Approaching the Uyghur Crisis | Mark Seymour
The crisis of the Uyghur people, and it should be noted, the Kazakhs and Kyrgyz are also victims in this crisis, has many geo-political implications. The situation is inherently awkward ideologically; for the most part the discourse is a western understanding of the east, and though it’s a fruitful and important discussion to engage with regardless of where in the world you are, there is a notable layer of difference that we have to overcome when dealing with this situation. As part of this notable layer of difference, more extreme and less rigorous ideologies make a pigs ear of the crisis.
The more authoritarian flavours of the left ignore the issue in favour of supporting the Chinese government, who are subjecting the Uyghur people to slavery, this comes in part due to the authoritarian left seeing this layer of difference, and proclaiming that any western criticism of the Chinese government is baseless or indefensible as it’s not sufficient for an outsider to criticise such a system- what is often cited in this vein is how Lenin’s definition of imperialism hasn’t been achieved by the Chinese government, and so they aren’t imperialist, when in actual fact we can see how radically imperialist they are just by looking at the way they’ve blackmailed Africa, this ideological wiggle-room when it comes to this layer of difference is difficult to tackle, and for the most part is best overlooked than engaged with.
On the right we find a mixture of economic and xenophobic concerns holding speech back, for to tackle the task of defending the Uyghur people in the public domain brings with it the threat of embargos, and further engagement in economic warfare, on the note of xenophobia, there remaining an underlying western distrust of Islam, the otherness of the eastern world is hard to engage with without serious consideration for the history and culture, it is much easier to ignore the plight of an unknown other, and because of this, many political pundits simply do not bother to care about the crisis.
The authoritarian left will not defend the Uyghur plight either due to it contradicting their ideological commitments to the project of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the neo-liberals and libertarians will not due to the fear of economic backlash (as can already be seen in how China has banned Australian coal), and the more authoritarian right will not because they hate what they naively understand as “terrorists” more than the unknown Chinese government and so are falling into the same trap through different means as the authoritarian left where they value the CCP over the Uyghur people. So, who will stand in the Uyghur corner?
Figures on the left have already started to mobilize in support of the Uyghur people, for example Drew Pavlou, a student at The University of Queensland, notably exposed the corruption of the university taking CCP bribes, suffering immensely on a personally level, rather than backing down he has gone on to champion the cause of the Hong Kong protesters, the Uyghur people, among other movements based on his belief that there is a fundamental unity of people, and so those who are persecuted, regardless of where they are, are people just like you or I and deserve to be free. Pavlou has worked alongside Bob Katter, a member of the House of Representatives who self-identifies as hard left, though is socially on the right, to push for an Australian defence and call to action against the Chinese government.
Us in the UK should look to Australia as inspiration, as they are currently in the midst of the battle. Pavlou and Katter show that there is space for the left to feasibly support the Uyghur people, where pressure from the authoritarian left might sway the more liberal ilk of the left, these figures are stalwartly pushing for a leftist criticism of the CCP. However, the issue of the CCP isn’t something for only the left to challenge, in-fact there is more of an impetus on the right for such challenges. It is our duty as conservatives to defend in any way we can liberty, our intellectual history is poised against authoritarianism, but when we find ourselves faced with a totalitarian government we have remained almost completely silent?
Where Michael Oakeshott grappled with the ordeal of consciousness and the individuals’ capacity to conduct their own lives, how Edmund Burke understood liberty as a social endeavour, or indeed in Sir Roger Scruton’s complex and powerful analysis of human uniqueness as a transcendental feature, how can we not adopt the cause of the Uyghur people? In the conservatism of the UK today, it is polluted by neo-liberals and libertarians who don’t share this duty that us conservatives have.
Our party is represented by neo-liberals, and the fall-out has been that many of our writers are libertarians rather than conservatives. Neo-liberals will not shake the boat if there is a potential economic backlash, and nor will the libertarians, though the case is clear that conservatives should support the Uyghur people and oppose the CCP, our closeness with the neo-liberals and libertarians has tarnished our understanding, and in some cases has fully warped some conservatives into thinking they don’t have such a duty to protect anyone other than ourselves (as much can be seen in the controversy surrounding letting Hong Kong refugees into the UK, where it is a black and white yes from the conservative point of view, the water is being muddied by external ideological ties).
Sadam Abudusalamu is an Australian gentleman whose wife, then pregnant, was trapped in China for three years due to a crackdown the CCP was conducting on Uyghurs and other minorities; they took her passport and only through extensive legal effort was she safely reunited with her husband in Australia. This is a rare case of victory, but it shows that victory against the CCP is possible.
The wider significance of this story to me however, is that it humanizes the Uyghur population; it is a story of a young family forcibly torn apart by the state in such a disgraceful way that Mr Abudusalamu wasn’t able to be there for the birth of his son. We conservatives proclaim an ardent support of the family, and we should realise from this situation that the Uyghur people are comprised of families that they are being torn apart by the Chinese state: a father should have the right to see his son, a husband and wife should have the right to conduct their family as they see fit.
Our most prominent and penetrating thinkers put ultimate importance in the individual in relation to community, but when re-education camps strip the Uyghur people of their community, and then proceed to stomp out their faith, and ultimately their individual self, we should see that not only as a tragedy for their community, but for ours. With the wide-spread destruction of Uyghur and minority communities by the Chinese state, we should worry for our own communities; this is not to say we should focus on protecting ourselves over the Uyghur community, but we should acknowledge a fundamental sameness, if they can have their selves stripped away then so can we, so it is imperative that we take up the fight to defend not only the Uyghur people, but to defend every single fundamental tenant of conservatism.