It is commonplace in America today to hear that our president is a dangerous authoritarian, that our government is veering towards fascism, and that we are losing our place as a champion for freedom around the world. For many the desire to feign that they are seriously oppressed is powerful and deep. But a glance around the globe shows how misguided this belief is, and how it minimizes truly serious oppression.
Deeply troubling reports from the BBC show that China is rounding up and imprisoning up to 1 million Muslim Uighur people in the Xinjiang province. These are people who have committed no crime but are nonetheless locked up, and according to some reports beaten and tortured. China’s defense for these actions is that these people are merely being reeducated.
The Uighurs in western China, which borders Muslim countries, are seen as a troubling minority by the Chinese government. While Americans pretend that efforts to secure our borders portend some kind of massive racist malfeasance, something very close to an atrocity goes on in China and our progressive left is silent.
It is true that some Uighurs have committed terrorist acts in China, but the detainment policy is not meant to punish those who have committed acts of terror, but to prevent innocent people from ever doing so. The “reeducation camps,” as the Chinese euphemize them, are supposedly meant to make the Uighurs less susceptible to extremism. But the truth is far darker.
According to the BBC, “Mainstream religious activity, the mildest dissent and any link with Uighurs living in foreign countries appear to be enough to sweep people into their system.” Satellite images show the rapid growth of these camps over the past three years, growth that shows no sign of slowing. There is no way to look at the situation as anything other than a massive humanitarian crisis.
There is likely very little that the U.S. government can do to stop these camps and the internment of these innocent people in China. But at the very least, our elected officials and media could spend more time focused on it and talking about it. A million people being rounded up and thrown in camps because of their religion used to be something that got Americans’ attention. Today, not so much.
It is worth considering that part of the reason for this silence from and in the United States is that many Americans see our own current government as so flawed and oppressive that we have no moral high ground from which to criticize China. This is a dangerous development. Much of the influence that America has used to make the world more democratic historically stemmed from our deep belief that our system of government, our freedom and liberty, are worthy of replication around the globe.
But do Americans still believe in our system? That isn’t clear. Consider, for example, a recent viral article in Marie Claire titled, “Why Trump’s America Makes Me Regret Adopting My Daughters.” The author is worried that she made a “tragic mistake” adopting her girls from China.
This section particularly stood out: “I pulled those two beautiful babies away from a rising power and into a damaged democracy. I brought two girls of color into a society where it’s clear that their word and their bodies are worth less than a man’s—and where open, overt racism has become even more likely now than it was a decade ago. And unfortunately, my worries aren’t exactly tinfoil-hat-wearing paranoia.”
First of all, as is the case with my little sister from China, these girls would have faced an incredibly difficult life there, one that in all likelihood would have been mired in poverty. But let’s set that aside and focus on the fact that the “rising power” where these children would supposedly be better off is literally running concentration camps. This comparison is amazing. But this idea that the United Sates is no better than any other country is unfortunately becoming far too commonplace.
While it is completely appropriate for Americans to criticize and protest their government when it does things they think are wrong, this kind of relativism is a slap in the face to the billions of people who face actual, life-threatening oppression. It is not so much Donald Trump’s “scary” rhetoric that hampers our moral leadership in the world, it is the increasing belief that we are not moral.
Progressives need to look around the world and understand that they still live in a nation in which they have extraordinary rights, a nation in which, as the midterms showed, any type of person can rise to political leadership. To put it bluntly, they should realize just how incredibly lucky they are to be here while Uighurs await uncertain fates in Chinese concentration camps.
America is not an authoritarian dictatorship, and it is not heading in that direction. Pretending that it is isn’t only doing harm to our own nation and its sense of value, it is also depriving the rest of the world of a much-needed model of a rights-based society. So the next time someone tells you how oppressed she is here in America, show her this article and remind her that real oppression exists, not as a possibility, or a fear, but as a reality for a million innocent people locked away.