Opinion: Yes, Xinjiang’s fight against terrorism is not in line with Western values, but it worked
Updated 03:14, 27-Mar-2021
Han Peng

Let me get this straight: Yes, the way Xinjiang defeated terrorism do NOT conform to the Western values, but who said the Western values are the only or universal principle for all other countries to follow, especially when these countries are solving a problem that the West have failed to solve?

Xinjiang has now brought both the population in poverty and the cases of terrorist attacks to zero. For 4 years, China saw no terrorist attacks, compared to the peak in 2013 to 2015, when there could one major attack every one or two months. Besides, by the end of 2020, Xinjiang eliminated absolute poverty for all residents, like all other provinces or regions in China.

If Xinjiang had followed the Western values, it would not have achieved any of these goals.

But interestingly, several Western fashion brands, including H&M, Nike, and Adidas, join the campaign against Xinjiang and boycotted its cotton to make a point over the alleged “forced labor” in the farms, one of the three major accusations from the West on Xinjiang. The other two are “genocide” and “concentration camps.”

If a decision-maker only sticks to Western values to find solutions, there is no solution for terrorism in Xinjiang. Perhaps that is the reason why some in the West are convinced that Xinjiang must have used the extreme ways Nazi Germany did to the Jews, the U.S. did to Native Americans, and some European countries did to the black slaves.

So, key question: What did Xinjiang do to defeat terrorism? I will answer this question with my years of experience in covering Xinjiang on the ground as a journalist.

-Xinjiang’s policies in fighting terrorism included: 
-Strike-hard campaign against terrorism, 
-Poverty alleviation, 
-Village cadres paying frequent visits to residents’ homes and working closely with them to solve their problems, 
-Internet censorship against terrorist propaganda video or audio materials,
-Vocational training centers.

I will talk about them one by one in the article.

Some of these policies go fully against what the West says they stand for. But they proved to work better than the U.S. fighting 20 years of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with a goal of building a Western-style democracy to defeat hatred, Jihad, or terrorist organizations, only to cause locals to suffer, ISIL to rise and refugees to flood to Europe.

As China’s senior diplomat Yang Jiechi said in Alaska, the U.S. values do not represent world or universal values, and the U.S. political system does not represent the world’s pursuit of better political system. In this article, let us think out of the box and see what caused Xinjiang’s terrorism and how Xinjiang fought it.

The Grand Bazaar in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi, which witnessed a bloody terrorist attack before, has now become a tourist hotspot with huge flow of visitors.

The Grand Bazaar in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi, which witnessed a bloody terrorist attack before, has now become a tourist hotspot with huge flow of visitors.

I. What were the causes of Xinjiang terrorist attacks?

Who are the most likely personsto launch a terrorist attack? It is the marginalized people struggling in poverty, without a proper job and education, and not being treated well by the society. With one more trigger such as being bullied by a stranger, he could be turned violent. Think about U.S. gun violence: Some of those who commit mass shooting in places like a grocery store murder the innocent people just because they felt dissatisfied with their life.

Of course, if it were this simple in Xinjiang, it would be called a crime, not a terrorist attack. A terror attack must have a political or ideological agenda besides just venting their personal anger at innocent civilians. In Xinjiang, the most used political slogan by terrorists was to “kill the heretic Han Chinese who stole the land of Muslims, so they will become a jihad hero, go to heaven where there are rivers of honey and milk as well as 72 virgins.”

From the 1990s, Xinjiang was rocked by thousands of terrorist attacks like this, with many civilians killed. The death toll also included several hundred police officers. The sad truth is most attackers were not “professional” terrorists who crossed the border into China and launch attacks, but ordinary Uighur Muslims who were poor, marginalized and incited into violence.

Based on the stories I covered over the years, Xinjiang had at least fourmain loopholes before 2015, which led to an incitement of ordinary people. All these loopholes have been closed today.

