“For four days, they strung me up. My toes barely brushed the ground. For four days, they didn’t let me sleep. Tormenting me, torturing me.”
This is only a fraction of the intense torture Omar Bekali went through when he was detained. Bekali is a Kazakh citizen who was born in China and lived there for 30 years. He was in Kazakhstan when Chinese officials escalated the separatism; the day after he came back to Xinjiang to visit his parents, the police showed up at his door with a warrant and he suddenly found himself locked in an internment camp. He was later tortured and interrogated for one reason: he was Muslim.
In 2014, authorities in Xinjiang, China’s largest province, started to detain Uighurs (a Turkic ethnicity) and Muslims in internment camps. The detainment rapidly increased in 2016 where hundreds of thousands were being rounded up and sent to camps. China researcher Patrick Poon at Amnesty International, a non-governmental organization that advocates for human rights, told The Independent that activists in China say that the number has spiked up to 3 million as of late 2018. Chinese officials have said very little about the dilemma taking place, but from what they have said in the media, these camps prevent Islamic radicalism, as Muslim Uighurs have killed hundreds of Chinese in the past.
In these camps, Muslims and Uighers are forced to commit acts directly against their religion, such as eating pork and drinking alcohol, and ultimately denounce Islam to instead unconditionally support the Chinese Communist Party. These are considered “re-education lessons,” an attempt to change their political thinking. And if they answer questions in support of Islam or Uighur culture, they are tortured without end. Though the camps are dubbed “re-education camps,” their resemblance to wartime concentration camps is uncanny. Yet, governments around the world are failing to speak out and bring awareness to this issue.
According to ThoughtCo., there are 1.8 billion Muslims in the world as of 2017, but Muslims are constantly thrown under the bus in the media for the actions radical Muslims commit — radicalists in any community portray inaccurate beliefs of the community they claim they belong to and taint the community’s reputation. Claiming that extremism is the reason for the containment of 3 million is simply an excuse for what’s actually happening: ethnic and cultural cleansing.
Generally, as a society, we pride ourselves in how far we’ve come. We’ve achieved things that may have seemed unfathomable many years ago, like artificial intelligence or the moon landing. But it was only 85 years ago when Jews were put into concentration camps during World War II because of their difference in beliefs. We learn about the horrors and misery they had to face in our history classes in great detail, but we fail to realize that what we read in our textbooks is still happening today.
Perhaps that’s why it’s less talked about — it’s terrifying for us to think about large populations of people being abused and experiencing coercion just because of their beliefs. Sometimes, we’re simply relieved that we don’t live in a place where we experience these horrors. But, if we don’t talk about this, no one else will. The mass media is ignoring these people’s cries for help and even Muslim nations are turning a blind eye to the members of their community who are suffering.
It’s our job to spread awareness. Concentration camps aren’t something of the past. Bekali spent eight months in the camp, suffered through punishments and contemplated suicide until his last 24 hours of solitary confinement when he was finally released by a lenient police officer. He simply got lucky to be freed.
And even after they are released, former detainees suffer psychologically and recovering from the trauma is beyond difficult. The rest of Bekali’s family ended up being taken by Chinese officials to the concentration camps after his release. They will suffer the same torture and abuse millions of other Muslims are currently facing.
We tell ourselves that society has progressed, but it really hasn’t. People are still being detained and punished not only for their beliefs, but for actions they did not commit. And society and mass media are looking the other way.