Opinion: The Strange Silence Over China's Muslim Crackdown

18 hours ago

President Trump says trade talks between the United States and China have been, "going very well." The United States put $250 billion worth of tariffs on Chinese goods last year, to counter what it considers unfair trade practices and theft of U.S. technology.

But there are no indications the United States, the United Nations, or any government is prepared to use any economic or diplomatic leverage to oppose China locking up between 800,000 and 2 million Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Chinese Muslims into internment camps in the western Xinjiang region.

The camps are in remote locations — closed to the world — and ringed with barbed wire. But they have been photographed by satellite. The Chinese government calls them "re-education centers," a phrase that carries a sinister history from the murderous purges of Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution.

The people in the camps are forced to denounce their faith and pledge loyalty to the Communist Party. According to multiple reports, a number of people in the camps have also been tortured.

As Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, told The Independent, "If any other government in the world was locking up a million Muslims I think we can reasonably expect to have seen demands for a debate at the U.N. Security Council or an international investigation. That's generally unlikely to happen with China."

There were calls in the U.S. Congress last fall for the Trump administration to consider sanctions against China for what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced as "awful abuses."

But China is America's largest creditor: it holds more than a trillion dollars in U.S. Treasury securities. Look down at whatever you're wearing, carrying, riding in or working on right now. American businesses get rich relying on Chinese workers who earn low wages to produce our clothing, mobile phones, building materials, and dazzling new tech devices.

The Trump administration imposed tariffs on China over unfair trade practices. But it has offered no more than a few rhetorical flourishes over human rights crimes. Neither did the Obama administration, or the European Union.

And Muslim countries — including Saudi Arabia and Iran — have been similarly, conspicuously, silent. China invests heavily, and strategically in their nations too.

Sometimes, the price of human rights just cannot compete.

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There's new focus on R. Kelly and accusations that he committed sexual abuse now that "Surviving R. Kelly," the Lifetime docuseries, has aired. Pop artists, including Lady Gaga and the band Phoenix, have apologized for their collaborations with Kelly and expressed support for his accusers.

But Robert Kelly still has defenders and fans, including leaders in the gospel music industry. Candice Benbow wrote about that allegiance on her website in a piece called "Supporting R. Kelly: When Gospel And Black Church Get It Wrong." She joins us now from member station WUOT in Knoxville, Tenn. Thanks so much for being with us.

CANDICE BENBOW: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: R. Kelly has a deep relationship with gospel music and the black church, doesn't he?

BENBOW: He does. So from "I Need An Angel," with "I Believe I Can Fly," writing for Whitney Houston with "I Look To You" - these are songs that are sung in our churches - recently working with Marvin Sapp. So he has a record and a history of creating songs that speak to black Christians in particular. And that reach has been one that has been both long-standing and has allowed him a certain kind of insulation from critique.

SIMON: Well, help us understand that insulation. Is it as simple as a lot of people are indebted to him for extraordinary work? Do they like him personally?

BENBOW: It's a both-and, right? So on one level, because you've written these monster hits for people, there's a way in which that power insulates you from critique, right? But in a larger sense, we have to look at the structure of our churches and the structure of our theologies.

There was a point when the only place that black men could find power and respect and refuge was in our black churches, right? So during the height of the civil rights movement, during Reconstruction, if you could not be in larger society where you were respected, you definitely could come to the church and be a leader in our communities and our congregations. And so that leadership became protected over and above caring for and protecting black women and girls.

And so even when - before we saw "Surviving R. Kelly," there were a number of allegations that, again, nobody touched in this particular community because it was easier for us to say, I'm going to pray for him, rather than say, I'm going to attack this head-on because if we attacked it head-on, we will have to talk about other issues that are similar that are happening in churches every day.

SIMON: You mentioned Marvin Sapp. And that 2017 album "Close" has a track that he worked on with R. Kelly. Marvin Sapp is a bishop - isn't he? - not just a recording artist.

BENBOW: He is. So - and that makes it even more dangerous, right? Because when people critiqued Marvin Sapp for not only doing the record but intentionally keeping the record on his album, he said, you know, I would rather pray for him rather than condemn him and then went on to make a broader statement that God has used flawed men in the Bible, citing Noah and Moses, to do great things and great work. And while that's true, there's a difference between Noah and Moses and a pedophile, right?

SIMON: Yeah.

BENBOW: So we have to be very clear that when we decide to cloak a lack of accountability in Godspeak, what does that signal for our broader congregations every single day?

SIMON: Can you listen to R. Kelly's music?

BENBOW: I would be hypocritical if I said that I wasn't listening to "I Believe I Can Fly" because I was, right? But I think that there comes a point, particularly as I grew as a feminist and had experienced friends telling me their own experiences, coming into honesty around my own experiences around sexual trauma and assault - it became important for me to reckon with the fact that if I am going to support R. Kelly by listening to him, then I am saying that these experiences do not matter. And I'm saying that black girls' and black women's voices don't matter. And I can't say that because then that means that my voice doesn't matter.

And so I think that we are in a moment where we have to draw the line in the sand. There are so many black girls and black women who have experienced violation who look to gospel music and who look to pastors to help them navigate these experiences. And if they can't hear their favorite gospel artists or their pastor say, this is wrong, and we have to address it, then we really have to think about, what is the true message of the church? And what is the true message of gospel music?

SIMON: Candice Benbow. Her piece appears on her website, candicebenbow.com. Thank you so much for being with us.

BENBOW: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.