TURES COLUMN: Who cares about the Uighurs … Or Armenians, for that matter?

Published 11:30 am Friday, January 21, 2022

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Just before the pandemic exploded throughout America, our campus chaplain, staff and I took a group of students up to Washington DC to see the Holocaust Museum. There, you’ll see a phrase attributed to Adolf Hitler, based upon a speech he gave before an assault on Poland on September of 1939.  It says “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

That callous assessment that there’s little interest in the victims of genocide was resurrected in a debate among billionaires about U.S. China policy. As cited by Yahoo, the debate concerned a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, which called out “China’s ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, and other human rights abuses.”

In a debate about China’s policy, Golden State Warriors minority owner (he owns perhaps 10% of the team or less) Chamath Palihapitiya said this, in the story quoted by Yahoo and BBC, “Nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs. You bring it up because you really care, and I think that’s nice that you care, the rest of us don’t care,” Palihapitiya said. “I’m telling you a very hard, ugly truth, okay? Of all the things that I care about, yes, it is below my line.” He added “I think we have a responsibility to take care of our own backyard first.” The line did not go unchallenged.  One of the respondents, tech entrepreneur Jason Calacanis, responded “The what-aboutism that you’re proposing is so disproportional to the equivalent of the Holocaust going on — we’re talking about a million Uyghers in concentration camps right now — to talk about what we have here and we need to fix.”

If you don’t know what “what-aboutism” is, that’s how an oppressor tries to get away with terrible crimes. No one can be guilty of anything, because no one is without sin. Supporters of this strategy obscure the fact that some crimes are worse than others. To use Biblical terms, you get away with having a plank in your eye, by calling out the speck in someone else’s eye. The Warriors announced that Palihapitiya does not speak for the team. It reminded others of the Hong Kong dispute, where a Houston Rockets official called out China for their policies toward the island, and was criticized by China, and the NBA, which earns plenty from the country. He attempted to ameliorate the situation by saying human rights matter, whether in China, the United States, or elsewhere. But he still didn’t mention the Uighurs, which did not satisfy critics.

Mr. Palihapitiya could learn from someone else in the NBA: Enes Kanter Freedom. Part of a group oppressed in his home country, led by Cleric Fetullah Gulen (questionably accused of backing a coup), the Turkish post player has become an advocate for human rights, calling attention to human rights abuses, including those against the Uighurs. The Armenian subject is a touchy one for Turks, but Enes Kanter Freedom, who appears on NPR and Tucker Carlson’s show, took it head on. He sought to call attention to what happened to the Armenians, even if it happened 100 or so years ago.

You don’t have to leave it up to NBA players, executives, or even owners. You can show you care. Contact your elected officials, and ask what they’re doing about the situation today, for the House and Senate.