• Dalton Kaiser

The Uyghurs and the Olympic Games: Why We Should Consider Turning Off the Television This Year



Opening Ceremony and The Uyghur Genocide

There are few things that bring together the family, the nation, and the world like the Olympic Games do. In the modern era, we have watched athletes like Michael Phelps, Simone Biles, and Usain Bolt virtually defy the limits of human strength and speed. Special moments have been shared with friends and family, gathered around the television, seeing miracles happen. For me and my family, the Olympics have always been a time to come together. Phones are regularly turned to airplane mode throughout the day to prevent spoilers and plans are made to watch our favorite events that evening. This summer we made a spread of desserts and decorated our small townhome in preparation for the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics. Though the pandemic delayed these Summer 2020 Olympics, our family couldn’t help but feel the bitter-sweet enjoyment of knowing that we would have two Olympic games in one year’s time. Our first-born daughter is due any day now and my wife and I even discussed the excitement of being up with her in the night, watching the events unfold in real time. But, one thing has drastically changed our minds about tuning into the 2022 Winter Olympics this year: the Uyghur people.

Who are the Uyghurs? They are a predominantly Muslim, minority ethnic people group that reside mostly in the Xinjiang region of China. Though the Xinjiang region is classified as autonomous, it falls completely under the control of the Chinese government.2

In the past two years, reports and accusations of inhumane acts by the Communist Party of China against the Uyghurs have hit the headlines. Though the details of the atrocities committed by the Chinese government will not be expounded upon in this article, the truth is readily available for anyone who wishes to be informed. Ultimately, I want to consider two questions: Why does this matter and what can I do? The answer to the latter question will be practical and direct. There is more that can and should be done, but my hope is to establish a base line.

In years past, the People’s Republic of China has repeatedly expressed that their position is to create a unified, multi-ethnic China. But the actions of the government against minority groups have proven otherwise as Uyghurs are now seen as a threat. Their religious and cultural variances are seen as a rogue off-shoot from the national identity propagated by its leaders and the response of the Chinese government has been extermination and re-education. The Uyghurs have been placed upon the millstone of government oppression, that they be ground down and reworked until all that remains is a superior Chinese reality. Stories of work camps, kidnappings, sterilization of women, forced abortions, child abduction, and re-education campuses for youth have been confirmed by governments, investigative journalists, news conglomerates, eyewitnesses, and victims.


Why does it matter?

The Image of God

Though you may not be a Christian, this article is written from a Christian worldview. The question, “Why does it matter?”, is a hard one to answer divorced from Biblical truth. That question must be answer by a prerequisite question: Why does human life have value? You may say, “It doesn’t have any value”. If that is your worldview, then the Uyghurs likely make little difference to you. You may even say, “Human life has value, but it’s complicated.” Which may lead you to feel conflicted or even indifferent towards the genocide occurring in China. But for the Christian, the Imago Dei, the reality that man is made in the image of God, is the central reality in Scripture that abominates genocide. The Imago Dei gives human life value and prevents any man from saying to his neighbor, “I no longer desire for you to exist, so I will take your life from your hands” or “You pose a threat to me, and I will eliminate you”.

As Pastor John Piper says, “images are created to image”.3 Every human holds intrinsic value because not only are they the workmanship of God Himself, but they are made in His image, to reflect His glory in all the earth. To give a tangible example, many of us where alive to experience the September 11th attacks. The world watched in horror as two commercial planes crashed and leveled the World Trade Center. But why the World Trade Center? Because they were a symbol of America’s prosperity and global influence. What better symbol for Al-Qaeda to strike than a massive, two building monument embodying American prosperity? For Al-Qaeda it was personal: to attack the image, was to attack the people. In the same way, to shed the blood of God’s image bearer is to strike an offensive assault on God Himself.

So, what does this mean for the Uyghur people? Why does it matter? The directive of Scripture is clear, to love God is to love God’s image bearers. What is God’s response to the assault on His image? It is found in Genesis 9:6 when He says, “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind”. God takes his glory immensely seriously.

Even non-Christians have a category for such acts which they label, “crimes against humanity.” Even to the non-Christian a red flag is risen, “Something wrong is happening here”. What makes genocide particularly heinous is that it is not only murder and oppression of God’s image bearers, but it is hateful acts based upon prejudices of superiority. The Imago Dei is meant to be the Great Humbler of all men, but the hand of fellowship has been turned on its brother, just as Cain in jealousy slew his brother Abel in secret.


Convenient Conviction

Chamath Palihapitiya, who is an American investor and a partial owner of the Golden State Warriors recently joined in the discussion about the genocide occurring in China. On the “All-In” Podcast he is quoted saying, "Nobody cares about what's happening to the Uyghurs, okay? You bring it up because you really care, and I think it's nice that you care, the rest of us don't care… Of all the things I care about, yes, it is below my line."1 He goes on to defend his position by saying that until we can care for people in our own country, what is happening to a small people group in China is at the bottom of his priority list.

At face value, his comments are simply the deplorable ramblings of a depraved man. I wouldn’t disagree with that statement, but a closer listen to the entire clip reveals a sadder reality. He goes on to point out that little is being done by world governments and authorities besides acute sanctions and diplomatic protests.1 Ultimately, his argument can be paraphrased as, “Why should I care when no one else really cares and why should I do anything when no one else is really doing anything? I have my own issues and interests that are more important.”

