Imagine that millions of people of one faith, one heritage, and one community are being targeted by their government.
Imagine that these people are being rounded up by the hundreds of thousands and forced into so-called “re-education camps,” where they face brainwashing, torture, neglect, and in some cases death.
Imagine that they are slowly being eradicated -- culturally, religiously, and ethnically -- through methods that literally meet the criteria for genocide.
Now imagine the public outcry that would ring out from all corners of the globe in the face of such extreme human rights abuses. The only imaginary part of this scenario is the chorus of disapproval. The rest is the terrifying reality for the Uighur community of Xinjiang Province in China.
Recent weeks have seen a flurry of investigative reports about the heinous abuses that Beijing has perpetrated against Chinese Uighurs. Fully 10% of the Uighur population in Xinjiang Province is reportedly imprisoned in re-education camps -- the largest detention of a civilian population since the Nazi roundups of the 1940s. Reports confirm that the Chinese government is taking extreme measures to ensure the cultural genocide of the Uighurs, along with efforts to prevent ethnic Uighur births.
Attention has been paid in some quarters: Witness the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act passed by the U.S. Congress. But a depressing level of complacency continues, particularly within one crucial bloc: the world’s most powerful Muslim-majority countries. They have been either conspicuously silent or, worse, vocal in their support for China amid its all-out assault on their co-religionists.
When Donald Trump’s administration banned travelers from some Muslim-majority countries in 2017, those same nations led the protest. Yet now, in the face of an incomparably greater threat to fellow Muslims, staunch U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt -- along with Iran, Pakistan, and others -- stand by as their brothers and sisters in faith are detained, tortured, brainwashed, sterilized, and erased.
Not only have they failed to condemn China; many Muslim-majority countries have openly commended its Islamophobic policy, as did 37 member states in a letter to the United Nations a year ago. It’s worth noting that the Muslim signatories identify with the same Muslim sect as the Uighurs: Sunni Islam.
Why all the kow-towing to China on its anti-Uighur policy? Some speculate that Muslim-majority states, wanting minorities within their own borders to “behave,” see Chinese treatment of the Uighurs as a useful example. But considering how long these states have already been cracking down on internal dissidents, they hardly need the Uighurs to hammer home that message.
More likely, their complicity can be explained by increasing trade and investment with China. Far from prostrating themselves to Allah, these Muslim-majority countries appear to be bowing to the almighty yuan. All the while, they rack up piety points by recasting China’s assault on the Uighurs as “counter-terrorism and deradicalization measures.”
“Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must -- at that moment -- become the center of the universe,” wrote Elie Wiesel, who experienced one of the most devastating genocides in history. America is living through a center-of-the-universe moment right now, due to its ongoing struggles with race. But China should have one, too: Beijing must account for its intensifying human rights abuses.
Beijing might feel more pressed to do so if the global community raised a louder voice. By shirking their responsibility to speak out on behalf of the Uighurs, Muslim-majority countries are dishonoring themselves.
Katrina Lantos Swett is President of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice. Irshad Manji, a Lantos Human Rights Prize Laureate and reformist Muslim, is founder of Moral Courage College. The views expressed are the author's own.