The activists at The Grayzone are among the vocal supporters of the Chinese government and its brutal treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.
Ever since satellite images of concentration camps in Xinjiang began to surface, the Uyghur crisis has been widely reported in the Western media. Nowadays, it is difficult find a person who is not aware of what is going on in that part of the world, although that does not mean that there is a single accepted interpretation as to what happened there and why. The aerial images of structures encircled by wire fences have been supplemented by leaked government documents and individual testimonies by camp survivors. Drone footage of Uyghurs clothed in prisoner outfits in the process of being relocated have emerged, although in an interview with BBC, the Chinese Ambassador to Britain brazenly denied that the violence against the Uyghurs was real. The local government in Xinjiang went so far as to offer cinematic representations of the interior of camps and the lives of inmates singing and dancing, in an attempt to obliterate whatever negative impression the camps have created among people in the West.
The arrival of camp-labor produced commodities and human hairs extracted from camp inmates at the U.S. border indicate that not only the camps are real but also that the violence against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities has become a function of the same supply chains that for decades provided consumers in the U.S. and other parts of the world with cheap “Made in China” commodities. Many companies have been implicated in their complicity in the oppression of Uyghurs and activists in Europe have been campaigning to raise awareness among consumers about the camp origin of many commodities sold in stores. Regardless of the amount of details surfaced and the journalism and scholarship have been done, the Uyghur crisis is not without its deniers.
In June this year, details of a book, titled The Room Where it Happened, written by the former National Security Adviser John Bolton began to circulate and some of his revelations triggered a moral outrage in the mainstream media against the U.S. President’s amoral attitude toward the Chinese president’s plan for Muslim minorities. According to Bolton, the President told Xi to go ahead with building camps as long as he helped him win election by buying more agricultural products from his supporters based in the U.S. Midwest. His past actions — seeking help from Wikileaks, the Ukrainian government to find dirt on his opponents — is consistent with the way he asked his Chinese counterpart’s help. His indifference to the implication of concentration camps was a result of his treating the election as a technical rather than a moral issue. Also, the President might not have found Xi’s determination to fight “Islamic extremism” in Xinjiang particularly appalling given that his own administration instated a Muslim Ban in 2017, which would protect the nation from “foreign terrorists.”
Bolton’s track record, the notoriety he gained though military interventions abroad, could serve to decrease the authenticity of his claims and he was certainly not a moral authority to tell others whether the President’s action was acceptable or not. Accordingly, the BDS activist Max Blumenthal, founder of The Grayzone media, dismissed the details of the book on the base of its author’s past track record. Blumenthal found himself agreeing with the U.S. President in their dismissal of Bolton and the President retweeted Blumenthal’s accusation. Later, he tried to distance himself from the President, while insisting that the Chinese government was countering “Islamic terrorism.” At the same time, there was a denialism and rage against Bolton’s revelations among the supporters of the President, including some Chinese and Uyghur activists who expect the President to “save” Uyghurs and others long suffered under “communism.”
However, it was not the first time The Grayzone activists denied the Uyghur crisis and expressed their support for the brutal measures taken by the Chinese government against the minorities in Xinjiang. Before that, they singled out activists and scholars, smeared and attacked them as a part of a “regime change establishment” and called the indispensable efforts they have made to raise awareness globally of the Uyghur crisis as a part of an “imperialist” agenda against China. They have been using the credibility they have gained through doing journalism and activism in other parts of the world to prevent any sympathy for Uyghurs among progressive-minded individuals and activists.
There is no denying the fact that The Grayzone activists have done some good journalism and activism when it came to the situation of Palestinians, and those who are suffering under conditions created by economic sanctions and endless wars. A complete dismissal of their efforts amounts to nothing less than denying the people for whom they are standing up the same human rights the pro-Uyghur activists have been fighting for. Reason would dictate that The Grayzone activists’ efforts could extend to Uyghurs so that their suffering would become an issue of concern for them. Instead, they chose to stand with the Chinese government and have been vocally defending their violence against the minorities as a solution to “radical Islam.”
Anyone familiar with the recent history of Xinjiang knows well that the Uyghurs were the main group of people who have been resisting the political violence and economic dispossession going on in Xinjiang for decades. They are also numerically the largest ethnic minority there. Kazaks and Kyrgyz were not known for their resistances, not to mention that they have never been charged with “Islamic terrorism.” It was true that there were instances of small scale resistances by them when they were forced to settle in villages and cities so that the pastures they used for herding animals could be given to Chinese companies for extracting mineral resources and developing real-estate. But they were not known for the kind of violent resistance against oppression Uyghurs engaged in the past. Regardless of that, they now constitute a part of the camp population, detained under the charge of “radical Islamic terrorism.” There were testimonies given by Kazak witnesses who either saw or experienced the violence in camps. Just like Uyghurs, those minorities were detained under the false charge of “Islamic terrorism.”
The Grayzone activists agree with the Chinese government in labelling the resistances of minorities as “Islamic terrorism” although they claim themselves to be standing for those in the Middle East who have been labelled as terrorists. Recently, they attacked leftists in the U.S. for aligning with a new Cold War against China. Those leftists have been calling for an internationalist support for Uyghurs, while denouncing any inter-imperialist rivalry between superpowers. It is true that the politicians who are vocal about Uyghur human rights are often the ones who have been involved in the perpetuation of the suffering of Palestinians, the war in Yemen, and the economic sanctions that devastated the lives of many ordinary people around the world. It appears that a war with Iran will always be imminent as long as they are in power, regardless of the fact that such a war will be far more devastating than previous wars and that it will potentially drag other superpowers into a military conflict. It is likely that the involvement of those politicians in the Uyghur crisis have repelled many, including The Grayzone activists, from sympathizing with Uyghurs.
Uyghur activists have criticized Arab countries, including Palestinians, for not standing up for the Muslim minorities detained in camps. The lack of support for Uyghurs by Arab countries was probably due to the highly polarized nature of world politics and the organization of countries into rival groups seeking a balance of power. The geopolitical tension in the Middle East and a memory of recent wars may have pushed those countries into choosing China as their ally. It is not difficult to see that when the issue of survival comes to the fore, necessity triumphs over norms. And in fact it is no more different than the same Uyghur activists turning to right-wing politicians and governments for support, even though it is well-known that those politicians have little sympathy for immigrants and Muslims. However, it should be clear that it is possible to sympathize with and stand up for the Muslim minorities in Xinjiang while refusing to identify with those politicians and their agenda. Moreover, the alignment of many Uyghur activists with right-wing politicians and their conservative base, and their support for an aggressive push for a war with China will not be helpful for creating a broader alliance across borders.
The irony of The Grayzone activism lies in the fact that they turns China into a conceptual “good,” which has no basis in reality, against what they consider as a real “evil.” It is not clear whether such an explanation was driven by a deep insecurity in those activists as expressed in their search for an actually existing embodiment of their values. And it seems that they have found that China and Russia embodied their “anti-imperialist” values. According to them, there is no disagreement between the Chinese government and Chinese the people and that the relationship between them is one of close identity. They ignore that the Chinese government maintains the stability inside China through surveillance and brutal repression of the rights of citizens. They also turn a blind eye to the fact that the economic expansion of China and the environmental destruction happening already affecting the health of earth’s ecology. This is hardly a scare-mongering.
Any further facts and details about the camps and the suffering of Muslim minorities may or may not help The Grayzone activists to overcome the limits of their partisan activism and their denialism of the suffering Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. It is uncertain whether they will support the Mongols whose language is now being suppressed and whether they will express their sympathy towards the Tibetans and many other ordinary Chinese brutally oppressed by the CCP.