Article Op-Ed

How the (Free) Muslim World Can Still Stand Up to China and Help Uighur Muslims

How the (Free) Muslim World Can Still Stand Up to China and Help Uighur Muslims


Author Edward Ahmed Mitchell by

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In the name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful. All praise and thanks belong to God, the Lord of the Worlds. May peace and prayers be upon Prophet Muhammad and his family.

When I first learned that none of the world's Muslim-majority nations had co-signed a United Nations letter condemning China's ethnic cleansing of Uighur Muslims, I was not particularly surprised.
 
After all, numerous Muslim countries have spent several years ignoring the fact that over one million Muslims are detained in Chinese concentration camps, where they reportedly experience everything from brainwashing  and torture to execution and organ harvesting.
 
The normally outspoken government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which criticized China's treatment of Uighurs a few months ago, reportedly changed its tune when Turkish officials met with Chinese officials at the G20.
 
Saudi Arabia's government forbids its Muslim citizens from drinking alcohol, eating pork, or wearing un-Islamic clothing, yet apparently either does not mind or does not believe that China is forcing its Muslim citizens to do all of those things in the name of combatting extremism.
 
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan used his very first speech at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to call on the Muslim world "to explain to the western people the amount of pain" they cause Muslims by slandering Islam...thousands of miles away from nations like Pakistan. Yet the prime minister also recently said that he "didn't know much" about the plight of the Uighurs....next door to Pakistan.
 
As for the OIC, it did not even bother to mention Uighur Muslims in its annual communique, instead commending China for providing care to its Muslim citizens.
 
As for why so many Muslim nations have fall silent, it's simple. Economics. And politics.
 
China has spent years extending its financial tentacles around the globe, handing out usurious loans to African nations, investing in wealthy Gulf nations, and expanding ties with nations eager to participate in its Belt and Road Initiative.
 
As for politics: rival nations probably don't want to give their arch-rivals an advantage with China by slighting the economic powerhouse. Pakistan and India are prime examples of this dynamic. Ditto for Qatar and the UAE.
 
Hence my lack of surprise at the missing Muslim signatures on the UN letter. I was even prepared to let this bit of realpolitik go. After all, things could be worse. At least Muslim nations didn't do something really crazy like sign a different letter that affirmatively embraces and whitewashes China's oppression of Uigh—oh. Wait. Hold on. 
 
That's exactly what they did.  
 
Instead of co-signing the letter condemning China's concentration camps, several Muslim nations co-signed a letter praising them: “Faced with the grave challenge of terrorism and extremism, China has undertaken a series of counter-terrorism and deradicalization measures in Xinjiang, including setting up vocational education and training centers.”
 
Who had the audacity to support this letter? Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates.
 
Excuse my French, but this is un-flipping-believable. Ignoring concentration camps designed to wipe out a generation of Muslims is one thing. Praising those concentration camps is so much worse. 
 
China may now feel liberated to escalate its crackdown, while simultaneously using the Muslim "stamp of approval" as a shield against further criticism.
 
All of that being said, where does the rest of the Muslim world go from here? What can those Muslims who live in free societies, and those Muslim nations that haven't subjected the stability of their economies to Chinese control, do now?
 
First, Muslims within the countries that co-signed the second letter or ignored the first letter should speak up, particularly in places that hold elections. 
 
If you take to the streets over fake Islamophobic cartoons, you should feel far more upset about your government's decision to sanction the eradication of Islam in eastern China. Speak out against China the way you speak up for Palestine, and call on your government to do the same.
 
Second, even those Muslim-majority nations that decline to publicly criticize China can still quietly welcome and protect Uighur Muslims fleeing the Xinjiang province. According to the State Department, Kazakhstan has done so. Other Muslim-majority nations should follow suit. I hear tell there's plenty of room in the Burj Khalifa.
 
Third, Muslim-Americans should continue pressuring our nation—which is perhaps the only country with an economy large enough and strong enough to confront China—to take action, including the imposition of sanctions on officials responsible for the internment camps and the passage of relevant legislation.
 
The State Department has already exposed and condemned the oppression of Uighur Muslims, but it reportedly shelved a plan to impose sanctions in order to avoid dooming President Trump's negotiations for a new trade deal with China.
 
Fourth, Muslim-American activists should focus significant attention on American businesses that operate in China. According to a recent Wall Street Journal report, the supply routes of Coca-Cola, Adidas, H&M, and other corporations pass through the Xinjiang region. This is unacceptable. 

If China had imprisoned one million white Christians in concentration camps, you can bet your bottom dollar that no American corporation would be doing business with China, much less profiting from the forced labor of Christians imprisoned in the camps.

That's why the Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Save Uighur Campaign recently sent a letter to Coke calling on the Atlanta-based company to suspend its operations in China, starting in the Xinjiang province.
 
Muslim-American activists have also advocated boycott campaigns against Chinese goods, including the FastFromChina initiative during Ramadan, as well as pressure campaigns against American institutions like MIT that allegedly provide technological support for China's mass surveillance system in Xinjiang Province.
 
Although the withdrawal of such support would hardly cripple China's government, the sting of a gradual exodus could push the Communist Party closer towards realizing that the imaginary benefits of its internment camps are not worth their actual costs.
 
In the meantime, Muslims around the world also need to take stock of ourselves. Over the past century, 1.5 billion of us have not been able to harness our economic and political power to stop the ethnic cleansing of our fellow believers anywhere. Not Bosnia. Not China. Not Myanmar. Not Palestine. Not Syria.
 
Indeed, the Muslim world has been busy fighting internal battles over everything from sect to nationality to ideology. Sunni against Shia, so-called secularists against so-called Islamists, dictators against democrats, Arabs against Persians, and on and on.
 
Fourteen hundred years ago, Prophet Muhammad (may peace and prayers be upon him) reportedly said of the future Muslim community, “The nations will soon invite one another to devour you, just as diners are invited to a dish.”

If today's 53 Muslim-majority nations continue to bicker and fight with each other—not to mention their own citizens—while depending on loans from foreign powers for economic survival, Uighurs will not be the last group of Muslims to suffer as the rest of us watch on. Only the latest. 
 
If the Muslim world instead harnesses our economic and political power to do for Uighurs what we failed to do for Bosnians, the Rohinyga, and others, the Uighur crisis could serve as a belated turning point for our faith community. 
 
One million Uighur Muslims have already spent months and years sitting in concentration camps, waiting for us to help. Better late than never.

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