Genocide: Shining Stars in the Silent Night | Opinion

My name is Rahima Mahmut. I am a Muslim from Ghulja, East Turkestan, the so-called Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. I came to the U.K. in 2000 after witnessing first-hand the violent suppression of peaceful demonstrations against my people in my home city in February 1997. I have been campaigning for the freedom of my people through my music, activism and translation work for the last 20 years. I am now the U.K. project director of the World Uyghur Congress.

Since I lost contact with my beloved family in January 2017 after a brief conversation with my brother, who said with a trembling voice, "Leave us in God's hands and we leave you in God's hands, too," there has not been a day that has passed without worry. The situation in the Uyghur homeland has developed from the systematic persecution of my people into full-fledged, state-sponsored genocide.

Since August 2018, when the UN openly condemned China for holding up to one million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in "re-education camps," I hoped that the free world would act against China—or at least impose crippling sanctions. But since then, atrocities against my people have continued to mount, one after another.

Some of these have been highlighted in worldwide media reports about the concentration camps. There have been personal testimonies from ex-detainees about torture and rape, classified leaked documents, expert reports about cultural destructions, forced organ harvesting and sterilizations of women, drone videos showing blind-folded, shackled Uyghur prisoners herded onto trains and video footage of young children crying for their mothers behind barbed wire enclosures—which the Chinese Communist Party names "Loving Kindergarten."

Muslim countries, and most of the Muslim world, not only remained silent; to my horror, many of these nations have supported China's treatment of my people. Although some Muslim communities, led by their faith leaders, have occasionally expressed their outrage, for which I am extremely grateful, there has been no organized movement by the world's 1.8 billion Muslims, even in the free West.

The first time that I learned about Maajid Nawaz, founder of the counter-extremism organization, Quilliam International, he was highlighting the Uyghurs' plight. It was two years ago, while I was listening to his LBC show. Since then, I have followed his consistent, passionate comments on China's genocidal policies against my people. But I didn't expect that he would take a brave stance in declaring a silent hunger strike until his petition reached the 100,000 signatures to trigger a British parliamentary debate about the Uyghurs.

His hunger strike lasted for five days, until we reached 100,000 signatures. While Maajid sat outside the Chinese embassy looking frail, I read out a statement over the phone that was broadcasted over Facebook live stream. It was one of the most emotional moments in my life, as I tried very hard to hold back tears while I spoke.

Maajid Nawaz in 2016
Maajid Nawaz in 2016 John Phillips/Getty Images for The Business of Fashion

This was the second time during the past three and half year that I have been overwhelmed with such deep emotional gratitude. The first time was when I read the speech of Harvard University President Lawrence Bacow at Peking University in March 2019, in which he told the audience that his mother had survived the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz. Bacow closed his speech with a verse from a poem by the late Abdurehim Ötkür, a renowned Uyghur poet who spent almost 20 years of his life in prison, and who Bacow called "one of China's great modern poets."

Along life's road I have always sought truth,
In the search for verity, thought was always my guide.
My heart yearned without end for a chance of expression,
And longed to find words of meaning and grace.
Come, my friends, let our dialogue joyfully begin.

I am extremely grateful to Maajid for taking such brave action in trying to help my people. He proved that one person can make a difference in highlighting the pain of millions. I also know of many kind-hearted fellow Muslims and people from various other backgrounds who have also shown their solidarity during these dark times.

Also, my utmost respect and gratitude goes out to the Jewish community and individuals like Andrew Kaye, who has been protesting alone each week, outside the Chinese Cultural Section in London, for the last two years.

People often ask me, "how are you coping with such tragedies while not knowing what has happened to your family?" My driving force is these extraordinary people who shine like stars in the silent night. And I am hopeful that more and more people will join our righteous cause, "Stop Uyghur Genocide," and stand against Chinese Communist Party tyranny.

Together, we can stop the 21st-century Uyghur genocide.

Here are the three things you can do to help:

  • First, for Britons, write to your parliamentarian representatives using our template letter (https://www.uyghurcongress.org/en/letter-mps-to-urge-government-action/), so that they take action similar to America's Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, sanctioning responsible officials in state and non-state entities.
  • Second, do not buy from companies using Uyghur slave labor until they move their supply chains.
  • Finally, most importantly, you can GIVE! Our appeal, "STOP UYGHUR GENOCIDE" (https://www.gofundme.com/f/stop-uyghur-genocide), will help our cross-community, cross-party U.K. campaign. We cannot stop until China closes the camps, releases all prisoners, stops forced sterilizations and organ harvesting, restores our constitutionally guaranteed religious and cultural freedoms and allows contact with family abroad.

There has been a lot of discussion over the last couple of decades about extremism and terrorism. More recently, when ISIS declared the Islamic State, the world rallied against the organization to stop it from performing atrocities. We currently have the world's most populous state committing an actual genocide against human beings en masse.

The world needs to muster up the courage and act once again. Together, we can all become shining stars.

Rahima Mahmut is U.K. project director of the World Uyghur Congress.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.

Genocide: Shining Stars in the Silent Night | Opinion | Opinion