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Why Uyghur Leaders Tell Jokes: A Healthy Demonstration of Independence

12/23/2021 Kok Bayraq

Unlike speeches by Chinese Communist leaders, those by Uyghurs in exile are punctuated by humor. It reveals a lot about the Uyghur indomitable spirit.

by Kok Bayraq

The 7h general assembly of the World Uyghur Congress, with President Dolkun Isa speaking. From Facebook.

As a joke, in his concluding remarks at the 7th general assembly of the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), vice-presidential candidate Dr. Erkin Ekrem stated the following: “I am an experienced strategist. If you had elected me, you would have saved [the] WUC from the wrong direction. If you had not elected me, you would have saved me from my wife’s remonstrance!”

Those who win this election have no money, power, or glory. If there is bloodshed in the Uyghur region or if Uyghur refugees are blocked on a foreign border and in danger of being returned to China, this will also be the case for the winners of this election. It would be necessary to pick up the phone at midnight and report it to the relevant state and international agencies, hoping they would take action on the case. It is estimated that half the burden will fall on the activist and half will fall on his wife. Erkin Ekrem is reminding delegates of this tricky reality with a joke.

As an observer of the assembly, I was most impressed by the healthy doses of humor displayed by the candidates, who have all suffered from the Uyghur genocide, either directly or indirectly.

Another vice-presidential candidate, Ablikim Idris, stated the following: “I know Arabic, German, and English. I will work for you if you choose me, and I will work for my wife if you don’t choose me.”

His wife, Rushan Abbas, is a Uyghur activist and head of the Campaign for Uyghurs. As he said, even though he works for his wife, he also works for his people. In Muslim societies, working for one’s wife is often the subject of jokes. By using self-defeating humor, Ablikim Idris made others laugh and decreased the tension of the competition by putting others at ease.

Studies have found that humor is a clear indication of self-confidence and a positive personality.

In my view, this is not expected to be a personality trait among members of the most oppressed populations in the world.

The speeches of the vast majority of the more than 60 candidates vying for the 24 seats in the election all included some humor. How did these people, who have spent almost half their lives under Chinese rule, cultivate this trait, which is common in Western politicians? If we remember the emotionless faces, artificial applause, and unpleasant intonations in Chinese “elections,” finding the secret to a positive personality certainly seems worthwhile.

During a conversation between assembly sessions, the following humorous exchange occurred. Someone stated that former U.S. President George W. Bush, who had been at war with two countries, finished his annual report in fourteen minutes, but Hu Jintao’s annual report that year lasted six hours. Well-known Uyghur comedian Ablimit Tursun said it was because the U.S. has only a 200-year history, while Chinese history spans 5,000 years.

“Believe me, in 1,000 years, the Chinese president’s speech could last more than 24 hours, and delegates will have to bring blankets to the conference hall to endure the report,” he added.

In China, the CCP, under the pretext of its large population and the “special” conditions of the country, has been marginalizing not only colonized nations, like Uyghurs and Tibetan, but also the Chinese people‘s will to self-govern itself. The WUC election denies the CCP’s claim, with candidates’ traits including ambitious, organized, impatient, status-conscious, and proactive attitudes. We might also add a sense of humor.

“The Interpol chief, Meng Hongwei, wanted to take me back to China,” said WUC President Dolkun Isa, “[and] since he wasn’t able to do so, he went to the cell [that] was prepared for me [a] long time ago. This is because of the fact that, in China, jail is a place that should not [have a] vacant cell [at] any time.” President Dolkun Isa also said, “From time to time, I wonder: Should I apologize to Meng Hongwei for causing him to go to jail?”

What intrigued me was not the joke itself but its spiritual roots. How can representatives of a genocide-stricken nation laugh so freely? In addition, the delegates were not only witnesses to the atrocities but also victims. At least five of their family members were in prison or in a camp while they were making jokes. Will the human race lose sensitivity to oppression if it lasts too long, or will their strength increase when oppression leads to genocide?

I thought back to my childhood, when we had many days with little food or water, but our family never stopped singing and dancing. Our neighbors were very poor, and they lacked adequate clothing. Yet, in our community, the Meshrep, a traditional party, continued. I have heard variants of those election jokes at the Meshrep, and the following questions came to mind: Might it be hard for a human being to be deprived of the ability to laugh when our souls were created with freedom? When descendants of a nation have lived independently for the vast majority of its history and created a great culture, can they inherit the spirit of their ancestors, even after a period of enslavement?

My conclusion is that the origin of humor from the candidates can be either genetic or environmental. The WUC election is not only an assembly but also an exhibition of the ability of self-governing, a tendency toward democracy, and the ability of the Uyghur people to remain independent.

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