Imperialism and the Uyghur People
The Podcast Welcomes Nicole Morgret!
Greetings, wonderful readers, and welcome to this episode of Wine, Women, and Revolution! We’re coming at you from New Jersey Revolution Radio, New Jersey’s one and only socialist podcast. Today’s special guest is Nicole Morgret from the Uyghur Human Rights Project, here to fill us in on the situation of the Uyghur people.
We will be discussing a fairly nasty human rights violation that is happening right now that is not getting the coverage that it should be. We all know that the United States is one of the biggest global sources of imperialism and colonialism, but that does not mean that they are the only source.
Nicole gives us the backstory of the Uyghur people. The Uyghurs are a Turkic people from central China. They speak a Turkic language that is mutually intelligible with Usbek. They are traditionally Muslim and they live mostly in what the government calls the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, a region of the People’s Republic of China that is located in the far northwest of the country. This region is also commonly referred to by its own residents as East Turkestan. The area is also occupied by various other ethnic groups, such as Khazhaks.
The Uyghurs very briefly developed their own republic in the World War II era, but this was quickly overtaken when the CCP won the Chinese Civil War and had their leaders killed. At this time, they live in what is called an “autonomous region” which is actually directly controlled by the Chinese government. In fact, “autonomous” is ill-fitting: they are less autonomous than most places in China, including the provinces.
The Uyghurs are often compared to Tibetans. Both of these groups have a long history of being somewhat distinct from Chinese civilization. Both of these groups had connections to other countries in Asia. However, there are differences between the Uyghur region and Tibet. The Uyghur region does have a larger population and more cities than Tibet, for example. Tibet is more divided into provinces. Tibet used to be more prominent in the world, but this is shifting as more news comes out of East Turkestan.
The Ughyur autonomous region is the largest of all of Chinese provinces. It is rich in natural resources such as natural gas and minerals, however, its numerous mountainous and desert regions are sparsely populated. For a very long time, there were tensions between the Ughyur and Han people, as the Han people came into the country to mine resources and pushed the Ugyhurs aside in doing so.
Human Rights Violations
Meanwhile, The Chinese government has been able to take what’s happening in their country and rebrand it from separatism to terrorism. The government has been conflating Uyghurs with the war on terror. Their solution has been to forcibly assimilate these people, stripping away basic freedoms such as religion and language.
Something that is greatly concerning the Uyghur Human Rights Project is the formation of “education” camps in which people are subjected to forced labor and additional cruel conditions such as abuse. These camps are founded by the Ministry of Justice, and notably not the Ministry of Education. This implies a likeness to prison camps. Within these camps, there are reports of people being sent directly to factories to extort their labor at little or no pay.
Corporations that can be pressured to stop or avoided because they use factories in these camps in the Uyghur region include Apple and Nike, according to reports. The project estimates that between 1 and 2 million people, around 10 percent of the Ughyur population currently reside in the camps. There are reports of people being sent to home detention, and the data does seem to be in flux, but the estimate is reasonable. Nicole recommends looking into the Xinjiang Victims Database for more information on the specifics of this tragic situation.
If the virus did get into these camps, it would be devastating because of the severe lack of healthcare infrastructure. It is so difficult to get reliable information on the levels of spread because government leaders are constrictive and it is near impossible for journalists to access the areas in which to gather information.
It is horrifying that we do not know what it is like within these camps. Only a very small amount of people from within the camps are ever able to escape their oppressive situations, so victim reports are scarce. Even outside of the camps, these people are having their culture stripped from them, in a brutal display of imperialism.
A Police State
The region, Nicole shares, has essentially been turned into a police state. There has been an enormous expansion of the police presence. Uyghurs cannot move freely around the region. Parallels can be drawn to apartheid, for example, people have been lined up at security checkpoints. Reportedly, people have even been forced to dance as a sign of political loyalty. The Chinese government’s logic here is that if Uyghur people dance, they must not be Muslim.
About the Project
The Uyghur Human Rights project was founded as part of the Uyghur-American Association to serve as a medium for the voice of the people of the region. There were barely any media reports about the region at all at the time that the project was founded. In the past few years, as the situation has emerged, it has become more widely known. The project tries to focus the growing global concern into advocacy. They became independent from the Uyghur-American Association in 2016 and today they focus on research and advocacy. You can visit UHRP.org for a comprehensive amount of information on the situation as well as other related resources.
If you hear this story and you want to do something about it, there is a “What You Can Do” page on the website that gives you some things you can do such as writing to Capitol Hill or a variety of international organizations. Nicole and the rest of the Uyghur Human Rights project think it’s great when people simply tell their friends because spreading awareness has been crucial to getting them to the level of awareness that has been achieved so far. The project welcomes inquiries and has a lot of events for interested parties to attend.
Thanks again to Nicole Morgret, the Uyghur Human Rights Project, and our listeners! We appreciate you more than you can ever know. Unfortunately, mainstream media do not cover many activist issues: that’s where we come in. We are here to be a voice for the activist community and for those whose stories are never shared in the mainstream media. We never take payments from corporations. Our only message is the truth and we depend solely on donations from people like you. We truly appreciate anything you can give — no matter how small the amount. The future is yours to create! Go out there and create it!
-Leah Giannantonio, for New Jersey Revolution Radio