“I won’t be watching Mulan. I stand with the Uighurs”

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”114787″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]One of the things I love about working at Index is the fact that free speech isn’t easy.  That every time a new, or even a more established, issue arises you have to think through what it means and how it fits into your own value system.

Should you defend the right of a racist to hide behind their right to free speech?  Where is the line between protecting free speech and opposing hate speech?

Free speech underpins our right to protest.  However, does that mean if people decide to protest against our free press, that it is legitimate free expression too?

Crucially, if a repressive regime is undermining the right to free speech and attacking every other human right, is a boycott, whether of goods or culture, a legitimate way to protest?

If you believe in the basic human right of free expression – can you and should you boycott? Is your right to protest through boycott or blockades legitimate if the people or items you are boycotting are also simply exercising their right to free speech?

This question has been playing on the team at Index this week.

Every day we discuss what’s happening in China, from the acts of genocide against the Uighur Muslims, to the impact of the national security law in Hong Kong and the latest revelations about the curtailing of human rights in Inner Mongolia.

Every day we despair at what is happening to people who are living under a tyrannical regime that cares little for its citizens and even less for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Which brings me, bizarrely, to the latest Disney film release – Mulan.

Mulan should be an inspirational story, one of a woman whose actions saved a dynasty.

A woman who didn’t want her father to face another conscription, to fight in a war she knew would lead to his death. To protect her family, she pretended to be a man and joined the army and ultimately saved the day.

However, the latest version of the story is rightly proving to be controversial.

The actor playing Mulan has praised the actions of the police against the protestors in Hong Kong – parroting the Chinese Communist Party line straight from Beijing.

The script of the film shows Mulan as Han Chinese and not of Mongolian origin as many believe she was. The views of one actor, as wrong as I believe them to be, are a matter for her. The cultural misrepresentation makes for an inaccurate and to many an offensive film, but these editorial choices do not warrant a boycott of someone’s art.

What might is that Disney shot the film in the Xinjiang province.

Xinjiang is the home of the majority Muslim Uighur community and, now, the site of numerous concentration camps, where women are being forcibly sterilised, piles of human hair are being collected, people are being disappeared and the term re-education has become code for the eradication of any cultural identity that does not subscribe to the Beijing norm.

The term for this is genocide. A mass killing and cultural subjugation waged against millions of people. And it is happening today, right now in Xinjiang on the orders of the Chinese Communist Party.

Disney chose to film their latest Mulan adaptation in Xinjiang and, in doing so, have marginalised the suffering of our fellow human beings.  Disney exists to turn fantasies and fairy tales into real life, their raison d’etre is to transport us all to worlds of innocent pleasure. Yet they used their power to thank the public security bureau in the city of Turpan and the “publicity department of CPC Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomy Region Committee” in the end credits.

They thanked the people who are not only complicit but who are seemingly orchestrating acts of genocide.  Their power and agency was used not to stand with the oppressed but with the oppressors.

Index doesn’t support boycotts; we were established to publish the work of censored artists and writers – those who are being persecuted.  In my opinion that puts us on the side of the Uighurs not Disney.

Disney isn’t persecuted, it isn’t being censored – you can still see Mulan. But choices and actions have consequences. The choices Disney made to ignore the inconvenient truth of a genocide are not immune from scrutiny because their end product is an artistic output. This is a company that should be held accountable for its actions.

Free speech is important; it’s vital.  It gives every one of us the right to protest. So, I’m using my right of free speech to say that I think Disney should be ashamed and that I won’t be watching Mulan and I don’t think anyone else should either. I stand with the Uighurs.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][three_column_post title=”You might also want to read” category_id=”13527″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

British MP: “We should forge a path for Uighur freedom” – here’s how

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”114740″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]“Someone has to say enough is enough,” said Shabana Mahmood, a member of parliament (MP) from the UK in a speech she delivered last night in the British parliament about the genocide of the Uighur people from the Chinese province of Xinjiang.

“The Chinese government continue unhindered with a campaign of what can only accurately be described as genocide, but where we should expect leadership and action, there is only a yawning void.”

Mahmood said the testimonies from Uighurs are “ever more disturbing”, citing a recent ITV news item in which a doctor spoke of forced sterilisation and abortion (in one instance a baby was still moving when it was discarded into the rubbish) and a man spoke of torture so extreme that he passed out. These are not isolated examples. It is estimated that at least one million people are incarcerated in camps across the region, while the millions of others who are not in a camp are subject to constant harassment and are living under extreme surveillance and control, right down to the language they speak.

“The charge sheet is long and horrific,” said Mahmood.

Mahmood mentioned new Disney movie Mulan, which was filmed in the province, as “one of the most striking examples of choosing to look away” and said there was a savage irony given the story of Mulan is one of family and emancipation.

