One of my favorite things about my YouTube Channel is the comments section. The MFF comments defy the stereotypes. It’s a really pleasant environment, where people actually deal with issues, and often add to my base of knowledge. We’ve got our share of racist trolls of course, it’s Youtube after all, but even they engage positively now and again, and nobody pays them much mind when they are trolling. I spend a lot of time in the comments, and I consider the experience very rewarding. The same, alas cannot be said, for the comments section to this video on our concentration camp era.
There were plenty of stand outs, but it was really sad to see a lot of people retreat to their foxholes. I think this video is pretty important, and I think the parallel it draws between the world’s three most important countries is worth thinking about. Unfortunately the comments are full of Americans, Chinese, and Indians bitterly denouncing the idea that their country could ever do wrong. It was especially sad to see folks who are delighted to engage with my critiques of the US shrink away from criticism of their own countries. Most of my regular commenters didn’t fall into this, but a few of them did. Makes me sad. Though actually I suppose it’s an indication of our common humanity too.
I put this video into my “We need a globalist party” playlist. The playlist is an old idea I need to revive. The fact is that our three 20th century titans will need some restraining, and as my comment section indicates, they are unlikely to do it to themselves. In the mid 20th century institutions like the United Nations had a real moral authority that they could use to motivate grass roots shaming of great power crimes. That ability to hold the great powers to account has faded away. We probably need it back.
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there. Do you ever wonder what our era will be remembered for? Will it be Trump’s MAGA revolution? Will it be the neglect of Climate change, like every science fiction writer seems to expect? No, it think this era will most likely be remembered as the one that saw the return of the concentration camp. The world’s three most important countries are all involved.
In recent months, the world’s attention has been taken by China’s struggle with Hong Kong. This uprising is worthy of our attention of course, but it should not distract us from the horrors of Xinjiang. The rich, internationally networked protesters of Hong Kong, whose special status is useful to Beijing for economic purposes are facing haphazard and embarrassed repression from a central government that doesn’t want to kill the golden goose. As I have pointed out before the Uighurs of Xinjiang are facing a science fiction dystopia. Hong Kong’s right to protest is in danger. The right of the Uighur people to exist is actively being crushed. As many as a million people are in concentration camps. Satellite footage has documented this quickly growing network.
On August 5th, India revoked Kashmir’s special status within the Indian constitution. Since then, the territory has been subject to stepped up repression. I have read reports of as many as 4000 people, including local politicians, being detained. I don’t know enough about this issue yet, but I do know it will remain in the headlines, thanks to its central role in the conflict between India and Pakistan. I am less confident about what is happening on the other side of the country.
The first people in India crushed by British imperialism were in Bengal. The Indian government is continuing this repression today. The historic territory of Bengal is split between Bangladesh and India. In late August, India released a revised list stripping 1.9 million people of their Indian citizenship. The Indian government’s position is that these families that have spent almost half a century and generations as Indians now need to go to Bangladesh. There is already a network of detention camps for these now stateless people in India. Bangladesh probably doesn’t want them either, so many more camps will be built.
The United States has concentration camps for its unwanted as well. The temptation here is to blame Trump, whose administration proposed indefinite detention for asylum seekers last month. But in truth, Ronald Reagan was the last American President whose welcome for immigrants matched our historic values. Every administration since has militarized our borders and ratcheted up the brutality of our anti immigrant gestapo. We have our own sci fi dystopia now. Trump is worse than Obama of course, but not as much as you would think.
To deal with the obvious criticism, yes, none of these things are as bad as Nazi death camps. But it’s pretty fricking scary that I have to make that statement. A concentration camp is a technical definition, and imprisoning people for their identity is a bad thing, whether there happens to be gas chambers and tuberculosis, or good sanitation and courses you can take for college credit.
Also, the three separate crimes that the world’s largest countries are committing are also different. China’s is the worse by far, in terms of scale, duration, and the clear goal of cultural eradication. India’s treatment of its Muslim minorities in the east and west is less severe, but also massive in scale, and seems to represent a turn for the worse. The US’s concentration camps are the least horrific, because they are not filled with citizens, only the desperate, hopeful people who want to become citizens.
These distinctions are important, but I will be honest, it doesn’t mean much to me as an American. I expect more from my country damn it. I really do think we should be an example the world should follow. If you agree with me on that you should be as ashamed of our concentration camps as I am.
Also, China is an authoritarian country, but at least until recently it was getting better. It’s an ancient and glorious civilization with growing wealth, it should be doing better by its minorities than the Nazis circa 1935. The Nazi death camps didn’t get going until the war started, they started out looking a lot like the camps China is running today.
India is the world’s largest democracy. For a century now, long before independence, Indian politicians at their best were moral leaders in human compassion and dignity. Seeing the country of Gandhi and the non aligned movement reduced to this brutality to the weak is disgusting.
The worst thing about the actions taken by these countries is how unnecessary they all are. The main justification for China’s horrific escalation of Xinjiang policy in 2016, is a series of riots from back 2009. India is getting richer and more powerful than Pakistan every day, the Muslim Indian minority poses a much smaller threat than it might have before. Illegal immigration to the United States has been falling for over a decade. There is no crisis driving any of these actions. It’s just cruelty, and a sense that the politicians can now get away with it.
Again, it’s tempting to blame this on Trump. Both of his secretaries of state have been ostentatious in their contempt for Human rights diplomacy. Trump’s complete lack of moral authority has taken the ability to shame out of international politics, and the pure dumb chaos of his administration makes it impossible to pay attention to anything other than his Twitter feed. All the noise means people can get away with more stuff now. Places like Xinjiang and Kashmir are to some degree worse because Trump is president.
But the more literate and sane looking Bush and Obama administrations are probably more to blame. Their use of Human Rights language to justify causing the murders of a million people in Iraq, Syria and Libya tarnished these concepts. Trump’s sheer incapacity means he’s unlikely to be able to as much damage as they did.
It’s not commonly recognized how new Human Rights are as a focus of international politics. Its an outgrowth of the horrors of World War II, but its more recent than that. In the first few decades after the War, few people focused on the holocaust or the millions of other people who were slaughtered. Consciousness only grew in the 1960s, and human rights only became a major focus of cold war politics and with the Helsinki accords in the 1970s.
Pressure for Human Rights was always political of course. Great powers used it to embarrass each other, and since the cold war it has justified a lot of interventions that led to even greater violations of Human rights. But there are plenty of activists and lawyers who have used this focus to do great things, save lives and improve the world. We will miss this focus when it’s gone.
Unfortunately I think our new concentration camp era is a sign that it the focus on Human Rights is already disappearing. People will keep talking about them of course, but it will get more and more meaningless as a world of concentration camp guards try to one up each other on morals and ethics.
It’s possible that Human Rights as a political issue was the product of a fleeting moment in history, when rising wealth and cold war competition interacted in just the right way. That would be a pity. It’s probably not to late to save this area of diplomacy. But we won’t be able to rely on our concentration camp building governments to save human rights. We have to do that ourselves.