Is the Muslim World Ignoring the Plight of the Uyghurs?

The plight of the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang region, China, has gained an increasing amount of attention from the free world in recent months. Disney was castigated for thanking various Chinese government offices in the credits for Mulan, part of which was filmed in Xinjiang. Before leaving office, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that China was committing genocide against the Uyghurs. And, amid the ongoing genocide, there are growing calls to boycott the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

In sharp contrast, those in Muslim-majority nations are silent on the persecution of Uyghurs. This might seem odd, given that Muslims have responded vocally and sometimes violently to lesser slights against their fellow believers: Violent protests broke out when the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published cartoons depicting Mohammed, for example. But citizens of those nations aren’t being hypocritical. They are just ignorant of what is going on: that more than 1 million Uyghurs have been forced into concentration camps, forced to engage in unpaid labor and subject to propaganda and “re-education.” Horrifying new reports detail systemic rape and abuse of Uyghur women. 

Surfing through Farsi media, there are plenty of mentions of the Uyghurs and their conditions, but they all come from sources based outside of Iran whose recipients are overwhelmingly anti-regime and secular. Within the media operating inside Iran, whose audience is overwhelmingly regime supporters, the story is very different.

Many of the media outlets have no coverage of the Uyghurs. Those that have coverage either underplay the catastrophe or try to excuse it. Fars News is an all-but-officially state-run news agency, most closely associated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Mentions of the Uyghurs are limited, and even then, the language used is conservative, noting that “approximate a million Uyghurs are detained in China.” (That description undervalues both the number of prisoners and the severity of the situation.) In a separate article, Fars News quotes Donald Trump in describing the situation in Xinjiang as “genocide,” attempting to reject the notion by associating it with Trump, a villain among its consumers. A separate article cites Zhao Lijian, Chinese foreign ministry’s chief propagandist, claiming that Uyghurs enjoy a “happy and prosperous” life.

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