Apr 16, 2021 | OPINION | By Andrew Hoffman | Illustration by Patil Khakhamian
We all swore never again. When the world learned about the horrors of the Holocaust, the global community, in the form of the United Nations, made a promise to never forget the Holocaust and always prevent the humanitarian crime that is genocide.
Unfortunately, we as a global community have failed to live up to those ideals. From the Bosniak people, to the Tutsi people, to the Rohingya people, and unfortunately many more, the effort to enforce that post-World War II promise by the UN is marred with failures and shortcomings.
With that being said, our institutions’ failure to keep and enforce that vital promise shows that until major reform happens, the responsibility to uphold this moral goal falls upon us as private global citizens. With that in mind, I wish to address and promote institutions that fight against a current global genocide: the genocide waged against the Uyghur Muslim people of the Xinjiang region of China by the Chinese government.
I imagine that to many of The Catalyst’s readers, the news of the Uyghur Genocide is hardly news at all. Some cynical readers might even ask, why post an update at all? We already know about this tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those people, but there is nothing we can do. I want to push back against those notions.
At the three year anniversary of the first evidence of the assault on Uyghur rights, our government’s official recognition of the event as genocide and the undeniable moral responsibility to fight against genocide, we simply cannot give up so easily.
We, as people, must fight against evil. We cannot live in a world where the actions of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) go unchallenged. So, even though this rhetoric has been repeated to the point where it has largely lost its significance, the first step in fighting this evil is education.
Let’s start with a brief overview. Around 2014, the CCP began imprisoning and sterilizing the Uyghur Muslim population in the Xinjiang region in order to accommodate an increasing Han migration into the region. The effects of these policies have been shocking, most notably a 24% drop in Uyghur birth rates compared to the national 4.6%.
Ultimately, these CCP actions have caused multiple non-governmental organizations and governments, including our own, to label the Uyghur crisis as a genocide.
Now while this label and accompanying statistics are shocking, I want to clearly establish that the Uyghur Muslim crisis is a multifaceted issue. In accordance with news cycles tending to focus on the well-documented prison and labor camps that exist within the country, there is a growing humanitarian problem facing the Uyghurs.
The Chinese government’s policies in Xinjiang have caused many Uyghurs to flee the country. This mass exodus has caused serious immigration related problems for the Uyghur refugees, most notably to both Turkey and the U.S.
While I will cover the full effects and nature of these crises, I must stop myself before I go any further. I think a prerequisite to stopping an issue is that people must actually care about that issue, and in order for people to actually care, they need to truly understand the nature of that situation.
So, with that underlying logic in mind, I must stop simply listing off the various tragedies that the CCP has committed, and instead focus on to the actual Uyghur people and the region that they live in. Only through doing this can I provide much needed context for a further in-depth analysis of the situation.
The Uyghur people (pronounced wee-ghurr) are a Turkic Muslim ethnic minority of about 12 million people living in Northwestern China. Primarily from the Xinjiang region, these people are officially considered one of China’s 55 ethnic-cultural minorities in the culturally diverse country.
Furthermore, these people tend to consider themselves Central-Asian since they live in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). On paper, they have some elements of self-governance. The XUAR, however, similar to its fellow Chinese Autonomous Region, Tibet, faces major restrictions from the Chinese central government.
For context, this region is the source for about one-fifth of the world’s cotton, is rich in both oil and natural gas, and is seen as a vital trade link between Beijing and Europe and Central Asia. This information is vital when understanding the primary drivers of the crisis.
While the Uyghurs’ status as an ethnic minority and the racially discriminatory policies they face amidst a primarily Han Chinese dominated country points to racism as a causal factor for this crisis, that racism only gains its teeth through the economic drivers that fuel it.
In more straightforward terms, the blatant racism of the CCP’s genocide is fueled by the largely corporate capitalist trade interests of the XUAR region.
