In 2018, there was already evidence that the Chinese Communist Party was holding one million Uighurs in internment camps. Since then, Beijing’s persecution of this Muslim ethnic group, who mostly live in China’s northwestern Xinjiang province, has become both harsher and more extensive. Yet, as Elliott Abrams notes, a recent report from the Council of Foreign Relations states:
In July 2019, after a group of mostly European countries—and no Muslim-majority countries—signed a letter to the UN human rights chief condemning China’s actions, . . . more than three dozen states, including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, signed their own letter praising China’s “remarkable achievements” in human rights and its “counterterrorism” efforts in Xinjiang.”
Moreover, very few Muslim countries have refrained from engaging in such apologetics. Abrams explains:
Realpolitik is perhaps the main explanation—but it is not the only one. It may be that for the Arab world, Uighurs do not evoke solidarity because they are not Arabs and perhaps because they are somehow regarded as less than authentic Muslims. They do not look like Arabs, the original Muslims; they do not speak Arabic. The treatment of non-Arabians in early Islam is a complex subject; after all, the non-Arabians were conquered peoples. . . . It should be unsurprising that there are today various forms of Arab collective consciousness and cultural identity, and that these affect national policy. It should be unsurprising that there is more solidarity among Arabs than among Muslims more broadly (though one can of course also question the degree of pan-Arab solidarity), even if Islam suggests the absolute equality of all believers.
But it is hard to avoid the conclusion that that solidarity is today mostly employed when raisons d’etat make it useful, and otherwise ignored. The losers are people like the Uighurs, who so badly need solidarity and support from fellow Muslims. And for others, the lesson is perhaps to dismiss statements that are called principled expressions of solidarity—with Palestinians, for example—when it does seem that solidarity is expressed in accord with no principles at all.