Critical thinking on China and the Uyghurs

23 Feb

While it’s hard to understand how [Adrian] Zenz has gotten away with so much statistical malpractice, a look at his background helps explain his ideological motivations, and provides important context on his negative focus on the application of birth control. He is an anti-abortion, anti-feminist Christian fundamentalist captivated by End Times theology, and has said that god has led him on a mission against the Chinese government.

I find Max Blumenthal, writing fourteen months ago, a touch disingenuous. It’s not at all hard to see how Adrian Zenz, of whom more below, got away with statistical malpractice. If it chimes with the NewSpeak (whose rabidity may vary with audience demographics but whose aims do not) of a West spooked by Eurasia rising, no accusation is too light on evidence, too internally contradictory or too flat out daft to be pumped out by corporate media. By sheer repetition, and the systemic sidelining of facts outside the Overton Window, it will assume the status of truth.1

… Putin poisons water in hotel room. Navalny falls sick, and is taken to a Russian state hospital. Nobody kills him there, though a hospital is an easy place to do so. Doctors find no poison, authorities approve his transfer to Berlin, where medics find novichok and accuse Russia. France agrees, the EU imposes sanctions. Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

Last week GrayZone site ran an important piece. We know it’s important because corporate media – Chomsky’s “big businesses selling audiences to other big businesses” – won’t run it.

Just kidding. Even I don’t suppose our corrupt media’s ignoring or rubbishing of an opinion or story makes the opinion worthy, the story ipso facto true. Still, at times I do wonder whether such simplistic inversions may get us closer to the truth than ‘our’ media ever could, given the business model so pithily summed up by Chomsky.2

(That business model being mediated but not neutralised in the case of state broadcasters financially reliant on politicians half fearful of, half in bed with, Murdoch, Rothermere et al.)

Anyway, here’s how this latest GrayZone piece, also co-authored by Max Blumenthal, begins:

US State Department accusation of China ‘genocide’ relied on data abuse and baseless claims by far-right ideologue

Both President Joe Biden and his Secretary of State Anthony Blinken have endorsed former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s last-minute accusation of “genocide” against the Muslim Uyghur population in China’s Xinjiang province. But an investigation of published work by the researcher Pompeo relied on to level his genocide allegation reveals a pattern of data abuse and fraudulent assertions that substantially undermines the incendiary charge.

The US accusation of genocide against China stems from a single source: a June 2020 paper by Adrian Zenz, a right-wing German researcher affiliated with Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and neoconservative Jamestown Foundation in Washington, DC.

If you’ve time I recommend reading the Grayzone piece (3324 words plus several graphs) in full. Its detail puts to shame those media which, with a shallowness as predictable as their enthusiasm, ran with Zenz’s allegations.

As it happens, just yesterday I’d gotten into one of my now rare FB exchanges. It too was on China’s alleged mistreatment of Uyghurs. For now I’ll set aside the grimy realpolitik whereby a West now led by the USA, but with a pedigree going back to WW1 and Britain’s Lawrence of Arabia, uses Islamism not only in Syria and the middle east but some say in Chechnya too.

(On the West’s schizoid weaponising of Islamism in the middle east, see Stephen Gowans on Israel. On its need to demonise China and Russia, see Our beautifully democratic wars.)

Back to yesterday’s FB exchanges. A posting of the 2019 Blumenthal piece on Zenz, the one I opened this post with, drew a series of interrelated comments. One, by Myles, said:

I agree [Zenz] is an ‘unreliable’ source but are there not other real independent sources out there reporting on this? What do they say?

In response I posted this piece from Wisconsin based pacifist site, the Progressive.

Myles responded:

I am not an apologist for the State Dept and the Chinaphobes all around us but this article does not address what’s happening now, nor does it rely on independent sources, but Chinese officials. I’m really looking for an independent, objective investigation.

Me:

Fair enough Myles. Neither of us knows. But has the US, on which, by any normal reckoning, burden of proof lies, produced such “independent, objective investigation”? I say it hasn’t.

Which leaves us with (a) the abysmal record of the US ruling class on human rights across the world, (b) its control of narrative via media driven by market forces (Chomsky is good on this) and most importantly (c) the fact Washington and Wall St have every reason to lie about a China whose economic rise it fears.

Leading me to conclude that (a) Uighur ‘genocide’ is likely to be overstated if not invented, and (b) even if I’m wrong, not the real reason for the tsunami of sinophobic propaganda from the US.

