US offended by NZ Urghurs support of their Jihadi.

Rizwangul NurMuhammad,

New Zealand Uyghurs have a long history of supporting Islamic State. Muslims simply don’t understand why their number in north-western China cannot form a separate Islamic State like Muslims in India did when they broke away in create what is now Pakistan.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) is “concerned” a New Zealand Fulbright scholar has suffered the ignominy of dozens of classmates walking out of a US lecture theatre when she brought up Uyghur politics.

The scholar is Rizwangul NurMuhammad?, one of the subjects of Stuff’s Deleted series.

She has been fighting for years for the release of her brother Mewlan, who was detained in the Chinese province of Xinjiang in 2017 for “secession”.

Mewlan was taken during his lunch break and, despite no evidence of a trial, sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment.

NurMuhammad is a NZ citizen who lives in Auckland. She is completing a Masters at Cornell University’s Institute of Public Affairs under a Fulbright scholarship.

She told Stuff that since the walkout she feels worried for her safety and let down by the Ivy League university, which has been criticised for the way it has handled the considerable fallout.

The incident has sparked a conversation about the potential influence of Chinese international student money on academic freedom, a debate that has been simmering in academia in recent years.

Fulbright scholarships are funded by MFAT at $1.35 million each year. New Zealand does not recognise what is happening in Xianjing as genocide.

An MFAT spokesman said it was “concerned to hear about this incident”, but did not respond to a question about what it would do, if anything.

“We understand Fulbright New Zealand has made contact with Rizwangul NurMuhammad, and has ensured support is available for her at Cornell,” the spokesman said.

What happened: The walkout explained

NurMuhammad and her fellow New Zealander and Fulbright scholar Guled Mire were in an evening seminar at the prestigious New York state university last Thursday.

It was delivered by Democratic Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, who appeared by Zoom to about 100 students.

In a question and answer section of the seminar, NurMuhammed spoke of her brother’s imprisonment and then asked Slotkin about the difference between the US Government’s firm response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine compared to its muted reaction to the incarceration of more than 1 million Uyghurs in China.

As Slotkin went to answer the question about half of the students walked out, The Independent newspaper reported after seeing a video recording of the incident.

“We have a lot of the Chinese students exiting the room, Congresswoman, just to let you know,” a university staff member can be heard saying.

Slotkin responds: “I feel for you and I’m sorry that you’re going through that and I’m sorry that the students just felt the need to leave.”

The next day a Chinese student leader sent an email signed by 88 students to the entire faculty of the Cornell Institute of Public Affairs to complain about the seminar.

The email said they’d left because of the “extremely hostile” atmosphere.

“At that moment, we were not sitting in a classroom; we were crucified in a courtroom for crimes that we did not commit,” the student email read.

NurMuhammad describes the events differently, and says the walkout and email was an overt attempt at censoring or silencing her.

Mire says he had previously been “naive to the reality” that NurMuhammad and other Uyghurs live with, and sitting in the lecture theatre and hearing “jeers” and “taunts” as the students walked out was something he could never have imagined.

“It was quite jarring, to be honest.”

Cornell’s response

The way Cornell reacted to the incident has come under intense scrutiny, with Mire describing it as an “insulting” attempt to “play both sides”.

The 88 students who signed the email had also requested a formal response from the school management, “so that we know we made the right decision of choosing … Cornell”.

The next day Cornell Institute for Public Affairs director, Professor Matt Hall, wrote a faculty-wide email, saying “the human rights abuses of the Uyghur people, are valuable points of discussion and critical to promoting open dialogue.

At the same time, we must also respect that walkouts are a legitimate form of protest and an appropriate expression of disapproval.”

Hall called on students to be “respectful and civil toward our colleagues”, and not use social media to “cast them as a demographic group or in derogatory ways”.

Hall’s email didn’t go down well with many of the students who were not involved in the walkout, and after a long email trail discussing the subject, Cornell responded again through an email from Hall and dean, Colleen Barry.

“There has been a heated conversation on social media and email, and several students have expressed alarm about the aggressive nature of that online conversation,” the email read.

It noted that concerns had been raised about the safety of “individual students”. It didn’t name her, but this is understood to refer to NurMuhammad.

“Others have expressed worry that Chinese students are not welcome at Cornell,” the email continues.

“All are welcome and should feel safe at Cornell.

“These events have spurred divisive discourse and engaged us in serious conversation related to how best to speak up in the face of genocide and human rights atrocities against the Uyghur people.

“At the same time, they remind us how harmful it is when conversation devolves into derogatory anti-Asian expression.”

NurMuhammad says the university’s emails had only exacerbated the situation, making her the subject of a school-wide discussion, without including her voice in it.

And Mire says it’s irresponsible for Cornell’s leadership to conflate real and valid concerns about anti-Asian sentiments with concerns raised about China’s treatment of Uyghurs.

“This only seeks to embolden the harmful actions of students.”

Concerns after NZ Uyghur Fulbright scholar subjected to walkout, ‘bullying’ at US university