The Pot calling the Kettle black
In the north of China live the Uighurs, an ethnic minority different from the dominant Han. Uighurs speak their own language; unlike the rest of the Chinese population, they are Muslim. Since 2016 the Chinese government has retained large numbers of Uighurs in re-education camps. Inmates are said to be forced to speak Mandarin instead of their native Uighur language. They are being indoctrinated into Chinese Communist ideology to replace their own traditional beliefs and religious commitments. It appears that the Chinese government has mounted a brutal campaign to eradicate one of the minority cultures in their country.
Western media criticism has been loud. Interestingly, media in the Middle East Muslim countries as well as in Turkey have noticed the internment but have not condemned it. Muslim countries do not seem to perceive the treatment of the Uighurs as a frontal attack on Islam. Perhaps Western media exaggerate to score propaganda points; perhaps Chinese influence in Muslim countries is more powerful than we had thought.
The well-being of the Uighurs seems to be seriously threatened. US media such as the New York Times are very critical of China for their treatment of the Uighurs. The Times regularly runs articles about the efforts of the Chinese government to destroy the Uighur language and culture and to produce instead a nation of committed adherents to the official Communist culture. Western media consider this campaign barbarous, violating human rights to the culture one is born into. In the background of the articles about the Chinese internment camps one can hear the boast that in the West such re-education campaigns are recognized for what they are: inhumane treatments of minority groups. Western government would not inflict such brutality on its minority groups.
No doubt these mass internment projects are deplorable, but Western governments have not hesitated to use similar techniques in order to destroy indigenous oppositional cultures. The public criticisms of Chinese maltreatment of the Uighurs are hypocritical. They are only reflections of techniques used by the US government and military in the 19th and 20th century to try to assimilate American Indians to the dominant White Anglo-Saxon culture of the US, attempting to make distinct indigenous cultures disappear.
In the 1830s, General Jackson, later to be elected president, moved American Indians from fertile lands to what were then remote areas on the United States. Thus the Cherokees were forced to walk from North Carolina to what today is Oklahoma but was then an unknown wilderness. Fifty years later, by 1879, wild land not desired by any Whites had disappeared, but the American Indians were still here and continued to be in the way. The government and military invented a new technique for making the Indians disappear. Children were forced to attend boarding schools, often a thousand miles away from where their parents lived. Fathers who refused to give up children to these Indian schools were deprived of government distributed rations. Families who resisted were punished in other ways. They were forced to surrender their kids.
The first of the schools was established in Carlisle, PA by Col. Richard Pratt who is reputed to have described the schools mission as “kill the Indian in him and save the man.” To that end children arriving at one of the many Indian schools immediately had their hair cut, a shameful experience for many youngsters from different tribes. They were forbidden to use their own or any other Indian language. Failure to use English was punished severely. Children were taught that their parents and other members of their tribe were “savages” and the Americans “civilized” notwithstanding the inhumane treatment the children received including abuse, sexual, psychological and physical and the frequently filthy conditions in the schools. Children died of ill treatment and disease. The Carlisle school operated between 1879 and 1918–39 years. 200 children died in those years; their remains were shuttled from one place to another by various administrators so as not to be buried in the vicinity of Whites, until some of them finally found a resting place near their families.
By 1978, the last Indian schools closed but the policy of destroying tribal cultures and Indian families did not end. In fact, it is still continuing. But the techniques used today were not those invented by Col. Pratt. Today Indian children are given out to adoption by White families at a much higher rates than children of other ethnic groups in the United States.
Racially-based separation of children from their parents is still a problem. The Department of Health and Human Services acknowledged in 2016 that black and Native children were overrepresented in the child welfare services. Many more American Indian and African-American children, than children belonging to other groups, have been adopted by white families even where functioning families existed and were ready to take in the children.
Whites first took the land and then took the children.
US media must cease claiming that we respect human rights more seriously than the government of China. Both the US and China have not hesitated to try to rid themselves of populations they found inconvenient. If the US government wants to claim superiority over China, it must acknowledge its brutalization of American Indians, it must acknowledge its past and present inhumane practices and make belated efforts at reparations.