Leaked documents from the Chinese Government Show How They Orchestrated the Mass Detention of Muslims; Are You Surprised?

Very recently, 403 pages of internal Chinese documents leaked to the New York Times show the severity of the clampdown on the ethnic minorities of the Xinjiang region. President Xi Jinping ordered the mass detention of Muslims under the pretext that it is for the struggle against religious extremism and terrorism. The targeted population are a Turk-speaking mostly Islamic population in Central Asia called the Uighurs, an ethnic minority. However, even he was quoted saying “round up everyone who should be rounded up.” This is indeed extremely vague and makes it easy to target Muslim communities as epicenters of “religious extremism”, even if they are not. It offers a great opportunity for marginalization and oppression from the Chinese authorities, and they have used this simple definition to detain the masses of Islamic peoples.

These detainees are sent to prison and internment camps that are described by the state as “job-training centers” that will allow the minds of those who have contracted the “virus” of religious radicalism to become healthy again and rejoin society. International and local students whose families have disappeared are being threatened to silence about matters of imprisonments on the basis that what they say and their behaviours will impact what happens to their families. This has been happening incessantly over the past three years. One cannot overstate the severity of the generalization of Islamic communities in the detentions made by Mr. Xi’s government.

How surprising is it that China organised the mass detention of Muslims? Surely, the Chinese government has committed many crimes against basic human rights, but this is not the point I am trying to make. I should rephrase the question: how surprising is it that Muslims are the ones being detained? Is China the only country doing this? The answer is no. There is an increasing global trend of “Othering” the Islamic community. Just last week in India, a massive student protest occurred because a professor was hired to teach Sanskrit in the faculty of Sanskrit Vidya Dharma Vijnan at the Banaras Hindu University. There was a student walkout and the protest is still going. All this simply because this professor identifies as Muslim and the students found it inappropriate that a Muslim was teaching Sanskrit, even though he was fully qualified to do so. So, China is definitely not the only one persecuting Muslims. However, the Chinese instance this is a very explicit oppression, while others, like Europe, take a more subtle approach to the othering and oppression of the Islamic community.

It has become more pronounced in the recent years that the historical tradition of the “east” as the “other” has become focused as Islam as the “other”. The EU devoting itself to the unifying of Europe under the prospects of humanism, equalitarian values and tolerance, yet this does not apply to Muslims inside Europe and to those that are wishing to come to Europe. Fatima El-Tayeb of the University of California outlines this issue in her article ‘Gays who cannot properly be gay’: Queer Muslims in the neoliberal European city. El-Tayeb shows that after the fall of the Soviet Union, Europe struggled to reunite the opposing sides of the eastern and western bloc in an increasingly interconnected world. There was a need to define a common identity for unification. How could they define what it means to be European, when Europe is so diverse? Surely it is easier to define what is not European. Thus, the “othering” became a unifying factor. So, the slogan of the European Union “Unity in diversity” becomes “Unity of the Eastern and Western European states against the Islamic Other.” Why? Because, as El-Tayeb argues, Islamic communities are viewed as a threat to the “European values” mentioned above (equality and tolerance) even though by adhering to the othering of Muslim communities, Europe is breaching its promise of the same equality and tolerance they vowed to protect.

So, I ask again: is it so surprising that China is also taking a blow at the globally marginalized community?

Diversity, bu Only the Selected Diversities…

Surely, it is understood that the Second World War greatly influenced the political outcomes of the post-war world. Fascism was associated with the Holocaust and could no longer be associated with because of its link to the horrors of the war. So, what to do with all the far-right thinking political parties? The 80s were a great time for populism to rise as Cas Mudde explains, but the 2015 mix of economic and refugee crises was the “perfect storm” for these movements to reach peaks in Europe and globally again. As Spain and Portugal never got a surge of refugees migrate to their country, we can argue that populism and far-right movements did not “stick” because of the lack of a “scapegoat” (i.e. refugees, more precisely Islamic refugees). Nativism was less of an issue because of this lack of “threatening non-native cultures.”

