To the list of all the genocides of the last hundred plus years – Armenia, the Ukrainian famine, the Holocaust, Cambodia, and Rwanda – another entry should be added: the genocide of the Chinese Uighurs.
According to legitimate international researchers and tribunals, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is currently committing cultural and physical genocide against the Uighur Muslim population in Xinjiang province. This population, both ethnically and religiously a minority, has been surveilled by the Chinese government, placed into ‘re-education camps,’ and forcibly sterilized. These deeds fall directly under Article II of the United Nations Convention on Genocide: China is both “causing serious bodily or mental harm” and “imposing measures intended to prevent births” within the Uighur population, “with intent to destroy” it. Unsurprisingly, the Chinese government is denying all claims of atrocities. To their credit, many Western governments, including the United States, have properly labeled these abuses as genocide. Now they must act accordingly.
Unlike the genocides in Rwanda, Cambodia, and more recently in Iraq against the Yazidis, the perpetrator, China, is a nuclear power that cannot be deterred through military intervention. Yet, there are several ways that the United States can impose significant costs on Beijing and make it harder for China to continue committing these crimes against humanity.
The 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing are starting; Americans who care about human rights or geopolitics should join me in skipping them.
The 1936 Berlin Olympic Games live in infamy as a terrible example of how a genocidal authoritarian regime can use international media and sport to serve as propagandists for its evil cause. Despite our appropriate modern appraisal of the Nazi Olympics, the Games were a clear success at the time and greatly legitimized the Hitler regime in the eyes of the wider world. Newspapers around the world largely covered the events as though they occurred in a free nation, only occasionally touching on authoritarian Nazi policies in between race results and medal tables. Some papers even promoted the ceremonial aspects of the Games – obvious and direct Nazi propaganda – with wide-eyed admiration. There were those brave few who pushed boycotts of the Berlin Games for the very abuses we see today as blatantly immoral, but their pleas mostly fell on deaf ears. We must not make that same mistake again.
In this recurring series of posts, I’ll be highlighting some of the most important and interesting developments in foreign affairs that may have been missed by casual news consumers. These posts may be infrequent, but that all depends on what catches my eye in the realm of international events. I’ll generally describe a few items in each Foreign Telegram, giving an overview of the news itself and some brief commentary on what it all means. Without further throat-clearing, here’s the Foreign Telegram for February 3, 2021.
Over the past few days, I’ve seen several viral posts and news articles going around the Internet that really struck a nerve with my historian brain. These have involved people on the right and the left, often well-meaning, comparing current political events and turmoil to the infamous November 1938 “Night of Broken Glass”, also known as Kristallnacht. That two-night pogrom in Nazi Germany involved the widespread destruction of Jewish businesses and property, the torching of almost 1,500 synagogues, and the killing of over 90 Jews. In the aftermath of these destructive and targeted riots, Jews were done the ignominy of having to pay for the damages caused to their own property by vile anti-Semitic thugs. Besides that forced payment, 30,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps, due to nothing else but their religious and ethnic origins. Kristallnacht is widely seen by historians as being one of the first actions of the genocide of the European Jews known as the Holocaust. As such, it is rightly viewed as an evil atrocity which should never happen again.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Freedom of speech is a fundamental aspect of American society and an important classical liberal ideal, but it is a right which is not always convenient, convivial, or comity-inducing. In fact, allowing the full flourishing of the freedom of expression and speech often includes permitting speech that much of society will find despicable, evil, offensive, or harmful. Unfortunately, there is a strong cultural – and outside of the United States, legal – movement to restrict speech freedoms and police the public discourse, sometimes with actual police officers. This trend is only accelerating with the mass adoption of social media and Internet communications more broadly, as well as the perpetually searchable online past of nearly everyone in society. So-called ‘cancel culture’ is commonplace in certain circles of political and social activism, and virtually every potentially controversial opinion (and many that are not) is met with the metaphorical gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. There are increasing levels of pushback against this trend, but the idea of ‘de-platforming’, stifling, or censoring speech which the vast majority of society considers beyond the pale – support for terrorism and blatant white supremacy, to give two examples – is quite popular, especially among younger people. According to a poll conducted by the Campaign for Free Speech, “61 percent of Americans agree that free speech should be restricted, and 51 percent believe that the First Amendment, ratified in 1791, should be rewritten to reflect the new cultural norms of today. Millennials feel a greater sense of negativity from free speech, with 57 percent agreeing that the First Amendment should be rewritten, and 54 percent believing that possible jail time would be an appropriate consequence for ‘hate speech.’” Despite the strong American constitutional protections for free speech, as seen in the First Amendment quoted above, without a strong cultural presumption and acceptance of the values around free speech, the right itself can be chipped away.