Uyghurs in China live a very fearful life, not knowing when officials will come knocking on their doors to send them to an internment camp where they will be forced to renounce their faith and cultural identity. However, the Uyghurs who have migrated to Australia proudly celebrate their culture, without fear of any government crackdown.
Uyghurs in Australia
Muqam is an Islamic song custom unique to the Uyghurs that has been classified as a protected tradition by UNESCO. It has been performed by the community for over a thousand years. Incorporating instruments like accordions, strings, and drums, it has deep religious meaning for Uyghurs.
“Without Muqam there is no Uyghur. To speak of Uyghur people is to speak of Muqam, and to speak of Muqam is to speak of the Uyghurs… The customs, way of life, joys and sorrows, all kinds of experiences of the Uyghur people are all embodied in Muqam… This has been passed on and connected to each one of us, through every generation up to this very day,” Shohrat Tursun, a master of Muqam who lives in Australia, said to ABC News.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has largely not interfered in the Uyghur practice of Muqam over the past decade since people made reference to God in their songs using a term that is similar to the word for “lover.” But of late, the authorities seem to have noticed that the musical tradition is basically dedicated to God, and they have sought to eliminate it from Uyghur culture. A state policy document revealed that officials were ordered to “break their [Uyghur] lineage, break their roots, break their connections, and break their origins.”
Australian Uyghurs are thankful that they live in a country where they can proudly sing and dance according to their cultural traditions without fear of persecution. However, the increasing influence of China in Australia has some Uyghurs worried about their safety. Shirmuhammed Hasan is a Uyghur who sought asylum in Australia in 2017 believing that he would finally be free from the clutches of the CCP. However, he soon found out that Chinese police were keeping tabs on him in Australia.
“I was working in the South-East Asian countries for five-and-a-half years before but… [for] safety reasons I moved to Australia because… people are just captured and jailed without any reason [in Xinjiang]… I thought this is a country where I feel totally safe, but the facts prove that I’m not… Even last year I’ve been contacted by the Chinese security agents,” he said to ABC News. Hasan is fearful that should he be sent back to China, he would be put in a detention camp where he would spend the rest of his life.
Australia recently suspended a human rights partnership with China due to its horrible treatment of Uyghurs and their ban against two Australian politicians who had highlighted the issue. The two lawmakers, Andrew Hastie and James Paterson, will apparently remain blocked from entering China until they “repent” for their statements against the Asian nation.
“The response by Senator Paterson and Andrew Hastie I thought was spot on. I thought it was very measured, it was very strong, I thought it was very appropriate… It’s for others to explain as to why they took the view that they did — the Chinese authorities. But we’re an open democracy, we speak our minds as individuals and certainly James and Andrew have always been known for that, we’ll always be who we are,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said to the Daily Mail.
At a recent United Nations meeting, Australia was one of the 23 nations that criticized China’s record on human rights issues. Others in the group included Germany, the United States, Japan, Canada, France, and New Zealand. Fifty-four countries extended support to Beijing, praising the Chinese government for “remarkable achievements in the field of human rights.” Pakistan, Egypt, Russia, Serbia, and Congo were part of the 54 countries that took a pro-China stance.