Concentration of force

By Reyshimar Arguelles


In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr, the Chinese ambassador to the United Kingdom, Liu Xiaoming, was shown disturbing footage of Uighur Muslims wearing blindfolds and being rounded up by Chinese state authorities in Xinjiang province. The footage was verified by Western intelligence agencies and was circulated across social media.

Liu at first attempted to steer the conversation away from the video by saying how beautiful Xinjiang is, but Marr insisted for the ambassador to explain why Uighurs were led in chains to train cars allegedly bound for remote internment camps.

As well as saying the footage shows a prisoner transfer, Liu then pointed out that the video does nothing but discredit the Chinese government which he said has always respected the Uighurs and ensured peace and stability in their region. Later on, Liu warned that the Chinese Communist Party will issue a “resolute response” if members within its ranks are pursued for human rights abuses.

Western media compared the footage to scenes straight out of the Holocaust when Jewish people were forced out of their homes and taken to concentration camps. Indeed, we are very much closer to seeing another form of ethnic cleansing in the Uighur region, passed off as part of maintaining national security and eliminating terroristic threats.

Oppressive regimes tend to use the national interest as an excuse to perform irrational acts of violence just so it could maintain their rule. This is as basic as it gets for modern dictatorships that have had a disturbing track record for human rights abuses, from North Korea to Syria. But to restrict oppression to such countries ignores the fact that even democratic societies have this tendency to terrorize citizens for the sake of containing terrorism.

Following the September 11 attacks, the United States passed the Patriot Act which allowed the country’s intelligence agencies to gather records of citizens through whatever means. The American Civil Liberties Union called out the Patriot Act for its unconstitutional features giving state authorities no legal requirements to hold people under suspicion, especially if such people are alleged “agents of a foreign power.”

There will always be a thin line between securing the public from actual terroristic threats and trampling on people’s rights just so everyone else could feel safer. The lines become blurred when force takes precedence over everything else that secures people’s lives and freedoms.

To this effect, terror becomes a means for state terror to prevail and there is no way for ordinary people to request a compromise over that. Collective paranoia becomes valid, so much so that it justifies the curtailment of criticism and the use of extra-legal means of preserving state control, regardless whether such means result in destroying actual terrorists.

While we are not going down the road to ethnic cleansing, the Philippines has effectively amplified the power of security forces with the implementation of the Anti-Terrorism Law on July 18. And right off the bat, citizens had their first taste of how authorities are emboldened to act beyond what they are legally obligated to do.

On Saturday, NCR police chief General Debold Sinas led a battalion of police to evict a family of former police Executive Master Sergeant Arnel delos Santos. CCTV cameras captured the confrontation, especially the moment when one of Sinas’ men “forcefully” snatched a person’s cell phone to prevent any pictures or videos from being taken.

Media coverage of this alleged harassment has initiated calls for the PNP higher-ups to investigate lest the organization gets accused of turning a blind eye to abuses which, according to proponents of the Anti-Terrorism Law, must not be tolerated.

Seeing now how the state maintains a monopoly on force, we can either act like Ambassador Liu who ignores hard evidence or like vigilant citizens who need to concentrate on how state force is applied. The right choice is obvious enough.