China is undertaking a repugnant campaign to destroy the identity of a minority people, the Uighur Muslims of Xinjiang province in the far northwest. The Chinese government has in recent years blamed violent attacks in the region on Islamist extremists and has targeted Uighurs and others for pressure and persecution. But evidence is emerging of a systematic cultural cleansing drive, including the construction of hidden concentration camps. All who believe in the principle of “never again” after the horror of the Nazi extermination camps and Stalin's gulag must speak up against China's grotesque use of brainwashing, prisons and torture.
Writing for the Jamestown Foundation, Adrian Zenz, a leading expert on the Chinese ethnic policy in Xinjiang and Tibet, says the new pacification measures are “the country's most intense campaign of coercive social re-engineering since the end of the Cultural Revolution,” the decade-long chaos brought on by Mao Tse-tung in which millions were persecuted and 1 million or more killed. According to Zenz, the archipelago of “re-education” camps may now contain or have contained between several hundred thousand and just more than 1 million people. There are 21 million people, including 11 million Muslims, in Xinjiang.
Zenz's research suggests that China began building the system last year as part of a broader attempt to coerce the Uighur population, as well as ethnic Kazakhs there, to forsake their cultural identity and religion, and to pay homage to the ruling Communist Party. In a series of recent interviews, former prisoners in the camps describe mind-numbing drills in which they are forced to denounce their Uighur culture as backward, to repudiate their Muslim beliefs, and to apologize for wearing long clothes, praying, teaching the Koran to their children or asking imams to name their children.
Inmates in the camps also are coerced into singing songs and repeating slogans hailing the party while condemning the “three evil forces” of separatism, extremism and terrorism. Although the camps appear to be primarily directed at re-education, violence is never far behind, and former inmates recall being subject to physical torture, or threatened with it, if they did not cooperate. Overall, Zenz said, it is possible that the system exceeds the size of China's entire former “education through labor” system, which was officially abolished in 2013.
Nor is this the only sign of China's intentions. The entire region is being turned into a 21st-century surveillance state, in which Uighurs and others are subject to ubiquitous and pervasive monitoring, including the use of sophisticated facial-recognition technology. Muslims are forced to install spyware on their phones, allowing the authorities to monitor their online activity. Just as intrusive, Chinese officials have been dispatched in huge numbers to spend days in the homes of Muslim families, keeping careful track of their activities and carrying out indoctrination, Human Rights Watch has reported.
Not just Muslim leaders but supporters of human rights everywhere ought to be outraged at China's attempted extermination of an indigenous people's culture and religion.