Now that is obviously a bold claim to make, but the argument has its merit. For starters, one of the most consistent observable trends within the CCP’s handling of the Uyghur Muslims is the establishment of forced labor camps.
While the Chinese Government claims that the labor camps are voluntary vocational schools, Dr. Adrian Zenz, of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, uncovered multiple online government documents that suggest that hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs are being “labor transferred” to work for a multitude of cotton farms.
More damningly, these policies are targeted at individuals who “consciously resist illegal religious activities,” suggesting that these people are predominantly Uyghur, and reports suggest that officials are sent to villages to “re-educate” any villagers who are unwilling to comply with these labor transfers. The evidence thus suggests that Xinjiang’s massive cotton industry is being supported by forced Uyghur labor.
This is where the ties to corporate capitalism come into play. A list originally released by the Uyghur Human Rights Project, and then more broadly reported by Business Insider, alleges that according to multiple credible news outlet investigations, 38 major fashion companies supplied cotton from Uyghur forced labor.
The list included recognizable brands such as Nike, Adidas, Calvin Klein, Ikea, and Abercrombie and Fitch. Now to be fair to the corporations, many of them have either denied the allegations or promised to stop these practices within the year.
Yet despite these corporate promises, the long history of fast fashion and the frequently unethical global fashion industry still provoke reasonable skepticism and doubt about these often-hollow corporate promises.
Ultimately, though, the trend I want to point out is that regardless of these particular corporation’s future practices, the escalation of the Uyghur genocide was made profitable through the corporate fashion industry.
Before I provide possible ways for readers to help and the larger conclusions that can be made from this report, I want to once again remind readers that the struggles for Uyghur Muslims do not simply stop once they leave China.
As mentioned earlier, both Turkey and the U.S. are vital areas of interest for Uyghur refugees. While Turkey was historically a previously popular destination for refugees, due to the Uyghur’s Turkic ethnic roots, the growing power of China on the international stage has led to the silence of Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan.
Even more concerningly, Erdogan’s government is working with Beijing on an extradition treaty that could lead to the deportation of Uyghurs on broad yet superficial grounds.
The U.S., on the other hand, is once again too conservative with admitting refugees. The remains of the Trump administration’s broad shutdown of the U.S.’s refugee program remains in effect, while the Biden administration has lagged in fulfilling its promises to re-expand, reform and undo the damaging effects of our archaic immigration system.
In my previous article, I clearly establish that the concerns surrounding immigration are largely negligible. With that established, it is pretty clear to see that the U.S.’s slow and often limiting VISA system is robbing Uyghur families of a safe place to live.
Lastly, presupposing that a Uyghur family is lucky enough to escape the country with their family intact and gain refugee status, reports are coming in that the Chinese government is blackmailing and threatening Uyghurs into silence abroad.
The picture I painted is incredibly bleak. The crisis seems to be infinite, and due to China’s status as both an economic and military power, a simple (but often faulty) solution like sanctions and/or military intervention is off the table. So, what can we do?
Well, it is first important to recognize that on a broader international relations scale, the maintenance of a liberal hegemonic block is necessary for fighting against growing Chinese power. While the historical problems of the liberal hegemony definitely do exist, it is only through this institution that we as people can politically defend human rights abroad.
The second step in addressing this problem falls once again upon us as private citizens. As mentioned earlier in this article, the Uyghur Muslim crisis is largely made profitable through the fashion industry. Thus, we as consumers must pressure our major fashion corporations to change and uphold their promises of ethical production through the usage of our dollars.
Most notably, the Uyghur Muslim case serves as another example for why consumers should once again boycott fast fashion clothing industries if they wish to uphold ethical notions outlined in concepts like human rights.
Lastly, as cases show the Chinese government’s growing attempts to silence Uyghurs abroad, we must support the individual Uyghur refugees and Uyghur people within our local communities. It is only through supporting these three measures, that we as a global people can ever hope to uphold that sacred promise of “never again.”