I’m trying to become more active in the international Uyghur community, and through various online searches, attempts to purchase a book, and some good old fashioned Facebook stalking, I managed to get in contact with a few prominent and outspoken Uyghurs living internationally. So there I was, awake at 2 o’clock the night before a meet-up, speaking with one of my elders over Messenger about the current situation, and he replied ‘they don’t see us as life.’ Knowing that the government under which I spent a decent amount of my formative years did not view me as a human being was a harrowing feeling.
Funnily enough, I started speaking to this specific activist, Ababekri, because he shared the article that I wrote last week. I commented a simple reply: ‘Rehmet,’ ‘thank you’ in the Uyghur language. Saying thank you, though, shouldn’t put you at risk for arrest. Apparently it did. I had no idea when typing out that response that I was putting myself in any danger at all: I just wanted to say thank you to him in our language, and it was one of the few things I can say. But if I had been caught saying that by the wrong person, I’d be in jail right now, just for saying thank you in the ‘wrong’ language.
‘Why do they do this? When will they stop?’
I know why the Chinese government does this. I know that they will not stop until they’ve eradicated us completely, razed every last trace of culture to the ground. But there’s such an intense, psychological difference between knowing something deep down and being told straight up. They will not stop, I was told, because we are still living. We still have lives, and we aren’t seen as people who are supposed to have lives. Frankly, we aren’t seen as people. All we are is an obstacle to obtaining land and resources that the Chinese government wants, wants so desperately that they will lock us up until we either surrender and assimilate or die.
The thing is though, according to those who have been through this, it seems almost as if assimilating isn’t enough. Ababekri himself tried to assimilate, living for fifteen whole years as a ‘normal’ citizen of China. He did not outwardly show any alliance to the cause; he did not showcase his beliefs. Being Uyghur, he could not get a job. He did not complain, searching for work after work in mainland China with no luck. He eventually gave up trying to find work in China. He did not give up his spirit.
To an extent, we’ve had to give up the cause. One of the main reason all of this started happening in the first place was to squash separatist sentiment from the Uyghurs and other people belonging to non-Chinese Turkic ethnic groups; since East Turkestan was unrightfully taken by China, the Uyghur people believe that they should have the right the self governance. But our plight is no longer so lofty. I don’t mean to say we do not want independence, it is an ultimate goal and one that given how we are being treated, something we desperately need. But we are a people whose feisty spirit is being crushed by the weight of our brothers and sisters being arrested, taken away, and silenced. We are not being treated as life. Right now, we just want to be seen as humans, as lives worth living free.
We deserve to be able to say hello and thank you to each other without fearing arrest. We deserve to be able to pray without QR codes outside our houses being scanned to see who lives where, who is doing what, and how, and under what faith. Praying is one of the biggest reasons that people get arrested nowadays. I struggle, and not just because I too follow this faith, to understand why something so deeply personal and spiritual can be so offensive to a government that they are willing to torture someone in a concentration camp, or in a prison, to make them stop. We deserve to live unhindered by fear or oppression and celebrate our culture and ourselves.
I was asked before I started writing articles about this if I needed a pseudonym to protect myself. I said no; I want to face the government and whatever consequences ensue, like a digital, hopefully well-written middle finger in their faces. Truthfully, I’m not so brave. The reason I do this head on is because I realise that it no longer makes a difference if I’m loud. People will still get tortured and separated from their families no matter what name I use. In the words of Ababekri, ‘if there’s a chance to save a single life, if there’s an opportunity to speak for a single voice, to take action against injustice, you are in the best place.’ So once again, I implore you, speak out. And as I said once, and will continue to do, rehmet.