Rabbi Sacks: China's persecution of Uighurs a 'desecration of faith'

As a Jew, the sight of people being shaven headed, lined up, boarded onto trains, and sent to concentration camps is particularly harrowing.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (photo credit: REUTERS)
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
(photo credit: REUTERS)
China's persecution of the Uighur Muslims is a "desecration of faith itself," and must be condemned by the global community, Britain's former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has said.
Public awareness of the Chinese government's persecution of the Uighur has resurfaced in recent days after unverified drone footage of blindfolded prisoners being forced to kneel before being led onto trains went viral on social media. An ethnic minority group native to the Xinjiang autonomous region of China who speak a Turcik language, the Uigher have been subjected to a brutal "re-education" program in prisons, where some have reported being subjected to torture and psychological pressure designed to force them to spurn their religion for Chinese Communism.
"As a human being who believes in the sanctity of human life, I am deeply troubled by what is happening to the Uighur Muslim population in China. As a Jew, knowing our history, the sight of people being shaven headed, lined up, boarded onto trains, and sent to concentration camps is particularly harrowing, Rabbi Sacks said in a Facebook post. "That people in the 21st century are being murdered, terrorised, victimised, intimidated and robbed of their liberties because of the way they worship God is a moral outrage, a political scandal and a desecration of faith itself."
A recent New York Times investigation also found that Chinese companies are employing Uighur Muslim labor to create personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks. Through these programs, Uighur workers - in addition to their factory responsibilities - are required by the Chinese government to learn Mandarin, pledge their fealty to China and attend mandatory classes throughout the week - a clear form of political indoctrination.
On Monday, the US Commerce Department announced that it had added eleven Chinese companies to its economic blacklist in connection with China's persecution of Uighurs. The following day France followed suit, calling on China to allow independent observers into the region to see for themselves.
"The worldwide implementation of Article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights – the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion – remains one of the great challenges of our time. This right is too often lost when one group within a society, usually the dominant group, sees another group as a threat to its freedom and its own dominance, or when there is a struggle between the will to power and the will to life." Rabbi Sacks said.
The lessons of history have taught us what happens when a group of people within a society are dehumanized, he continued.
"Threat becomes fear, fear becomes hate, and hate becomes dehumanization. The Nazis called Jews vermin and lice. The Hutus of Rwanda called the Tutsis 'inyenzi,' or cockroaches. When the world allows the dehumanization of the Other, evil follows, as night follows day. Today, this is happening to the Uighur population in China and it must be challenged by the global community in the strongest possible terms."
Sacks is not the first British Jew to raise awareness of the plight of the Uighurs. Amanda Bowman, vice president of the UK's leading Jewish umbrella organization the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said in the run up to Holocaust Memorial Day: “In the week that we are marking Holocaust Memorial Day and the liberation of the most notorious concentration camp, it is intolerable that the Uighur Muslims are being persecuted on this scale."
On Saturday a British Muslim activist praised the Jewish community for their activism on the issue. Maajid Nawaz, who is currently undertaking a hunger strike to raise awareness, tweeted: “My Jewish brethren are the only ones I ain’t gonna call out. They’ve stepped up already and are here with me right now.”
Aaron Reich contributed to this report.