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Cambridge don, 72, told students not to debate Uighur Muslims

Cambridge academic Peter Nolan has warned his University against allowing debates on Uighur Muslims in China because it could damage ‘mutual understanding’

A Cambridge don has warned his University against allowing debates on Uighur Muslims in China because it could damage ‘mutual understanding.’

Professor Peter Nolan, a fellow at Jesus College, said students should avoid discussions of human rights abuses in China because it would appear ‘as being a campaigning college for freedom for Hong Kong, freedom for the Uighurs.’

He said such discussions would lead to ‘unhelpful’ and ‘contentious’ outcomes. 

The emeritus professor, 72, also claimed media representation of Uighur Muslims was skewed and said the issue ‘is actually a much more complicated question.’

He said ‘all countries’ with ethnic minorities experience similar issues to those in China’s western Xinjiang province. 

Nolan, who is the director of the China Centre, made the comments during a meeting of the advisory committee of the Jesus College China Centre in November, The Sunday Times reported.  

Professor Nolan, who is the director of the China Centre, made the comments during a meeting of the advisory committee of the Jesus College (pictured) China Centre in November

Professor Nolan, who is the director of the China Centre, made the comments during a meeting of the advisory committee of the Jesus College (pictured) China Centre in November

China has been accused of perpetrating human rights abuses against its minority Uighur population in Xinjiang

China has been accused of perpetrating human rights abuses against its minority Uighur population in Xinjiang

The professor, who was given a CBE for ‘supporting British business in China’, has reportedly benefited from close ties with the country and received £3.7 million in funding from a trust with ties to a former Chinese president. 

He is also lead trustee in a charity that received funding from China for a translation project and met with top Chinese official Xiao Yaqing in September 2019. 

Jesus College’s ties with China have increasingly come under scrutiny after the college was found to have taken a £155,000 donation from Huawei and later ruled positively on the telecom giant. 

Nolan’s college also received a £200,000 grant from the Chinese government in 2018. 

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith has since accused the college of becoming a ‘mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party’. 

He is also lead trustee in a charity that received funding from China for a translation project and met with top Chinese official Xiao Yaqing in September 2019 (pictured)

He is also lead trustee in a charity that received funding from China for a translation project and met with top Chinese official Xiao Yaqing in September 2019 (pictured)

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith (pictured) has accused the college of becoming a 'mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party'

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith (pictured) has accused the college of becoming a ‘mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party’

Nolan made the remarks after colleagues called for more events to encourage debate in the college. 

He said Jesus College should not platform people with ‘very, very, very strong’ views on China, without someone else ‘presenting a different point of view’, after colleagues suggested hosting Lord Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, who has described the Chinese president’s leadership as ‘thuggish and unpleasant’. 

The professor said: ‘If you think that having a meeting where the main speaker is Chris Patten and there is nobody else presenting a different point of view is balanced, it’s not.

‘The views are very, very, very strong. They’re very, very strong on the Uighurs. They are very, very strong on Hong Kong … you have to have both views represented, otherwise the college will be perceived as being a campaigning college for freedom for Hong Kong, freedom for the Uighurs.’

He added: ‘The predominant view … is that everybody knows what is happening. Everybody doesn’t know what is happening. The majority — the mainstream through which opinion of Xinjiang is filtered is the World Uyghur Association [sic]. 

‘[It] is highly organised, is very active, and extremely well-represented in the global media, including the BBC and all other media outlets.

‘The World Uighur Association is financed by the NED. The National Endowment for Democracy is a not-for-profit organisation, which is funded by the US Congress. 

‘Its purpose is regime change in China and other parts of the world. So that what you regard in the media as self-evidently true is actually a much more complicated question.’

Nolan went on to complain hosting an event about Hong Kong would be ‘high contentious and very difficult to organise’ owing to the number of Chinese students at the college.  

‘The consequences’, he said, ‘would be very difficult to contain’.

Detainees listening to speeches in a camp in Lop County, Xinjiang, China

Detainees listening to speeches in a camp in Lop County, Xinjiang, China

He also doubled down on a claim the issue of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang is no different to 'questions that affect all countries that have any kind of minority at all'

He also doubled down on a claim the issue of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang is no different to ‘questions that affect all countries that have any kind of minority at all’

An estimated 1 million people or more - most of them Uighurs - have been confined in re-education camps in Xinjiang in recent years, according to researchers

An estimated 1 million people or more – most of them Uighurs – have been confined in re-education camps in Xinjiang in recent years, according to researchers 

He also doubled down on a claim the issue of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang is no different to ‘questions that affect all countries that have any kind of minority at all’. 

Responding to the leaked remarks, Nolan told The Times he ‘supports Jesus College’s position that no topic is out of bounds for academic discussion’. 

An estimated 1 million people or more – most of them Uighurs – have been confined in re-education camps in Xinjiang in recent years, according to researchers. 

Chinese authorities have been accused of imposing forced labor, systematic forced birth control and torture, and separating children from incarcerated parents. 

Beijing has flatly rejected the allegations. Officials have characterised the camps, which they say are now closed, as vocational training centres to teach Chinese language, job skills and the law to support economic development and combat extremism.

In April, Britain’s parliament followed those in Belgium, the Netherlands and Canada in declaring that Beijing’s policies against the Uighurs amounted to genocide and crimes against humanity. The US government has also done the same. 

A tribunal aiming to assess allegations of genocide in China opened in the UK on Friday.

A tribunal aiming to assess allegations of genocide in China opened in the UK on Friday, June 4

A tribunal aiming to assess allegations of genocide in China opened in the UK on Friday, June 4

Who are the Chinese Muslims?

Muslims are not a new presence in China. Most of China’s Muslim communities, including the Hui, Uighurs and Kazakhs, have lived in China for more than 1,000 years, according to fact tank Pew Research Center

The largest concentrations of Muslims today are in the western provinces of Xinjiang, Ningxia, Qinghai and Gansu. 

A substantial number of Muslims live in the cities of Beijing, Xi’an, Tianjin and Shanghai. 

Chinese Muslim men take part in gathering for the celebration of the Muslim holiday, Eid al-Adha, or the Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice, at the Niu Jie mosque in Beijing, China

Chinese Muslim men take part in gathering for the celebration of the Muslim holiday, Eid al-Adha, or the Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice, at the Niu Jie mosque in Beijing, China

They make up about two per cent of the 1.4 billion population in China. However, as the country is so populous, its Muslim population is expected to be the 19th largest in the world in 2030.

The Muslim population in China is projected to increase from 23.3 million in 2010 to nearly 30 million in 2030.

Those who grow up and live in places dominated by the Han Chinese have little knowledge about Islam – or religions in general – thus view it as a threat. 

Beijing’s policymakers are predominately Han. 

At the same time, radical Muslim Uighurs have killed hundreds in recent years, causing China to implement even more extreme measures to quash potential separatist movements.

Uighurs in particular have long been used to heavy-handed curbs on dress, religious practice and travel after a series of deadly riots in 2009 in Urumqi, according to the Financial Times.

Schoolchildren were banned from fasting during Ramadan and attending religious events while parents were banned from giving newborns Muslim names such as ‘Mohammed’ and ‘Jihad’. 

Certain symbols of Islam, such as beards and the veil, were also forbidden. Women with face-covering veils are sometimes not allowed on buses. Unauthorised pilgrimages to Mecca were also restricted. 


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