By Aidan Jonah – Aug 19, 2021
It has been striking to see how openly Canadian social democrats have embraced the so-called “Xinjiang genocide” without engaging with compelling evidence countering this narrative. Outlets such as The Grayzone, independent analysts such as Daniel Dumbrill, research institutes, and even USAID-funded groups like the Better Cotton Initiative have refuted the sensationalistic claims, but none of this has been grappled with by social democratic voices in Canada.
A Way Too Brief History of Canadian Social Democracy
This is hardly surprising. In fact, a closer look at what’s transpired over the past century reveals that, at the end of the day, social democrats often support imperial ambitions..
One of the better historical examples can be found in Karl Kautsky. Kautsky supported Germany’s push for war during World War I, while communists—like the Bolshevik Vladimir Lenin, condemned this unnecessary war which cost so many lives.
Whether social democrats reside in Germany or further West makes no difference. During the Cold War, Canada’s Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF, later the New Democratic Party), a social democrat party, was weak on international solidarity and supported the West during the Cold War against the USSR.
Further, the CCF endorsed Canada’s entry into the imperialist Korean War and supported the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This kind of support for Western imperialism continued through NATO’s bombing campaign on Yugoslavia in the late 90s, the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the destruction of Libya in 2011, and continues to this day.
Palestine, Kashmir and Xinjiang
When a Canada Files investigation found that an National Endowment for Democracy (NED) funded organization, Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project (URAP) was a driving force in a parliamentary subcommittee report falsely alleging a Uyghur genocide in China we held misplaced hope that this would have given more “left-wing” figures in the NDP the information they needed to justify opposing a Conservative party motion to condemn China.
We couldn’t have been more wrong.
Instead, social democratic NDP MP Matthew Green weaponized his status as a human rights activist to support the Cold War on China.
Using his platform as a human rights advocate who has expressed outrage at the state of Israel’s occupation of Palestine in the Middle East, Green attempted to cajole progressives to support for the Uyghur genocide narrative.
Green is certainly not the NDP brass’ preferred politician, as he does occasionally step out of line against Israeli apartheid, yet by pushing the “Uighur genocide” narrative with the same passion and lending credibility to it, he proves to be even more problematic.
Four days before the investigation was released, though The Grayzone had already debunked the “Xinjiang genocide” narrative, Green suggested that Canada’s Conservative Party ought to condemn China’s Uyghur de-radicalization program “with the same energy” as the real genocide of Palestinians by the apartheid Israeli state. Green falsely equivocated Palestinian suffering to the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, playing into a xenophobic discourse that ulimately heightens tensions with China.
On February 22, 2021, he would along with all NDP MPs present in the House of Commons, vote in favour of Bill C-56 to falsely declare a “Uyghur Genocide.”
Two days after that, on February 24, Green would falsely accuse China of being an imperialist nation.
China is not an imperialist country. It is a contradictory country led by a strong Communist Party that, despite its advances, on the whole, has an exploited position in the global division of labour.
Vijay Prashad has previously argued that China is not imperialist, because “imperialism would imply that your economic system is premised on using internationally extra-economic forces of one kind or the other to get your own companies advantages.” China’s foreign policy is rooted in state-to-state relations, rather than exploitative and coercive measures typical of historically imperialist countries.
Additionally, Minqi Li pointed out in a recent edition of Monthly Review, “imperialism must be a system where a small minority of the world population exploits the great majority. It cannot possibly be a system in which the majority exploits the minority.” A planned economy in a country where the state controls the commanding heights of economic power indicates the dominance of its working class.
More reading on this subject:
• Morning Star: “Is China Imperialist?”
Same tactic, different nations
Green’s weaponizing of Palestinian oppression to support Canada’s new Cold War on China has a precedent., This tactic has been effectively deployed in more opportunist sections of the American left, who have effectively used Palestinian solidarity movements to mobilize support for targets of US imperialism. This has had the dual impact of advancing imperialist aims on one hand and splitting apart solidarity movements within the imperial core on the other.
How was this done? As Rania Khalek and Max Blumenthal have explained, the Palestine solidarity movement has been used to support imperial “dirty wars” in places like Syria and Libya. The way this has been accomplished is similar to what Green has done with the Uyghurs: taking a legitimate oppression, like the oppression Palestinians face from Israel, and copying and pasting that oppression into a country with an entirely different situation.
By levying accusations without adequate evidence against places like Libya, Syria, and China, and taking the legitimate argument of oppression and genocide against Palestinians, solidarity movements are divided and the aims of imperialists are strengthened.
Evidence be damned, “real progressives,” it is reasoned, should stand against real or perceived oppression anywhere, even if it means overthrowing or attempting to overthrow a sovereign government.
The end goal of these efforts is incredibly tragic: By now you probably know that Islamic militants overthrew Muammar Gaddafi, plunging Libya into a horrid existence as a failed state, where warlords rule various areas in the country, with many an open-air slave market across the country. The dirty war on Syria was not as successful for the imperialist nations, as they failed to overthrow the secular Syrian government led by President Bashar Al-Assad, Western governments did succeed in backing supposed “moderate rebels” in a sustained and prolonged effort against a sovereign, secular government, displacing millions and killing around 500 000 people.
As a result of this imperial effort, a full third of Syria—its breadbasket (due to an abundance of wheat)—is occupied by a Kurdish group with supposedly woke, anarchist politics, calling themselves the “Syrian Democratic Force” (SDF).
As Stephen Gowans has explained, this group has cut a deal with imperial forces, serving as a surrogate for the US army, and is able to maintain control of the region thanks to material and communicative support. The SDF themselves have been accused of carrying out oppressive policies against ethnic groups in the area, and have expansionist politics aimed at securing space for a Kurdish homeland.
