Efforts to eliminate extremism in Xinjiang change local lives for the better

By Fan Lingzhi and Liu Xin in Kashi Source:Global Times Published: 2018/10/27 15:49:08

Many trainees in the vocational education and training program in Xinjiang used to be influenced by extremism and spread extremism

They told personal stories of being victims of extremism to alert others

● The ongoing de-extremism efforts in Xinjiang have taken effect and local residents feel more secure and hopeful for a better life

What happened to trainees before they joined the vocational training and education programs in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region? How did they change after joining the program?

Stories of trainees in Kashi, a city in southern Xinjiang, show how extremism has haunted this place and destroyed people’s lives, and what has happened since the local government took various measures on eliminating extremism.

Going astray

According to the regulations on eliminating extremism in Xinjiang, which took effect in April 2017, 15 behaviors were listed as extreme. These include expanding the concept of halal beyond traditional dietary rules; imposing extreme restrictions on normal social interactions and personal behavior and thought; interfering with the social life of others; wearing or forcing women to wear a burka; and covering one’s face with a veil.

Trainees at a training center in Kashi all violated these regulations.

The Global Times learned from the training center that trainees here usually wrote their personal stories of “being influenced by extremism” and shared them with others.   

Jurat Memet said he was duped into attending a terrorist training camp.

He was born in Kashi in 1968 to parents who were well-educated and worked for a local transportation department. “My family’s financial situation was good… the residential community where I lived is home to many peoples, including Han, Uyghur, Uzbek… we lived in harmony and there was no difference between us.”

"Our Han neighbors usually went door to door offering us fried snacks during the Spring Festival and we would give them New Year greetings. The neighbors gave us a handful of candy when we went to their homes," he recalled. 

He graduated from university in 1988 and worked as a teacher in Kashi. In the 1990s he quit the job to do business, at a time when many people in Xinjiang went into business to earn quick money.

After going to Kyrgyzstan on a business trip, Jurat started to wander around, seeking more opportunities.

"I had grand plans but didn’t try very hard," he said.

A man from Urumqi told Jurat that if he gave the man $3,000 he would take him to Cyprus, where the “chances of getting rich were everywhere.”  

But when they got to Turkey, Jurat was asked to hand over another $7,000 if he wanted to reach to Cyprus. He realized it was a con and decided to take his chances in Turkey.

During his stay in Turkey, Jurat met Tursun, who started to spread extremist and separatist ideas. 

The man's nonsense included the claim that Uyghur people are born to be Muslim. Jurat recalled with scorn that "shamefully, I bought into this bullshit… Before meeting him I never prayed, but later I noticed that if I didn't, they would isolate me. Living in this environment, you would unconsciously be influenced by extremism."

One day, Tursun told Jurat that he could bring him to Pakistan to "do big business." Jurat believed him and agreed.

"The man who lead the group to Pakistan told us that he knew our background information very well and the only way to betray him was to die," Jurat said, noting that they were given an alias on their way to Pakistan.

Their destination was a high mountain. "There were tents every 200 to 300 meters and people who lived there seemed from all over the world. There were Asians, black people… they seemed to know little about each other," Jurat said.

He remembered seeing a flag with words "Army of Allah."

They were trained to use guns, make explosives, and assassinate people. They were also told to "kill heretics in the light of Allah."   
Jurat said they could only eat peanuts, which were bought by people down the hill and hid in a certain spot. 

Three months later, a man, who was funding the training camp, came to see "where his money was used." Trainees were later deployed to different places after the man left that day.

Jurat was asked to go back to Turkey. "A month later, they asked me to make a vow of loyalty to the 'East Turkistan Islamic Movement' organization and return to China and wait for my mission," Jurat said.

He was arrested by China’s public security bureau soon after returning to China and sentenced to seven years in prison for attending a terrorist training camp, a violation of Chinese law.

"My family left me behind and my life become dark… I complained every day and prayed to get rich which ended with nothing," said Jurat about his life after he was released from prison.

He was then sent to a training center in 2017. He said that living in the training center finally allowed him to get out from under the influence of extremism.

"I now think that it was lucky for me to get punished by laws when I first came back from Turkey… otherwise I would not understand how I violated the laws and the result could have been a disaster."

