We are all Uyghurs

We are all Uyghur too

(Photo credit: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/115/hr565)

Je Suis Charlie? United We Stand, #BostonStrong, even, BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo. We Americans are a sympathetic, but sometimes selectively sympathetic people. To me, the most common limitations to our sympathy are limitations to our identity formation, limited education, and the reality of power dynamics domestically and internationally.

Limitations to Identify Construction

          It’s my opinion that if we look at what I call the Big 5 in Identity Construction -Race, Ethnicity, Nationality, Religion, and Gender- the more closely we identify with the dominant demographic group, the less likely we are to understand or sympathize with the non-dominant groups. Or, to put it another way: Uyghurs (also spelled Uighur, Uigur, and Uygur) are a stateless, Central Asian ethnic group who practice Islam. Since most Americans are not Central Asian, nor Muslim, and have never met a Uighar then it is harder to notice or sympathize with their plight; it is far easier to ignore.

Limited Education

It is harder to notice because, after all, who’s going to tell us? Our education system favors American history -which is understandable up to a point, but I personally studied US History in 5th, 7th, 8th, 11th, and 12th grades. And that doesn’t include state history in 4th grade that certainly overlapped with US History. And when our social studies classes do study other nations and nation-states, it does so with a Western European bias. After all, not only are most Americans of Western European descent, but Western Europe has been the dominant part of the world for centuries prior to American hegemony and has influenced American culture far more than, well, Central Asia for example.

So, if not our education system, what about the news? We have print news, radio news, TV news… surely, we’d hear about a looming genocide in our news, right? No, of course not. The 24-hour news culture is obsessed with the Swamp Soap Opera in Washington, DC, business news and imagined wealth from Wall Street, NY and LA pop culture… more seriously, there are stories of #MeToo, #LivesMatter, #NFLKneelers, crime, school shootings, and stories of local interest that eat up our attention span and clog our access to news outside of America, let alone news about a small stateless group of people in the middle of Central Asian.

Power Dynamics

          Really, its an issue of Power Dynamics. Textbooks, for example, are an expression of political and economic power. How else would you explain pages after pages about the Texas Republic, when Texas was not part of the US, in a US History textbook? Do we have pages after pages on the Hawaiian Kingdom? Pages after pages on the Shay and Whiskey Rebellions in the populous states of MA and PA, but rarely even a mention of Dorr’s Rebellion in the littlest state in the Union, Rhode Island? While most Americans are of Western European descent, Americans are certainly aware of India and China, as there are 1 billion people in each country and the US does considerable business with both countries. Heck, both countries have the nuke too, right? The Uyghurs have no worldly significant population (15 million), no nuke and, heck, don’t even have a nation-state…

You’re Forgiven

          So, if you’re still in school, you can be forgiven; if you’re an average guy like Joe the Plummer or Rosie Riveter, you can be forgiven for not knowing about the Uyghurs detention and incarceration. After all, the corporate media chooses what news to cover, right? But if you’re a teacher, perhaps you can help change the paradigm of neotribalistic news coverage, if you’re involved in your religious community or a church leader, perhaps you can speak up and speak out. If you’re a politician in Washington, perhaps, just perhaps, you could live up to the ideals of this country. This country which proudly remembers ending the Second World War and stopping German Nazism… and has done little to stop every genocide since. On February 19, 2005, I wrote this in the Providence Journal:

“During its commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps, those present chanted, “Never again.” Yet since 1945 the world has ignored, or been extremely slow to deal with, the genocides of Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Milosevic’s Yugoslavia, Rwanda-Burundi, and, today, Darfur.
 
How can someone say, “Never again,” and then fail to stop the slaughter of innocent people being killed simply because of their ethnicity and/or religion?”

And not much has changed since. The Darfur Genocide, the Yazidi Genocide, the Second Assyrian Genocide, the Rohingya Genocide, and now the beginnings of a Uighar Genocide. If you’re a member of Congress who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations or House Foreign Affairs Committee, how dare you deposit your paycheck, how dare you run for re-election?

Because Uyghurs look differently than you, pray differently than you, it’s not an issue to bring to the attention of American people?

