Muslim Nations Must Unite to Condemn China’s Uyghur Genocide

Source: Human Rights Watch

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By: Ismail Allison, CAIR National

Last Thursday, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan publicly revealed that he accepts the Chinese government’s claim that it is not perpetrating a genocide against its Uyghur Muslim population.

In an appearance on a Chinese broadcast, Khan cited Pakistan’s “extreme proximity and relationship with China” as the reason for trusting the Chinese Communist Party, which he also praised for highlighting the one-party system as an effective alternative to Western democracy.

These comments echo Khan’s defense of China during an interview with Axios last month, in which he refused to accept the facts about China’s mass internment and abuse of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, saying this was “not the case according to them” and that “whatever issues we have with the Chinese, we speak to them behind closed doors.”

Prime Minister Khan’s position is not unique in the Muslim world. As China seeks the eradication of the Uyghur people, many Muslim countries not only turn a blind eye but publicly express support for its crimes.

In a resolution on safeguarding the rights of Muslim communities issued in March 2019, the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, a multinational body composed of 57 Muslim countries, commended the “efforts of the People’s Republic of China in providing care to its Muslim citizens.”

In July 2019, 22 countries signed a joint letter calling on China to stop its mass detention of Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic groups in Xinjiang. In response to this, 50 countries, 23 of them Muslim, signed a joint letter praising China’s “remarkable achievements in the field of human rights.” The letter referred to the mass detention facilities as “vocational education and training centers” and claimed that no violations of human rights occurred during China’s “process of counter-terrorism and de-radicalization.”

A similar situation occurred in October 2019. In response to a statement calling on China “uphold its national and international commitments to respect human rights” signed by 23 countries at a meeting of the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, 54 countries, including 19 Muslim countries, again issued a joint letter expressing approval of China’s policies in Xinjiang. In October 2020, when the number of countries joining the condemnation of China’s human rights violations increased to 39, 15 Muslim countries remained among China’s defenders.

While some Muslim countries that initially expressed support for China’s treatment of the Uyghurs in July 2019 did not do so in October 2019 or October 2020, not one signed on to the joint letters calling for an end to mass internment and human rights violations. The only Muslim-majority countries that added their voices to the condemnation of China’s atrocities were Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovinia.

Some Muslim countries do not limit their support for China to words. Oslo-based Uyghur activist Abdulweli Ayup has documented and confirmed at least 28 deportations of Uyghurs from three Muslim countries between 2017 and 2019. 21 were deported from Egypt including students studying Islam and Arabic at Cairo’s Al Azhar University; 5 were deported from Saudi Arabia, several of whom were detained while performing the pilgrimage to Mecca, and 2 from the United Arab Emirates.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE signed all three joint letters supporting China in the United Nations.

Even in Turkey, which has been vocal in its support for Uyghur rights and condemnation of China’s genocidal policies, fears have emerged in the 60,000 strong Uyghur community that they too may face deportation to China. An extradition treaty signed between Turkey and China in 2017 and ratified by Beijing last December could pose a danger to Uyghur refugees.

The treaty stipulates that if an individual has broken the laws of one of the parties, the other party must extradite them even if they have not broken any of the other party’s laws.

While Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu denied accusations that the treaty will lead to the extradition of Uyghurs to China, Abdulweli Ayup asserts that Turkey already deported four Uyghurs, including a mother and her two children, to Tajikistan last year. From there, they were sent back to China according to several accounts.

Part of the reason so many Muslim countries are hesitant to condemn China’s genocide of the Uyghurs has to do with the Belt and Road Initiative, a multi-trillion dollar global infrastructure development and investment campaign that has been at the center of Beijing’s foreign policy. Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Turkey are all part of the project, and have received billions of dollars in investments and loans from China.

China is also a major consumer of Middle East oil, making up over 30% of all Saudi, Emirati, Iraqi, Kuwaiti, and Omani oil sales.

Through programs like Belt and Road Initiative, China is extending its influence throughout the Muslim world. Over the past thirty years, it has become a superpower, and many believe that we are entering the Chinese century. It is not then surprising that Pakistan and so many other Muslim countries are unwilling to speak out against China’s crimes. They do not possess the geopolitical power to challenge China — as individual actors. If they were to set aside their differences and unite to demand China change its policies towards the Uyghurs, Beijing would have to listen.

Such unity could also help to address many other problems facing the Muslim world. Weak and divided along sectarian, ethnic, and political lines, the world’s Muslim nations have been unable to stop violence against Muslims in Syria, Myanmar, Kashmir, Palestine, and so many other places.

It is, of course, unrealistic to expect that the Muslim world will put aside these differences, reject outside influence, embrace justice, and reunite anytime soon, but at the very least, these disparate and diverse nations should be able to unite against a genocide designed to erase the only thing that they all have in common: Islam.

Ismail Allison is a researcher with the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

America’s largest Muslim civil rights organization.