As rumors began circulating about the intolerable, even genocidal, environment in concentration camps, the Nazi government commissioned propaganda to assuage concerns both domestically and abroad. The interned, many of whom were eventually killed, were forced to write postcards home relating how well they were being treated. Staged displays were put on for International Red Cross observers, and films were commissioned. “German audiences might have wondered why ghetto residents appeared to live a better, more luxurious life than many Germans in wartime,” the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum explained.
Eerie echoes of that terrible past reverberate today in the Chinese government’s propagandist efforts to mollify critics concerned about the estimated one million Uighur and Kazakh Muslims detained in re-education camps. A noxious op-ed recently published in the Global Times, a tabloid affiliated with the official Chinese Communist Party organ the People’s Daily, represents a full-throated attempt to justify the Xi regime’s policies in the Muslim-dominated province of Xinjiang.
The petulant and unapologetic piece attributed to columnist Ai Jun insists that the status quo ante in Xinjiang was the real humanitarian crisis. By contrast, what the author euphemistically refers to as “training centers” has brought civilization to the region. The columnist describes the superior medical treatment the interned receive, the employment and vocational training available to prisoners, and the burgeoning entrepreneurial spirit Beijing is incubating.
What’s more, we read that the problem of radical fundamentalist terrorism and discrimination attributable to practicing Muslims in the region has been all but neutralized. The Xinjiang camps represent a model for other restive Chinese provinces to follow, claims the author, who closes with an ominous warning to China’s Western critics: “How can it be fine to kill terrorists with missiles and drones, but a humanitarian crisis when China attempts to turn them into normal people?”
The outside world knows little about the conditions inside China’s re-education camps, and what we know from the first-hand accounts and videos that filter their way into the West is difficult to confirm. Reports indicate that the imprisoned Muslims are forced to disavow and violate their religious principles, including being forced to eat pork and consume alcohol. Prisoners are made to recite Communist slogans, perform forced labor, intermarry outside their faith and ethnicity, and denounce their friends and loved ones who resist the new order. The defiant are allegedly beaten, placed in solitary confinement, and even deprived of food.
Forced labor and re-education camps are not new to China, but they were previously thought to be reserved for political dissidents and criminals. This is something far more sinister. The government’s determination that an entire religious faith represents intolerable deviancy, the collective punishment, the dehumanization that these camps enable–that is all grimly familiar. And the mindset that compels Beijing to pursue such a policy is rarely satisfied with internment and indoctrination. It’s only the beginning.
The U.S. State Department is “deeply concerned” about conditions in Western China, but the Trump administration must speak with more indignation on these developments. “The dire situation in the Xinjiang region has been described as ‘cultural genocide’ and ‘ethnic cleansing,’” said House Subcommittee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Rep. Ted Yoho of what he deemed “rapidly-growing concentration camps.” That’s a term that no one should use lightly. If it is applicable to conditions in the camps in China, that should yield tremendous consequences.
History will not look kindly upon those who allowed thousands of Rohingya Muslims to be killed and ethnically cleansed from their Burmese homeland, but the scale of that disaster pales in comparison to what looms in China. The genocidal tyrants of the future will look to today to determine if “never again” means anything.