Nationalism and the Internment of Chinese Uighurs

Saturday, August 29, 2020
Nashville, Tennessee

Nationalism and the Internment of Chinese Uighurs

Day four of this car-cruising, cowering, cross-country-Covid trip brings renewed appreciation for geography.

Ft. Smith, Arkansas, is right over the Arkansas river from Oklahoma.

Who knew?

It is called “hell on the border.”


Just over a century ago, settlers lived on one side of the river and Native Americans on the other. Members of the two clashing communities fought, partied, whored, and otherwise behaved demonically.

The Trail of Tears passed right through Fort Smith.

It refers to the forced relocations of some 60,000 Native Americans from their homelands in the Southeastern US to areas west of the Mississippi River. These were designated as Indian Territory. As we all know, our Native inhabitants were subsequently moved to the hottest, least-desirable areas of our country.

Leaving Ft. Smith, I drove across Arkansas.

Google maps showed Louisiana to the immediate south, Mississippi to the southeast, and Missouri just to the north.

Ah, yes, the American south!

Repression, racism, oppression, and other human evils thematize the day—aided by the 100 degree heat with 90 percent humidity.

All around, the sad remnants of slavery linger.

Signs point to ubiquitous sites of Civil War battles.

The pain of the history, of the ghosts of slaves, soldiers, settlers, is palpable.

At the same time, an NPR broadcaster reports on Beijing’s internment of Chinese Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities.

Investigative reporters interviewed 28 ex-detainees. They obtained satellite images of more than 260 imprisonment structures in Xinjiang province.

The Chinese government works arduously to prevent the world from discovering these repressive, slave-like policies.

These new sources of information, including articles in the Atlantic and in BuzzFeed News, validate the largest detention of ethnic and religious minorities since WWII.


Some 25 million Chinese citizens are subjected to mass surveillance using facial recognition cameras, cellphone tracking, check points, and heavy-handed policing. If suspected of even downloading the WeChat app or similarly benign behaviors (viewed as even remotely dissident), these people are subject to incarceration—and worse.

The well-researched stories indicate that more than 1.5 million people have been incarcerated so far.

They are interned in “re-education” camps in which Chinese government officials teach internees the Chinese language, train them in vocations, and indoctrinate them into Maoist Communist ideology. The ex-detainees interviewed additionally reported rape, forced sterilization, physical abuse, and inhumane conditions.

Who declares them in need of re-education, or any education?

Who sanctions such abuse of human rights?

We live in an era of unimaginable mind-control, unfathomable to earlier propagandists.

Just days ago, the plethora of Trump-types told us black is white, up is down, and off is on. Their claims of conquering Covid, enlivening the economy, addressing systemic racism, and upholding democracy could not possibly be further from the truth.

Meanwhile, we Americans have a duty, highlighted by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adopted by the UN in December 1948, to address infringements of rights as they occur across the globe—not just here in the nationalist United States.

Yes, we here in America continue to struggle with the history of racism, of slavery and worse, in our own country.

Meanwhile, we witness our own president, and his followers, not only failing to call out our own repressive past but also to take action against countries behaving similarly.

We must avoid Trump’s myopia, his tendency not only to deceive, but to be so American-focused as to ignore problems elsewhere in the world.

It is time to wake up, and to address injustices wherever they exist.

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