We Jews may be supporting Uyghurs in their struggle against loss of all human rights in their ancestral homeland, but Uyghurs show us all how to exercise restraint and responsibility, instead of anger and aggression.
Purim came early for me, three weeks ago, in an unintended way.
It started with a spiel, which went something like this:
We found out that
The ‘Worst Man in the World’
Is coming to visit our country.
We don’t know who invited him,
Or if he invited himself.
We do not know,
Whom he will meet,
When or where.
But we know that he is coming,
To sell us goods and wares,
From a region of his country,
Far across the seas.
Where he rules as Governor,
And has interned,
Of people of one ethnicity and faith,
Where Young and Old,
Are tortured, starved, enslaved.
From some of them he orders
Their vital organs to be took,
And given to the ruling class and clan,
Whilst the donors they lie dying,
Organ-less on the theatre table.
He’s ordered many Women sterilised,
If babies they could bear;
Except those ready to be married,
On whom he forced husbands,
Not of their faith, community or choice.
And many Children, little Children,
He orders borne away,
To schools and institutions,
Where their language is forbidden,
And they are not allowed to pray,
Or practise their religion in any single way.
And although he had been tutored,
In such tyranny,
By his King and the Nobility,
To ‘break this People’s roots,
lineage, origins and their community’,
He is the ‘Worst Man in the World,’
Because he too is of that people’s Ethnicity.
His country it is China,
The kith and kin he treated so,
Are Uyghur Muslims.
And the Region that he governs,
Is their and his ancestral home,
His name is ERKIN TUNIYAZ,
And ‘the country’ he wants to visit,
Is ‘England, Our England.’
America has banned him,
France and Belgium too,
But ‘England, oh, our England,”
Seems happy to let him in.
As I told this story,
To the crowd of women, men and kids,
Outside our Foreign Office,
Whose officials he might meet,
When I say his name,
So LOUD it won’t be heard.
I was spieling this way, to assure them that the Jewish community, from Chief Rabbis and the Board of Deputies to individuals like myself, were still supporting the Uyghurs, because of our own experience of Genocide, and in accordance with our sacred texts.
Indeed, it is a Jewish charity, the Pears Foundation, that for nearly three years has funded STOP UYGHUR GENOCIDE, the UK’s grassroots Uyghur-lead campaign. One of our group’s advisory board had been instructed to seek permission from the Attorney General for a private prosecution against Erkin Tuniyaz (BOOOOOO!) for the crime of torture, which would result in his arrest on arrival in the UK.
That, I told the crowd, is the Jewish approach.
Every day, we recite Psalm 149:5-9
Let those who love their fellow man exult…….
with the weapon of words in their hands,
to deliver retribution to the nations and rebukes to the peoples
binding their kings with fetters, and their nobles with chains of iron,
to execute justice upon them.
This is ‘Glory’ for those who love their fellow man.’ (1)
This, I told them, is what should happen to Erkin Tuniyaz (BOOOO!).
Officials should not meet the ‘Worst Man in the World.’
He should be arrested, have a fair trial,
and spend the rest of his life in prison.
Our protest finished.
We did not know, and certainly doubted, if it would be listened to or if our actions would be effective.
But the next day, Glory-Be, he cancelled his visit!
Which just goes to show you, the Gemara is right. Not only must you protest against wrong-doing in the world, or be punished for complicity (Shabbat 54b), but you must do so even if you do not expect to be heard (Shabbat 55a).
I have to tell you, it felt beautiful to have helped achieve this. We take for granted our freedoms in this country, but when one protests and succeeds, using the legal, political and journalistic levers available in a true democracy, one feels empowered.
After my speech, Jews asked me, “Did you mean to get them doing Purim, with the spieling and the booing?”
I hadn’t, but it must have been at the back of my mind. After all, Purim was an attempted Genocide targeting “Young and Old, Children and Women” (Megillat Esther 3.13), ended by one woman’s protest, using whatever levers she could.
I also reflected and marvelled at how Uyghurs keep so calm and dignified, however angry they may be inside, as they protest against their genocide, replacing their fear and desire for retribution with what Jonathan Sacks calls ‘quiet inner drama of choice and will, restraint and responsibility (2).”
We Jews may be supporting Uyghurs in their struggle against loss of all human rights in their ancestral homeland. They, however, are showing us , especially our police and army, how to exercise restraint and responsibility, as we peacefully protest the challenge to democracy and human rights in our ancestral homeland.
Purim Sameach, everyone!
This blog was based on a speech I gave outside the Foreign Office February 13th 2023 to protest the visit of Erkin Tuniyaz, Governor of the Uyghur Region, China
(1) This is not the conventional translation. I never liked the translation of Chasidim as Pious or Loved Ones. The word so clearly comes from Chesed, loving-kindness. Secondly, I have never liked “double edged sword” for “Cherev Pipiyot’ as ‘pipiyot’ means mouths, and as the kings and nobles are not killed but put in chains and had justice served upon them. A “sword of words’ is not great English but using ‘words as weapons’ to execute justice is what lawyers do.
(2) Jonathan Sacks. Chapter 3 Dualism page 64 in Not in God’s Name. Hodder & Stoughton 2016.