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Outside the Bubble

International News for the Week of Nov 26

Anti-Muslim Concentration Camps in China
content warning: concentration camps, Islamophobia, racism, religious persecution

On November 14, American legislators introduced bills in the House and Senate that aim to put pressure on the Trump administration to condemn Chinese detention camps. These camps currently house up to one million Uighur Muslims, as well as other Chinese Muslims. The legislation would impose sanctions targeting the sale of Chinese goods, but have no direct impact on individual members of the Chinese government. Canada, France, Germany, and other countries have written to the Communist Party leader of Xinjiang, Chen Quanguo, asking him to explain the detention camps.

In response to accusations of massive internment camps in Xinjiang, a western region of China, a Chinese Communist Party official said, “there is no arbitrary detention. […] There is no such a thing as re-education centers.”

However, over one million ethnic Uighur Muslims are being detained in what the government presents as “re-education schools,” aimed at “combating religious extremism” through legal theory and language learning. Abdusalam Muhemet, who was arrested in 2014, describes the facility in which he was detained as “not a place for getting rid of extremism, [but] a place that will breed vengeful feelings and erase Uighur identity.”

Roughly one tenth of the Uighur population of Xinjiang has been sent to these camps. These detentions target Muslim minority members exclusively. These camps are a result of a crackdown on the Uighur Muslim minority that has grown in the past four years, including a broader context of policies to erase, or at least conceal, Uighur Muslim identity in China.

Legislation prohibits wearing headscarves and long beards, as well as religious instruction. Islamic-sounding names have also been banned. Uighur Muslims face extremely strict travel restrictions and have to relinquish their passports to authorities for “safe-keeping.” Specific prohibitions further target Uighur government officials, who are prohibited from practicing Islam. The expansion of security services and surveillance in Xinjiang have been described by BBC News as “some of the most restrictive and comprehensive security measures ever deployed by a state against its own people.”

Wildfires in California

Over 1,000 people remain missing and at least 81 have died as a result of recent California wildfires. Recovery crews in Paradise, California, are still searching for victims, while disaster relief organizations have set up sites for crisis relief.

The fires in northern California, considered to be the deadliest in the state’s history, erupted on November 8, causing thousands to flee their homes. An estimated 13,000 homes and another 15,000 buildings have been destroyed.

In addition to work by disaster and recovery crews, firefighting efforts have been underway for several weeks. Civilian firefighters have been joined by over 200 prisoners in California’s Conservation Camp program. Inmates are compensated $1.45 a day on average. California has a longstanding history of relying on its prison population to assist with firefighting, dating back to World War II. It is estimated that 40 per cent of firefighters are inmates from these working programs.

Private firefighters have been employed by insurance companies and celebrities, such as Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, to salvage expensive homes in the area. The use of private firefighting services, in contrast to the use of prison labour to quell fires, has called into question how divisions of labour exacerbate inequalities in the face of natural disasters.

Rain storms this past week have brought deadly “Camp Fire” close to containment after several weeks of burning. With some relief, authorities are pushing evacuees out of tent cities, telling them to seek refuge in shelters that are already full. However the struggle is not over yet as the rainfall is also warranting flash flood advisories for about one million people in the area of Paradise.