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Meet 'Leftist' Grayzone’s New Neo-fascist Allies in Denying China’s Genocide of Uyghurs

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Security guards stand at the gates of what is officially, and euphemistically, known as a 'vocational skills education center' in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China
Security guards stand at the gates of what is officially, and euphemistically, known as a 'vocational skills education center' in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, ChinaCredit: Thomas Peter/ REUTERS

Three "academic institutes" have released a new report denying China's genocide of the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang. Its "findings" reject all charges of atrocities being perpetrated by China, smears Uyghur activists – and have been loudly welcomed by America's conspiracy theory-riven authoritarian left.

The latter's unfortunately wide reach means it's worth delving into the report, its backers and what is really motivating their morally and factually unhinged revisionism.

The report, entitled, Xinjiang: Understanding Complexity, Building Peace, is a strange and esoteric document that states from the get go that it aims to undermine the "West's charges" of genocide and detention camps, to counter the "simplistic" and "sensationalist" accusations against China, otherwise known as "China-bashing," that legitimize "sectarian and "violent" groups, and to foreground testimonies from experts who have visited the region.

The report ends with a call for Uyghur activists and others who, only pages earlier, were accused of supporting jihadism, to "come and see" with their own eyes "how good life is in Xinjiang nowadays." 

Despite this eagerness to "tell a very different story," barely ten out 38 pages in the report actually relate to current issues around mass detention. The rest is taken up with a Wikipedia-style fly-over history of the ancient civilizations and anti-Soviet rebellions in Central Asian states, and esoteric conflicts between Turkic peoples and the Tsars, Soviets, and Han Chinese.

A perimeter fence is constructed around what is officially known as a vocational skills education center in Dabancheng in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, September 4, 2018. Credit: \ THOMAS PETER/ REUTERS

But the more revealing insight into the report’s politics comes in the first sentences, when Lev Gumilev is dotingly name-dropped. He’s an obscure geopolitician whose ethnocentric geopolitics became foundational to the ideology of Russian fascist Aleksandr Dugin.

This bizarre reference makes sense in light of the organization that led this this effort – the Centro Studi Eurasia e Mediterraneo (CeSE-M), or Italian Eurasian Mediterranean Research Center.

The banal-sounding think tank was born out of the network of Claudio Mutti, who's been described as a "Nazi-Maoist," combining neo-fascism with ideas taken from the extreme left. Arrested in Italy under suspicion for involvement in fascist terrorism after the 1969 bombing at the Piazza Fontana in Milan, Mutti has long engaged in international fascist organizing, establishing relations with Libya, China, and of course Russia.

He's also an admirer of Iranian-style Islamic fundamentalism – a convert to Shia Islam (taking the name of the SS officer who found post-war sanctuary in Egypt and advised President Nasser), his journal, "Jihad," was funded for several years by Iran, and his Dugin-style "neo-Eurasianism" is said to combine "anti-Semitism with virulent anti-Westernism."

He must have felt at home attending the New Horizon conference in Iran, which features a bizarre collage of neo-Nazis and anti-imperialists, Russian espionage recruitment, Duginism and unmitigated antisemitism and Holocaust denial.

He founded a far-right publishing house which reprinted works by Italian fascist (and alt-right hero) Julius Evola, Nazi sympathizer and spy Savitri Devi and Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson. He also republished the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" with his own supportive commentary - and explains why the Protocols are "true" in a lecture available on YouTube.

Official design for the Fourth International New Horizon Conference, Tehran, Iran, 2017Credit: Faceook

The Italian Eurasian Mediterranean Research Center, which itself published articles with breathless titles like "The Kremlin has evidence that the West is behind the alleged Navalny poisoning," and "The economic revival of Xinjiang after its peaceful liberation," and hosts a regular spot written by a Dugin-adjacent ex-Sputnik columnist/current Tehran Times writer.

The Center boasts of its partnership with Mutti’s journal, Eurasia, and the two put on regular conferences together, hosting the likes of Dugin, and state officials from Russia, Kazakhstan, and elsewhere.

According to scholar Anton Shekhovtsov, CeSE-M also funds the online journal Stato & Potzenza, which cloaks its far right and Duginist agenda in far-left symbology.

Despite the distinctly unsavory and fascist-friendly source of the Xinjiang report, and despite all the evidence, including two mammoth reports by a Pulitzer-winning BuzzFeed team and Associated Press released just last week, Aaron Maté of the Grayzone blog has already trumpeted this report as definitive proof that the genocide accusation is a "fashionable" lie. He retweeted a pro-China Hong Kong legislator who called "allegations" of human rights abuse a concoction born in America "for geopolitical advantage."

An Australian think tank recently concluded that, "The consistent amplification of The Grayzone by Chinese state media, suggests that this is coordinated targeting of an audience that the CCP assesses to be vulnerable to its counter-messaging on Xinjiang."

Interestingly, the slim portion of the report that actually deals with mass detention of Uyghurs simply repeats the same talking points beloved by Maté and his cohort at the autocrat-friendly Grayzone.

The key "gotcha" of the report, eagerly leapt on by Maté, was that accusations of genocide "are mainly based on the claims of a certain Adrian Zenz." Although the German scholar Zenz has written peer-reviewed articles for academic journals about Xinjiang, his right-wing Christian beliefs render his work moot for ideologically-motivated denialists and paycheck-driven cynics alike.

Anyone even partially versed in the denial of historical atrocities can predict what comes next: The calling into question of all witness testimonies based on inconsistencies in the accounts of just two witnesses.

The idea that the facts of the repression of the Uyghurs come tumbling down because of one dubious figure or discrepancies in a tiny percentage of testimonies is ludicrous and entirely belied by countless witness testimoniessatellite imagery analysis and visits inside the camps, leaked state documents, Chinese yearbook statistics, and extensive files representing the massive extent of surveillance in Xinjiang.

The report goes on to note that numerous delegates who visited the region on official duties (and of course, with official minders) did not, surprisingly, observe "any evidence of an alleged plan to repress or suppress the local population on an ethnic or sectarian basis" (an unfalsifiable assumption), noting that those bastions of free society, Kazakhstan and Indonesia, have even "imitated" China’s Xinjiang policies.

Wrapping up, the report cites as authoritative references Zhao Lijian, who shares conspiracy theories online hypothesizing that COVID-19 was created in a biolab at Fort Detrick, and a YouTube video from a talk at the Ron Paul Institute by Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who has previously called chemical attacks in Syria an "Israeli false flag op." 

The report ends with a list of signatories: 20 "intellectuals" who have declared their support for its contents, but don’t seem to have much connection with the fields of China, genocide or Islamic studies.

A Uighur child holds up a Chinese national flag near a vendor barbecuing skewered lamb meat in Kashgar in western China's Xinjiang region.Credit: Ng Han Guan/AP

They include a blogger, a biologist, a Marxist, a "retired teacher," a member of the pro-Serb organization overseen by Milosevic’s Foreign Minister during Serbia’s expulsion of Albanians, and an obscure Euroskeptic translator linked to the Five Star Movement who has written for the politically-confused Spiked! Online.

Delightfully, the founder of the Kremlin-curious Five Star Movement, former-comedian Beppe Grillo, known for his demagoguery, conspiracy theories and antisemitic slurs, graces the list of deniers, along with a party colleague who sits in the Italian Senate, Vito Petrocelli. This was an odd move for Grillo, who has been sidelined since recording an angry video defending his son who is currently accused of gang rape.

The report makes tremendous efforts to connect pro-Uyghur human rights activists and hardcore jihadist and/or separatist terrorists. In particular, it calls former World Uyghur Congress head, Rebiya Kadeer, the "driving force behind the separatist cause," accusing her of having being arrested in 1999 on charges of having sent "conspicuous amounts of money to Uyghur separatist groups abroad through her second husband."

This is a fabrication that comes straight from Beijing. Kadeer was actually arrested (and tortured) for "providing secret information to foreigners," because she passed on internal Chinese reports laden with information on the extent of the repression of the Uyghurs to her husband, a broadcaster for Voice of America. By 2017, more than 30 of her relatives had been incarcerated for "secessionism" and other trumped up charges.

From this false claim against Kadeer, the report jumps to the Uyghur American Association, indicting its founder Rushan Abbas for acting as an interpreter with the U.S. State Department and Congress in the context of "Operation Enduring Freedom," the 13 year ‘war on terror’ launched by President George W. Bush in the wake of 9/11.

The report's authors seem blithely unconcerned that their whole motivation is to justify China's very own version of the war on terror, but not before they accuse the West of a "double standard" on anti-terrorism.

In other words, the report freely admits that China’s operations in Xinjiang are comparable to America’s infamous war on terror – but it goes one step further, celebrating China’s efforts "to blur the distinction between terrorism and legitimate political dissidence."

After pages of prolix descriptions of the Chinese anti-terrorism laws, the report directly cites a law specifically dedicated to repressing "distorted religious doctrines," which "should be understood as an attempt on behalf of the Chinese legislator to go beyond the simple prevention of the criminal act as such, in what could be defined a form of preventive prevention or pre-prevention."

Whatever this means, the report assures the reader that the Muslim Hui ethnic group has "perfectly integrated in Chinese history and culture," despite increasing repression against them and fears among the Hui that they will become "the next Xinjiang."

Ironically, the only thing touching on complexity in the report is its name. The rest is simple, vulgar denialism by the numbers. If the goal is to gain credibility for genocide denialist talking points, China’s Italian allies seem to have done them more harm than good.

On the other hand, far, far fewer people will actually read the report (and thus have the chance to see through its gaping holes for themselves) than will be exposed to the concentrated disinformation of Maté and his Grayzone mates, the "independent" "journalists" dedicated full-time to whitewashing dictators from Venezuela to Syria to China, and defaming those who dare to stand up for human rights and dissent.

Alexander Reid Ross is a Lecturer in Geography at Portland State University. He is the author of "Against the Fascist Creep" (AK Press, 2017). Twitter: @areidross

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