As we prepare for Mother’s Day tomorrow, we cannot rest easy as mothers and families are being destroyed throughout our world, and most especially in Western China.
The western Chinese region of Xinjiang is home to a large population of Uyghur people, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group.
The photo above is of Mihrigul Tursun, and her family. According to reputable news sources, and disputed by the Chinese government, she and her son were wrongfully imprisoned and tortured in Xinjiang. According to Tursun, her son died which was verified by the local hospital. You can read more here.
Over the past week, the United States government has raised questions and concerns to the suspicion of concentration camps that bring us all back to the 1940’s Western Europe. China has disputed such claims, despite the growing evidence.
As I read these reports, I recall the confusion that I felt as I learned about the Holocaust when I studied world history as a high school student,
“How could we allow this” I remember thinking as I reviewed images of starvation, striped jumpsuits, and death.
Fast forward to today, and I am once again horrified. It is estimated that between 1 and 2 million Muslims are being held in concentration camps in northwest China. This has been occurring for the past two years.
Tursun was imprisoned in 2017, and Turkey has labeled these camps “a great shame for humanity in February.”
As you and I may have watched fictional series like The Man in the High Castle and Game of Thrones which depicts imprisonment and death because of religion, sect and/or culture, our fellow brothers and sisters have been imprisoned, in reality, because of how they pray almost 7,000 miles away (from the east coast of the United States).
Some may respond that this is a complex issue. There is the narrative of concern that this is a preemptive response to extremist violence, while others will point to the strength and the “rights” of the Chinese government.
I imagine some reading this may even begin to point to other parts of the world where injustices are occurring. “What about…..” is how the sentences often begin as a frustrated reader points out other “worthwhile” stories of heartbreak and horror.
Let me be clear: There is no excuse for any action of injustice.
There is also no justification for what is occurring to the 1 to 2 million prisoners in China who simply call God by the name Allah, who keep halal, and who are trying to survive and provide like us all.
Families separated, individuals stripped of their dignity, their freedom, and their rights, all because of how they pray and live?
What would it mean to you and to me, and to us, if we do not turn away our eyes this time? What if we find no excuses, do not point the finger elsewhere, nor focus on another injustice in place of this one? What if we empathetically felt this pain, this horror?
Recently during a lecture on the Queens campus of St. John’s University, Rev. Bishop William Barber made me aware of an aspect of the famous and definitive Gospel Matthew 25: 31-46 that did not occur to me otherwise.
You may be familiar with this story. Jesus says that those who will inherit the kingdom are those who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, etc. He says when we fail to do this, we fail to do this to Jesus. It is the cornerstone of Catholic Social Teaching, as well as a clear blueprint for how we are supposed to live.
Barber points out that the narrative starts this way:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”
He goes on to distinguish the sheep from the goat in how they treated their brothers and sisters, especially those most in need. Yet note the word “nations.” Barber points to this as a key, distinguishing factor.
We are not only judged individually, but collectively.
So, if this is at the heart of your spirituality and life, or if it serves as a relatable and influential passage, what does it mean to be judged, not by just our own acts, but as a collective group.
We as a nation (speaking as a citizen of the United States) cannot sit idly by, focusing on our technology, binge-worthy television shows, to-do lists, next vacations, and political drama, while literally millions are being held in concentration camps.
What will history say of us as a people who turned a blind eye, who sought justifications, and settled with apathy and distractions? If you believe that Matthew 25 is what Jesus says it is, what will be said of you and of us as we ignore the cry of a community in desperate need for our voices, as well as our prayers.
For 1,400 years, the Uyghur people have lived in China. China is their home. Now, many of these believers are persecuted for their love of, and dedication to God. We must reach out to our political leaders, we must tell this story, and we must not look to rationalize or justify such behavior, rather, we must be people of God and do all that we can to be a voice for the millions who no longer can speak.
Let us join our Muslim brothers and sisters as they fast, sacrifice and pray during this holy season of Ramadan, not only in prayer and support, but in action to literally free the captives from the chains of oppression, fear, and hatred.
You can find your local representatives contact information here. Explore more about this issue and others by exploring The Uyghur American Association website here. On the website there is a template for a letter to send to your local representative.