Uighur Muslims Have Been Interned in China for a Year, but Did You Know?

Staff Reporter
Ayumi Davis

Uighur Muslims in Prayer in Mosque in Xinjiang. (Photo By Nir Elias/Reuters)

Concentration camps were prevalent during World War II. The most widely known are the ones of the Japanese-Americans in the U.S. and the internment of Jews in Germany. Both groups suffered destitute conditions, torture, cruelty and even death. But, what about in 2019, where there are no large world-encompassing wars?

There’s still internment happening, in a society where progressive thinking is more prevalent now than ever, people are having more open minds. Despite this, China has about a million people known as Uighur Muslims have been put in what they call “reeducation camps”due to fears of separatism. And they’re still in there now.

Uighur Muslims have been living in China for a long time now, focused mostly in the Xianjiang region. According to the BBC, about 11 million of them live there and none of them are allowed to leave due to passports being revoked. Essentially, they’re not allowed to communicate with other Uighur Muslims outside of China, and even reports of psychological and physical torture have been heard. Buzzfeed News reported some family members living outside of China wishing to take family out, but to no avail, even if they aren’t a citizen of China.

While this situation is miles away, it’s still very pertinent world news. But how many people know about it, or at least heard of it? The results from Chicagoans were, sadly, not surprising.

However, what’s surprising was that many of them were well-informed, watching or reading news pretty regularly. Hillory Walker, 53, Southwest side of Chicago, said he watches and reads the news every day, for six to eight hours a day. “I read the Tribune online. I read various articles provided by CNBC, a variety of all the news that kind of appears on the blog,” said Walker. But most people didn’t know of the situation with the Uighur Muslims when asked about it.

Roosevelt Students were less informed, not watching the news as often or regularly. “Once in a while. I only watch the snapchat stories,” said Miranda Trickett, Junior, Finance major. Another student, Christine De Campo, Freshman, Business Management major, said, “Maybe two to three times a week. Not often.”

Only one person, Aji Eyeni, 25, Flossmoor, knew what was happening with the Uighur Muslims.

I explained the situation to them and most of their answers were the same, that the situation was horrible.  Walker just simply said, “I think it’s a tragic situation.” Another person, Sarah Herendeen, 23, Highland Park, stated, “Just from that little bit, I mean kind of really echoes internment camps. Bad, bad. I think it’s bad. I guess the reason it hasn’t stopped is because it’s not widely known. Because, I feel like that’s something people should be upset about.”

Roosevelt student Nathan Dahill, Freshman, Acting major, simply said, “I sympathize for that group that is being discriminated.” De Campo compared it to the illegal immigrants in the U.S. being held, saying “Sounds to me like a modern version of the Holocaust. Just like when Trump put all the illegals in these ‘camps.’ They are treating these people with no dignity and respect and more like animals rather than human. Their human rights are being taken away and for what though.”

When knowing that internment camps were still going in today’s world, all had a lot to say. Walker said, “That’s extremely unfortunate. Actually, it’s inappropriate. I think, in the world today, everyone should be able to freely choose to worship anyway they choose without political involvement or decisions based upon what the government desires as far as control. It’s unfortunate that that occurs and apparently, there doesn’t seem to be any concern from the world stage about such atrocities.” “It’s horrible because you should be able to have peace with one another, rather than creating wars or more problems with each other.  Even though it’s going to happen, you should try to maintain that peace instead of creating more issues,” said Trickett.

Other Chicagoans had similar thoughts, voicing the cruelty of the situation. Ayeni was not surprised talked about needing to teach people not to gradually become apathetic, saying that there’s no difference between a reeducation camp and internment camp. “I think one of the big feelings that I have is we need to find ways to one, educate people and two, educate them in a way such that apathy doesn’t take hold…”, Ayeni said.

“If you are constantly keeping on top of what’s happening around the world, particularly when it comes to human rights violations or just, in general, for lack of a better term, treatment of other people, you become desensitized and that’s where apathy can really take hold,” Ayeni said. “Especially the more and more that you know about it, the more deeply entrenched you get. There’s that burnout, I guess, you get.”

David Manalow, 59, Lincoln Park, said, “I think people tend to make either uninformed or not completely informed statements. You’ll see a lot of people in this country talk about other countries and they don’t even own a passport. Last week, I was in Japan. First time I was ever in Japan. Eye-opener. You learn so much about another country just by being there interacting with people there.”

“Everyone always talks about how the ultimate goal for humanity is world peace and all that, right? And if you’re only looking at problems inside your own country, you’re not seeing yourself as a global citizen, you’re just seeing yourself as a citizen of your one country. But, when in reality, we all live in the same place. We live on the same planet. Even if we kind of keep to ourselves, we’re going to affect each other,” said Herendeen.

While it’s important to be aware of what’s happening directly around yourself, it’s also important of being aware of what happens in the world. Problems from the outside can always trickle in, but it’s also the responsibility of those who have access to news to look at it. The more focus a story has, the more opinions and discussions about it arise. It can help those in charge to look or push for change more than before.

Roosevelt students voiced thoughts similar to this. “I think a big downfall of not looking at the news is that people’s stories aren’t being heard. Just because it’s not happening here doesn’t mean it’s not happening at all. There are people out there with no food or water while we eat and throw away food everyday. There are people who are locked for nothing while we are free to walk and do as we please. By not listening to the world news, you aren’t informed and, in some ways, people are going to be looking at that as if it’s not on tv, it’s probably not important,” said De Campo.

Others talked about how the people should look for world news and not just local, saying to be aware. Trickett said, “…We should be more cautious about and pay more attention about what’s happening to others outside of your specific area. You could try to help or voice your opinion.”         Recently, it was found out that Kazakh Muslims are also being interned at these camps, as well. So, be informed and be aware, for there are atrocities around the world lurking in midst of everything that’s happening.

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