Autocracy and Its Victims

Human rights ought to be fairly simple.  The recognition that all people are human is complicated by that infamous human construct of money, even when autocracy’s involved.  I recently became aware of the plight of the Uyghurs.  If it were not for the efforts of some local faith communities, I would never have heard of them.  The Uyghurs are a Turkic population in what is now northwest China—a disputed area that has fallen under one of the superpowers of the Asian world.  Muslim by heritage, the Uyghurs fall into the category of peoples adhering to an organized religion, which the government of China has consistently resisted—indeed, feared.  The current plight of the Uyghurs is that they are facing “ethnic cleansing” by the Chinese government, which uses claims of terrorism to lock at least hundreds of thousands (perhaps significantly more) Uyghurs into “reeducation camps.”

Like most governments with secrets to hide, China does not permit foreign journalists or academics into these camps.  Children are being separated from parents—those of us in the United States would be well served to pay attention to this—so that the young may be culturally assimilated into the China that Beijing envisions.  The Uyghurs, like the Tibetans, are seeking international political protections and recognition.  Minority groups like this easily fall under threat.  In many communities men are taken to the reeducation camps (from which they never come out) and their families are supplied with a male Chinese boarder who watches to make sure they no longer adhere to their Islamic faith.  Reports from those who visit the region demonstrate how much at threat all of us are from autocratic governments, especially when other governments are easily bought.

We in the western world are prone to accept the propaganda that Islam is a terrorist religion.  It is not.  Most people are surprised to learn that the nation with the highest Muslim population is Indonesia.  Iran is not even in the top five.  Iraq is not in the top ten.  Our western bias blinds us to the religious realities, and diversities, of east and south Asia.  China, however, has long repressed organized religions, making it irresistible to many Christian missionaries.  It has, despite being the home of Daoism and Confucianism, become hostile to movements that allow people to organize.  Religions, of course, have long been such organizing movements.  If we do not support the rights of other religions, especially under the whims of autocracies—which are growing even in “the free world”—then we are gazing at our own future. 

Culpability Defined

What seems to be lacking in the United States government is any realization that actions have consequences.  While in Christchurch, New Zealand at least 49 people have been murdered only for being Muslim, Trump feels that tweeting “heartfelt” condolences somehow exculpates him from fostering an atmosphere of hatred.  Indeed, the main shooter in that travesty cited Trump as an inspiration.  The sickening lack of awareness that deeds have consequences has once again led to a body count.  Meanwhile in these states the Republican Party refuses to condemn the daily and consistent message of racism coming from an edifice that is more and more appropriately called the “White House.”  Do you have to pull the trigger to be guilty?  History will decide.  

Politics has always been a crooked game, but until 2016 most elected to the highest office—God help us, even George W. Bush—realized that the office had responsibility associated with it.  It wasn’t a place you could play loose and easy and tweet from the hip and think it was your right as “just another citizen.”  Muslims have been part of American culture from very nearly the beginning of this experiment in colonialism.  Freedom of religion was one of the pillars of democracy that Trump has been chopping down like a cherry tree while tweeting “No I didn’t.”  The GOP applauds.  Here’s how to instill one religion as the norm, not considering the consequences.  Massacres in the name of Christ don’t make you Christian.  Not cutting history class should be a requirement to run for elected office.  Or at least taking basic civics.  Instead we have a government that refuses to recognize that it can inspire murderers around the globe and then offer heartfelt condolences with no apologies.

Where is the condemnation of racism?  Where is the line between black and white?  Where is the sense of any culpability for creating and sustaining the warm, moist environment where the bacteria of hatred thrives?  When you awake to the news that yet another white supremacist has taken inspiration from an angry white man who has nothing to be angry about and has consecrated murder as patriotism how can you look the world in the eye?  Hiding behind a tweet does not bring back the dead.  How do we get the message through?  Millions of us have repeatedly marched in protest.  We flipped one house of congress and we daily sign petitions until our fingers bleed but no response comes from those who won by a mere technicality.  If there are indeed ghosts in this world there will be mass immigration and it shall be richly deserved.

Fear of Religion

Two online articles have, in my limited reading, linked the bombing of the Boston Marathon by Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to religion. Although the boys are/were not part of any radical sect, it was their belief that their Muslim faith, apparently, motivated the bombings. While such revelations will no doubt prompt Islamophobia in some, the true terror belongs to all exclusive religions. People want to be part of exclusive groups. Whether it is the ritziest country club or the most erudite book circle, we all want to be part of that group that is superior. I recall very clearly in my New Testament classes at Boston University how our professor explained that Christianity never grows as fast as when it excludes people. He claimed the writers of the Christian Scriptures knew that. Conversion is fine and good—it gives you a gold star when you save souls—but not too many. If everyone’s invited to the party, it loses its appeal. Here is the dilemma of proselytizing religions. We want to grow, but not too much.

Throughout history people have rejoiced at the troubles of the exclusive few. It does not explain fully or in any way excuse antisemitism, but the fact that Judaism doesn’t seek converts may raise the jealousy factor of those outside. Those religions most anxious to convert others are also the ones with the longest track records of violence. Nothing promotes hateful behavior like insecurity. Insecurity is frequently masked with evangelistic bravado. The fact is, even if one religion won out—especially if one religion won out—the violence would increase dramatically. This sounds rather crass, I know, but it reflects the state of world religions pretty well. Religions, after all, are made up of people.

Plenty of Muslims participate in sporting events like the Boston Marathon. Islam has contributed tremendously to western culture, laying the groundwork for much of our science and philosophy. It corners no market on religious terror. Religions are often outgrowths of human frustrations with our limited possibilities. We know we have to die, and we dream of gods but we can’t emulate their strength or majesty or immortality. We want the best for those we love. The world, however, doesn’t conform to the deep desires of humankind and religion, whatever its origin, helps us cope. Evolutionary psychologists are increasingly of the opinion that religion has utilitarian purposes in human development. Religions, however, also take their premises rather too seriously at times.

In the name of love

In the name of love