Freedom of religion is precious; cannot be taken for granted

We are fortunate to have freedom of religion in the United States.

Uyghurs are a Muslim and ethnic minority who live in the northwestern province of China called Xinjiang (pronounced Shin Jang). Ninety percent of China is made up of an ethnic group called Han.

During the past several decades the Communist government has tried to destroy the Uyghur culture. Uyghur children are only taught the official Mandarin Chinese, not their native language. Han Chinese have been settled in this province by the government in order to dilute Uyghur population. Half the population of Xinjiang is now made up of Han Chinese. The native culture is being suppressed.

Uyghurs do not attend their mosques for fear of government harassment. No one calls the Muslim faithful to prayer. Western reporters who fly to Xinjiang are shadowed by Chinese security. In the case of a Christian Science reporter in an article entitled, “Reporting in Xinjiang: A War Zone With No War,” there were five security personnel who followed her wherever she went. There were seven minders following a PBS reporter when he visited Xinjiang.

No Uyghur would talk to either reporter for fear of reprisals. Since 2017, between one and two million Uyghurs have been detained and sent to re-education camps.

The Beijing Monitor Bureau Chief, Ann Scott Tyson, has covered war zones where victims were very willing to share their stories. This was not the case in Xinjiang. Cameras are everywhere. Facial recognition programs check citizens’ faces. Police stop people who are walking at checkpoints that are spaced at 200-yard intervals. The guards take their pictures and search them.

According to the PBS reporter, he counted 250 cameras posted in a very small portion of the town he was in.

Bureau Chief Tyson was awakened by loud Chinese patriotic music at 5 a.m. in the city of Hotan. This apparently occurs every morning and also at other times of the day. Columns of Chinese soldiers regularly jog down the street shouting slogans as they go. This is a show of force and intimidation by the Chinese government.

The Communist Party that controls China has one overriding goal: to remain in power.

The Muslims are a threat to the government because they are different. Therefore, they are oppressed and harassed.

According to a story from the PBS reporter, many Uyghurs have fled China and settled in other nations, including the United States. To find out the stories of what is happening in Xinjiang, this reporter decided to interview a young Uyghur man living in Virginia close to Washington, D.C. Most of his family have been able to leave China, except his mother, who has been turned down over and over again. When she applied to leave, Chinese bureaucrats rejected her applications on minor technicalities.

The son has publicly protested. With each protest, his mother was sent off to a re-education camp to confess her transgressions and to learn to be a better Chinese.

When mother and son talked on the phone, she was often in tears from fear and stress.

The son was able to talk with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. As a result of this talk and the resultant international publicity, the mother was transferred to a prison where he has been unable to contact her.

Not only is the Chinese government oppressing Uyghurs in China, but it is also trying to intimidate and silence them in the United States.

We are fortunate to have freedom of religion in the United States. That includes Muslims, Jews and other religious minorities. Secret police do not shadow us. We are free to move around as we please.

This right is precious and needs to be protected. Immigrants need to be respected and their rights to worship as they please made secure. Many have come to this country to escape religious and ethnic persecution just like the Uyghurs. This country is great because we are a settler nation. We have a patriotic tradition of allowing for differences and for opening our doors to those who have been oppressed in their native lands.

It’s a shame that many Americans have forgotten their own immigrant histories and have protested against new arrivals, reminding the immigrants of the fear that caused them to flee their native lands for a new life in the U.S. Americans who act this way are an embarrassment to our national values. We all could be living in fear and oppression like the Uyghurs in Xinjiang province.

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