Op-ed: Oppression impacts everyone negatively

This photo of an old Uyghur man wearing a Tumaq, which means a fur hat, is a cultural accessory that Uyghur people wear. There are  many injustices being done to these Uyghur people and we must speak up against the oppression.

"Uyghur East Turkistan" by Uyghur Turkistan is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

This photo of an old Uyghur man wearing a Tumaq, which means “a fur hat,” is a cultural accessory that Uyghur people wear. There are many injustices being done to these Uyghur people and we must speak up against the oppression.

Kaiser Mejit, contributor

When I was working at Snell Library as an international graduate student in 1998, I came across a magazine cover photo by chance. Laid across the cover stood a handsome but sad-looking, old Uyghur man wearing Doppa — a traditional Uyghur cap. Behind him, watching, was a young Chinese policeman. I was so intrigued by the photo because I am Uyghur myself and, at the time, had just been living in the United States for one year. I immediately flipped through the pages of the magazine and read the article accompanying the photo.

The article was titled, “No one is safe in China,” and it was about the worsening human rights situation in China. At the time, China was rapidly developing economically and had not yet joined the World Trade Organization, or WTO. Domestically, the United States made its trade relationship with China contingent on the latter respecting the human rights of its citizens. Not upholding their end of the bargain, China is notorious for setting up concentration camps in the 21st century to torture Uyghurs. Billions of people around the globe are aware of who the Uyghur people are and why China is targeting them.

China is a superpower in the contemporary world: economically strong, militarily powerful and politically influential. That became possible only after China joined the WTO and embraced the world. Easy access to the world market and a reduction of tariffs on Chinese products boosted the country’s exports. The liberalization of its economy allowed foreign capital to flow into the country and the elimination of rigid regulatory restrictions on most sectors of the economy contributed to China’s miraculous economic growth. Unfortunately, instead of becoming a benign superpower, it took the same route as Adolf Hitler, who targeted certain ethnic groups as enemies of the state because of their race and faith. 

Either China came under the influence of the evil eye or it was cursed by its self-arrogance and hyper-nationalism. Despite condemnation from many countries, China still continues its crimes against humanity, to its own detriment. China has been trying hard to portray itself as an important actor working to achieve global peace and development; however, its crimes against Uyghurs committed in recent years largely discount these efforts and hampers its goal of being seen as a global superpower. 

History proves time and time again that oppression negatively affects both the oppressor and the oppressed. The costs to the oppressor are both implicit and explicit. The oppressor faces condemnation from peace and justice-loving people worldwide, and their crimes against humanity will permanently tarnish their reputation. The tyrant also incurs economic loss due to its horrific abuses of innocent people. In the long run, the oppressor and those who aided and abetted the genocidal regimes will face justice, even if it takes centuries. Hitler’s fascist regime killed millions of innocent people. He and his henchmen’s lives did not end well. Slobodan Milosevic, former president of Yugoslavia, butchered innocent Kosovars and died in a prison cell. In the recent period of human history, all genocidal regimes fortunately came to an end, and I truly hope that the global community forces China to halt this crime immediately and the international criminal court punishes the perpetrators.

The traumas of the oppressed are multidimensional: they are physical, psychological and economical. This contributes to intergenerational trauma, and it takes decades for the oppressed to recover demographically, psychologically, and economically. This is true for Uyghurs. People who face genocide are likely to experience trauma from the harsh oppression they endured and the memories that linger will take centuries to heal.

This past winter, I returned to Northeastern University. While passing through Snell Library, I thought of that Uyghur man on the cover page and the dire situation Uyghur people face. His struggle and the struggles of millions of my fellow Uyghurs, are now well known: “no Uyghur is safe in their historic motherland.” After all, photos of innocent Uyghurs blindfolded at a train station west of the city of Korla tell the global community the disturbing truth. 

While being at Northeastern in person, a thought — mixed with deep wishes for my fellow huskies — came to my mind: how inspiring would it be to Uyghur people if this younger generation spoke up against the injustices being done to them, in a time when most of the world remains indifferent? For instance, at Harvard University, my other alma mater, more than 70 Harvard student organizations actively joined the campaigns against China’s systematic oppression of Uyghur people. I have been addressing this issue since last year, hoping that many student organizations at Northeastern would organize and speak up for Uyghurs. The husky spirit I know is brave, strong and loyal to its principles and I hope the Northeastern community displays its spirit on this issue.

Kaiser Mejit obtained his master’s degree in economics from Northeastern University and is a graduate of the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University. He also holds a doctorate degree in economics from Suffolk University. He can be reached at [email protected]