China is Putting Muslims in Concentration Camps Because of an “Ideological Illness”

People of Xinjiang. Peter Chou Kee Liu. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

People of Xinjiang. Peter Chou Kee Liu. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

According to a UN report, China has declared Islam an “ideological illness”. One UN spokesperson claims there are approximately over a million Muslims currently in these camps. The UN report states “the evidence indicated that most of the detentions were taking place outside the criminal justice system, and targeted specifically Uyghur and other Muslim minorities, such as Kazakh”. But why is this happening? In the words of the Official Chinese Communist Party, “Members of the public who have been chosen for re-education have been infected by an ideological illness. They have been infected with religious extremism and violent terrorist ideology, and therefore they must seek treatment from a hospital as an inpatient”. The region of Xinjiang, in recent years, has faced attacks from extremist groups and because of this, have targeted the entire Uighur community in Xinjiang to prevent them from being further “infected by religious extremism and a violent terrorism disease.”

The region of Xinjiang is a highly populated by the “Turkic-speaking Muslim Uighur minority, who make up about eight million of its 19 million people”, according to a BBC article profiling the region. With the population being highly Muslim, the Chinese government has profiled that area in a subtle racist attempt to force the people of the area to renounce Islam and their practices. In a statement from the Communist Party, they state that “in order to provide treatment to people who are infected with ideological illnesses and to ensure the effectiveness of the treatment, the Autonomous Regional Party Committee decided to set up re-education camps in all regions, organizing special staff to teach state and provincial laws, regulations, the party’s ethnic and religious policies, and various other guidelines”. Furthermore, they say, “At the end of re-education, the infected members of the public return to a healthy ideological state of mind, which guarantees them the ability to live a beautiful happy life with their families”. It is disturbing to read words such as “disease” and “those infected” when it is in regards to innocent Uiguhr individuals. Using such diction creates a harmful and discriminatory connotation that the Uighur community is “sick” and “infectious”, a dangerously false narrative.

Although the camps have the intention of “[fighting] separatism and Islamic extremism”, they stem from a fear of an uprising in the Xinjiang area and has become a prejudice and gross abuse of human rights. Many of the people who were able to leave the concentration camps now are facing psychological ramifications and a complete lack of faith in the country that they are living. The camps are supposedly supposed to help threats and protect the people, yet they are harming them instead.

 In many interviews from those who were in the concentration camp, they have mentioned that the “re-education” forces them to renounce Islam, renounce the Holy Quran, admit that the Uighur culture is backward in comparison to the Communist Party, and if the detainees refuse to cooperate, they are punished harshly. Some punishments include them not being fed, solitary confinement, or physical beatings. Recently, it has come out that there has been a death in one of the camps. A Uighur writer Nurmuhammad Tohti, died at the age of 70 because "he had been denied treatment for diabetes and heart disease, and was only released once his medical condition meant he had become incapacitated", according to his granddaughter, Zorigul. But even with the criticism and the death, the Chinese government still does not believe what they are doing is wrong. 

China Daily, a popular media outlet, claimed that “Western critics of China's policies on human rights and religious freedom in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region seem to be divorced from the realities of the situation.” They stand in defense of their practices rather than understand how harmful they are and how they are creating a dogmatic perspective.

It is concerning to see how fear has created a ripple of harmful decisions and gross infringements on human rights. There is no reason for an entire community to reap the consequences of extremists actions when they are the innocents.

OLIVIA HAMMOND is an undergraduate at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. She studies Creative Writing, with minors in Sociology/Anthropology and Marketing. She has travelled to seven different countries, most recently studying abroad this past summer in the Netherlands. She has a passion for words, traveling, and learning in any form.