We’ve seen all these movies about darkly determined futures in which everything is controlled, about future fascist governments that control the population through technology and labor. The US went crazy over The Hunger Games. I don’t think we all necessarily see this as far off, as a warning or prediction. Some of us have fallen for conspiracies, that control is much more far-reaching and complete than we are led to believe. Some of us have fallen for theory. And some of us recognize that in some ways, for some peoples, governments and societies have become more concerned about their own preservation rather than the will or happiness of their own people.
Ilham Tohti, a Beijing-based Uighur scholar, was recently found guilty of separatism in Urumqi, the capital of the western Chinese province Xinjiang. Tohti advocated in his scholarly writings cultural sensitivity and equal treatment for Uighurs, but did not advocate succession from Beijing.
As described by the New York Times, when he was dragged from the courtroom after being sentence, he screamed “It’s not just! It’s not just!”
I was describing this scene to my friends and they seemed unperturbed. He’s a Uighur! It’s Xinjiang! What can you do? These are people who lived in China near the border for years and saw up close how minorities in China are treated. Not just foreigners feel like this – I believe a majority of people in China and in every country feel powerless, have no idea what can be done. We brush these things off because Xinjiang is far away. We brush these things off because we have our own lives and our own struggles and what action can we take that would make any difference?
I think the first thing we have to do is shed our indifference. We all can’t fly to Hong Kong to support the pro-democracy protests there, but we can follow the developments in the news. We can think critically about what is happening in Hong Kong. We can attempt to understand the history of that place and the desires of those peoples.
I don’t do enough. I don’t support my community enough. I don’t support other people struggling enough. I don’t attempt to express my frustrations. I don’t spend enough time thinking about what can be done. But paying attention may be a first step to doing more. It’s sometimes about being well-informed to be sympathetic then to be ready when it comes time to be active here in our community. Even if there is not a lot I can do about the Uighurs in Xinjiang, I cannot convince myself to be indifferent.