It is extremely interesting that these movements are influenced differently in the West and the East because of the outcomes of the Second World War and Communism in the Eastern countries, influencing the communities used as “scapegoats” which also include a Jewish population in Eastern European states. How do we understand diversity, then, in the context of othering and an increasing tendency to lean on anti-multiculturalism sentiment for the legitimization of these far-right populist movements?

With last week’s discussion of multiculturalism, it is interesting to see the shift from multiculturalism to “ethnopluralism”, because, as Ina Schmidt argues, it is the Islamic culture that is seen as a threat rather than the Arabic ethnicity. The European Union comes under the banner of “unity in diversity” when really it should read “Unity in diversity of native European states against the Islamic Other.” So, racism is not the issue anymore even though broad definitions and generalizations of the othered groups can definitely still lead to racism.

Echoes of Colonial Thoughts in the Othering of Islamic Communities?

Historically, the “Other” used to be the East. East as in Russia, Asia, east of the Western European Countries, simply East. Now, the context has shifted and the “Other” has become the “Islamic Other”. Why? Fatima El-Tayeb argues that the attempt in Europe at founding an overarching European identity by uniting different European states with the goal of forming transnational alliances backfired as it simply created more divides. It founded its “European identity” by clinging to a core of values leaning towards that of the Judeo-Christian traditional values.

This clearly implicates the divisive manner in which European states have oppressed and persecuted “racialized minority” under the pretext that their values acted against the core European values. It is interesting to note the assumption by European states that values outside that of the stated European ones are inherently a danger. This evokes or reminds of colonial assumptions that the “uncivilized world” (anything outside Europe) was a danger for the “civilized nations”.

Nilüfer Göle argues similarly to El-Tayeb, in that the community of Muslim in Europe are constantly being discredited under the pretext of “civilizational incompatibility.” But what happens when one starts to look at European history from an Islamic perspective? Both authors are urging understand the importance of European and Islamic histories as interconnectedness and accept that this also means a decentralization of Europe as “the” main acting agent of history. One question remains unanswered, in today’s political climate, how is it still possible to reject multiculturalism on the basis of what still echoes as colonial thought? Surely, it is important to notice the fact that with this need for rewriting history decentralizing Europe, there is a rise of populist far-right movements invoking the prominence of a conservative Judaeo-Christian white tradition. Is this a coincidence?  

Identity, Media and the Transnationality of the New Right Movements

The new Right movements have started to rise again similarly to how they first rose in the late 60s. Their influence is of a transnational reach, which is interesting as the movement itself is grounded on ultra-nationalistic ideology. Based on a chosen national identity, it is interesting that it is also considered transnational because, as Tamil Bar-On writes, identity is often not paired with only one nation, but a panoply of them. We can point back to the conversation we had quite a few weeks ago about Fascism and internationalism and say that like fascism, the new right knows the importance of internationalism as a pragmatic approach to realizing its goals and getting support. Also, Riccardo Marchi points out that the failure of some of the new right movements in Europe reflects a lack of interest from the population because of a lack of media attention. Media attention, which is surely as national as it is international, is in fact part of that transnational outreach. In the age of media and information, it is interesting to see how influential the media is in shifting the political stage. Could we imagine certain political personalities of this age having taken the position they have now without media attention? Another question one might ask is how much media is influencing the political stage, nationally and globally? Even at the beginning of the new right movements in France or Portugal, how much could we accord the formation of these movements to information circulation? This is considering the fact that these movements were born from pulling numerous ideological concepts from a multiplicity of other states, making the movement very transnational. So, what to make of the importance of the media in the creation of these movements and is there really a national identity or are we simply circling back to the idea of a new man by creating a national identity?

Were They Victims or Perpetrators?

