Perspectives on the Uyghur Genocide from Canada

Updated: Mar 29

Opinion by Hibagh Ahmed and Sarah Siu. This piece is part of Kroeger Policy Review's third issue on Canada-China relations. The full issue is available here.

Introduction


China is facing criticism from various international world leaders for their mistreatment of the majority Uyghur Muslim population in the north-west region of the Xinjiang province. Although classified as ‘autonomous’, the province has been subject to heavy handed repression and interference by the central Chinese government. While the real numbers are unknown, it is believed that over two million Uyghur Muslims have been forcibly removed from their homes and placed into camps. The Chinese government has claimed that the purpose of the camps is to re-educate the population, but footage shows individuals facing physical torment from Chinese officials. Those released from the camp describe inhumane conditions, including having needles placed between their fingers and being seated in a metal seat restricting movement as officials smashed knuckles and joints with a hammer-like device [1]. Their every move is surveilled, there are police checkpoints set up in neighbourhoods, women are being forcibly sterilized, places of worship destroyed, and an entire ethnic-religious group is being rounded up and placed into concentration camps. The continuing flow of testimonies by survivors of the concentration camps has exposed to the world numerous heartbreaking stories of torture, mutilation, and terror. This article will touch upon the ways in which anti Chinese sentiment has increased in the Western world as a result of the Chinese government’s actions. Furthermore, it will discuss Canada’s historic failure to stand up for injustices taking place even within its own borders.


We acknowledge that we are not a part of the Uyghur community, nor could we imagine being in their shoes. However, we wish to bring to light an issue that needs much more attention and coverage than it is currently receiving.


The Chinese - Canadian Impact


An observation of the Chinese government's actions in relation to the Uyghur Muslims highlights the magnitude of human rights violations occurring in this region. The Chinese government's actions do not reflect all Chinese people's opinions; however, the public perception often associates the negative aspects with Chinese people or even the general Asian population. It must be stressed that the vast majority of ethnic Chinese, whether living in China or living abroad, bear no responsibility for the crimes against humanity occurring in Xinjiang. Nonetheless, the Chinese government's actions illustrate the Chinese government's goal to suppress the Uyghur minority in China and maintain its values and social order regardless of ethical concerns. The government creating concentration camps for Uyghur Muslims inflicted a situation that should not arise again after the Holocaust; unfortunately, history has repeated itself. The conditions placed ultimately are inhumane. Their attempts to 're-educate' Uyghur Muslims included sexual abuse, torture, mass surveillance, detention, indoctrination, and forced sterilization [2]. The government of China's actions reflect poorly on Chinese people, regardless of whether they support the government's actions.


"Having seen Asian hate crime drastically increase since has made me understand how Asians are displayed as the 'model minority' up until something changes the public's perspective. The model minority myth was created to further implement Asian stereotypes into Western society and further support anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism."

Recently, the public has become increasingly aware of the persecution and blatant racism that Asian communities are continuing to receive due to COVID-19. There have been cases where extreme violence has occurred because ignorant people continue to blame Chinese people--or any Asian they assume is Chinese--for the outbreak of COVID-19. The speed at which many Canadians blamed their fellow citizens of Chinese heritage for the spread of the global pandemic highlights how easily the Uyghur genocide could be weaponized against Chinese-Canadians. Seeing the attacks the Asian community have received, whether it was verbal or physical, reflects poorly on a society which claims to be diverse. Racism should not be acceptable in any circumstance, and no exceptions should be afforded to individuals using situations to excuse racist action towards to Asian community. It has ultimately made those of Asian heritage unsafe in communities due to racist biases.


Having seen Asian hate crime drastically increase since has made me understand how Asians are displayed as the 'model minority' up until something changes the public's perspective. The model minority myth was created to further implement Asian stereotypes into Western society and further support anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism. As Asians are put up on this so-called pedestal, they are also being hurt through the absence of individuality. This also demonstrates how a number of ignorant individuals assume that there is only one type of Asian, typically Chinese. In reality, there are numerous different Asian countries and obvious differences between the types of Asians to differentiate between them. This is damaging to the Asian community, as it groups the entire community into a single entity. As previously mentioned, this creates far more Asian hate crimes. The Uyghur genocide evidently has brought a negative exposure to China, but it has also created an excuse for hostility towards Asian communities living outside of China. In British Columbia alone, the anti-Asian hate crimes have risen exponentially since these two situations. There have been vandalisms in Asian communities, and as of recent, a lot more Asian elder abuse. While it has been evident that hate crimes towards Asian have rapidly risen in Canada, and there has been social media coverage, it is disheartening to see that there has not been much done by the Canadian government to address the issue when it is a serious and continuing problem occurring in Canada. The Canadian government currently discusses plans to attack these hate crimes, but they claim that it is difficult to apprehend hate crimes. Nonetheless, there has been a lack of past and direct support.


