrorists. Uyghurs inhabit many places such as Turkey, Russia, Australia, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, but over 11 million Uyghur Muslims live in the Xijiang region of China. Many free Uyghurs fear for their lives, and if given a chance, they leave Xinjiang.
The government created stereotypes about the Uyghurs because of the anti-terror attacks in China during 2013 and 2014. The Uyghur militants even took responsibility for the attacks, and due to this, the Chinese government believes that Uyghurs are a threat. The Chinese use the attacks as an excuse and reason to “re-educate” the Uyghurs and force Chinese beliefs onto the Uyghurs.
China’s oppression of the Uyghur Muslims prevents the Uyghurs from celebrating and expressing their culture freely. The Uyghurs are afraid to speak their native tongue and honor their way of life because the Chinese criticize and ridicule their religion. China has also banned Uyghur music. In the PBS’ news hour documentary called “China: Power and Prosperity,” a musician named Yusup Sulayman talks about how many Uyghur artists, songwriters, and composers are missing. Also, in the documentary, Sulayman remarks “They are making our artists, composers, and songwriters disappear.” An older man named Abliz Ablikim said that when Uyghurs asked the Chinese government why they were being put in camps, the Chinese government responded with, “Aren’t you Uyghur? That’s crime enough (Schifrin, Nick and Sagalyn, Dan).”
China’s prejudices against Uyghurs leads them to persecute and force the Uyghurs into “re-education” camps. Over one million Uyghur Muslims have disappeared to detention camps. Many families have been separated, and they have not been able to see their loved ones. An ex-detainee woman named Gulbahar Jalilova (who also appeared in the PBS News Hour “China: Power and Prosperity” documentary) spent time in a detention camp before she was able to make it out of Xinjiang freely. She says although she is free, her mind is still in the detention camp. She also stated that being in the camp has ruined her life forever, and the memories continue to haunt her. One memory that she recalls is being a witness to 14-year-old girls to 80-year-old women being taken away for interrogation and would come back with their heads swollen and their bodies covered in bruises. She was even interrogated herself and described that the officials put a black bag over her head before she was questioned.
Female detainees are subjected to sexual abuse, torture, forced sterilization, and are refused treatment if they are struggling with their health. A woman named Tursunay Ziyawudun, who was detained in 2017 and 2018, revealed how the detention camps got worse when she was held for the second time. She said that when the Uyghurs were interrogated, the Chinese would always use many different methods. “Their methods of torture were always different, but a common practice was to tie you up on a metal chair during interrogation,” she said. “They cut off our hair, after pulling it through the bars of [our cell], including that of elderly women. We were all handcuffed, shackled, and frequently called out for interrogation” (Hoja, Gulchehra and Lipes, Joshua). The officials would make the women monitor each other in their cells to make sure that everyone is following the rules. Everyone is fed a very small amount or nothing at all.
Many women in the camps were convicted of crimes that they did not commit and would have to go to show trials. Ziyawudun said that she and an elderly woman were the only people that did not receive any allegations. Lots of Uyghur women were unfortunately raped as well and were never seen again due to the officials coming in at night to take the women away. Ziyawudun said she felt helpless when these incidents would happen because she felt as if she could not do anything. If Uyghur women were fortunate enough to be released from the camps, often they turned to alcohol because of the torture they endured, and they felt lost because they were forced to renounce their God. Another thing Ziyawudun mentions is that in the detention camps, Chinese officials would brainwash the Uyghurs into believing that the U.S. is an enemy. Tursunay Ziyawudun says many of her family members in Kunes counrty have been taken to internment camps and fear the horror that her family must face.
A male ex-detainee, Abdulsalam Muhammad, was able to escape the camps but is currently living in self-imposed exile because he is too scared to return to Xijiang, which unfortunately many Uyghurs must do. Abdulsalam Muhammad recalls how the Chinese government would interrogate 15-20 Uyghurs each day. When Uyghurs were taken to the camps, the Chinese would tell them they did nothing wrong and that they were simply going to “re-educate” them. In 2017, the Xinjiang government destroyed Uyghur Mosques and prohibited men from growing beards and women from wearing veils. The government would “re-educate” them by teaching them Chinese and vocational skills, but this is far from the truth. Abdulsalam Muhammad says the camps are prisons.
Every day, Uyghurs have 10 hours of class, and the Chinese government’s goal is to change their minds and their beliefs. China still denies that they have the Uyghurs in detention camps and claim they have sent all Uyghur Muslims home, but this is false. As of 2017, 85 detention camps have been identified. According to the PBS NewsHour, photographs of the construction of the camps with barbed wire fences and watchtowers were captured.
China’s oppression against Uyghurs prevents Uyghurs from seeing their families and as a result, they lose parts of their culture. A husband and father, Yasin Zunun has not been able to see his wife and baby for 3 years. He is always looking online to see if he can get a glimpse of his wife and child. He did see them once, where his wife was dressed in Han style (Han Chinese makes up most of the population in China) clothing instead of Uyghur style clothing and so was his daughter. He described how powerless he felt because he could not prevent his family from being kidnapped.
Abliz Ablikim, who was mentioned earlier, shared how the Chinese government would send officials to Uyghur homes to eavesdrop. About 1.1 million Han Chinese have been sent to Uyghurs homes. Uyghurs are not able to roam around freely. Chinese policemen keep a close eye on any Uyghur by interrogating them, checking their documents every couple of feet, and forcibly collecting DNA samples from them. Uyghurs that are free tend to go to the outskirts of Istanbul. In Istanbul, Uyghurs have created schools to continue the Uyghur language and culture but remain terrified that the Chinese government will find them.
Reading about the Uyghurs made me wonder why humans feel the need to suppress others. Many people struggle with those who look and act differently. At times it seems like we are making a bit of progress, but then we fall back. History is always repeating itself. This current situation in China reminds me of a lot of World War I and World War II. Hitler hated the Jews and ordered them to be put in concentration camps. This also reminds me of when African Americans were slaves and had to fight for equality. I was not shocked to learn that the Uyghur women were being mistreated because women have not been treated with the same respect as men have for centuries. It hurts me that China is treating Uyghurs like criminals instead of people with feelings.
China is suppressing the Uyghurs due to their prejudice against religion. Putting the Uyghur Muslims in detention camps is causing long term mental damage and brainwashing them to forget about their faith and culture. They are treated as if they have no rights. They are put in very unfair and inhumane conditions. This needs to change.
Hoja, Gulchehra. Female Detainees at Xinjiang Internment Camps Face Sterilization, Sexual Abuse: Camp Survivor. Translated by Joshua Lipes, RFA, 30 Oct. 2019, Accessed 4 Mar. 2020 www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/abuse-10302019142433.html.
Marx. Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right 1844, www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1843/critique-hpr/intro.htm. Accessed 26 Feb. 2020
Schifrin, Nick, and Dan Sagalyn. PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 4 Oct. 2019, www.pbs.org/newshour/show/china-calls-it-re-education-but-uyghur-muslims-say-its-unbearable-brutality. Accessed 23 Feb. 2020
Wood, Bryan. “What Is Happening with the Uighurs in China?” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, www.pbs.org/newshour/features/uighurs/. Accessed 23 Feb. 2020
Image from: Ma, Alexandra. “People in China Are Bypassing Its Internet Firewall to Read Explosive Leaked Files about Uighur Oppression, and Saluting an Official Who Disobeyed Xi Jinping.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 19 Nov. 2019, www.businessinsider.com/china-uighur-bypass-firewall-read-leaks-salute-rebel-official-2019-11. Accessed 3 Mar. 2020