"I realize that the deep reason for my mistake was not resisting the influence of extremism and I had not realized it violated national laws and regulations," Jurat said.

"I hope that my story will help others, and prevent them from being poisoned by extremism," he said, noting that he really missed the harmonious life of his childhood.

From victim to defender

Many other trainees shared their stories of becoming victims of extremism. 

Melye Mugul was born into an extremist family and her grandmother demanded she learn distorted doctrines after graduating from high school.
She married a man in an Arabic country who, in Melye’s words, has "abnormally extremist thought."

Melye was required to wear burka and cover her face even at home and was forbidden from going outdoors alone. Her husband even banned her parents from visiting her.

Melye became depressed after her husband forbade her from crying at her grandmother’s funeral. She was called a heretic after visiting her father who was ill.

She finally divorced the man and returned to China.

Melye had not realized the harm of extremism and began to spread extremism. She thought she had “earned respect” from others for once having lived in Arabic countries and began to stop others from drinking or smoking.

Melye wore robes and covered her face with a veil. She told people about her previous life but turned her past into wonderful stories. 

"I knew clearly that women there are like men’s slaves… many people are acting wrong in the name of religion… life there was not as good as in our country, but I still tempted others to go there… many families have broken up after listening to what I said," she said.

Dawutjiang Tursun’s life was destroyed after he was influenced by extremism when he was 19 years old. He refused help from his boss because he thought the boss was a “heretic.” 

After quitting his job, Dawutjiang just stayed at home, lived by extremism doctrine and asked others to do the same. 

Without any income for the family, his wife sometimes complained about him. He started to beat his wife because a "wife is affiliated to a husband and should absolutely obey him."

Abdueni Toxti, deputy head of the training center in Kashi, told the Global Times that extremism harms people’s life in every aspect, and it can lead to terrorist attacks and violence.

Shohrat Zakir, chairman of the government of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, said in an interview with the Xinhua News Agency that "Countering terrorism and extremism is still a long-standing, complicated and serious issue and requires us to be on high alert."

"In particular, the four prefectures in southern Xinjiang were threatened by terrorism and seriously influenced by the spread of religious extremism in the past," said Zakir. 

He said that some residents there have a limited command of the country’s national language and a limited sense and knowledge of the law. They often have difficulty finding employment due to limited vocational skills. This has made them vulnerable to coercion from terrorists and extremists.

Promoted situation

Xinjiang’s de-extremism efforts and the launching of vocational education and training institutions have made some achievements.

According to data from the tourism bureau in the city of Kashi, more than 4.1 million tourists visited Kashi from January to September. They have brought revenues of more than 2.81 billion yuan ($400 million) to the city.

An owner of a hat shop in the scenic spot in the ancient section of the city told the Global Times that his business is much better with the increasing number of visitors to Kashi.

The Global Times saw visitors, performers and local residents dancing together in front of the scenic spot during a welcoming ceremony.
Life for trainees who have finished the program has also improved.  

Abdunebi Abdurexit returned home from the training center in mid-October. He told the Global Times that his proficiency in the Chinese language, knowledge of national laws and regulations and vocational skills have been greatly enhanced. 

He is working as a driver for a local telecommunication company. "I hope to work better and bring a better life to my family,” he said.
Other family members can also see he has changed. His wife said that "he used to act like a male chauvinist and never cared about house duties.
Now he gets up early every morning and helps with the housework," she said. 

The employment of women has also improved. 

Li Huijun, CEO of a garment factory in Kaishi, told the Global Times that she has witnessed the efforts to eliminate extremism.  

"When we first came here, many employees could not speak Putonghua, which made it difficult to communicate with them. Many women’s husbands forbade them from working here and beat them when they returned home from the factory," Li said.

After receiving education on counter extremism, the national common language, vocational training and national laws and regulations, the employees have changed. 

They have become more competitive and have higher demands from life. "If they earned 5,000 yuan last month but only 4,000 yuan this month, they feel dissatisfied with themselves."

"They can use the money they have earned to buy the clothes they like. They can provide better medical treatment for their parents. Some senior employees have received shares in the company. They run the company like it’s their own," Li said.

Newspaper headline: Return to harmony

Posted in: IN-DEPTH

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