Dying for a Living
I was in Washington D.C. last week on publishing business. While there, I stopped in to say hello to one of my authors, Rebiya Kadeer. Mrs. Kadeer is known to some of you as a brave (The New York Times describes her as fearless) human rights activist fighting for justice in China. She is president of the World Uyghur Congress. I published her autobiography, “Dragon Fighter”, and have since grown close to her and the Uyghur fight for human rights.
The Uyghurs are an ethnic minority in China. There are approximately 20 million Uyghurs worldwide, 18 million of them in China. They had their own homeland, and as has been the case with human nature, they have lost their nation to invading military powers but due to their tenacity over their 4,000 year long history they have survived as a people. In approximately the year 750, they were at their height living in what was then known as the Uyghur Empire. They survived for 100 years before being conquered by rival neighbors.
Thousands of years later now they are still alive, but not so well. Passed from one occupier to another; in recent history from what was the U.S.S.R. to today with their nation crushed by China. Remarkably the Uyghur Nation comprises an enormous one-sixth of the entire land mass of China. The Uyghur nation is rich in oil, natural gas, and mineral reserves. China itself claims the territory is second only to Saudi Arabia in richness of natural resources.
China’s economy, the same economy many blissfully ignorant Westerners praise, is dependent on its military domination over Uyghur natural resources. It is not ingenuity, it is murder, torture, and imprisonment that keeps up China’s economic standing. The regime is trying to extinguish the Uyghurs’ unique Turkish-related culture, trying to stop them from their indigenous language, their love of singing and dancing, and traditions passed down through millennia. The Chinese are engaging in an ethnic genocide, including forced sterilizations and forced abortions.
Mrs. Kadder leads with principles of nonviolence and legal resistance expressed through her own voice, world opinion, the U.S. Congress, the United Nations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and many others. The Uyghur Nation borders Tibet. His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Mrs. Kadeer are friends. They face similar situations for their nations in ridding themselves of the Chinese occupations. No doubt you feel the frustration and sorrow surrounding Tibet and The Dalai Lama since many of you are aware of and concerned about justice for Tibetans. The Uyghurs’ circumstance is much worse because in large part their struggle for survival is less known. That is one reason why I published Mrs. Kadeer’s autobiography and likely, in an act of solidarity and friendship, why His Holiness The Dalai Lama wrote a foreword to the book.
Mrs. Kadeer survived 6 years in Chinese prisons, punished for her human rights work on behalf of her people. George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice picked up her story and negotiated a backdoor deal with China: trade concessions for Mrs. Kadeer’s release. She lives in exile now in the U.S., with ever-present threats to her life including having survived an assassination attempt in Virginia.
I would like to add that now she looks great and still carries herself with such hope and optimism as I imagine she did decades ago when she was an enormously successful business woman having amassed an estimated $350 million dollar fortune leading Forbes to name her the wealthiest woman in China. The Chinese raided her assets after they put her in prison.
Following our visit, I went to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I had been wanting to see the museum for years but never had the opportunity before. Last week I had the time. It is a somber sanctuary for those of you who have not visited yet. While in college, my best friend Jeff and I backpacked through Europe for a summer. One of the most memorable places we went to was the Dachau Concentration Camp in Germany. It remains as a museum and sacred reminder of atrocities against humanity, and as living proof of the human capacity to commit genocide.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum distinguishes itself as a similar holy place that recognizes the genocide in WWII, and also brilliantly extends itself further with displays and interactive exhibits drawing our attention to genocide being committed today in the Congo, Darfur, and elsewhere. Elsewhere today too like against the Uyghurs in China.
We are all exhausted by the current financial calamity our own nation is in. We have leaned on China for support and they have responded by loaning us money. Lots of money. So much money that U.S. politicians have backed off of their support for the Uyghurs. They have backed off of calls for justice in China overall. We owe them money. The American politicians are afraid to criticize China or call for improvements in human rights for all Chinese, and to end their occupation of the Uyghur Nation and Tibetan Nation.
This 10-year long war on terrorism has had many fronts. Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Pennsylvania Avenue, Wall Street, and Main Street to name a few. In some cases we have become our own worst enemy. When economic times are rough, history has shown that extremists burrow into our framework, lay their eggs, and hatch millions of those with baby-like minds who follow out of fear or ignorance. That is happening today with the rise of the American right wing agenda.
If we lose our capacity to feel for other people then the real enemy is ourselves. The most atrocious acts, like genocide, must get a rise out of us. You may not have the energy to take on these human rights causes. I understand. We are all working harder for what may seem or really be less financial security. In time, this financial crisis will pass and we will stabilize.
But innocent people are being extinguished while we are distracted with our own troubles. If you can’t take action to help the Uyghurs, Tibetans, Sudanese, and others currently suffering genocide under the hatchets of oppressors, then at least acknowledge to yourself that these atrocities are happening. “Bearing witness” is a central theme of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. What a sad place we will be known as now in the present, and remembered for by future generations, if we don’t take on the most basic role of serving as witnesses.
I am a witness to innocent people being murdered around the world by those who cruelly want to get their way. I am a witness to inhumanity.