We have a subcommittee that is literally called the Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia, and Terrorism led by Republican Jim Risch of Idaho and Democrat Tim Kaine of VA. Where are our Senators on the Uyghurs internment camps? The House Foreign Affairs Committee is led by Republican Ed Royce (CA-39) and Elliot Engle (NY—16). The Committee has a subcommittee named Asia and the Pacific led by Republican Ted Yoho (FL-3) and Brad Sherman (CA-30)… And where are they on this crisis; where are our Representatives on the Uyghurs internment camps?

Even more specifically: If you’re Congressman Dana Rohrabacher who introduced the Save Christians from Genocide Act, or Congressmen Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA) who introduced the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief Accountability Act for the Christian Genocide… then you are hypocrites and grandstanders, not leaders. And what Americans need are leaders in Congress, leaders in the State Department, leaders in the White House who stand up for the stateless people of the world, stand up for human rights, and stand up for the Uyghurs people.

Uighars, Uyghurs or Uygurs

The Uyghurs are a Turkic ethnic group in Central Asia. Ironically, most Uyghurs live in a section of China called the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China. Like many populations of Central Eurasia, they are genetically related to both Caucasoid and East Asian populations. There are about 15 million Uyghurs in China, 80% of whom live in the Tarim Basin of Xinjiang. In fact, the Uyghurs city of Ürümqi is the largest city in western China as well as all of Central Asia, 3.5 million people.

Outside of China, according to the World Uyghur Congress, the Uyghur population is believed to number 1.0–1.6 million; which may be part of the reason that the world is ignoring the Uighars. The main diasporic community of Uyghurs are in Kazakhstan (200,000), with much, much smaller communities in Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, and in Turkey. The largest Uyghurs population in the West is believed to be in Australia and number about 10,000. Canada has about 2000 Uighars. Uyghurs are a small stateless ethnic group, with few allies on the World Stage. Uyghurs are also predominantly Muslim, eliciting little sympathy from the Western Christian world. Look at the Darfur Muslims and Rohingya Muslims. In fact, the only Muslim genocide that the West (albeit belatedly) stopped was the Bosnia Genocide, perhaps because they were European Caucasians? Apparently “Never Again” meant, never again if you’re Jewish or European?

According to a 2018 report by The Economist, Uyghurs in Xinjiang suffer under a “fully-fledged police state” with extensive controls and restrictions upon their religious, cultural and social life. Chinese officials refer to Uyghurs as terrorists, justify their repression as anti-terrorism surveillance. And, to be fair, there have been Uighar successionist movements, and acts of violence against the Chinese government apparatus in Xinjiang. Laying aside the “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” argument; do the actions of some members of a population justify the repression of an entire people? Are all Italians in the Mafia, all Germans are Nazis, all Irishmen are in the IRA, and -of course- all Mexicans are “drug-dealers, murderers, and rapists.” When, oh when, are we as Americans and as human beings going to break out of this tribal mentality? When are we going to protect the rights of those who don’t look like us, as much as we defend and demand rights for those who do look like us?

Because, what? The Uyghurs terrorists? Uyghurs extremism? Well, in the Xinjiang Autonomous Uyghur Province of the People’s Republic of China, “Religious extremism” is defined as owning books about Uyghurs or quitting smoking or drinking. Government cameras have been installed in the homes of private citizens. Between 120,000 and one million Uyghurs are detained in mass detention camps, termed “re-education camps,” aimed at changing the political thinking of detainees, their identities, and their religious beliefs. Some of these facilities keep prisoners detained around the clock, while others release their inmates at night to return home. The New York Times has reported inmates are required to “sing hymns praising the Chinese Communist Party and write ‘self-criticism’ essays,” and that prisoners are also subjected to physical and verbal abuse by prison guards. The families of inmates are monitored, and women have been detained due to actions by their sons or husbands…

A student of mine asked me this week, I just finished listening to your podcast about the [first] Uyghurs, but I still don’t think I know who they are… I’ll tell you, they are just like you and me. They are parents and children, they are husbands and wives, they are farmers and businessmen, they pray and they go to school.

First, the PROC came for Chang Ki-Shek and the Nationalists,
And the US did nothing because it was busy in Europe and Korea;

Then the PROC came for the Tibetans,
And the US did nothing because there are few Buddhists and fewer Tibetan-Americans;

Then the PROC came for the Uyghurs,
And the US does nothing because there are few Muslims and fewer Uyghurs-Americans;

And then the PROC may drive your company out of business through corporate technology theft, low labor costs, and currency manipulation….

