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As chief rabbi, I can now not stay silent concerning the plight of the Uighurs | Ephraim Mirvis


I not too long ago had the privilege of talking to Rahima Mahmut, a outstanding Uighur human rights campaigner residing in London. She informed me that she had all the time been near her household nonetheless residing in China, however that over time they grew to become afraid of even answering her phone requires concern of what it would imply for them. They stopped utilizing conventional Islamic greetings, that are forbidden, and ultimately stopped answering her calls altogether. She continued, till someday, her brother answered the telephone and with a tremble in his voice, he implored her: “Go away us in God’s palms and we are going to go away you in God’s palms, too.”

It’s now almost 4 years since Rahima heard these chilling parting phrases. She has no means of figuring out what has turn out to be of her household and he or she lives in fixed concern of what they may be enduring.

Elie Wiesel as soon as mentioned: “Whoever listens to a witness turns into a witness.” Having additionally heard related accounts from others, and reflecting upon the deep ache of Jewish persecution all through the ages, I really feel compelled to talk out.

That duty is introduced into sharp focus this week in prayers for the competition of Hanukah, after we recall makes an attempt “to trigger the Jewish religion to be forgotten and to stop Jews from conserving their traditions”. These phrases refer again to the merciless oppression of Jews greater than 2,000 years in the past.

Can it’s true that, in our fashionable, subtle world, women and men are nonetheless overwhelmed in the event that they refuse to surrender their religion? That girls are compelled to abort their unborn youngsters and are then sterilised to stop them from changing into pregnant once more? That compelled imprisonment, the separation of kids from their dad and mom and a tradition of intimidation and concern have turn out to be the norm?

Sadly, the load of proof of this persecution of the Uighur Muslim minority in China is overwhelming. Satellite tv for pc pictures, leaked paperwork and survivor testimonies all paint a devastating image affecting properly over 1 million individuals, which, for essentially the most half, the world continues to disregard.

I’ve met researchers and campaigners to search out out whether or not there may be any hope of optimistic change. I’ve written letters and raised the matter in non-public with key figures. With each interplay, I’ve been left feeling that any enchancment within the determined scenario is unattainable.

“Not possible” is a phrase I usually heard whereas rising up in apartheid South Africa within the 60s and 70s. My father, a rabbi, would make pastoral visits to political prisoners held on Robben Island, the place Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. My mom was the principal of the one coaching faculty for black nursery faculty lecturers within the nation. For therefore lengthy, any notion of optimistic change was rendered unattainable by the impregnable energy and ruthless dedication of the apartheid authorities. And, but, change did ultimately come.

“Not possible” was the unhappy conclusion when, throughout my tenure as chief rabbi of Eire within the Nineteen Eighties, my spouse and I had been actively concerned within the international marketing campaign for Soviet Jewry. The oppression of so many Jews and others by the mighty Soviet Union appeared an insurmountable injustice. It appeared unattainable that protesters all over the world may change the fortunes of harmless women and men who had been despatched to labour camps for the sin of residing as Jews. However change did ultimately come.

Final week marked the 72nd anniversary of the Common Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 1948. On 9 December that very same yr, the conference on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide was additionally adopted. Each paperwork, which stand amongst humanity’s most significant authorized and ethical proclamations, are prone to fading into the political periphery if we aren’t ready to behave upon them.

The freedoms we take pleasure in, coupled with a notion that nothing we do will assist, usually create a tradition of apathy. Repeatedly, historical past has taught us that it’s exactly such apathy that allows hatred to flourish. The Talmud teaches that: “We aren’t anticipated to finish the duty, however neither are we free to desist from it.”

Nowhere was the reality of this lesson extra evident to me than within the response of respectable individuals to apartheid and the Soviet Union. In some way, with each newspaper headline and with each new ally, what had as soon as appeared unattainable ultimately grew to become inevitable. Change ultimately got here as a result of, over time, abnormal individuals spoke out, even when these struggling had been of one other religion, unknown to them and residing on the opposite facet of the world. That’s how we will convey change for Uighur Muslims.

It’s clear that there should be an pressing, unbiased and unfettered investigation into what is occurring. These accountable should be held to account and Uighurs in a position to escape should be given asylum.

Alongside these responses and to assist convey them about, each one among us shares within the duty to behave. Immediately I urge you to put in writing to your MP. Write letters to the press. Write to the businesses which have been linked to Uighur compelled labour. Take to social media. Discuss to your mates about what is occurring and encourage them to do the identical. Let no particular person say that the duty lies with others.

At this very second, an unfathomable mass atrocity is being perpetrated. Although the duty is nice, none of us are free to desist from it. As Nelson Mandela himself mentioned: “It all the time appears unattainable till it’s finished.”

• Ephraim Mirvis is an Orthodox rabbi who serves because the chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth



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