How do we understand perpetrators? Who are they and are some more significant than others? Mary Fulbrook, in her book Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi  Persecution and the Quest for Justice, expands on the minor perpetrators in the trials of the 60s and 70s as being part of a larger group of people who were never tried even though they actively participated in the daily acts of violence that allowed the genocide to happen. She brings up a curious point: West German judges, with allocation of lesser sentences, seemed to have more compassion for the former Nazis than for their victims, why? This brings up the concept of victimhood. Were former Nazis simply considered the victims of the system? Or were the West German judges simply more inclined to the Nazi ways? The Nazi guilt surely played a part in this as the horrors of the war made the line between perpetrator and victim very blurred.

The chapter certainly left more questions than answers. Why were survivor meet-ups seen as a problem, when perpetrators and their witnesses were known to corroborate stories in West German courts? Is this because anti-Semitic feelings or homophobia were still very much a part of cultural and societal norms? Joachim Häberlen shows the overcompensation for this hatred by the Left with the creation of groups where men, women or homosexuals would share their experiences, but again the extreme push for sharing of feelings and experiences, similarly to the push for representing oneself as a victim in the trials, adhere to the opposite effects of what they intended. The groups were supposed to be a free environment, but become riddled with peer-pressure and the trials, which were supposed to bring to justice the perpetrators of the holocaust, only bring a small portion to the stand and fewer are convicted or punished.

The Decriminalization of Abortion in Northern Ireland is Good, but…

A story that made that made the headlines last year in many newspapers around the western world resurfaces as the struggle for the Northern Irish advocators for an abortion ban lift approaches a conclusion. Interestingly, in the UK the Abortion Act of 1967 liberalized rules on abortion in England, Scotland and Wales, but not in Northern Ireland. So, Northern Ireland was the only part of the United Kingdom that was still holding a legislated ban on abortion which originated from the conservative political influence of its governance and the important place of religion in the area. Ireland voted for the legalization of abortions only last year in May. It is interesting that it is only now that we see a movement by the government for change in the legislation. Finally, on October 22 at 12am, the ban was lifted.

However, there is still much debate to come and a long way to go before any kind of substantive change is instituted in Northern Ireland. The ban repeal is good, a step in the right direction, but until regulations are provided, it remains similar to the status quo and even goes backwards to previous practices instead of moving forward with the legislation. It is also noteworthy to mention that Northern Ireland has had a very substantive opposing faction to this repeal : the Church(es) (i.e. Catholic and Protestant churches). The abortion issue, in which in the Catholic Church has taken a more pronounced stance, has always been debated against by the church. A member of the Catholic Clergy has gone as far as saying that being pro-choice was committing a mortal sin. Historically, Northern Ireland, or even just Ireland as a whole, has been a very religious country and a great deal of the population (including the leading political parties like the Democratic Unionist Party and to some extent the Sinn Féin) is very conservative in nature. This means that once a government is reinstituted with the conservative parties (as it has not been standing since 2017 in Northern Ireland), debates on the matter will likely restart as this reform was voted by London and not necessarily by the leading political parties of the area.

So, ban lifted, great! Now what? What should we think of this and how should we understand these changes? I am in total accordance with the idea that abortion should be decriminalized and that it should have been done long ago, however, in this instance, the decriminalisation of abortion also means its deregulation as the government was allowed until late March 2020 to regulate abortion. Ironically, this means that Northern Ireland just went from having some of the strictest abortion laws to the most liberal abortion laws in the European context. Now the Northern Irish population is very confused about the law and what is legal as it has no clear legislation or regulation. It should be understood that apart from the dropping of prosecution cases against healthcare professionals and women having sought abortions, not much as changed and not much will change until the new regulation in 2020. Women and girls are still required to go to England to terminate their pregnancies. There is no telling hat kind of restrictions or regulations will be put in place in march of next year.

This “good news” can also be seen as a step back as Northern Ireland is simply looking to go back to practices from 2012 when it comes to abortion. Also, as mentioned previously the fact that this was done without an actual standing government in Northern Ireland will complicate the matter once it comes back to power because of the conservative nature of the area. Even the Irish Times are sensitive to the matter, but frame their pro-choice opinion on bringing Northern Ireland back into the “European mainstream” while remaining conscient of the fact that many of the readers have conservative views tied to their faith.