And you think we should care about you and your job?

Native Americans who were here already and the descendants of enslaved West Africans know a lot about persecution. But so do those who chose to immigrate to the United States. We are a nation of castoffs, of people persecuted and looking for a better world. If we can say Never Again about the Holocaust, we can say no to Uyghur concentration camps too. If, in the face of Sovietization, our president said Eich bin ein Berliner, then today in the face of Hanification, our leaders can say “We are all Uighars too!”

Je Suis Urumqi!

May Madness

The 2005 film Sometimes in April is a powerful reminder of the Rwandan Genocide that began in April 1994. There’s something about April, I suppose: the Armenian Genocide too began in April; and the Siege of Sarajevo, which many consider to be the beginning of the Bosnian Genocide, began in April as well. Three of the six most well-known genocides began in the same month…

But May isn’t much better…

May 17, 1984, Bhiwandi riots began when Hindus placed a saffron flag on top of a mosque… 278 dead. And in 1987, from March, through the entire month of May, and to June, riots occurred between Muslim and Hindu Indians in Meerut and resulted in the death of more than 350 people.

Yes, the Bhiwandi riots began when Hindus placed a saffron flag on top of a mosque? First of all, who cares, right? It’s just a flag? And, on the other hand, who would tarnish a religious building with the religious symbols of another religion? Disgusting insensitivity and hatred. It reminds me of swastikas on synagogues and Israeli PM Ariel Sharon flying an Israeli flag from the home he bought in the Muslim Old City of Jerusalem.

And, specifically, on this day, May 22, 1987, forty-two men were massacred by the Indian military in the Hashimpura neighborhood of Meerut, the state of UP. The victims were shot, and their bodies were dumped in water canals; a few days later dead bodies were found floating in the canals. The trials were delayed for decades and, on March 21, 2015, the verdict was returned, and the Tis Hazari Court in Delhi acquitted the 16 soldiers accused in the Hashimpura Massacre, due to “insufficient evidence.”

Fortunately, some semblance of justice and responsibility, in May 2015, the UP government announced a compensation equivalent to $US 500,000 to the family of each victim.

But the violence in the India haven’t stopped. Years later, but also in May, the 2006 Vadodara Dargah riots occurred in the state of Gujarat in India. The 2006 Riots were caused by the municipal council’s decision to remove a 300-year-old Sufi dargah (shrine). An independent people’s commission has stated that the police had targeted Muslims during the incident…. eight people were killed and forty-two injured, 16 of these were from police shooting.

Who votes to close a religious site in a city known for its religious strife? Yes, Gujarat is the same state that was home to the 1969 and 2002 Gujarat riots as well.

But the crimes against humanity and genocide in the Indian subcontinent is not all religiously-based war crimes, in the 1971 Bangladesh Genocide, Muslims killed Muslims over, at least at face-value, over language. May 5, 1971, the Gopalpur Massacre occurred when Muslim Pakistani forces murdered 195 Bengali Muslim workers at a sugar factor. And on May 20, 1971, many thousands of Bengali Hindu refugees were murdered in the Chuknagar massacre by Pakistani forces. Why? Religion? Language? Bloodlust? Probably all three….

