China’s Uighur Muslim crackdown is worse than you think – Washington Examiner

While Western intellectuals continue to self-flagellate about America’s imperial legacy and its past sins, the People’s Republic of China continues to distinguish itself both by the scale of its imperial ventures and by their brutality. China has become to the 21st century what Russia was to the Caucasus and Central Asia in the 19th and 20th centuries. While authorities in Beijing might project the image of a unified Chinese identity, the Han Chinese have systematically sought to dilute, if not eradicate, the identities of other peoples in and around China, including native Taiwanese, Tibetans, and now the Uighurs.

Every few weeks, more evidence leaks out about just how massive China’s crackdown is on the Uighur population and Islam in China. It’s necessary to put into perspective just how massive China’s crackdown is.

The 1 million Uighur population (a conservative estimate that does not take into account arrests and detentions over the past year) is more than the entire population of Organization of Islamic Conference members such as the Comoros, the Maldives, Djibouti, Suriname, Togo, or Brunei, and more than even Bahrain and Qatar (if only Bahrainis and Qataris and not foreign labor was included).

International geography isn’t an American strongpoint, so put another way detaining 1 million Muslims in prison camps represents a figure greater than the separate populations of several states: North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Delaware, Alaska, Vermont, and Rhode Island. It is more than the entire population of San Francisco.

In recent years, scholars have come closer to finding the smoking gun with regard to Ottoman Turkey’s genocide against the Armenians. But, while that atrocity took more than two years, China’s imprisonment of the Uighurs apparently took only months, making its scale and scope perhaps even more intense. While Chinese diplomats and apologists might point out that the Uighurs have not been slaughtered in the Ottoman style, forced sterilization and the opacity of the camps raises legitimate questions about the reality of what goes on in them.

Critics of the United States can point to the fate of Native Americans against the backdrop of American expansion and dismiss any question about China’s actions as “whataboutism,” but they miss two important points: Native American tribes were neither unified nor static in their territory and inflicted more casualties upon each other in tribal wars as did American forces.

But, even if the U.S. was fully to blame, there is intellectual inconsistency to condemnation of 17th, 18th, and 19th century American society as reason to excuse or ignore 21st century Chinese imperialism. To accept the comparison ignores several hundred years of human progress and shows American critics as hypocritical, willing to justify the behavior which they vocally condemn. To read Tom Friedman’s effusive columns about Communist Chinese rule against the backdrop of the Uighur tragedy is to remember the worst legacy of Walter Duranty.

Nor can the Chinese crackdown be excused because of the religion of its victims. China turned to suppress its Muslims after decades of trying to do likewise with its Christians. There is no excuse for either, other than the Communist Party’s distrust of any system or morality that might expose the emptiness of its own values. That Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, and most other Muslim countries remain silent on China’s ongoing ethnic cleansing, if not genocide, shows just how cynical and unreliable any of those governments’ accusations about human rights are.

Congress may be consumed by our own political maelstrom and America may be facing polarization unseen in more than a century, but China’s actions show there is more at stake than the White House. China’s mass-detention of Uighurs shows that Beijing’s goal is a fundamental remake of the post-World War II liberal order, one that seeks to establish appreciation for basic human rights and religious freedom.

Michael Rubin (@Mrubin1971) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official.

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