Impromptus

Facing the Uyghur question, &c.

A Uyghur demonstrator wears a mask at a protest in front of the Chinese consulate in Istanbul, October 1, 2019. (Huseyin Aldemir / Reuters)
Horror in China, a congressional resolution on Armenia, a refreshing resignation, and more

It may surprise my regular readers, because they know I spend a great deal of time on dictatorships and human-rights abuses — but I don’t do much reading about the Uyghurs. It is unbearable.

Jerome A. Cohen talked to me about the Uyghurs in early 2018. (Jerry is the dean of China scholars in the U.S., and I wrote about him here.) I wrote a biggish piece about the Uyghurs and what was happening to them — what the Chinese government was doing to them. For that piece, go here.

I also did an interview — a podcast — with Nury A. Turkel, a Uyghur-American lawyer and democracy leader (here). Wonderful guy, under terrific strain.

And then . . .

There have been many, many reports out of Xinjiang Province, or East Turkestan, and they are extremely hard to read. Also, you feel that some action is required — and what might that be?

More than a million people have been thrown into concentration camps, or “reeducation” camps. Some are tortured and killed. All are forced to renounce their culture, their faith, their past.

Cemeteries are bulldozed, mosques demolished. Fred Hiatt had a piece in the Washington Post, whose title was “In China, every day is Kristallnacht.” He wrote, “Workers in the world of human rights tend to be highly reticent when it comes to Nazi analogies. The Holocaust was a unique event.” And yet the Holocaust keeps coming up as “the only adequate point of comparison.”

When I first talked to Jerry Cohen — born in 1930, by the way — he said he was reminded of the Nazis, and of his relatives who were murdered. He is not one to raise such things lightly.

In Xinjiang, Han Chinese men, sent by the Party, move into Uyghur homes, whose men are away in prison (or dead). The Party has perfected an Orwellian surveillance state in Xinjiang. Etc., etc.

Years from now, of course, people will say, “We didn’t know” — and yet all is known. Right now, all is known. The reporting and testimony are ample. One feels that one should do something. What?

To begin with, governments in the Free World can call attention to this horror. They can cry against it. They can disrupt business as usual with Beijing. Western companies that aid the repression of the Uyghurs can be penalized. Journalists, filmmakers, and others can make the Uyghurs a priority. The Winter Olympics are scheduled for Beijing in 2022 — why?

Above, I called reports about the Uyghurs “unbearable.” But all I have to do is sit on my butt and read (and occasionally type). These human beings themselves are bearing the horror.

• I found this hard to read:

The Trump administration is refusing to take in thousands of Iraqis who risked their lives helping American forces during the Iraq war, cutting the number of high-priority refugees allowed into the United States this year and drastically slowing background checks they must undergo.

That is the opening of a New York Times report, here. It continues,

Only 153 Iraqi refugees whose applications were given high priority were admitted in the fiscal year that ended in September — down from a high of 9,829 in the 2014 fiscal year . . .

One more paragraph:

An estimated 110,000 Iraqis are waiting to be approved as refugees based on their wartime assistance. But on Friday, the Trump administration capped the number eligible this year at 4,000.

I wrote about this issue way back in 2015: “A Question of Honor: As the wolves circle, Iraqis who helped us are pleading for visas.” It is a question of honor, yes.

Or so some of us think.

• I am from Ann Arbor, Mich., not far from Detroit, which has a large Armenian-American community. (At least it once did. I don’t know about now. Many musicians sprang from this community, including some prominent ones.) I went to college with several Armenian-American kids. One had one interest, above all — an obsession, almost: He wanted the U.S. Congress to declare the mass killings of Armenians by Turks in 1915 a genocide. He was single-minded about this issue. It shook him, literally. His fervor made a lasting impression on me, as you can see.

So, the issue has been around for ages — decades. The issue of Congress and the Armenians, I mean. Suddenly, on October 29, Congress acted. It passed a resolution declaring the killings a genocide. Specifically, the House passed the resolution (by a vote of 405 to 11). The Senate has not addressed the matter.

Why, after all these years, did the House suddenly act? Because members, Democrat and Republican alike, were revolted by the Turks’ invasion of Syria last month for the purpose of attacking the Kurds there. And they are worried that the Turks will repeat 1915, in a mass “ethnic cleansing” (or whatever designation you like).

As a rule, I do not believe that the U.S. Congress should adjudicate historical matters. If they made a habit of it, they would be doing nothing but. At this juncture, however, the Turks deserved some sort of jolt from Washington — and I guess I’m glad they got it.

• In early 2018, on this website, I published a Mexico City journal (replete with pictures). I noted a “water clock” in a park — erected by the Armenian colony of the city, in gratitude for the refuge that Mexico provided them. Moving.

• This is moving — this story from the Associated Press, datelined Jerusalem:

One by one, the 40 descendants of a group of Israeli siblings leaned down and hugged the elderly Greek woman to whom they owe their very existence, as she sat in her wheelchair and wiped away tears streaking down her wrinkled face

Clutching the hands of those she hid, fed and protected as a teenager more than 75 years ago, 92-year-old Melpomeni Dina said she could now “die quietly.”

Sunday’s emotional encounter was the first time Dina had met the offspring of the Mordechai family she helped save during the Holocaust.

To read the full article, go here.

• Many people lament that no one resigns anymore. No one is ever moved enough, or indignant enough, or disgusted enough — or daring enough — to tender a resignation. Everyone hangs on. But not Michael McKinley. He is the career diplomat — the Foreign Service officer — who was recently the senior adviser to Secretary of State Pompeo. He had also been ambassador in three South American countries, plus Afghanistan. He resigned because Pompeo refused to issue a statement of support for Marie Yovanovitch, our ambassador to Ukraine, and for other reasons of that kind.

(To read a news report, go here.)

I find this interesting, and refreshing.

• On Twitter and elsewhere, I hear a lot about generations — about “boomers,” “millennials,” etc. People will say to me, “Shut the f*** up, boomer!” I happen not to be a baby boomer, but only prigs and elitists care about accuracy, right? I want to say this: Walking around in life, I have not found generations to be significant at all. I have found people to be people — in all their diversity, and splendor, and terribleness. I think this generational talk is pretty lazy, like a lot of class talk, race-and-ethnicity talk, and other talk talk tawk tawk . . .

• A little sports? Okay, Matthew Stafford, the quarterback of the Lions — “MattStaff.” He is one of the best quarterbacks, and best athletes, of our time. (By the way, he grew up with another great athlete: Clay Kershaw, the pitcher.) He is destined for the Hall of Fame. His poster would be on bedroom walls all over the country; he would be a household name — but for the fact that he plays for the Lions, a perpetually mediocre team. Billy Sims, Barry Sanders, Calvin Johnson, MattStaff — we have had all these greats in Detroit, whose light, however, has been under a bushel, because of . . . Lions-ness.

Which is too bad.

• A little music? Um, don’t really have anything for you today. Next time.

• A little language? Yes. Let’s end on that. On my Yahoo! Sports app the other night, I spotted this headline, concerning the NBA: “Not all guards are created equally.” No, no, no: Much better to have the adjective there: “equal.” “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” People often misquote the Dylan Thomas line. They say, “Do not go gently into that good night.” No, no: He uses the adjective there, which is so much better — “Do not go gentle into that good night.”

Well, I am going now, y’all, whether gently — or gentle — or not. Thank you for joining me. If you’d like to receive Impromptus by e-mail — links to new columns — let me know at jnordlinger@nationalreview.com. See you.

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