Holding to Account
For the past 30 years, over nearly 30 books and thousands of articles, I have written about colonialism and imperialism. Some of these articles have appeared in The Nation, at the invitation of your editors. A brief conversation with one of your reporters on some of the themes that I have worked on for decades produced in him conjectures and fantasies about what he thinks I believe rather than what I am on the record as having written [“What Should the Left Do About China?,” January 24/31].
In two sentences, David Klion considers my views, and in both sentences speculates rather than elucidates. “This is more or less” what I said, he claims, rather than share my actual words. “In his telling,” Klion writes, “what is happening to the Uyghurs [in China] is analogous to what countries like the United States and Australia did to their Indigenous populations, or what the British Empire did in his native India—but somewhat to my surprise, [Prashad] didn’t mean that in a bad way.” This may have been what Klion wanted me to say or believe. The only problem is that this is not at all what I believe or say.
There is a large difference between a colonial project that destroys the basis of a people’s dignity and subordinates them to an external force, and a people’s project that struggles to find a way to undermine social hierarchies and advance the possibilities for the people. I would like to see caste uprooted from Indian society; does Klion believe that such a process is analogous to the horrendous genocide against Native Americans? I hope not. That your reporter took my views about social advancement and twisted them to imply I support genocide is shocking, deeply shocking.
Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research
It’s painful to think that there are people on the left justifying the massive violations of human rights occurring in China. China today is doing what the US did to Indigenous and minority peoples and the same kind of “sphere of interest” bullying that it has done in Latin America. Nothing can excuse or justify it. I agree that the historical crimes of the US government make it a problematic vehicle for opposition, but really, folks, let’s show some solidarity! Boycotts and economic sanctions are entirely appropriate. But please: Fight for a global alliance and global institutions for human rights that can hold both China and the US accountable.
On October 19, 1952, my father, Archibald Singham, hid in the bushes to hear the famous and talented orator Paul Robeson speak at an event in Ann Arbor. McCarthyism was in full swing. Being a foreign student, my father feared deportation. A few years later, he met Victor Navasky in East Lansing, where Victor was helping to run Soapy Williams’s campaign for governor of Michigan. A lifelong friendship thus began. My father adored Victor and explained to me that Victor had this fantastic ability to be a principled person. Victor took clear and full measure of the perverted nature of anti-communism in the US. My father was deeply anti-imperialist, respected the work of The Nation in the 1970s and ’80s, and became a member of its editorial board.
It was thus with great shock and dismay that I read the recent piece by David Klion in its pages. Klion has previously claimed that “Russiagate” is the crime of the century, not the millions of US-caused deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, and Yemen. His piece for The Nation misconstrued the words of Vijay Prashad, an important Global South left intellectual, without reference to any of his written works. It lends support to those who seek to shame and silence anyone who dares to contradict the liberal US narratives on “human rights” and dares to use the word “imperialism.” It is profoundly sad to see how The Nation has fallen into the orbit of manufactured consent and red-baiting.
The 1975 Church Committee was the last time formal disclosures were made about the number of journalists and professors under the direct or indirect control of US intelligence. The Nation has now taken up the “left” flank of the new McCarthyism. Times change, and we are entering a period where, thankfully, the US will not be the dominant economic force in the world. While reactionaries in the US lament this fact, history tells us that, for the first time in 500 years, the dominance of Europeans and their enfants terribles white-settler states is finally coming to an end. This existential crisis for the West, while a moment of danger, is also a great opportunity for the poor of the world.
Last September, Vijay Prashad generously spoke to me on the record for about 79 minutes; the unedited transcript of the recording was subsequently made available to a Nation fact-checker. Roughly 24 of those minutes were spent discussing China’s policies toward the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, during which time Prashad expounded his views in great detail and with multiple digressions. In compressing his comments down to a single paragraph in a piece exploring much broader topics, I necessarily glossed them in addition to including direct quotes, but I did not write that he “support[s] genocide”; for him to suggest that I “twisted [his views] to imply” that he does is exactly the same kind of leap he’s accusing me of making.
In the line he cites, I suggested that his views broadly align with those of the Qiao Collective, with which he had previously collaborated. What seems undeniable from Prashad’s words in our interview, in his letter here, and in many other places is that he believes that China’s policies toward the Uyghurs are not colonial or genocidal in nature, but rather a legitimate project of national development, offering educational and social advancement rather than violence and repression. During our interview, Prashad likened China’s policies in Xinjiang to 20th-century New York City public schools instructing Yiddish-speaking immigrants in English in order to assimilate them into American culture. He also speculated that Indians might have done to themselves what British colonists did to them in the name of progress.
As neither Prashad nor I has witnessed these policies firsthand in Xinjiang, I’ll refrain from weighing in further on the substance of his views, and simply say that I believe I accurately represented them in the context of a piece whose stated purpose was to air a range of left-wing perspectives on China.