Somewhere in China, a little girl talks to her father on the phone. He is in the United States. She tells him he is a bad person and that the Chinese police are good people. That’s the last he hears from her for six months. His wife soon divorces him, because being married to him puts a “target on her back.” He is left hopeless, posting on social media in hopes of finding his wife and daughter. Unfortunately, the reason for this separation is this man, Tahir Imin, and his family have been diagnosed with a deadly disease. It’s very contagious, a “virus of the mind” the government calls it, and it has infected over a billion people worldwide. The disease is called Islam.

What’s happening in China is rarely talked about, but it’s real and it’s terrifying. China has deemed the religion of Islam a “contagious disease” and an “ideological illness” and has sent about one million Uighurs (a predominately Muslim ethnic minority in northwest China) to internment camps to be brainwashed and forced to denounce their own thinking. According to The Atlantic, when parents are sent to these camps, “younger children are sent to de facto orphanages known as child welfare guidance centers and older children are sometimes sent to state-run vocational schools.” The conditions in these camps are horrible, described by a worker in Xinjiang — a name, which means “Muslim Frontier Land,” the Han Chinese gave to the Uyghur Autonomous Region — as a place where children are “locked up like farm animals in a shed.” The little girl, Imin’s daughter, has been trained to despise her religion and express loyalty to the Chinese Communist party. Families are being ripped apart as the Chinese government attempts to erase generations of traditions, beliefs and ideals. The government is so strict about this surveillance that citizens are afraid to even say Islam-related words on the phone. The party has even gone to the disturbing extent of initiating “home stays,” in which “officials temporarily move in with families in Xinjiang to surveil and report on them.” Muslims detained in these camps are also forced to eat pork and drink alcohol, which is against the tenants of their faith. Among some of the punishments for failure to denounce their religion and identities include starvation, beatings and solitary confinement. One can only imagine the psychological damage that ensues from this type of treatment.

Islam and Muslims have been the target of hate and bigotry since 9/11, but this bizarre phenomenon of treating the religion like an actual disease and sending Muslims to be quarantined is absolutely outrageous. Referred to as the “the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today,” the lack of attention and concern for this issue baffles me. My heart goes out to all the Chinese Muslims who live in fear, who are being tortured and brainwashed, who are being stripped of their faith and their families and their identities. Uighurs’ unique religious and ethnic traditions are being replaced with manufactured Chinese communist pride. I pray we see a day when Muslims of every race and country can freely practice and be rid of the life sentence of scrutiny that the world has inflicted upon us. I pray we see a day when the world understands the real “ideological illness” is hatred and the inability to allow humans to exist as humans and not targets.

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