China’s Cruel Internment of the Uyghurs Must Not Go Unnoticed

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By Andrew Quist

Since 2016, the Chinese government has been interning, brainwashing, and torturing the Uyghurs, a largely Muslim ethnic minority who live in northwestern China. The U.S. government estimates that between 800,000 and 2 million Uyghurs and other Muslims are being held in over 1,000 internment camps in the Xinjiang province. They are forced to study communist propaganda and chant slogans praising the Communist Party and President Xi Jinping, and they are beaten or tortured if they disobey.

Outside the camps, Xinjiang has become most extensive police state in the world. People are subjected to mandatory DNA and fingerprint collection, are monitored by facial-recognition software, and, if they are Muslim, live in constant fear of being abducted and taken to an internment camp.

The plight of the Uyghurs is not getting the attention it deserves, in part because the American media is focused on the antics of a flamboyant U.S. president, but also because of cognitive biases that cause us to overlook the suffering of nameless, faceless victims. People are wired to feel empathy for a single identifiable victim, but the Uyghurs are suffering in great numbers, without a spokesperson. As the research of Paul Slovic and others has shown, we don’t feel empathy for large numbers of people suffering—a phenomenon also known as psychic numbing.

There are steps we can take to help the Uyghurs, including spreading awareness of the Chinese government’s cruelty and by supporting the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, a bipartisan bill in the U.S. Congress that would sanction companies and officials involved in the internment camps.

Photograph by flickr user Uyghur East Turkistan, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0