We shouldn’t be normalizing the ethnocide of Chinese Uyghurs

“Vocational training centers” is a long-familiar colonial euphemism for institutional ethnic genocide

Minority Muslim groups are being submitted to barbaric acts in China. Photo: Recep Sakar/Yeni Safak

By: Mishaa Khan, Peak Associate

Genocides and ethnic cleansing are not a thing of the past, and clearly neither are internment camps. In the province of Xinjiang in China, officials are currently holding an estimated 3 million Uyghur, Kazakh, and other minority Muslim groups in detention centers. Providing opportunities for vocational training, as well as curbing the threat of Islamic extremism have been cited as reasons for detention. However, detainees explained that they were forced into the camps because they chose to follow their religion, speak their ethnic languages, or contact relatives overseas, among other things.

It’s no secret that China is attempting to erase ethnic Muslims from its population. Their methods have at times been barbaric. Brainwashing, separation of children from their parents, and forced marriages to Han Chinese men have all been used in order to destroy cultural identity and dilute the Uyghur population. Physical torture, electrocution, involuntary drug administration, and rape have also been used to intimidate and eliminate Uyghurs from China’s borders. Many have died as a result of the poor conditions of the camps, while other detainees have died of suicide.

China is trying to hide the news of the internment camps. Officials argue that these are voluntary facilities which aim to provide Uyghurs with vocational training. However, the presence of college-educated individuals and the elderly in these facilities challenges this notion

China is working hard to make sure that the international community sees this as anything but ethnocide — and unfortunately, their efforts appear to be working. 

Chinese propaganda has spread to the Lower Mainland. It is deeply concerning to see that UBC allowed a Chinese official to justify the presence of internment camps. Speaking at an event on global infrastructure, the official claiming they provide vocational training to the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang province because they lack social and economic opportunities. UBC tried to justify hosting the official, and professor Paul Evans argued that the official had rights to freedom of speech

Canadian institutions should be asking themselves: is protecting freedom of speech the higher virtue when it comes to spreading false propaganda? This question is especially important when the actions it seeks to mask parallel the treatment of Canada’s Indigenous population by European colonizers.