Therefore, my opinion on this matter remains clear : it is a case of the “one step forward, two steps back.”

Women and Fascism

“History is written by the victors” is a phrase often heard and thought about in the context of historical analysis. How can we compensate for the fact that most histories are very biased? Looking at history from the “loosing side’s perspective”? How about those who are dismissed or simply overlooked? López and Lower both answer these questions by looking at a perspective that is often simply overlooked or dismissed as unimportant in previous historical analysis. López with the history of the role of conservative, far-right women as spies during the Spanish civil war, and Lower with the study of nazism-abiding women’s role in enabling the genocide take a stand for those forgotten perspectives because of their historical value. They both look at women who adhered to fascist ideologies, which can be an uncomfortable for today’s historians because it can be impossible to wrap our heads around the idea that some women would abide in a male-dominated ideology.

López makes a good point in reflecting on the fact that, even though it was a very male-dominated ideology that prescribed submission of women, women knew about the ideas associated with feminism (easily manipulated, fragile, innocent, etc.) and used it to their advantage to become spies. She goes as far as saying that even men on the fascist side acknowledged this power and how important women, young women were to the growth of the movement. This is fairly recent work. This pushes the question : how many more perspectives have gone without consideration? And how much would our understanding of the historical event change?

The answer is a lot of it would be flipped on its head and we can see this is Lower’s book. Lower points out the ways in which women, because of their assumed character (i.e. innocent and fragile) even though they enabled genocide, very few were punished for their actions during the Second World War. This was shocking as the male-prevalent historiography of the war rarely talks of the involvement of Aryan women in the holocaust.

Thus, looking at an overlooked perspective or one deemed impertinent by other historians like that of young women is crucial to the understanding of histories like that of the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War. However, one should be careful of not overcompensating for the lack of female perspective on the “loosing side” by overestimating their role in the causes in effects of these events, even though it is absolutely necessary that we understand their importance.

Masculinity and Non-Criminality of Lesbianism

As numerous articles on fascism have noted, the generalization of such a complex concept is dangerous as it brings to a simplification of events and the misunderstanding of the concept itself. So, in the context of views on homosexuality in the fascist contexts, it is important to do the same, and not generalize the experiences of all homosexuals. Explored in this weeks readings were the use of concepts of gender and sexuality to define agency and use of these in fascist realities in the 30s and 40s. Shown in two articles, that of Marhoefer and Healy, it is interesting that lesbianism, as opposed to male homosexual relations, was not a criminal offence during the soviet regime and the nazi regime. It is revealing of ideology in the fascist states. Some scholars argue it was not seen as a threat to the political regime.

It is then interesting to answer this question by looking at the concept of masculinity. As shown in Kühne’s article, it was important for fascist ideology to portray hard “masculinity” and use it for social order and control. The fact that there was a great pressure on men to constantly prove and portray their masculinity shows that there was a need for aggressiveness, order and militarization in the Nazi regime. Male homosexuality then was a threat to order and the political system, or more concretely the ideology of fascist states which could sometimes be seen as fragile, just like masculinity was. There seemed to be no such emphasis on the femininity of women as a an integral force leading to social order and respect of the political system.

The fact that men were seen as dominant and as having control over women was probably the reason that lesbians or gender nonconformity within the female population was not as concerning as male gender nonconformity. Surely, the difference between the treatment of gays and lesbians does not exclude the possibility of maltreatment for lesbians. It simply shows the priority of the state, especially in nazi Germany concerning the role of gender in the implementation of ideology. Thus, masculinity as a concept in fascist states, such as Nazi Germany can be used to explain the difference between the criminality of gays and lesbians as well as understanding the ways in which the population was coerced and forced to conform to such a political regime through socially constructed pressure for men to be perceived as masculine or “real men”.

Material Realities of Ideology

In the 30s, consumer societies were flourishing and acquisition of consumer goods for private property was becoming increasingly important in a number of society. The decrease in price of cameras offered the opportunity to most of the population to capture their own experiences.

