Rabbinic Musings in the Pandemic – Persecution of the Uighur

Thousands of Muslims held a rally in front of the China Embassy-Jakarta in Indonesia last year, protesting the treatment of Uyghurs. (Credit Image: © Donal Husni/ZUMA Wire via Jewish News)
Thousands of Muslims held a rally in front of the China Embassy-Jakarta in Indonesia last year, protesting the treatment of Uyghurs. (Credit Image: © Donal Husni/ZUMA Wire via Jewish News)

We are all so busy at the moment. Whether it is the months of helping children school at home, juggling with work responsibilities coupled with the continuing tensions of the pandemic. As a result, we are living in a bubble in many ways, on the one hand connected to the outside world through online media; on the other pushed into our smaller more intimate family surroundings. I know myself, that I have spent much time thinking about how my family can remain safe from Covid19. As a communal Rabbi, I have spent an abundance of time with communal leaders looking at how we safely open our doors to our members for prayer services. So, it has been understandable that we are looking inwards at this time.

Before lockdown, our family hosted a resident of London who is active in advocating the plight of the Uighur Muslim population in north west China. The individual we hosted had to leave China herself under pressure, and members of her family are being incarcerated by Chinese authorities there. R. treated those who were round our table to melodies from the Uighur tradition and stories and pictures of what life was like in a Uighur community. We were all thrilled, but at the same time dismayed to hear what was happening to the community there.

And so, the persecution, what we may even define as genocide of the Uighur community In Xinjang, has been niggling me constantly inside. I know it has had that effect on others. The President of our Board of Deputies of British Jews was moved to write a letter to the Chinese Ambassador in London. The Director of the Holocaust Educational Trust has written on this matter. We know that in the recent past, when we were on the brink of violent persecution, we were dramatically and cruelly let down by the prioritisation of geo-politics over life; by the victory of diplomacy over morality. This is not about rejecting international relations. This is not also about hierarchies of how to construct the ideal political system. It is about recognising the warning signs of othering, signs that were recognisable in the actions of followers of Milosevic in late 80’s Yugoslavia; in the anti Tutsi propaganda that preceded the genocidal spates of killings mainly by Hutus in 1995 and of course in the anti Jewish propaganda in Germany in the 1930’s.

So, as a Jewish community we need to make ourselves aware of the reports that have been coming out of north Western China over the last at least 3 years. We should be proud of the Jewish News for having led with this story on their front-page last week and we need to keep this issue at the forefront of our communal consciousness. This may mean writing to the Chinese Embassy, as well as pressuring our MP’s to make statements on this issue in Parliament. The LBC presenter Majid Nawaz has been on hunger strike over the last day or two, in order to amass enough signatures to force a debate in Parliament. Now the number 100,000 has been reached, we need to ensure our MP’s are part of the debate and ask our Foreign Secretary what actions he is considering taking over this persecution.

Maimonides codifies a Talmudic statement that the Jewish people are understood to be ‘Compassionate, humble and giving of lovingkindness’. Here, compassion is one of the elements that defines us as Jewish and it is part of our national character. Our nationalism is modelled as one that generates compassion for the other. ‘Othering’ is not in our nature and should be something completely alien to Jewish people across the community and from whichever denomination they are a part of. Let the case of the Uighur Muslim population be a wakeup call to the deep compassion within all of us.

About the Author
Rabbi David Mason is rabbi to an Orthodox community of over 1000 people in London and is on the executive of the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue. He has an MA in Conflict Resolution in Divided Societies and undertakes a great deal of civic and inter faith work. He was recently appointed as trustee for FODIP (Forum for Discussion on Israel and Palestine) and the Council of Christians of Jews as well as now Chairing the Haringey Multi Faith Network. He also has two years training in family therapy.
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