The long jump over Xinjiang: Digging for gold at Beijing's genocide Olympics
On February 4, China will host the 2022 Winter Olympics. For sixteen days, Beijing will convene the greatest athletes in the world and showcase their sporting exploits while the eyes of billions from around the world fixate on China.
For a Communist regime that successfully lured its third Olympics in fourteen years, the field of sport is ideal terrain for state propaganda. For activists gruelling to bring attention to the plight of Uyghur and ethnic Muslims, the Olympics provides a much needed light to a crisis that has deftly been buried in the dark.
Despite the politicisation of the Winter Olympics to push Chinese soft power, and the economic bounty that comes with it, the Communist government is seeking to silence activists by “keeping politics out of sports,” a mantra just as disingenuous as Beijing’s denial of the Uyghur concentration camps.
United Nations leaked word of these camps in 2018, where as many as 3 million Uyghur and ethnic Muslims endured ghastly violence within hardened prisons scattered throughout the postmodern panopticon that is Xinjiang.
"For a Communist regime that successfully lured its third Olympics in fourteen years, the field of sport is ideal terrain for state propaganda"
In the international community, few care about the plight of the Uyghur, and even fewer governments do.
However, the Winter Games provide a new opportunity to project the horrors unfolding in Xinjiang on a global stage - a stage shared by world-class athletes and their national delegations, Fortune 500 brands and a sporting spectacle that will stream on the televisions and handheld devices of billions over the course of two weeks.
Uyghur leadership in the diaspora have called for a boycott of the Winter Games. This call has trickled down to the grassroots level, where Uyghur communities and their allies have staged protests in the United States, Turkey and online.
Boycotts are aimed at prospective spectators, corporations, and particularly governments sending delegations to Beijing. The United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, Japan, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia and Lithuania have heeded the call and will not send government delegates to the Games.
"The show will doubtless go on amid the maelstrom of disgust, despair, grief and fury."— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) February 3, 2022
How China will wow the world with the 2022 Winter Olympics in the face of growing calls to boycott it over accusations of human rights abuses against the Uyghurs️ 👇https://t.co/BekSACb6NH
This political opposition, however, is tempered by the fact that their athletes will still compete in Beijing. The financial incentives tied to participating in the Beijing Olympics, no matter the scale of horror inflicted on the Uyghur Muslims, supersedes for individual athletes, nations and corporations. The pursuit of gold, on the field of play but even more so in terms of financial bottom line, eclipses human rights and the unfolding tragedy in Xinjiang.
This is hardly exclusive to the Olympics Games. Sporting leagues, most notoriously the National Basketball Association, have exported their product to China to capitalise on the mammoth market’s gold rush.
The League and its most bankable franchises and stars remained noticeably silent about the Uyghur genocide while peddling the NBA and their sneakers to 1.4 billion prospective consumers during a 2019 China tour.
But that silence was broken last week. A minority owner of the Golden State Warriors, the most popular NBA team in China, stated during a live interview that, “Nobody cares about Uyghurs.” His view was painfully truthful.
In response, I wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle that, “one billionaire… is simply putting a face and name on a culture endemic within big business that is fiercely committed to its bottom line. The human rights of a foreign people, and specifically, a Muslim people caricatured as terrorists during a global War on Terror that institutionalises that very stereotype, is an opportunity cost worth absorbing.”
Companies within and beyond the world of sport have also bought in. Tesla, the American electric car giant, recently opened a showroom in Xinjiang. Hilton hotels built a location in the province’s capital, atop a bulldozed mosque no less. While these brands set up permanent shop in Xinjiang, AirnBnB, Bridgestone, Coca-Cola, Intel, Visa Inc., and other American and global brands have signed on as corporate partners for the 2022 Winter Games.
Profit over principle, and the bottom line beating out the humanitarian imperative to not only boycott the Winter Olympics in China, but prevent it from happening, is why the show will go on.
However, the bright lights of that show equips the global Uyghur movement with expanded opportunities to expose the horror in Xinjiang. These horrors, up till now, have been isolated within intellectual and advocacy silos or buried in books that deserve universal readership.
"Profit over principle, and the bottom line beating out the humanitarian imperative to not only boycott the Winter Olympics in China, but prevent it from happening, is why the show will go on"
One of these books is Darren Byler’s Inside the Camps: China’s High Tech Penal Colony. Within a trenchant presentation of the concentration camp system constructed in Xinjiang, Byler writes about a female inmate recently taken in and separated from her newborn son: “In a small gesture of sympathy the guards allowed her to keep a picture of her baby boy, who she was still breastfeeding. At night she kept looking at her son’s picture and crying. Since the guards could see this on the camera, they yelled at her over the speaker, ‘If you keep looking at your son’s picture and cry again, we will take it away’.”
This is the very government hosting the Winter Olympics in Beijing. The very Communist Party donning the cloak of the Games to remarket itself on the world stage, pushing the propaganda of sport to pretend that it has undergone a makeover while its strategically hidden inners remain unchanged.
Rushan Abbas, executive director for the Campaign for Uyghurs, recently wrote, “China tries to media-watch its crimes against humanity, but every government leader knows the truth. Reputable news organisations debunk China’s myths. At one time, we said we did not know the full extent of what was happening in Germany; with Uyghur genocide today, we have no such excuse.”
While the pageantry marches forward in Beijing on February 4th, rape, torture, mass imprisonment and the architecture of genocide will be gradually finetuned miles away in Xinjiang. However, these juxtaposed portraits of China are by no means segregated.
In the lead up to the Olympics, there has been a concerted government push to promote Xinjiang as a snow sport destination, accelerating the removal of the indigenous Uygur to make way for ski lifts, slopes and foreign brands ready to build showrooms atop razed mosques and bulldozed communities.
“Together for a shared future,” China’s official slogan for the 2022 Winter Games, is one that patently excludes the Uyghur.
For a government claiming that “sports and politics should remain separate,” China’s genocidal campaign in Xinjiang illustrates how it has violently merged the two together. The International Olympics Committee, which picked China to host the 2022 Games, is no innocent party.
"While the pageantry marches forward in Beijing on February 4th, rape, torture, mass imprisonment and the architecture of genocide will be gradually finetuned miles away in Xinjiang. However, these juxtaposed portraits of China are by no means segregated"
“The IOC deserves all of the disdain and disgust that comes their way for going back to China again,” shared eminent sportscaster Bob Costas, whose former employer NBC Universal has a $12 billion contract to broadcast the Olympic Games.
The Beijing Olympics are far more than sport, but perhaps the most consequential test case measuring how much inhumanity China can get away with. Will the powerful nations and leading brands take a stand? Or will they continue to bow before a genocidal regime in hopes of winning gold?
Khaled A. Beydoun is a law professor at the Wayne State School of Law, and a Scholar in Residence at the Harvard Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society's Initiative for a Representative First Amendment. He is the author of the critically acclaimed book, American Islamophobia: Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear.
Follow him on Twitter: @khaledbeydoun
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