Interestingly, Hitler’s Third Reich reflects this new type of consumerism meant to promote state ideals. Maiken Umbach presents the part played by photographs in not only portraying propaganda and showing consumerism but also shows the way in which ideology was passed and lived in the population through photographs. The use of cameras, Umbach argues, gives authority to the photographed and the photographer to portray insights into everyday life as it was a common practice to take pictures by the 30s. He also argues that “[p]hotographs turned experiences into material realities—and thereby arguably did the same for ideology.”(p.365) How can ideology become material reality? One can think of the propagandist photography, but depicting ideology in the everyday life of the average citizens needs to go beyond the hold of state production.

Umbach presents pictures from his own collection to represent the untouched by, yet representative of state ideology. Showing how photographs and the role played by the photographed “as a form of affective and performative political behavior that transcended that which had traditionally been defined as the business of politics” (p.365) This is effectively shown in Shelley Baranowski’s piece on consumerism under the Nazi regime when she writes about paid vacation which proved effective in communicating to workers the “ideal place” they held in maintaining productivity and how great their leader was as he took care of their needs unlike the poor people living in slums that they saw during their trips. Thus, photographs and paid vacation as well as the ability to acquire consumer goods for personal property are all modes through which the Nazi Regime was able to convey ideology through material realities.

Fascism versus Internationalism?

Fascism, as determined by many scholars, is sometimes contradictory and difficult to understand. For example, the ideas that fascism is very nationalistic by definition and arose to remedy problems concurring with a nation’s specific needs, are well accepted. So, if fascism is a national movement, how does it often relate or flirt with internationalism?

It may be hard to understand that nationalism and internationalism in this case can be related to one another, complementary not simply contradictory because of a western mindset. The western ontology and the remnants of modernism allow for a specific understanding of the world which puts all things in neat and orderly grids where lines are borders that cannot be crossed. It creates a dichotomous or binary vision of the world which can be dangerous, as we have seen in other articles by Gilbert Allardyce. However, even though the relationship between fascism and internationalism seem to blur fascism’s definition even more, scholars like David Motadel and Ruth Ben-Ghiat have made a case for this connection.

Motadel argues that fascism’s internationalism was established for ideological and practical reasons. Ideologically, fascism’s international entity comes from the cross-national united struggle against colonialist empires of Europe and North America. He argues that fascist nations and groups “forged a radical international against empire, characterized by transnational militancy and anticolonial solidarity” (p. 844). So, even though fascism is a national movement, it extend beyond borders to combat the fact that other peoples and community cannot be nation because of imperial powers.

It also is practical because as Ben-Ghiat argues, the fascist feared the power of other ideologies and nations if they were left uncontrolled as they though it might compromise or erase their national traditions and cultures as it can often be found in imperial colonies. In Italy, for example, intellectuals were allowed to travel to study other cultures and as they were very influential in the propagation of radical ideology in their home nation, they associated places like Russia or the United-States and women’s emancipation as bad because it interfered with what they believed to be the natural order of things with women at home, submissive to their husbands. It might then be important to look at the role of the intellectual class in disseminating radical ideas in the fascist context. It is common in other historical periods to see scholars or academics run away from systems that oppress freedom in research and the academia in general. However, according to Ben-Ghiat, most of the young intellectuals of the time in Italy fully supported the fascist government.

In brief, Motadel in his article The Global Authoritarian Moment and the Revolt against Empire and Ben-Ghiat with Fascist Modernities help us understand the ambivalent relationship between fascism and internationalism as a means to the fascist’s end in terms of ideology and protection of such ideals. Intellectuals also had a part to play in the internationalism as they travelled to study other “enemy” nations and made connections with others which led to a transnational anticolonial movement.

Works Cited

David Motadel, “The Global Authoritarian Moment: The Revolt Against Empire” American Historical Review Vol. 124, Issue 3 (July 2019): 843-877.

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, “Conquest and Collaboration” in Fascist Modernities: Italy, 1922-1945 (University of California Press, 2004), pp. 17-45 and pp. 123-