In 2019, shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand resulted in 51 people killed and 40 people wounded. The attacker, Brenton Tarrant, had previous ties to alt-right ideology. Immediately following the attack, Australian Senator Fraser Anning blamed the violent act on Muslim immigration into New Zealand, faulting the nation’s immigration program for allowing Muslim “fanatics” to enter the country. He added that communities in Australia and New Zealand are growing fearful of Muslim presence in their regions. Ironically, Anning’s Islamophobic stance perpetuates fear and hostility toward Islam or Muslims.
Anning’s stance pins the death of the Muslim worshippers at the hands of New Zealand’s government. The senator’s misguided rhetoric legitimizes the rampant Islamophobia present in the world, which has resulted in devastating human rights atrocities such as the genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Uighur Muslims taking place in Xinjiang, China.
The Chinese government has employed a program called the Golden Shield Project to carry out these violations of human rights. The Golden Shield Project is an oppressive government surveillance system that uses facial recognition technology to monitor citizens’ physical movements and online activity. A computer system then uses these individual records to give each person a social credit score based on their perceived trustworthiness. The Chinese government then uses this score to easily identify and punish perceived dissenters. The government’s use of facial recognition technology and extreme censorship of news and social media outlets are part of systems put in place by the Chinese government to restrict citizens’ rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.
This system of mass surveillance allows the Chinese government to target Uighur Muslims for imprisonment. According to a United Nations human rights panel, over the last year, “up to one million Uighur Muslims were forced into grounds that resemble massive internment camps in Xinjiang.” Additionally, the Chinese government has uprooted a large portion of the Uighur people from Xinjiang, an autonomous region in northwest China, and forced them to move across the country to work in factories.
Even more appalling is the mass genocide carried out by the Chinese government. Authorities have launched a massive campaign to drastically reduce the birth rate of the Uighurs and other minorities in an effort to reduce the country’s Muslim population. An investigation by the Associated Press found, “the state regularly subjects minority women to pregnancy checks, and forces intrauterine devices, sterilization and even abortion on hundreds of thousands of [Uighur women].” These atrocities are part of China’s long campaign to oppress the Uighur people.
As someone who has lost family members and friends to religious persecution in Cameroon, this issue hits close to home. As a Christian man, I cherish the opportunity I have in the United States to freely practice my faith, and I feel all people in the world — regardless of their religion — should be afforded that same right.
What can be done to combat this injustice? While an intervention from the global community and world powers is the most powerful weapon against these violations of human rights, students can also play a role in demanding justice for Uighur Muslims. A host of companies, including Calvin Klein, Fila, The North Face, Tommy Hilfiger, Victoria’s Secret and Puma, have financially benefited from prison labor of Uighur Muslims. I implore Georgetown University students to boycott these companies to compel them to stop doing business in China and halt operations in Xinjiang.
Students should also urge the university to end any partnerships with these companies. The student body has shown its ability to enact similar changes; Georgetown committed to divest from the fossil fuel industry after student demands. Although these proposed efforts will not completely solve the human rights violations taking place, they will target a specific area in which the Uighur people are being abused.
Islamophobia should have no place in this world, as all human life is precious and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. The same bigoted ideology held by Anning has empowered the Chinese government to commit these atrocities against Uighur Muslims. We can not accept such bigotry. I am pleading with the student body to take action and spread awareness about Islamophobia. We as a student body can give this issue the attention it deserves.
Tetu Mbah is a freshman in the School of Nursing and Health Studies.