Too many ignored the genocide for the sake of money and business. But common citizens can do a lot to make their voices heard.
Protests in London around an Olympic flame. Photo by Ruth Ingram.
As the 2022 Winter Olympics begin in Beijing this week, those who have organized and sponsored these Games do so while ignoring the genocide of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, China. By ignoring the Chinese Communist Party’s crimes against humanity, the Olympics have become enablers of these atrocities.
After the horrors of Nazism and World War II—including Hitler’s use of the 1936 Berlin Olympics to glorify white supremacy—the world demanded that we “never again” witness such horrific acts. Yet, not only are we again witnessing an evil regime using the Olympics to propagandize its superiority, but few today have the courage to speak out against this. Gone are the 20th century boycotts against the aggressions of communism or the horrors of apartheid, when the world stood in unity to uphold the rights of those who were persecuted. Instead, the few brave voices speaking the truth are shouted down by corporate greed, personal vanity, and institutional corruption.
Perhaps it is because to most people, Xinjiang is just a place on China’s map and the Uyghurs are just a meme on a Twitter feed. But for me, and millions of others, this is personal. It is our family, our friends, our neighbors.
Gulshan Abbas is a doctor. A mother. A sister. A grandmother. She healed others. She devoted her life to helping those around her. She tried to make the world better in her small hometown of Urumqi, China. She taught me, her sister, and many others, what a woman can achieve through courage, hard work, and persistence.
In September of 2018, this gentle healer was falsely accused of “terrorism” and has not been seen or heard from since. Her house is boarded up. Her fate is unknown, her disappearance a warning to others: do as you are told.
She, and millions of others, are now condemned to cold and crowded cells, subjected to coercive re-education, and forced to work under inhumane conditions. This is happening today to Gulshan and millions of others in China. At this moment. This is happening to them because they practice a different religion. Because they led their life according to those beliefs. Because the blood in their veins is of a different ancestry from those who run China.
This should sound familiar. The world promised this would never happen again, and yet it has. And instead of condemnation, the world is headed to Beijing to celebrate. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has sided with China’s rulers and turned a blind eye to these horrors, refusing to even answer questions about whether Uyghur forced labor was used to make the T-shirts, buttons, and other memorabilia on display at the Olympic Village. Top Olympic corporate sponsors—Airbnb, Bridgestone, Coca-Cola, Intel, NBC News, Procter & Gamble, Toyota, and Visa—have sided with the IOC against both the athletes and the CCP’s victims.
U.S. hopefuls like Mikaela Shiffrin, Chloe Kim, Shaun White, and Nathan Chen are threatened into silence with stern warnings that the IOC cannot and will not protect them or their rights while they are in China. If these world famous American athletes are not safe to speak while on sports’ biggest stage, what hope does an unknown Uyghur woman sitting in a concentration camp have? How can we enjoy their victories when we know what these Olympics really cost?
If you care about the Olympics, you know that allowing the Chinese regime to use it as a propaganda tool is wrong. You know that using the soaring notes of the Olympic anthem to drown out the voices of the Uyghur people is wrong. You know that threatening athletes into unwilling silence over China’s oppression is wrong.
It is up to you to say something, post something, do something. Each day carries with it an urgency to act. My sister always used to say, “Hope brings miracles.” The Olympics used to be a symbol of both. Let us pray they will be again.
Rushan Abbas is the Executive Director of Campaign for Uyghurs, a non-profit organization which advocates for the human rights and democratic freedoms of Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples. She started her activism work as a student, participating in the pro-democracy demonstrations at Xinjiang University in 1985 and 1988 and continues to frequently brief US lawmakers and officials on the human rights situation in her native region. She regularly appears on media outlets to advocate for the Uyghur cause and gives public speeches in universities and think tanks. She currently resides in Herndon, Virginia.