The assessment of Palihapitiya seems to ring true as the Beijing Olympics are imminent. As I write this article the opening ceremony has already occurred. Many athletes have spoken out against the genocide in China and the United States government has issued a diplomatic protest. Yet, the Olympic games are still on, the world’s athletes are still competing, and the United States will still be in attendance. NBC invested a whopping 12 billion dollars to secure the rights to televise the 2022 Winter Olympics, an investment that they are hoping to cash in on. There is money to be made this Winter and the games must go on. Yet onward and upward continues the plight of the Uyghur people. NBC does not stand alone in the entertainment industry in their revenue-driven partnerships with the Chinese government. The NBA operation in China is worth more than 5 billion dollars.7 Broadcasting rights, players exhibition tours, and merchandising are all negotiated between the NBA and China each year. Ultimately, money talks.

The title of a May 2020 CNN article reads, “NBA has a new CEO in China. His first task is to make up with Beijing.”6 This “make up” was needed after the Houston Rockets previous General Manager, Daryl Morey, went to social media calling for the support of Hong Kong during its freedom struggle with the Chinese government. In response the China cut broadcasts of NBA games, undoubtedly causing financial blows to the NBA. But when push came to shove, the media was silenced, and China was appeased.

My hope is that this is shocking to us. This seems an odd phenomenon in a culture that is quick to take axe to the root of any and every real or perceived injustice. Causes and movements sweep across the mediums of social media within minutes of a social or political tremor. Sports conglomerates like the NBA and NFL have eagerly taken the driver’s seat in pushing forth the case of injustice in our society! This is what I would call “convenient conviction.” It’s easy to take a stand when the cost is low.


What can I do?

Draw the Obvious Line

After reading this article about the Uyghurs, you may ask yourself what you can even do about it. It’s a fair question. Sometimes the machine of the world is turning so powerfully and quickly, change seems out of our control. But there is a simple economic law that governs the global economy: demand drives supply. For that reason, during the 2022 Olympics, our home will be turning off the television this year as a clear indication to NBC, the Olympic Committee, the governments of the world, and all other benefitting parties, that entertainment and convenience is not a worthy tradeoff for ignoring the crimes against humanity committed by China.

I look down at my work desk and I would be hard-pressed to find something not made in China. There are few things in our lives that do not come directly from Chinese production. One could say that anything and everything we do, buy, or participate in has implications that support wicked agendas in some form or fashion. That is a valid point worth considering. In fact, it would be beneficial to do a full inventory of the products and means we use to function in life and determine their moral implications. I believe there is room to have these healthy conversations and there is some liberty of conscious. As I stated in the introduction of this article, there is much that should and needs to be done, but I want to be most helpful in establishing a base line from which we can work from.

In an NBC promotional video for the 2022 Olympics, the phrase “A time for joy” was adopted as a slogan for the Beijing Olympic Games.5 But joy for who? Us the audience? The athletes? The countries and their leaders? The broadcaster? Surely this is not a time for joy for the Uyghur people. As the Olympic games run on in multi-million-dollar facilities in front of Chinese officials and leaders, governments and networks are earning millions of dollars and Olympians hang metals around their necks. In the same moment Uyghurs families sit behind the fences of concentration camps. Women are raped and sterilized. Family members have gone missing, never to be seen again. Children are kidnapped from their homes and forced into re-education facilities. If it feels wrong to read this statement, I think we are on the right track.

What if we decided not to watch? Are we splitting hairs about things that are much too big for us? That is a fair question. It is reasonable to feel the powerlessness of being a lone individual in a world swimming with troubles, evils, and sorrows. Though I have acknowledged in this article that we often feel powerless, I would assert that the power ultimately lies with us. With me. The everyday American of Raleigh, North Carolina with a television. I am the consumer, the greatest economic commodity. I have a choice and a voice, but those who live under the communist oppression of the Chinese government do not.

In discussing this article, a friend of mine asked me, “How do things like this happen? How do Nazi Germany’s come into existence and people just go along with it?”. I think that is truly the better question to ask. We can no longer be consumers of the supplies we hate. There is much that we have little control over, and God is ultimately sovereign. But a great place to start is to turn off our televisions and tell the revenue machines, “We will not participate.”



Want more information on how to pray for the Uyghur people? Follow the link below to a prayer guide published by Baptist Press:

https://www.baptistpress.com/resource-library/news/first-person-a-prayer-guide-for-uyghurs/


Want to see first-hand investigative journalism done on Uyghur re-education camps? Follow the link below to a Vice News special investigation on the Uyghur people:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7AYyUqrMuQ


1 All-In Podcast. (2022, January 15). E63: Insurrection indictments, human rights in the US and abroad, groundbreaking MS study and more. YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qbeHyN15HQE&t=886s

2 BBC. (2021, June 21). Who are the Uyghurs and why is China being accused of genocide? BBC News. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-22278037

3 DesiringGod.org. (2013, August 19). What does it mean to be made in god's image? Desiring God. Retrieved from https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/what-does-it-mean-to-be-made-in-gods-image

4 Garcia, A. (2018, February 24). Olympics ratings: NBC's $12 billion investment is looking riskier. CNNMoney. Retrieved from https://money.cnn.com/2018/02/24/media/nbc-olympics-ratings-12-billion-rights/index.html

5 NewsCastStudio. (2021, November 15). NBC olympics 2022 Winter Olympics promo. YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDVXRhOTIYM

6 Toh, M. (2020, May 13). NBA has a new CEO in China. his first task is to make up with Beijing. CNN. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/13/business/nba-china-ceo-daryl-morey/index.html

7 Young, J. (2021, July 7). NBA wants to play the 'positive role' and help defuse u.s.-china tensions . CNBC. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2021/07/07/nba-wants-to-play-the-positive-role-and-help-defuse-us-china-tensions-.html

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