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.