I’ve written a fair bit on this. Alas and worryingly, FB is preventing me from offering links3 but my website – steelcityscribblings dot uk – has various posts on both sinophobia and russophobia, neither of which should be taken at face value. If you do visit my site, try a search on “our beautifully democratic wars”. I’ll be interested in any comments you might make. All the best.

Myles:

everyone!! I’m getting frustrated with the answers I’m getting. Except for one above who says there were others to verify that the charges are false, NO ONE is giving me any link/cite that discusses it. The US government lies for its own propagandistic and imperialist purposes. But to say the Chinese government is truthful is naive to the extreme. ALL GOVERNMENTS LIE.

That’s why I want to see for ‘myself’, even if it’s 2nd hand, but independent and objective, observations.

Me:

I’m sorry you’re frustrated. What you’ve actually done though is demanded proof of a negative. That’s famously difficult, epistemologically speaking – and one reason why, in jurisprudence, burden of proof lies with the accuser. You also ignore courteous and reasoned responses, and offer strawman argument. Who on this thread is saying “the Chinese government is truthful”?

Myles:

But are there any independent investigators that have written that the accusations are false based on observations, not just relying on attacking Zenz and other state operators? That is legitimately proving a negative.

I did see a rpt., (think it was BBC) that translated a slew of govt. documents that would show there is indeed severe repression. And yes, the BBC is state run so it is suspect.

Myles – in a reply to a third party who argued that China targets only Islamist Uyghurs:

And if Danny Haiphong makes a credible argument that only ISIS-inspired Uighurs are ‘oppressed’, I’ll accept that. Kim Iversen has been saying that for a long time but offered no real, objective proof that the accusations saying the entire community wasn’t being targeted. True, you can’t necessarily prove a negative, but if other non-ISIS Uighurs are being punished, which I’ve never believed, then it wouldn’t be terribly difficult to get an objective picture to disprove it. What I’m hearing is the equivalent of having a theory and doing experiments that will guarantee a successful outcome.

I’m not going to respond any more. I’ve long rejected the Uighur genocide argument but have always looked for objective reporting on it.

In fact the Grayzone piece last week (here it is yet again) does offer some evidence that one of Zenz’s central claims – of population control ethnically targeted by Beijing at the Uyghurs – is nonsense even by Zenz’s own data. But at the time of these exchanges I had yet to read that more recent piece. I therefore responded in general terms.

Me:

“What I’m hearing is the equivalent of having a theory and doing experiments that will guarantee a successful outcome.” You lost me there buddie. But, yes, I think we’ve exhausted any usefulness to these exchanges. Take care mate.

*

  1. I stress, systemic. Vulgar derision of corporate media critics assumes – as did Andrew Marr in his famous interview with Chomsky – those critics to be positing mendacity and censorship writ large. But while corrupt journalists and censoring editors do exist – their influence rising with level of threat to our rulers – for the most part they are superfluous to requirement. Media answer to market forces, and if they fail in this they fail period. It is quite impossible for them to be loyal both to truth and the dictates of advertising. Their messages must as a matter of business necessity remain within the Overton Window. Since, as Upton Sinclair has observed, it’s hard to get a man to see a truth his salary depends upon him not seeing, few journalists – raised, like the rest of us, on the kool-aid of dominant ideology – will ask whether greater truths may be found beyond that window.
  2. I find such simple inversions most tempting with elevated groups or individuals on the one hand, demonised groups or individuals on the other. (As The Man put it: “the first shall be last and the last shall be first”.) The temptation is to be resisted, yes. There’s no short cut, no substitute for putting the work into researching and thinking things through. But that it arises at all, in the minds of the recently somnolent, is an indicator of how ill served we are by corporate media and their rotten business model.
  3. This allusion to FB preventing links is part of the fall out of the stand-off between FB and the Australian Government.

4 Replies to “Critical thinking on China and the Uyghurs

  1. A timely article on one of the very best websites on the internet- a compliment to Philip greatly devalued by the paucity of decent comment with which to compete.

    Yesterday the Canadian House of Commons voted that the Uighurs are victims of Chinese state sponsored genocide. This was, amazingly, a policy imposed on a reluctant, abstaining, Liberal government by a combination of ultra right wing Tories, the Green party and the Blairite New Democratic Party.

    As you suggest, very politely, the evidence of any persecution of muslims and Uighurs in particular is sparse at best and rarely cited by China’s anti-communist critics. And the origin of any special treatment of a minority living in the strategically vital west of central Asia, lies in an old NATO campaign to introduce wahhabi theology and turkic separatism to a population from which tens of thousands of young men have been recruited, since the eighties, to al qaeda militias including those in Syria and Iraq, Chechnya and Albania.