Loophole 1: Root cause -- Poverty

If you look at the map of Xinjiang, the southern part of the region has the most barren landscape. It used to have the highest number of impoverish population in Xinjiang, and this correlated with the number of terrorist attacks. In northern Xinjiang, where some people call it “China’s second heaven on earth besides Hangzhou,” tourists flock there and the region saw very few attacks.

Without political agenda, poverty can be hotbed for crimes. But with political agenda in place, poverty becomes an ideal breeding ground for terrorism. How did politics come in here? Here are the next three loopholes.

Loophole 2: Catalyst -- Terrorist propaganda videos on the internet

These propaganda videos, produced by overseas terrorist organizations such as Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, are powerful in persuading Muslim viewers without much education that the misfortune in their lives is caused not by themselves, but by “the infidels who stole their land,” so they should “kill the infidels, become a jihad hero and go to heaven.” These videos also teach viewers how to make bombs at home and tell them in detail that they should hold jihad banners, chant slogans whenkilling people on street.

This way of terrorist incitement is also widely seen in the Western countries. The next two loopholes are more unique to Xinjiang.

Loophole 3: Magnifier -- Illegal religious activities.

Like Muslims in most countries, Xinjiang’s Muslim residents regularly go to mosques to pray and hear their mullah or imams interpret Quran’s holy scriptures, to learn more about their faith, the message from their Allah and get spiritual strength. And here came the illegal imams who hosted underground Quran interpretation in secret places other than the public mosques.

These illegal religious leaders were mostly sponsored by overseas terrorist or extremist groups with a goal to incite ordinary Muslims into “jihad”. The skillful illegal imams could often tell better religious stories than those in the mosques, and thus become more attractive. But the better stories came with a price: Listeners with weaker ability to judge could be persuaded into the logic and narrative of the illegal imams (again, “kill the infields who stole your land and go to heaven”) and thus commit violent attacks under their instruction.

What is more unsettling than terrorist propaganda videosare that these kinds of underground lectures are not online, but offline operation, so it is easy to form group organizations, leading to gangs committing crimes, which could result in large-scale casualties once an attack took place.

Loophole 4: The most concealing and controversial -- viral transmission of thoughts

A thought is never a crime, but it does not mean it will never be harmful.

I covered the story of this young Uighur Muslim girl Maieryemaguli in Xinjiang. She was married to Mecca, and her husband was a religious extremist who had controlled her life harshly by brainwashing and restricting her social activities.

Later, she could notbear it anymore, got divorced and went back to Xinjiang. For fear of being looked down upon, she told everyone that her life in Mecca had beengreat and from there she learned fancierreligious theories such as “killing all infidels”.

She did not mean to it, but just want to avoid embarrassment. However, some listeners did not really pay much attention to her fake show off but picked up her extremist theories of “killing all infidels”, which she said had come from the Holy City of Mecca and must be the Truth for Islam.

As a result, these extremist ideas spread quickly in her neighborhood and beyond, especially among those who are not educated enough to make judgment. In this process, according to Western values, no one has considered breaking the law or committed a crime. But the fact isthat the thought of extremism spreads like a virus in Xinjiang and could have planted a seed of “jihad” in many people’s mind.With any of the preceding three loopholes added to it, especially poverty, an ordinary people would become more likely to be incited.

II. How did Xinjiang defeat terrorism?

The answer is as simple as this: Just fix the above 4 loopholes.

Solution to Loophole 1: Poverty

Since poverty is breeding ground for terrorism, China’s solution is to eliminate poverty. By the end of last year, the last few million Chinese under the poverty line got rid of absolute poverty. And now, no one in China, including Xinjiang, lives in absolute poverty anymore.

Village cadres visiting the homes of local residents in Xinjiang.

Village cadres visiting the homes of local residents in Xinjiang.

Since marginalized people are more likely to feel dissatisfied about their life and revenge on society by killing innocent people, China has sent cadres to most of the villages in Xinjiang to help fight poverty and tackle every single difficulty that locals face, ranging from find a vet to treat their cattle to solving a quarrel between neighbors.

Sometimes it is hard to believe that government officials could solve problems in such an obvious and straightforward way. But that is what cadres in Xinjiang did.

