All posts tagged: camps

The Reciter: A Uyghur family’s pride — and downfall

It took him three years, but finally, at the age of 14, Nurali recited the entire Quran. This, he remembers, was one of the happiest days of his mother’s life. Over the phone she told him how proud she was. How he had brought so much joy and honor to his family. He was a living Quran, his life itself part of a sacred tradition that had been passed on for centuries. Now he became Nurali Qari — Nurali the Reciter. Nurali was living with his aunt in Cairo at the time, far away from his Uyghur classmates — whom he had last seen at his 10th birthday party at the fanciest restaurant in Ürümqi. The restaurant, Herembagh, was famous for upscale Turkish-style Uyghur cuisine. The waiters wore white gloves and everyone drank tea out of tiny tulip-shaped glasses. But that isn’t what Nurali remembers. Instead, he recalls the toys that the other kids showered on him and how he was the apple of his mother’s eye. He was a young boy on the cusp of …

The Early Reviews of In The Camps

The August 9, 2021 issue of the literary journal Mekong Review featured a lead review of two new books on Xinjiang, one which I authored called In the Camps (Columbia Global Reports), scheduled to come out in October (pre-order it now!), and a recent publication titled The Perfect Police State (Public Affairs), by investigative journalist Geoffrey Cain. “In what is the largest mass detention of people from a religious or ethnic group since the Second World War,” writes Robert Templer. “The persecution of the Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs and the Chinese Muslims known as Hui brings together four strands of contemporary life: the surveillance society and its facilitation by smartphones; the use of big data; global supply chains; and the idea that governments can take any actions against what they define as extremism. US policies after the attacks of 9/11, including secret prisons, disappearances and renditions without legal process, opened the door for governments like that in Beijing to apply the same policies without restraint.” Templer’s review joins other early reviews of In the Camps. Scholar of contemporary …

‘Truth and reconciliation’: Excerpts from the Xinjiang Clubhouse

On Saturday, February 6, two days before it would be banned across China, the social media app Clubhouse had a defining moment. As numerous news outlets have reported, a room called “Is there a concentration camp in Xinjiang?” attracted a brief flourishing of speech and free discussion among Chinese people in the era of state censorship. As noted in an episode of the Sinica Podcast with several of the room’s hosts, one of the features of the Mandarin-language conversation was unique: Uyghurs were placed in moderator positions and invited to share their stories of family separation and disappearance. There was civility and respect in the room, which swelled to as many as 4,000 participants. Crucially, there was largely an absence of what one participant termed “Hansplaining”: Chinese-language discussions of Xinjiang which privilege Han perspectives. The room attempted to center discussions of the Xinjiang camps not on geopolitics or the security concerns of protected citizens, but from the standpoint of those who are most harmed by systems of state violence. The participant said that critiquing Hansplaining is important because it is so …

‘Only when you, your children, and your grandchildren become Chinese’: Life after Xinjiang detainment

In early 2020, just as COVID-19 was beginning to sweep across China, I traveled to Kazakhstan to interview Kazakhs and Uyghurs who had recently fled across the border. In a cold second-floor office building, I met dozens of China-born Kazakhs who came to talk to researchers about their family members who were lost in detention facilities in Xinjiang. I also spoke to nearly a dozen former detainees about their experience, and how they were struggling to recover their sense of self. I was not the only researcher there. Journalists and filmmakers from around the world gathered in Almaty. A pair of filmmakers I met, Yadikar Ibraimov and Jack Wolf, agreed to share with me a film project they were producing — parts of which are featured in this essay. The film conveys the urgency of the ongoing trauma that is palpable in Uyghur and Kazakh exile communities, particularly in Kazakhstan, where the stories of new arrivals and regular outpourings of collective grief have begun to shape daily life. An interview Ibraimov and Wolf conducted with Nurlan …