Arab silence on the looming genocide of the Uighur Muslims in China is deafening. Supposedly influential and powerful Arab states look on as the persecution continues. There are an increasing number of testimonies from Uighur refugees and asylum seekers documenting the most unimaginable forms of cruelty, but when the opportunity arose to address the issue at the UN, every Arab government in the Gulf region and beyond opted to ignore or express support for China’s human rights violations. The international community has all the information and evidence it needs to know that genocide is taking place, and yet punitive measures against China are still not in place.
The predicament of the Turkic-speaking Uighurs is much more dangerous with the coronavirus outbreak. In China alone, almost 111,500 people have been infected, and more than 3,000 have died, as the World Health Organisation declared the epidemic to be a “public health emergency of international concern”. Despite this, the “re-education” camps in Xinjiang province — where possibly as many as three million Uighurs and other indigenous peoples are detained — are still in operation and at risk of becoming death chambers, in the Chinese government’s favour.
Sadly, beyond condemnations and public statements, very little is being done about this at an international level. Even meaningful condemnation is in short supply, much less proscriptive measures.
The Arab world’s silence should come as no surprise, though, given the virtual abandonment of solidarity with the Palestinians, Rohingya and Muslims in India. In 2017, the governments of Muslim-majority nations were accused repeatedly of being soft on Myanmar over the treatment of the Rohingya, of whom around three-quarters of a million have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh where they live in the “world’s biggest refugee camp”. Many thousands more have been killed by the Myanmar army in Rakhine state.
Critics have pointed to the Middle East’s deep financial and political ties to Myanmar in order to explain why so-called Muslim states have not done more to protect Rohingya Muslims. Saudi Arabia’s lack of solidarity was demonstrated by an unforgiving crackdown on Rohingya refugees who reportedly entered the country on pilgrimage visas but overstayed and tried to work in the Kingdom. As many as 1,000 Rohingya refugees, including hundreds of children, were forcibly deported to Bangladesh after being held in detention centres.
The Rohingya are now stateless, with few allies willing to stand up for their human right; much like the Palestinians, in fact, and very much the way that right-wing Hindu nationalists would like to see India’s Muslim citizens. It is quite possible that the mobs attacking Muslims in India, and the politicians who allow it to happen, feel empowered to act by the inaction of the Arab regimes in the face of injustices against the people of occupied Palestine, the Uighurs and the Rohingya.