“We should all be alarmed and appalled by what we are seeing, but we should all also resolve to forge a path forward for Uighur freedom,” argued Mahmood, who said this path involves various approaches, such as corporate and government accountability. We “cannot allow the fruits of forced labour to end up on our shores and in our homes”, she said, adding: “The Chinese Communist Party has busily been buying up influence and the silence of other countries.”

She also spoke of legal avenues, including those that have been used in recent years to help the Rohingya from Myanmar.

“History will judge us for the unforgivable lack of action thus far,” said Mahmood.

Many of these moves Mahmood called for were at a governmental level. What can we as individuals do?

1) Shout about it

Yes, a Tweet and a Facebook post are easy, but they are still better than nothing. We must use our words, especially when those in Xinjiang are being so woefully deprived of theirs. This is not to say that if we remain silent we are complicit. As the philosopher Julian Baggini wrote for the magazine earlier this year: “There are innumerable injustices around the world. Save for a handful of full-time activists and professionals in organisations such as Index, the finite supply of time ensures that most of us are silent about the vast majority of them.” Baggini specifically mentioned the Uighurs. But he also spoke about the concept of a “speech act”. “The key idea is very simple: words do not only convey information, they can actually do things. When a boss says ‘You’re fired’, a person loses their job. When a male manager says something misogynistic, he diminishes the status of female colleagues and makes their opinions count for less.” We can, through our words, foster an environment in which these actions are not condoned, in which Chinese officials find it increasingly difficult to go on live television and claim the atrocities are not happening, and in which world leaders struggle to continue their inaction.

2) Be wise to where our products come from

We at Index do not advocate outright banning – it goes against what we stand for. But nor do we promote companies and organisations involved in exploitation and human rights abuses. In an interview earlier this year about companies working with China, Yaqiu Wang, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “By caving into the Chinese demands you are putting your values [aside] – social responsibility, freedom. It is really corrosive. You are affecting global freedom of speech.” As a consumer it’s difficult to know where everything comes from. That said, with each passing day evidence emerges linking major global brands to slave labour in Xinjiang. As consumers we can speak through our wallets. We can buy from the brands that we know aren’t complicit in the genocide; we can watch movies that aren’t filmed in the province. And we can support organisations like End Uyghur Forced Labour who are working hard to expose these links. We have choices here.

3) Protest on the streets

Live in London? The Chinese Embassy is located at 31 Portland Place, W1B 1QD. That’s a great place to start. Index have documented over the years countless examples of protest working, whether it’s a single person campaigning from their home or millions coming together. There’s a reason governments are so keen to control and clamp down on protest; it works.

4) Don’t normalise technology that is used against Uighurs

Genocides don’t happen overnight. The foundations for genocides are laid years, even decades, in advance. And while it’s difficult to pinpoint when the start date is, there are certain key moments. In the case of the Uighurs, one of these was the spread of mass surveillance. We need to fight against this, not just because video cameras sprouting up like mushrooms in our streets are bad for our own privacy. Also because if we are OK with it being used here we lose some of our moral high ground for arguing against it being used there.

5) Campaign for media freedom

There has been some phenomenal reporting on Xinjiang. Thanks to drone footage of camps by Buzzfeed and videos taken from inside a prison on the BBC, we are now gaining a far greater picture of what is happening in Xinjiang. Journalists are at the forefront of exposing the genocide. At the same time getting information out of Xinjiang is incredibly hard – the Chinese government tightly controls access to the province and some journalists have found their visas revoked as a result of their coverage. When we speak up for Uighurs, we must also speak up for the journalists who are putting their lives and careers on the line to bring us information. If you do hear of any media violations, whether related to Xinjiang or elsewhere, please report them to us or to our media map.

6) Give platforms to those in the Uighur community

Whether you are an events host, a media outlet or simply have your own blog, offer space for those from the Uighur community to talk. Uighurs have a rich and wonderful history of poetry and the spoken word. Why not publish some? That is what we are hoping to do in our winter issue. And in our forthcoming Autumn issue of the magazine, US-based Uighur activist Rushan Abbas, whose sister is in a concentration camp in Xinjiang, writes about her own experience and outrage. Please do subscribe to read this important article.

7) Finally, support organisations that are supporting Uighurs

There are now some excellent organisations to engage with. Here are a few of them: Campaign for Uyghurs, World Uyghur Congress and Uyghur Human Rights Project. You can donate to them and can sign petitions organised by them. Plus write to your local MP so that they can join people like Mahmood in putting pressure on the UK government to act.

Watch Mahmood’s speech in full here.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][three_column_post title=”Read more on China” category_id=”85″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][/vc_column][/vc_row]