Graphic by Nigel Mathias

Even on the other side of the globe, students can still play a part in spreading awareness

In 2019, controversy surrounding a now-former McMaster Students Union club known as the Chinese Students and Scholars Association arose. 

The controversy began when activists came to the McMaster University campus to give a speech regarding the Uyghur Muslim camps in Xinjiang, China. McMaster Muslims for Peace and Justice and McMaster Muslim Students’ Association invited Rukiye Turdush, an Uyghur activist, to McMaster in February 2019.

Xinjiang, officially the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, is a region in western China populated by a great number of Uyghur people and other Muslim minorities. Since 2017, reports of disappearances of Uyghur Muslims began and there were suspicions about those people being taken away to internment camps.

China initially denied the existence of these camps, but later referred to them as re-education camps aimed at alleviating poverty and extremism

China initially denied the existence of these camps, but later referred to them as re-education camps aimed at alleviating poverty and extremism.

Turdush’s speech sparked fury amongst some Chinese students, particularly because Turdush is considered a separatist. Several Chinese students filmed the presentation. The Washington Post directly translated group chat messages, letters, and conducted interviews with three event attendees. The Washington Post’s translation confirms that some Chinese students contacted the Chinese Embassy. However, these students were acting independently and not acting on behalf of the CSSA.

Other screenshots, also translated by the Washington Post, showed that the Chinese Consulate of Toronto instructed those students to see whether university officials attended Turdush’s talk and whether Chinese nationals had organized the talk.

A statement signed by various McMaster Chinese clubs and organizations, including the CSSA, further evidenced that the students had contacted the Chinese Consulate of Toronto.

 

In September 2019, a report was submitted to the Student Representative Assembly in favour of revoking the CSSA of their club status due to a violation of Clubs Operating Policy, committing a Class C Offence under 5.1.3.

“Class C Offences are actions which endanger the safety or security of any person or property,” stated the MSU Operating Policy on Clubs Status. Further, 5.1.4 stated that “Class C Offences will always result in a punitive sanction.”

“Class C Offences are actions which endanger the safety or security of any person or property,” stated the MSU Operating Policy on Clubs Status.

The club was de-ratified by the MSU, stripping the club of its official club status.

In a second attempt to host a panel discussion at the university, Turdush and other experts were invited to campus once again on Sept. 27, 2019. Sara Emira is one of the students who attended the second panel. 

Emira shared that during the panel, one of the presenters, Olsi Jazexhi, recounted his experience of being invited by China to visit the camps. Jazexhi had originally believed that Western media coverage of the camps and the cruelty happening inside were untrue. However, Jazexhi was shocked by what he found during his trip to China.

“Reports that China was building internment camps and persecuting the Uyghurs seemed unbelievable . . . I was very eager to go to Xinjiang because I wanted to explore for myself what is going on there. But after visiting, I found that much of what we hear in the West about China is not actually “fake news”,” Jazexhi said in an interview.

“I was very eager to go to Xinjiang because I wanted to explore for myself what is going on there. But after visiting, I found that much of what we hear in the West about China is not actually “fake news”,” Jazexhi said in an interview

In September 2020, reports showed that China built nearly 400 internment camps. China continues to insist that the camps are meant to educate Uyghur people and that it is not a prison. While on a tour of a camp, BBC reporter, John Sudworth, spoke to a staff member.

“Doesn’t a place where people have to come, obey the rules and stay until you allow them to leave, sound more like a prison? Even if it’s a prison in which you can do art?” asked Sudworth. 

“Doesn’t a place where people have to come, obey the rules and stay until you allow them to leave, sound more like a prison? Even if it’s a prison in which you can do art?” said Sudworth. 

In response, the staff member said that he doesn’t know of any prison that would allow people to paint and that the camps are in fact a training centre.

In the same video, Uyghur Muslims can be seen learning Mandarin, studying China’s restrictions on religion and practicing loyalty to the Chinese government, rewriting lines such as “I love the Communist Party of China.”

In October, a House of Commons subcommittee in Canada denounced the mistreatment of Uyghurs living in Xinjiang as an act of genocide. 

In the same video, Uyghur Muslims can be seen learning Mandarin, studying China’s restrictions on religion and practicing loyalty to the Chinese government, rewriting lines such as “I love the Communist Party of China.” In October, a House of Commons subcommittee in Canada denounced the mistreatment of Uyghurs living in Xinjiang as an act of genocide. 

The subcommittee on international human rights said that they have heard from witnesses who survived the camps in China describe their experience as psychologically, physically and sexually abusive. Witnesses said they were subjected to forced assimilation and indoctrination into the Chinese culture. 

In thinking about ways students at McMaster and in Canada, in general, can play a role in the discussion of this situation, Emira noted that it is important to begin with raising awareness and educating people.

“[A]lso a lot of the torture that [the Muslims] are put through are things like drinking alcohol or eating pork and so your average person when you hear that, it’s like, “oh, that doesn’t sound like torture” and it’s kind of like, “okay, well now we have to kind of educate people on why this is bad and what these people’s values are”,” said Emira.

“[A]lso a lot of the torture that [the Muslims] are put through are things like drinking alcohol or eating pork and so your average person when you hear that, it’s like, “oh, that doesn’t sound like torture” and it’s kind of like, “okay, well now we have to kind of educate people on why this is bad and what these people’s values are”,” said Emira.

Aside from spreading awareness, Emira suggested that in general, people can help shed light on the Uyghur culture and keep their identity alive. 

For example, Emira shared that there are activists such as Subhi Bora who run campaigns to educate others on the Uyghur culture and help preserve Uyghur traditions. 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Subhi (@subhi.bora)

“[A]s you can imagine, this is a group that wasn’t really known before. News of the camps started to kind of gain traction, so I think it’s definitely important to do that and to also acknowledge that there are definitely refugees here as well from these Uyghur camps and a lot of them are running small businesses and things as well. So it would be nice to see people support them financially and have these conversations with them. Get to know them. What have they been through. It really helps to add that personal element to the issue and helps us feel less disconnected from it,” said Emira.

Get to know them. What have they been through. It really helps to add that personal element to the issue and helps us feel less disconnected from it,” said Emira.

Correction: Dec. 7, 2020

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the McMaster CSSA was de-ratified “due to failure to report ties to external organizations”. The CSSA was de-ratified due to Clubs Status Operating Policy 5.1.3 for committing a Class C Offence, action(s) which endanger the safety or security of any person or property. 

 

Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.