Attempted co-optation of movements doesn’t end with Palestine
It is not enough for social democrats to co-opt legitimate Palestinian oppression to suit imperial endeavours. And so, in using a tactic that might be best described as stacking, Kashmiri oppression is also being weaponized to build political pressure on China. Here’s how it works.
There is no doubt that Modi’s crypto-fascist government is carrying out brutal repression against the Kashmiri people. In response to this, there is firm and rightful opposition to India’s active colonization of Kashmir, drawing solidarity from activists of many stripes.
A good example of this aforementioned stacking, can be found from The Breach columnist Azeezah Kanji. Kanji was a star witness in the parliamentary subcommittee report which led to the “Xinjiang genocide” vote and is a supporter of URAP, the openly NED-funded organization. She is also someone who has expressed rightful concern over the Modi government’s actions in Kashmir.
However, during a Canadian Foreign Policy Institute and Just Peace Advocated co-hosted event entitled “Canada’s Silence on India’s Colonization of Kashmir,” which took place in September 2020, Kanji pivoted from Kashmir and sunk her claws into the Uyghur issue.
While her speech focused on the Kashmir solidarity cause, during the Q & A session Kanji changed topics, “calling out” Canada’s political class for not doing enough about the “ongoing genocide” in Xinjiang.
By wrapping the allegation of genocide within valid critiques of Canada enabling colonialism in Kashmir, in effect Kanji used a false premise to associate legitimate occupation and oppression in Kashmir with the unrelated political situation in Xinjiang, apparently hoping to weaponize activists concerned with Kashmir to activate themselves in the West’s new Cold War on China.
Kanji has since attempted to brand resistance to the “Uyghur genocide” as being “Islamophobo-leftism”, denounced “China’s genocidal imperialism” and has labelled The Grayzone as “faux anti-imperialist[s]” for being the outlet which stuck its neck out to denounce this false narrative of a “Uyghur genocide”.
The cascading impact of conflating Kashmiri and Palestinian oppression with the situation in Xinjiang brings us back to Green.
By stacking legitimately oppressed ethnic groups on top of each other, and lumping Uyghurs into the same category, social democrats and their allies hope for people to assume that all these groups face equivalent circumstances, and in so doing commit a clever logical fallacy in the process.
Green’s actions on Xinjiang, alongside his vocal and rightful criticism of Israel for their oppressive actions, plays into this logic. So too does Kanji’s false equivalency on Kashmir and Xinjiang. In effect, what their actions do is strengthen the aims of imperialist nations.
Green has been a outspoken critic of legitimate Palestinian occupation, something that is generally welcome in Canada’s imperialist political ecosystem. However, at a July 29 Palestinian solidarity event hosted by the Coalition of Canadian Palestinian Organizations, Green followed in Kanji’s footsteps, using the occasion to falsely lump together actually existing Israeli apartheid and genocide with China’s Uyghur population.
Green argued that “we had no problem in the House of Commons calling that [China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims] for what it was… a genocide.” Green’s point was that, just as Canada has flagged supposed genocide to push for a cancellation of the Olympic games in Beijing, so too should it modify the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement to ensure Israel upholds international law.
The problem with Green’s argument is that he uses a false premise, largely based on unreliable information from CIA cutouts and fanatical religious fundamentalists like Adrian Zenz, to lump China in with an actually genocidal country like Israel. To do this at an event centred around Palestinian solidarity is cynical and opportunistic, aimed in large part to posture the NDP as a more moral authority than Trudeau’s Liberal government.
In reality, Canada has a lot more in common with Israel than does China. Canada has committed atrocities on Turtle Island on a scale which can only be associated with other settler colonial states, like Israel. Beyond that, Canada has supported imperialist agendas in places like Korea, Indonesia, Iran, Egypt, Haiti, Afghanistan, and across the African continent. Every step of the way, social democratic forces have been there to offer their support.
NDP MP Matthew Green and The Breach columnist Azeezah Kanji are following in the footsteps of American social democrats in manipulating the solidarity movements into support for the “Uyghur genocide” narrative, providing left cover for the new Cold War on China.
This is a severe risk to both the solidarity movements around the world. As we saw with US Palestinian movements in the context of the dirty war on Syria and the NATO bombing campaign on Libya, these movements have the potential to fracture or be used to garner support for imperial efforts for a new Cold War on China.
This insidious attempt to repeat a tactic which severely damaged the Palestine solidarity movement is one that must be fiercely resisted by genuine anti-imperialists, and both the Palestine and Kashmir solidarity movements. Attempting to appease Canada’s political class by going along with the debunked “Uyghur genocide” narrative, which in reality is a response to China’s rise and the expansion of the Belt and Road Initiative — which threatens the bottom line of powerful Western corporations — will not help the Palestine or Kashmir solidarity movements, but instead cause damage to the movements which will take years to rebuild.
Swift action must be taken to resist this subversive, insidious tactic, or a famous phrase of Karl Marx will remain as true as ever, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.”
Featured image: Palestine solidarity protesters in Kashmir protesting Israeli apartheid.
Aidan Jonah is the Editor-in-Chief of The Canada Files, a socialist, anti-imperialist news site founded in 2019. He has written about Canadian imperialism, federal politics, and left-wing resistance to colonialism across the world. He is a second-year Bachelor of Journalism student at Ryerson University, who was the Head of Communications and Community Engagement for Etobicoke North NDP Candidate Naiima Farah in the 2019 Federal Election.