Some much violence. So much hate and ignorance. Demographic tribalism and identity politics at its worst.

~~~

May is not a good month for the continent of Asia. Also in this month of May, specifically May 21, 1864, Russia declared an end to the Russo-Circassian War after the scorched earth campaign initiated in 1862 under General Yevdokimov.  When the Circassian people refused to convert to Christianity from Islam, almost the entire population was forced into exile from their North Caucasus homeland.  More than 1.5 million Circassians were expelled — 90% of the total population at the time.  Most of them perished en route, victims of disease, hunger, and exhaustion. And, among the Circassians that stayed behind? Chechnyans. And you wonder why so many Chechnyans hate the Russians so much. As a war against civilians, forced transfer of populations, within the context of both ethnic and religious differences… another genocide. May 21st is designated as the Circassian Day of Mourning and recognizes the Circassian Genocide.  And just a few years ago, the 2014 Sochi Olympics were held on former Circassian land which caused an outcry from Circassian people as well as humans rights activists worldwide.

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From the Caucasus Mountains of western Asia, across the Indian subcontinent, to southeast Asia. In Cambodia, May 20, is The Day of Remembrance. Formerly called the National Day of Hatred, it commemorates the Cambodian genocide of the Khmer Rouge regime that ruled the country between 1975 and 1979; specifically, the date was selected since it marked the beginning of mass killings by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge…

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While the German Genocide, or Holocaust, started on that November night of Broken Glass and the Darfur Genocide began on a dusty February day in 2003… three well-known genocides all began Sometime in April… but unfortunately, genocide is more ordinary than extraordinary. May marks the beginning of the Palestinian Diaspora in 1948, the lesser known Greek Genocide, the Circassian Genocide, the more well-known Cambodian Genocide, as well as continuous violence in India and several massacres of the 1971 Bangladesh Genocide.

Genocide is not a competition, and if we could see how pathetically ordinary it is in our human history, perhaps we could turn the corner and recognize one another as sister and brother, no matter race, ethnicity, nationality, or creed. Remember the sins of the past, remember that today is tomorrow’s yesterday. The choices we make today will be looked back upon tomorrow.

 

SLAM ~ May 16th

On this day, May 16, 1983, Sudan People’s Liberation Army (also known as the Sudan People’s Army Movement, or SLAM) began their rebellion against the Sudanese government. This Sudan People’s Army Movement began a civil war that culminated in both the Darfur Genocide as well as ultimately the independence of South Sudan.

Within Sudan are the northern Sudanese Arab Muslims, southern Sudanese African Christians, and western Sudanese African Muslims.

Sudan President Omar al-Bashir has based his rule on war.  As noted earlier, the Second Sudanese Civil War had been a conflict between the Northern Muslims and the Southern Christians.  The Darfur Conflict came as a result of many factors.  To an extent, Fighting a war can centralize authority, unify the population (to an extent), can eliminate political rivals and reduces the net population of military age men.  Just as when the Spanish conquest of the Iberian peninsula ended in 1492 and military age men looked for new lands to conquer (i.e., the Americas), after the Second Sudanese Civil War, al-Bashir needed a new enemy to deflect attention from his autocratic rule.

The Darfur genocide occurred in western Sudan and is/was a conflict was between the Abbala (camel-herding) and Baggara/Baqqarah (cattle-herding) Shuwa Arabs on the one side and the Masalit, Zaghawa, and Fur ethnic peoples on the other side.  The Fur people are the most numerous in the region; in fact “Dar-fur” means “Abode of the Fur.”  The crisis is a combination of racial, agricultural, and political conflict.  The Abbala and Baggara people are nomadic Arabs who follow herds of camels and cattle.  For their part, Masalit and Fur people are Sub-Saharan African (Black Africans) and are sedentary farmers.  The other Sub-Saharan tribe, the Zaghawa, is comprised mainly of sheep pastoralists.  Similar to the land wars in the nineteenth century American West, these farmers and herders are in conflict over access to water as well as the issue of fences.  As both sides of combatants are Muslim, the issue is more a conflict of “Arabization” than the Muslim-Christian tension that has served as a basis for the Second Sudan Civil War.

The government soon began to attack the Fur, Zaghawa, and Masalit people, particularly in the Marrah Mountains. Both sides employed light cavalry tactics (horse, camel or Toyota Land Cruisers) for quick strikes.  The tactics also included ‘scorched earth policy’ “with livestock seized, grain stores attacked and looted, wells and watering places poisoned … [as well as] … forced population movements engineered to perpetuate dependency and control.

Adding fuel to the fire of nearly all African conflicts is the ‘low congruence’ between ethnic boundaries and state borders.  The Masalit and Zaghawa people live in both eastern Chad and western Sudan.  In fact, the dictator of Chad, Idriss Déby Itno, is Zaghawa.  For their part, the Abbala and Baggara share a common Arab background with the political leaders of Sudan, particularly dictator Omar al-Bashir.  These Arab tribesmen have formed the Janjaweed militia and received support from al-Bashir’s government.

To counter the threat from the Sudanese government, On this day, May 16, 1983, the Fur, Masalit, and the Wagi clan of the Zaghawa peoples formed The Sudan Liberation Movement/Army or Haraka Tahrir Sudan (abbreviated as either SLM or SLA). Although the roots of the Darfur conflict go back decades to 1983, eventually the Conflict grew into what we now recognize as the (2002 or 2003) Darfur Genocide and eventually to the independence of South Sudan.