    What we, on the ‘left’ are dealing with, and ought to be grown up enough to understand, is the latest iteration of a corrupt political caste’s refusal to watch the cornucopia of careers that the empire is sink without every effort being made to preserve it.

    The British saw this sort of thing during the long fight to “keep India British” and then the reluctant retreat from imperial fleshpots which ended up in the bloody farce of Rhodesia.

    In France Indo China and Algeria saw similar struggles.

    A hypocritical; concern over the sort of thing we now call human rights has been at the basis of imperialism since Columbus started work.

    • Thanks (not for the first time) for your kind words, bevin.

      Thanks too for raising the extent, not well covered, of Chechen and Uyghur involvement in cold war Afghanistan and all that followed. Those groups have received far less cover than have Islamists from the Middle East or even those from sub-Saharan Africa. I find zilch on CIA activity among China’s Muslims, and not much on the same in Chechnya, but it would fly in the face of all we know to deny the possibility – read: near certainty – of precisely that.

  2. Hi Phil
    I doubt that I can offer any convincing evidence either way on this, but as I was in weekly contact with a group of exiled Uyghurs from East Turkestan (better known these days as Xinjiang) living in London between 2000 to 2003, I thought I’d respond. I heard their first-hand accounts of some of the human rights abuses perpetrated against their people, and it sounded pretty grim, including forced sterilisations and abortions, and with large numbers of Uyghurs held in detention in prisons or labour camps. They identified themselves as freedom-fighters, rejecting China’s right to sovereignty over them. Unlike their near neighbours also fighting for independence from Chinese rule, the Tibetans, the Uyghurs are not opposed to the necessary use of force, and their violent actions against China’s rule were met (certainly at that time) with an even greater iron fist than the non-violent Tibetan resistance. I’m afraid I don’t have access any more to any reliable sources of evidence for this, but I have no reason to believe that what the Uyghurs told me was at the behest of any one else, certainly not the UK or even the US governments. They were independent eye witness accounts from Uyghur refugees. I’ve no doubt that considerable human rights atrocities were carried out by China against the Uyghurs, and, from what I understand have most likely continued to this day. The question though which was on my lips a year or so ago when, all of a sudden it seemed, the mainstream press suddenly became interested in their plight and made it worldwide headline news, was why now? Why now when for at least two decades campaign groups have worked hard to shine the spotlight on these abuses and none of them seemed to care? And to answer that question I turn to some of what you’ve written here, but from a different viewpoint, realising how it’s further fuel for the growing anti-China sentiment to expose to the world at long last how awful life is for the Uyghurs, this distant little-known minority people with no money, no oil, no clout, and for whom none of them cared a jot about until they stood to gain something from the telling of their plight. So although I don’t agree with all the arguments of the GrayZone piece, I nevertheless agree that the US dominated media is exploiting the Uyghurs tale for their own ends, and probably will drop them like a hot potato when it suits them too, yes, as all governments do, very much including the sin-bag of hooligans in the UK parliament.
    Hope you’re keeping well!
    With Love, Paula

    • Hi Paula

      Yes, keeping well and no side effects from the fact, sure to draw scorn from one wing of those who dislike my refusal to write what they want me to write on covid, that I had my first AstraZenica shot last Friday. Will let you know if I die.

      My bottom line on the Uyghurs is twofold. One, I don’t know the truth. Two it flies in the face of all that is known of imperialism and its media to suppose the allegations are (a) not overstated and (b) presented to us without ulterior motive. Through misplaced trust in our leaders and media, we are sleepwalking into a nightmare driven by Washington and Wall Street panic over the decline of dollar hegemony and the profits of plundering the global south.

      A parallel for me is Syria (on which I try for a nuanced but anti-imperialist view in this post). Personal contacts count for a lot with our species, understandably given the way we’ve evolved: we’re not naturally abstract thinkers. But they pose dangers too: in this case that of generalising from samples not only tiny but statistically skewed. I fell out (a hazard of pol-blogging) with a big hearted and intelligent friend, fiercely opposed to Bashar al-Assad, who knew a handful of Syrian refugees. She’d trot this out as an ace card – not in the nuanced and rightly cautious way you have with the Uyghurs, but in a spirit of “I know Syrians and you don’t!”

      Subtext: ‘I can therefore presume to speak on behalf of a nation of 17 million people hugely divergent in ethnicity, faith and culture …’

      When I opined that this fiery radical wouldn’t dream of taking as gospel the word of Florida based Cuban contras on Fidel, she flew into a rage and unfriended me. C’est la vie.

      Take care yourself. Love Phil

      PS “sin-bag of hooligans” – love it!!

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