Together for Uyghurs: Many beliefs, one voice

“I’m here not as a professional activist or a scholar but as a daughter and as someone directly affected by the atrocities that are being discussed today against Uyghurs – and as part of this week to remember one of the worst stains on human history, the Holocaust. I’m one of those who understand deeply how this horror must inform our response to present events.”

Ziba Murat, daughter of retired Uyghur doctor Gulshan Abbas who was recently sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Every year on 27 January, the world marks Holocaust Memorial Day, remembering the millions killed under Nazi persecution, as well as in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur.

It is a day to honour the memories of those who lost their lives and to re-commit to never allowing such crimes to happen again.

This year, prominent leaders and thinkers from across a broad spectrum of belief and faith communities joined together to draw attention to one humanitarian crisis which demands immediate international attention: the unfolding human rights crisis in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

While those who shared hold very different beliefs from one another, and indeed from the majority of Uyghur people, their unity in speaking out was both powerful and hugely encouraging. Below are some of their reflections:

“Incarcerated by the Nazis and their allies, enclosed in ghettoes, forcibly parted from their families, deported and corralled to their deaths, the Jewish People all too often felt utterly alone. Probably every persecuted people feels isolated, unheard, forgotten, cut off from all help. That is part of the intention of their tormentors. This strategy, perpetrated against the Uyghur people even now as we meet, is all too familiar: concentration camps, beatings, torture, solitary confinement, the separation of children and parents, enforced sterilisation, organ harvesting. It is intended to break both body and spirit. That is why it is supremely important to stand in solidarity with the Uyghur people on this Holocaust Memorial Day, dedicated to reflecting on genocide, the murderous pursuit of the destruction of a people and their culture.

Faced with the evidence of what is perpetrated against the Uyghur people today, we must also consider our own humanity. What kind of people would we be if, looking back, we were to say, ‘I knew, but I didn’t do anything; I didn’t care enough to act’? Given the experiences the Jewish People has passed through in living memory and their impact down to the second and third generations, it is unthinkable and unconscionable for us simply to stand by. This would be a betrayal not only of the humanity of every Uyghur person suffering today, but of our own humanity, our collective historical experience and our moral and spiritual tradition.”

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, Senior Rabbi of Masorti Judaism

“If every human individual represents and carries a gift from God, the same is true of distinctive communities. God has not made human beings uniform and regimented; human culture across the world is rich and beautiful because of its diversity, and a world that is truly at peace is one in which communities welcome, delight in and learn from the differences in language and custom and history that surround them in the lives of other communities. The particular horror of genocide is in its assumption that not only individuals but an entire history can be blotted out. And this is a crime against not only love but truth, a denial of the past that we all share.”

The Rt Hon and Rt Rev Lord Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury

“On this sombre Holocaust Memorial Day, we are standing shoulder to shoulder and reflecting with the Uyghur people, the atrocities and genocide suffered by all faith communities under the control of Chinese Communist Party (CCP)… The current CCP mantra of Sinicisation of all and every aspect of Tibetan religion, culture, language, thoughts are a gross attempt of social transformation, social engineering and cultural genocide. Uyghurs and Tibetans suffer in tandem under the yoke of the Chinese occupation. They are forcing us to be like a Han Chinese by stealth.”

Sonam T Frasi, FCA, RAS, Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama for Northern Europe, Poland and the Baltic States

“From the humanist point of view, governments are constituted to safeguard and advance the freedom of their people. Freedom of choice in how to live, freedom of conscience, thought, and belief, freedom of expression and association, the freedom to pursue our own idea of the good life, the life well lived… Governments should never tell you what to think, governments should never be able to take away your dignity, your liberty, your life, for having the wrong thoughts or making the wrong choices, if they harm no one else. China is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which embodies these beliefs and values. Its government should uphold them.”

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of Humanists UK and President of Humanists International

These reflections are excerpts from those shared at the Together for Uyghurs event, jointly hosted by CSW and René Cassin, the Jewish voice for human rights, on 25 January.