Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Persecution of Uighur Muslims in China and the silence of Muslim Countries

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Xi Jinping, the Chinese President with the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei | Source: Official website of Ali Khamenei, Supreme leader of Iran via Wikimedia

Uighur are natives of  Xinjiang province of China who are Muslims and regard themselves as culturally and ethnically close to Central Asian nations. Xinjiang province has been under the control of China since it was annexed in 1949 and many Uighurs still identify their homeland by its previous name, East Turkestan. There are around 11 million Uighurs in Xinjiang and China claims that Uighurs hold extremist views that are a threat to national security.

In 2017, the Xinjiang government passed a law prohibiting men from growing long beards and women from wearing veils and dozens of mosques were also demolished.

As per the report of UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Descrimination, the Chinese government has detained at least one million Uighurs in the detention camps in Xinjiang, China. After denying the existence of the camps for a long time, when the photos of the camps emerged, the Chinese government called them “re-education centres'' for Uighurs though the former detainees said they were detained, interrogated and beaten because of their religion, and not “re-educated.”

In July 2019 to the U.N. Human Right Council, 22 countries, mainly European countries, responded to “disturbing reports of large scale arbitrary detentions of Uighurs” and condemned the Chinese leadership.

Four days later, 37 countries, defended China’s “remarkable achievements in the field of human rights” by protecting the country from “terrorism, separatism and religious extremism.” The list of the 37 countries also included Muslim-majority countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, Qatar etc.

At the end of October 2019, 23 countries including France, the United Kingdom, United States denounced the repression of the Uighurs at the UN Committee on Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs. Nevertheless, Beijing won the support of 54 countries, who praised the Communist Party’s management of Xinjiang.

In February 2019, Saudi Arabia showed their “respect” for Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader before they signed major commercial contracts with China. Egypt wants Beijing to finance its infrastructure and hence allowed the Chinese police to interrogate Uighur exiles on its soil in 2017. Pakistan, who has talked about the mistreatment of Rohingyas, has been silent on Uighurs since the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative is going on in the country.

Even Iran, who issues occasional criticism wants support from China and hence keeps the criticism coded. “There is a lot of sympathy for the Uighurs in Turkey, but the reality is that Erdogan needs China as an ally for economic reasons and to counteract the West’s diplomatic pressure on issues like Syria,” said Rémi Castets, a political scientist.

In 2017, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation responded very differently to the Rohingya Crisis (Myanmar’s military crackdown on the country’s Rohingyas), where countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey defended the rights of the Muslim minority group in Myanmar and actively condemned the treatment of Rohingyas in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.  

The question here arises is that contrary to the sentiments of their citizens, why do Muslim states stay silent over China’s abuse of the Uighurs?

Sophie Richardson, the director of China at Human Rights Watch, has a short and simple answer — there is less solidarity for Uighur than Rohingyas or Palestinians because China has managed to win these countries’ support due to its economic might.

Only time will tell how long these countries will continue to give preference to the economic interests over the anti-China sentiments of the citizens.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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