As more migrants from Islamic backgrounds attempt to build new lives in Europe, both the political class and the populous of many European states have reached the dangerous conclusion that somehow Muslims cannot live in a harmonious relationship with their non-Muslim neighbours. It is consequently supremely hypocritical that these same European leaders and their supporters in the European media continue to espouse black propaganda regarding the status of Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province.
As nations that have brutally colonised much of Asia and Africa in prior centuries, Europeans have exhausted any potential credibility they have when chastising Beijing’s relationship with its Muslim citizens who reside primarily in Xinjiang. The fact of the matter is that China has helped Xinjiang to flourish while pouring in ever more investment into the human development of the province’s people. This internal win-win model that officials continue to expand in Xinjiang must be understood for what it is rather than what exploitative scaremongers might imagine it to be.
The dangers of religious extremism are well known throughout the world and in Xinjiang, the Chinese government has worked to eradicate the dangers of terrorist violence through a balanced combination of investment into Xinjiang as well as empowering social programmes to help teach new vocational skills and positive social values to those who have in the past been tempted to join the ranks of lawless gangs.
Pakistani scholar S M Hali has been a frequent visitor to Xinjiang and a recent report he authored describing the recent changes in the province remains deeply informative to those unfamiliar with recent developmental trends. The following is a substantial excerpt from Hali’s recent report on the realities in Xinjiang:
“In the past, China’s eastern provinces enjoyed greater opulence and a higher rate of development, perhaps because they are closer to the coastal region and ports. However, this disparity caused Xinjiang’s population to face a sense of deprivation, which was manipulated by China’s detractors, who tried to incite the Muslim population, ethnic Uighurs, into insurgency.
President Xi Jinping quelled the insurgency with a two pronged policy. Security forces cracked down on the troublemakers with an iron hand, while development projects with the inclusion of Uighurs ushered an era of prosperity. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) or the New Silk Road, which promises a new age of affluence, has Xinjiang as its focal point. The flagship BRI project, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) terminates at Xinjiang’s ancient city of Kashgar, which was a major city of the ancient Silk Road and has become BRI’s launching pad into Central Asia and beyond.
I have been visiting Xinjiang for the past four decades and am a witness to its various stages of development. From a sleepy backwater of the 1970s, Urumqi has become a sprawling metropolis, with high-rise buildings, busy roads, marketplaces and shopping malls. A network for underground Metro trains and high-speed railways is reaching the final stages of completion.
Currently I am touring Xinjiang as a guest of the BRI to delve deep into its core and feel the pulse of this massive project. A detailed tour of the Xinjiang Islamic Institute and discussions with AdudulrekepTumniaz, President of the Institute and deputy director of Xinjiang Islamic Association was very reassuring. The Institute is 28 years old and has came a long way. My previous visit was in 2011 and since then, a new campus with modern class rooms, an impressive mosque, well equipped library, cosy dormitories and state of the art sports facilities has been completed in 2017, which can compete with any modern western university.
The Bachelor’s Degree being conferred upon the Islamic Scholars from the Institute — which numbers around 1200 per year — is spread over five years. Imbibed with the knowledge of Islam, equipped with the wherewithal to take up the responsibility of guiding others, these graduates have an open mind and are well versed in technology science, social studies and current international affairs to meet the challenge head on.
Facilities for practicing religion are also being enhanced. Modern and well equipped mosques, slaughter houses where halal meat can be procured or the Eid-ul-Azha rituals practiced and support in pilgrimage are paying rich dividends. The government is ensuring that pilgrims for Hajj and Umrah are provided logistic support, while spiritual education and respect for the rights of the faithful is maintained. Medical facilities, which were redundant in Xinjiang once upon a time, have now been established to a level which is unprecedented. Traditional as well as conventional medicine is offered to the urban as well as rural dwellers with the additional advantage of telemedicine, on concessional or gratis basis.
With such a heavy investment, financially, spiritually and morally, there is no way the detractors of China can lead the faithful astray any longer”.
Today, Chinese themselves are voicing their views about the improved social conditions in Xinjiang. While western media outlets have maliciously described Xinjiang’s vocational schools as “re-education camps” those who have attended vocational classes have expressed their contentment with the new skills they have learned.
In an interview conducted by the Global Times, Xinjiang resident Eli Matusun described his vocational classes in the following way:
“I was born in a religious family and was told that I was born to be a Muslims. I had little knowledge of laws before participating in the program. Distorted doctrines spread by religious extremists are against our laws. The program was good timing for me, since we learned that extremism is the root of terrorism and violence and if we go further astray, we would become terrorists”.
Eli has stated that he now seeks to start his own business based on the skills he has learned.
The success stories of Xinjiang residents who have had their lives improved through advanced vocational training represent a model to multiple nations that are grappling with the very serious issue of how to become more inclusive towards minority groups while also maintaining a legal order that is often threatened by extremists who have historically exploited minority groups in order to cause public agitations in the pursuit of illegal material enrichment. China’s solution to these issues, much like China’s economic and foreign policy is one based on balance, respect for local cultural characteristics and an understanding that the downtrodden must be enlightened in order for them to then elevate their own standing in society from a position of self-confidence, valour and intellectual soundness.
Unfortunately, within Europe the political dialogue over the issues of minority groups continues to be phrased in overtly negative terminology which itself is a reflection of Europe’s historically negative mentality towards minorities. In Europe, politicians and so-called social leaders discussing the growing Islamic population often speak of forced assimilation, mass deportations and ghettoisation. This contrasts sharply with China’s method of social enlightenment through skills based education which is further combined by a sharp increase in infrastructural and cultural investment in Xinjiang.
While the world as a whole faces multiple threats of religious and political extremism, it is not China that has an “Islam problem”. China in fact has socially responsible solutions in respect of fighting religious extremism while cultivating the local traditions of Xinjiang in a modern spirit that reflects time tested values. Europe however has made its own “Islam problem” and rather than adopt positive solutions or learn from the positive experience of the residents of Xinjiang, Europe is instead heaping scorn on yet another Chinese success story.