With no doubt, from the perspective of Western values, there are a long list of questions to ask. Such as:

-Is fighting poverty a government or an individual responsibility?
-Will these cadres interfere too much in personal life and space of villagers?
-Is it better to have a bigger government or a smaller government?

These are good, valid questions to ask under the Western political system, but when dealing with imminent threat of terrorism and the harsh reality of poverty in Xinjiang, they are good, lofty theories that cannot address the most immediate need of the struggling residents.

Sometimes, residents living in poor living conditions could care much less about whether they should regard their government as a necessary evil or a parental state than whether the cadre is going to send a vet to save his only cow or could help him repair the roof in the freezing snow.

Working with the people from the smallest detail in their life was part of the secret why the Communist Party of China could mobilize the people to defeat Kuomintang in the 1940s. And now, the CPC is using the same strategy to defeat terrorism, and this strategy is anything but Western.

Solution to Loophole 2: Terrorist propaganda videos on the internet

Just block them. Again, the policy is as simple as this. Under Western values, there would be a lot of debate about “freedom of speech.” In China, there were also talks about it, but there was a more overwhelming demand from the public to keep Xinjiang safe than having a “free” internet.

Besides, if the U.S. has reasons to block the Twitter account of the then President Trump this January with the argument that he incited the riots at the Capitol Hill, why does China not have a reason to block terrorist propaganda video when they incited violence against civilians.

Solution to Loophole 3: Illegal religious activities

The solution is not to catch them all and put them in jail, for the simple reason that it is not workable. It is hard to get evidence unless there is recording of what they said in those close-door activities, and even if the police acquired some evidence, it could also become a hard-won debate over whether this imam had deliberately misinterpreted Quran just for the purpose of inciting terrorist attacks.

The solution Xinjiang took to fight illegal imams is to empower legal religious activities, by training more imams to spread the message in the mosques that Islam is a peaceful religion that never encouraged Muslims to kill innocent infidels.

Look at this example I kept following in my coverage, Xinjiang Islamic Institute. China invested over 200 million RMB in 2014 and completed its expansion in 2016. Before the expansion, the institute only trained a few dozen clerical personnel each year. But after 2016, hundreds of people graduate each year, and they all get distributed at their will to the mosques across Xinjiang to spread the truth about the peaceful nature of Islam.

Nowadays, almost no one would buy the illegal preaching in Xinjiang anymore.

Class of Xinjiang Islamic Institute.

Class of Xinjiang Islamic Institute.

Under Western values, again, many questions can be asked: Shouldn’t it be a free market of ideas for people to choose? Should the government sponsor one idea to take out another? Does this respect Muslims’ choice of their own interpretation of Quran?

While I am not an expert on Islam, my opinion is it is always a good practice to tell people that Islam is peaceful. The fact that the Chinese government is willing to spend money in spreading this message should be good news for both Muslims and others around the world. The only people who are not benefited by this are the extremists and those who support them.

Solution to Loophole 4: viral transmission of thoughts

China’s solution is to set up vocational training centers.

Let us bring back that Xinjiang girl who divorced her husband in Mecca. She showed off her life under religious extremism, which was not illegal, but spread the virus of extremist thoughts of “killing all infidels” in her neighborhood. Later, the local authorities asked her to join the vocational training in a form of “compulsory education.” The training scheme is structured for five days a week (Monday to Friday) with room and board provided, and the opportunity to return to their families during the weekend. The classes she took included skill-set training to find higher-paid jobs, as well as classes which taught her the truth about Quran and the flaws in the extremist thoughts. The education lasts for one or two years.

A picture shot in Xinjiang’s vocational training centers by Rob Schmitz/NPR

A picture shot in Xinjiang’s vocational training centers by Rob Schmitz/NPR

This policy has been the most controversial under the Western values. The U.S. calls the training centers “concentration camps.”

First, Nazi concentration camps are meant to kill, not to educate people.

Second, it is true that students were mandated to attend the classes. But if mandatory schools are all concentration camps, there is no legitimacy for governments to have compulsory education. In China, it is an obligation for all citizens to attend the 9-year Compulsory Education after they reach the age of 6. Many students who had to attend the re-education center are below the education level set forth by the compulsory education system in the country. They are simply making up for the education missed in their earlier years.

Students in dancing class in a vocational training center in Xinjiang.

Students in dancing class in a vocational training center in Xinjiang.

More importantly, the premise of solving a problem is to face up to the problem. The government could have let the viral spreading of extremist ideology play out in the name of “freedom”, and no one would blame the government even if something bad were to happen. However, if the government does not intervene, the spreading of extremist ideologies such as the notorious “kill infidels and enjoy 72 virgins” idea would be deep rooted in people’s minds and induced terrorism and other terrorist behaviors.

Such ideological virus is somewhat like COVID-19, where infectors may not be intentional or even unaware of their own illness. The consequence would only cause more harm to the people. The only resolution to tackle such a virus is through segregation, not freedom as advocated by many Western nations. Putting COVID-19 infected patients in quarantine was not a form of punishment, but to break the chain of contagion and allow them recover. Similarly, segregating those with extreme beliefs is not meant as a form of punishment, but to educate them of the right values.

However, in the name of the Western standard of freedom, many Western governments seem to oppose the idea of mandatory quarantine of COVID-19 patients. If mandatory segregation is so outrageous and contradictory to Western values, perhaps the West should allow viruses roam free in their societies and enjoy their freedom at the expense of countless lives.

Additional solution: Strike hard campaign against terrorism

This does not need much explanation. But what worth noticing is that without the four solutions above, soldiers alone cannot win the fight against terrorism, no matter how hard they strike.

China's principle has always placed great importance to people’s lives. The preaching of individual liberty under the Western values is just a way for the West to mask its failures in combating COVID-19 and terrorism.

This has demonstrated that Western values do not represent human values nor is it capable of solving problems faced by mankind. Socialism with Chinese characteristics, on the other hand, could solve some of these problems. China’s approach is the simplest, but also the hardest -- to identify and manage the problem with the right remedy in a truthful and honest way, without holding too much theoretical debate about political values.

III. How does the West respond to terrorism under Western values?

The U.S. fight against terrorism involved major wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, saying they were "fighting terrorism by establishing a democracy” in the Middle East.

As a result, 20 years later, the Afghan or Iraqi children born at that time have grown up amid bombing, and the U.S. military is still mired in a quagmire, facing increased threats by relatively new terrorist groups, such like ISIL, which traded sex slaves, burned prisoners of war alive and uploaded their atrocities to social media. Now the U.S. forces are in a dilemma and must negotiate with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

In 2015, 22-minute ISIL video circulating on the Internet purports to show a Jordanian pilot locked in a cage alive and burned to death.

In 2015, 22-minute ISIL video circulating on the Internet purports to show a Jordanian pilot locked in a cage alive and burned to death.

European approaches to the fight against terrorismis toembracing diversity of culture under its values of freedom. However, it did not stop the hatred and atrocities either. Last year, French middle-school teacher Samuel Paty was brutally beheaded by an 18-year-old extremist following the teacher’s class about freedom of expression.

What is worse, the U.S. wars in the Middle East in the name of “democracy fighting terrorism” caused a huge influx of refugees in Europe, which many say increased the threat of terrorism there if the refugee issues are not handled well.

In 2015, image of this drowned 3-year-old fleeing Syria showed tragic plight of refugees caused by wars in the Middle East.

In 2015, image of this drowned 3-year-old fleeing Syria showed tragic plight of refugees caused by wars in the Middle East.

The U.S., under its Western values, fought wars on terror only to let its European allies take in the flooding refugees and let ordinary Iraqis and Afghans suffer over 20 years of bloodshed. And now it wants to teach Xinjiang, a region with no terrorist attack for four years and no poverty since last year, how to fight terrorism under the Western values.

What do you think are the lessons Xinjiang should learn from the U.S.?

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