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Letter: Jews must condemn China's treatment of Uighurs

The Detroit News

More than 75 years ago, Jews across Europe experienced the unthinkable — the systematic annihilation of six million men, women and children — all because of their faith. Millions of others also perished at the hands of the Nazis because of their disabilities, sexuality and nationality, amongst other reasons. In the decades that have followed, Jews and others across the world have repeatedly said “never forget” and “never again.”

Sadly, the horrors of Kristallnacht and the lead up to the near destruction of a religion is happening again. Not to Jews, but to the Uighurs, a Muslim-majority Turkic people in northwest China who are facing deplorable human rights abuses because of their faith. 

Uighurs have been detained in “counter-extremism” centers with the aim to replace their religious beliefs and aspects of cultural identity, Lopatin writes.

Approximately 11 million Uighur people live in Xinjiang, which has been under China’s control since 1949 and is known to the Uighur people as East Turkistan. Uighurs have been used as scapegoats for civil unrest and alleged terrorist activity for the last 30 years, with the government implementing policies aimed at eroding their ability to maintain their cultural identity, religious practices and language. 

In 2017, a directive by President Xi Jinping, said that “religions in China must be Chinese in orientation” and “adapt themselves to socialist society.” This has resulted in even greater efforts to suppress Uighur religious practices. 

Lacking any sovereignty, autonomy or self-governance throughout the last three years more than one million Uighurs have been detained in “counter-extremism” centers with the aim to replace their religious beliefs and aspects of cultural identity with political loyalty for the state. Many have been forced to live in these facilities, which have been likened to concentration camps due to the reported abusive acts taking place there, including forced labor, as well as the presence of watch towers and prison-like gates. China’s government has long denied the camps existence, although there are images showing their construction, as well as videos smuggled out from prisoners.

For Jews, turning a blind eye is not an option. It would be a betrayal to the millions lost in the Holocaust. 

Keeping quiet is not an option. It would be a dereliction of a duty owed to anyone unfortunate enough to share a similar fate. 

Sitting by idly is not an option. It would turn us into accomplices.  

We invite you to join with us in this moral responsibility to stand up for the Uighur people and join with others of good conscience around the world to end this systematic human rights violation being committed on a vast scale. Reach out to your members of Congress and encourage them to support legislation that imposes restrictions related to the region and prohibits certain imports made by forced labor. Tell your friends and family about what is happening. Give the voiceless a voice.  

Rabbi Asher Lopatin, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC