Shaniyat Chowdhury (D), a Democratic Socialists of America educator and organizer who challenged Rep. Gregory Meeks (D–Jamaica, Laurelton, Rosedale, Cambria Heights, Saint Albans, Springfield Gardens, The Rockaways, JFK Airport) in last year’s Democratic primary turned heads last week when he posted misleading and uncited information about the Chinese government’s efforts to wipe out Uyghur culture.
In his Instagram story last Wednesday, Chowdhury shared a graphic alleging that the Chinese government has killed more Uyghurs: a Turkic-speaking; predominantly Muslim ethnic group from western China’s Xinjiang province, than Nazi Germany killed Jews during the Holocaust.
“China officially passed the death count of the Jewish victims in the Holocaust with Muslims in concentration camp,” the graphic read. “We are living with a huge genocide happening amongst us.”
Though experts agree that roughly six million Jews died in the Holocaust, the numbers of Uyghur casualties in China’s camps are less clear. Still, professional estimates suggest that it is nowhere near what the graphic suggested.
Some estimates put deaths in the low hundreds, said Peter Irwin, Senior Program Officer for Advocacy and Communications at the Uyghur Human Rights Project. Those estimates were compiled from reports from overseas journalists, he said. No one really knows what the true number is because of a lack of information. It is possible that the numbers are much higher but they do not seem to be systematically killing Uyghurs, he said.
“There’s been no reports of this. The issue is that a lot of the older people in the camps have died,” said Irwin.
Still, he noted that numbers may grow when including China’s prior Uyghur policies over the past ten years.
Queens County Politics reached out to Chowdhury for comment for this story and asked about the posting. He did not respond by deadline.
Laura Jockusch, the Albert Abramson Chair of Holocaust Studies at Brandeis University, considers Chowdhury’s post a symptom of a larger issue in political discourse on human rights.
“People who rightly identify and criticize gross human rights violations, mass violence, and genocide in the present or recent past think they cannot do so without relating the events to the Holocaust. They think that they cannot make a point about the wrongs they are criticizing without saying it’s ‘just like’ or ‘worse than’ the Holocaust,” she noted. “The problem is of course that this creates a pecking order between the suffering of different victim groups and that the comparisons themselves are usually ahistorical, simplistic, uninformed, or simply wrong. The result is that the history of the Holocaust is distorted and minimized (which is often precisely the intention) and the current events that should be decried–as in this case China’s persecution and interment of the Uyghurs–aren’t done justice to either.”
Deborah Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University, agreed and added that such comparisons distract from the problems at hand.
“Look at the result: instead of focusing on the Uyghurs — which is what we should be talking about — we are discussing whether it is like a Holocaust or not,” she said. “That certainly does not help the Uyghurs.”
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect that while some estimates put the number of deaths in the low hundreds, there is a lack of information and the true number of deaths is unknown.