Never again?

The seeds of another Holocaust might be brewing over in China, where the government is engaging in a campaign to sterilize members of the Uyghur ethnic group (most of whom are Muslims), and to take anyone who shows a small degree of interest in their culture to concentration camps where they can be "re-educated".

No reports yet of systematic extermination (apart from the usual claims of organ harvesting, whose validity I am not in a position to judge).  But of course the Nazis didn't start off that way either.  Let's pray they don't take it any further.

As a sign of the utter foolishness of the United Nations general assembly, where each nation gets one vote, more than twice as many nations (54) have officially come out so far in support this cultural genocide, than oppose it (22).  Although it's not suprising that the big human rights violators would all stick up for each other.  (Doesn't really matter anyway, as China also has a security council veto.)

I don't have any particularly useful suggestions about what can be done to try to stop this atrocity.  But people of good will should probably be aware that it is happening.

About Aron Wall

I am a Lecturer in Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge. Before that, I read Great Books at St. John's College (Santa Fe), got my physics Ph.D. from U Maryland, and did my postdocs at UC Santa Barbara, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and Stanford. The views expressed on this blog are my own, and should not be attributed to any of these fine institutions.
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11 Responses to Never again?

  1. Yes, this has been a terrible repression for a long time now. I have signed more than one Amnesty petition and written a letter or two about human rights violations in China, especially regarding the Uyghurs.

    I think you should have the same fears about events in your own country, especially in Portland, but also elsewhere. Unidentified federal forces brutally and unnecessarily assaulting peaceful protesters without giving any instruction, without regard for safety and justice, and contrary to the wishes of state and city authorities. It seems awfully similar to how fascism took hold in Nazi Germany.

  2. Mactoul says:

    peaceful protesters??
    ABC News 8:06 PM · Jul 26, 2020
    Protesters in California set fire to a courthouse, damaged a police station and assaulted officers after a peaceful demonstration intensified.

  3. Aron Wall says:

    Mactoul and Eric,
    Some protesters are peaceful, while others are not. If the goal is to figure out the relative proportions of good and bad protestors (and I'm not sure that should be our goal?) I don't think merely giving particular examples proves much one way or another. In a big enough social movement, you can always find examples to "prove" either side's narrative about what is going on.

    Just because some people are engaging in unlawful riots, does not give the police carte blanche to attack a different set of protesters, who are peaceably assembling in some other location.

    On the other hand, arresting people in unmarked vans, taking them to a court house holding cell, reading them their rights, and then releasing them within a day without filing any charges, also doesn't really seem like quite the same thing as the Night of the Long Knives.

    That doesn't mean we shouldn't be concerned about what is going on. In a healthy democracy, it is precisely because people sound the alarm about civil liberty violations, long before they get anywhere close to totalitarianism, that a totalitarian regime cannot be established. You know you are living in a free society, when people are allowed to criticize that society for being unfree. When you stop hearing about any violations of people's rights, that's when you should pack your bags.

  4. I think I agree with most o what you say, Aron. Of course there are peaceful protesters AND destructive ones, just as there are peaceful people and destructive ones. But we wouldn't regard it as right if the police attacked or punished peaceful people just because somewhere, maybe even nearby, there are destructive people. Part of living in a democracy is having police who are able to distinguish between the two, even if they occasionally get it wrong.

    But I think I disagree here:

    You know you are living in a free society, when people are allowed to criticize that society for being unfree.
    The President has labelled the protesters in Portland as "anarchists" when manifestly many are not. Probably most are not. His comments and actions in sending in the "troops" (I don't actually know the status of the armed "peacekeepers") apparently against the state's and city's wishes, are perilously close to not allowing people to criticise.

    When you stop hearing about any violations of people's rights, that's when you should pack your bags.
    There are claims that some media, perhaps all the mainstream media, haven't reported these demonstrations in any depth if at all. Not living in the US, I cannot know if that is true. But since some media and the President are misrepresenting things, it again seems like we should be concerned - not just US citizens, but the whole world, given the influence the US has.

  5. Mactoul says:

    And why were the vans unmarked? Why, to save them from attention of "peaceful protesters".
    I marvel at the forbearance of the American police.

  6. Aron Wall says:

    In the USA, one person violating the law, does not stip other individuals of their constitutional rights under the 1st and 4th Amendments.

    So unless the police had probable cause that the arrested individuals were committing a crime, the arrests are unconstitutional, regardless of what anybody else was doing. The media spin (one way or another) also doesn't change that basic fact.

    It's amazing how many people seem to be committed to black-and-white narratives, where either the police are entirely good and the protesters are entirely evil, or vice versa. But life is more complicated by that.

  7. Mactoul says:

    Curiously the link to purported police misbehavior is to Wikipedia and not to any actual instance of the said misbehavior.
    But I really want to ask you about the self-browbeating that various scientific societies and academic departments are engaging in. Are they sincere or just being trendy?
    Is racism really prevalent in physics?
    My daily briefing from Nature tries to convince me but I was a post-doc in Germany 20 years ago and they weren't racist.But maybe in America they still are?

  8. Mactoul says:

    As an ex-Princetonian, the following news might interest you:

    Princeton Admitted Past Racism. Now It Is Under Investigation.

    The Trump administration opened a civil rights investigation into the university after its president acknowledged the role of systemic racism at the school.

  9. Aron Wall says:

    The Institute for Advanced Study is in the town of Princeton, but it is not formally affiliated with the University.

    I have two reactions to this news article. My first reaction is that it's 10/10 epic-level trolling to intepret a university's ritualistic lamentation of vice as if it were an actual confession of violating the law.

    However, some of us think that trolling people is not really a very good basis for federal policy. Generally, this sort of thing is a lot less funny when it is your own ox being gored. Jesus said: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you", not "Do unto others what you fear they will do to you".

  10. Mactoul says:

    The Department of Education's action may be more charitably interpreted as calling the bluff. As an academic yourself, you may naturally be more tolerant of antics and rituals perpetrated in universities but the State is responsible for the common good which is very doubtfully served by the ritual confessions of non-existent vices.

  11. Aron Wall says:

    Jews ritualistically confess to breaking all of the commandments on Yom Kippur, but I don't think the police should treat that as equvialent to a confession.

    The right time to use the power of the federal government to go after people you find ideologically annoying, is never. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

    You are turning the burden of proof upside down. The federal government should intervene only when there is clear evidence of violation of federal laws.
    Not merely when people are saying things that very doubtfully serve the common good. Lots of people say lots of stupid things, which are mostly protected by the First Amendment. Withdrawing funds from a University for something stupid its President says, is almost certain to harm large numbers of tangentially related parties (e.g. students) along with the people responsible. Remember the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares.

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