Photo c/o Kyle West
By Nicholas Marshall, Contributor
This article has been edited as of Oct. 5, 2019
In February 2019, the McMaster Muslims for Peace and Justice and the Muslim Students Association hosted an event called “The Genocide of Uyghur Muslims — Talk by Uyghur Survivor”. During this event, activist Rukiye Turdush spoke about the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Western China.
MMPJ co-presidents Batool and Elaaf, who requested to have their last names omitted from this article, explained that the event was meant to be a vehicle through which Turdush could share her experiences. Batool added that the event was also meant to raise awareness for the severe human rights abuses happening against Muslims in China.
The Turdush event came just a few months after reports were published of “re-education camps” in the Xinjiang region of north-western China, where Uyghur Muslims were being forced to abandon their religion and face abuse as detainees. In addition to reports of Mosque demolitions, the camps stand as a record of the Chinese Communist Party’s resistance against heterodox opinions in China.
On Feb. 13, McMaster’s Chinese Students and Scholars Association made a public statement accusing Turdush of inciting national hatred, stating that MACCSSA had contacted the Chinese consulate in Toronto about Turdush’s speech. Having anticipated the subject matter of the Turdush event, a group of Chinese students at McMaster created a group on the social media app WeChat specifically for the purpose of opposing the event. Student protestors filmed and protested against the Turdush event. Turdush herself was harassed.
International CSSA organizations have either openly admitted or been proven to be affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party. Based on information that CSSAs at universities around the world have publicly released, the Chinese government has provided funding for individual CSSAs as incentive to populate overseas political events. For instance, the George Washington University CSSA received funding from the Chinese embassy in Washington as motivation for members to attend events welcoming President Xi Jinping to the city.
On Sept. 22, a CSSA Evidence report was submitted to the SRA in favour of revoking the McMaster CSSA’s status.
At this same meeting, SRA representative Simranjeet Singh delivered a presentation to the rest of the assembly called “Why We Should Revoke Club Status For The [MAC]CSSA”.
Singh’s presentation cited a 2018 report from the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission. The report stated that CSSAs across the U.S. have governmental ties with Chinese embassies and consulates, noting that similar operations could be taking place in US-allied countries.
“The nature of the [CSSA] ties [with Chinese government] appears to involve direct subordination and political direction rather than mere affiliation or cooperation,” stated the Commission’s report.
When asked about their role in contacting the Chinese consulate following the MSA/MMPJ event, MACCSSA stated that they did not have an official relationship with the Chinese embassy. However, in a letter responding to questions from the SRA in July 2019, MACCSSA stated that they had cooperated with the Chinese embassy on issues related to cultural exchange and safety education for international students.
The MACCSSA evidence report presented to the SRA took notice of this contradiction, alleging that the use of the word “official” was an attempt to obscure MACCSSA’s ties to the Chinese embassy.
According to the report, MACCSSA’s failure to fully report any links outside of the MSU was in direct violation of an MSU club operating policy. The policy in question required clubs to disclose any affiliations with bodies outside of the MSU.
As of June 19, 2019, this MSU policy now includes affiliations with political parties or governmental bodies, regardless of whether the non-MSU organization is Canadian or international.
Singh cast MACCSSA’s act of contacting the Chinese government, which the SRA deemed to be a dangerous action, as a key detail in his decision to vote in favour of de-ratifying MACCSSA. According to Singh’s presentation to the SRA, contacting the Chinese government was an attempt by MACCSSA to intimidate students into avoiding discussions that criticized the Chinese regime.
During the Sept. 22 SRA meeting, a Chinese student’s testimony highlighted the lack of action from MSU representatives in response to MACCSSA’s reporting of student affairs to the Chinese government.
“If you are privileged enough to not know what it feels like to live under an authoritarian regime — one where saying something critical of the ruling party is often enough to land you and your family in prison — then please, I implore you, please listen to those who do,” said the student.
Slides from Singh’s presentation warned: “Expert testimony, including from Human Rights Watch, has confirmed that students’ safety could have been endangered if the Chinese government … got info about them attending the MSA/MMPJ event.”
“That was enough grounds for us to decide that they are a threat to free expression on campus and may be a danger to students … We cannot normalize the extremist ideologies behind the CSSA’s actions,” said Singh.
The SRA sided with Singh, voting to de-ratify MACCSSA and cut off the club’s access to MSU resources and services.
Over seven months after Turdush’s initial talk, she returned to McMaster on Sept. 27 in response to an invitation from the MMPJ to speak about the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in China. According to Batool, the event was a success, with over 100 spectators and no disruptions.
A previously published version of this article stated that MACCSSA’s act of contacting the Chinese government was considered an attempt by the SRA to intimidate students. This has since been corrected to state that it was considered an attempt by MACCSSA to intimidate students into avoiding discussions that might disrupt the Chinese regime.
A previously published version of this article stated that WeChat is a Chinese multi-purpose app used by members of the McMaster Chinese community. It has since been corrected to state that a group of Chinese students at McMaster created a group on the social media app WeChat specifically for the purpose of opposing the event.
A previously published version of this article stated that no evidence was provided to directly connect the CSSA with the Chinese Communist Party. This has since been removed, and evidence has been presented.
A previously published version of this article did not reference CSSA’s response to questions from the SRA. This has since been updated.
A previous version of this article stated that Turdush returned to McMaster seven months after the de-ratification. This has since been corrected to state that she returned after her initial talk.
This version of the article has been updated to differentiate between MACCSSA and CSSAs around the world.