The Muslim-Canadian Impact


The world made a promise seventy-six years ago that they would never again be silent when a national government decides to persecute their people because of their faith and values. Muslims worldwide have faced ridicule and hate for decades, but the magnitude of hatred and Islamophobia demonstrated by the Chinese government is unseen. In 2018, one million Uyghur Muslims were rounded up and placed into these concentration camps [3]. They were forced to denounce their religion and criticize their fellow inmates who refused to eat pork and drink alcohol (acts that are forbidden in Islam).


"Prime Minister Trudeau is traditionally very vocal about international human rights issues, whether it be about advocating against the arrest of human rights advocates in Saudi Arabia or the push for increasing girls in the classroom in countries such as Afghanistan. However, his decision in this situation demonstrates a high degree of complacency."

As a Muslim myself, living in a country where I am a minority, I could never imagine the individuals I elected to represent me to round up the members of my community and place us into camps. Modern Canada seems so far removed from the crimes of its history, but unfortunately, Canada is not a perfect country. It encompasses a history that demonstrates intolerance of minorities, most notably through the Chinese Head Tax, Japanese internment camps, and Residential Schools. As heartbreaking as these events were, they provided Canada with lessons that ultimately caused it to become a strong defender of human rights on the international stage.


Understandably, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has to tiptoe around the issue for the sake of diplomacy. Still, the Cabinet’s decision to abstain from the vote to declare these events as genocide is a devastating blow for the Muslim-Canadian community. Prime Minister Trudeau is traditionally very vocal about international human rights issues, whether it be about advocating against the arrest of human rights advocates in Saudi Arabia or the push for increasing girls in the classroom in countries such as Afghanistan. However, his decision in this situation demonstrates a high degree of complacency. Trudeau’s declaration would have likely triggered an international response, including the invoking the United Nations Genocide Convention and a case in the International Court of Justice. Instead, he chose his words very carefully. Still, the outcome remains that he is denying the fact that the events transpiring in China are, in fact, a genocide and giving the appearance that he and his Cabinet are adhering to the will of Chinese officials. This provokes the question of what more information and details Trudeau might need to consider these devastating actions to be a genocide. Is Trudeau weighing Canada’s economic relationship with China over the most basic rights and freedoms of the Uyghur Muslims trapped in these concentration camps?


I am critical of the Canadian government because those are the individuals who were elected to represent me and my opinions. But, I cannot overlook the fact that there are a handful of Muslim majority countries worldwide whose silence is speaking volumes. In 2019, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, Algeria, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, all of who say they are strong defenders of Muslims, helped block a United Nations motion that would have called China to allow independent international observers into the Xinjiang province [4]. This comes after Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman stated that China has every right to carry out these acts and that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabian respects them for it. It is mind-blowing to see countries that preach a façade that encompasses the importance of Islamic rights but overlook fundamental rights of justice. Islam is a religion of justice and clearly states that one must stand for justice even if it is against themselves, their parents, or close friends - but these countries opt for a payout instead.


Conclusion


It does not matter how many years have passed or the international community's promises - history will always repeat itself. It is heartbreaking and unbelievable that in 2021 a genocide is occurring under our watch. We have decided that it is not important enough to be breaking news every night or part of international debates. It’s time that international leaders recognize that a genocide is occurring. They need to stop avoiding the issue or trying to diminish its severity when it is time to in fact take action and speak up about the injustices occurring in these camps. We live in a time where our leaders no longer put human rights first; they worry more about economic and political repercussions. While wanting to protect the interests of your own country is understandable, human rights must always come first.

  1. AP NEWS. “China Cuts Uighur Births with IUDs, Abortion, Sterilization,” June 29, 2020. https://apnews.com/article/269b3de1af34e17c1941a514f78d764c.

  2. Griffiths, James, and Ben Westcott. “China Says Claims 1 Million Uyghurs Put in Camps ‘Completely Untrue.’” CNN, August 13, 2018. https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/13/asia/china-xinjiang-uyghur-united-nations-intl/index.html.

  3. Hill, Matthew, David Campanale, and Joel Gunter. “‘Their Goal Is to Destroy Everyone’: Uighur Camp Detainees Allege Systematic Rape.” BBC News, February 2, 2021, sec. China. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-55794071.

  4. Qiblawi, Tamara. “Muslim Nations Are Defending China as It Cracks down on Muslims, Shattering Any Myths of Islamic Solidarity.” CNN, July 17, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/17/asia/uyghurs-muslim-countries-china-intl/index.html.