What causes unrest in Xinjiang?

Uyghur people pray at the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar. Photo: Wu Jie/Sino-US.com

Following a string of terror attacks in Xinjiang this year, the Chinese government has put the task of maintaining regional stability on top of its agenda.

In Urumqi, the capital city of Xinjiang, armed paramilitary policemen are deployed to stand guard near bus stops, schools and bazaars, which are more likely to be the target of the attacks.

Words like "explosion", "police attack" and "separatist", sporadically hit headlines of newspapers, creating a false perception about Xinjiang and Uyghur people.

Is Xinjiang a hotbed of violence?

In September, sino-us.com reporter joined an overseas Chinese media delegation to visit Urumqi and Kashgar, exploring the reasons behind the turbulence in Xinjiang.

"Prior to your visit (to Kashgar), we just hosted US Ambassador to China Baucus, who communicated with local residents. He is very concerned with religious freedom and human rights in Xinjiang. I do not want to say too much (about the security in Xinjiang), I need you to see a real Xinjiang with your own eyes," Xu Jiming, director of the foreign affairs office of Kashgar Prefecture, told the media delegation during an evening walk at a city square with no escorts.

A Uyghur girl told the sino-us.com reporter that the terror attacks did not have great impact on people's daily life, despite the fact that they are afraid of hearing the warning siren again.

Security is good in Kashgar. Photo: Wu Jie/Sino-US.com

Illegitimate religious education causes extremism

Wang Lisheng, a member of Kashgar Prefectural Committee, attributed terrorism in Xinjiang to religious extremism. Wang, who is also the executive deputy commissioner of Kashgar Prefectural Administration, used the murder of Juma Tayier, the imam of the Id Kah Mosque, as an example to support his argument

"The reason behind the killing of the imam lies in his firm opposition to religious extremism, which attracted the wrath of the extremists," said Wang, adding that the religious extremists are cashing in on the mentality of Xinjiang's paupers, who pin their hopes on Islam.

Kumushay Hudaverdi, an Uzbek girl who was born in Xinjiang and now settled down in Brunei, told the sino-us.com reporter that the lack of normal Islamic education has led to the use of religion for evil purposes by evil forces.

"Normal religious education will facilitate the government's supervision and administration in the region," added Hudaverdi.

The Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar. Photo: Wu Jie/Sino-US.com

Wang revealed that the number of imams educated in legal Islamic religious schools was very small and some unverified imams used their posts to bewitch the minds of ordinary people.

"Even some illiterate clergies in mosques are misleading uneducated people. Therefore, the top task is to standardize the Islamic education," said Wang, adding that enhancing employment is another way to fend off the hazard of religious extremism.

Erkin Tuniyaz, vice chairman of the Xinjiang government, said that the task of maintaining stability in Xinjiang was still tough and that the clampdown on terrorism and separatism was no less than a protracted war.

Incitement and bias lead to resentment

From the personal perspective, a young Uyghur girl, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the sino-us.com reporter that life in Xinjiang was generally harmonious and safe, but pointed out two negative factors which could foment anger among the Uyghur people.

One factor is unbalanced education. In southern Xinjiang where universal education is not available yet, young people are more easy to be misled by terrorists and religious extremists. The other factor is low employment. The employment rate for minority ethnic groups is too low to prevent some people from being used as tool by terrorists.

"In Xinjiang, fewer job opportunities are given to minority ethnic groups. Seventy percent of the posts of public servant are assigned for Han people, with the rest left for minority ethnic groups including Uyghur people," said the young girl, who believes that the unfair treatment will result in resentment among the weaker groups.

Worse still, Uyghur people are labeled as "terrorists" by those who have no knowledge about the current situation in Xinjiang. For instance, the housing renovation project, which is aimed at enhancing the living conditions of the residents in the old town of Kashgar, is demonized as the "program to deracinate Uyghur people". An ordinary Uyghur customer will fluster the hotel owner because of his or her ethnicity amid tensions escalated by terror attacks by Uyghur separatists.

The old town of Kashgar. Photo: Wu Jie/Sino-US.com

Such bias has already had bad impact on the life of most law-abiding Uyghur people, and is being exacerbated by the extremists who stir up hatred between Han and Uyghur people by disseminating false information in cyber propaganda.

In order to block the alarmist information, the governments of Urumqi, Kashgar and the Taxkorgan Tajik Autonomous County have no choice but to ban access to the Internet in hotels.

One-sided media reports deepen misrepresentation

In media reports, especially those run by Western news agencies, the word "Xinjiang" appears to have become equivalent to derogatory news.

"Every country has many things, good or bad, happening every day, but people always get to know about Xinjiang through bad stories," said Muhammad Tursun, head of the office of foreign and overseas Chinese affairs of Kashgar Prefecture.

A Uyghur boy. Photo: Wu Jie/Sino-US.com

Tuniyaz expects the media to put the focus on the development of Xinjiang, such as last month's fourth China-Eurasia Expo and the establishment of the Silk Road Economic Belt proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit to Central Asia in September 2013. The Silk Road Economic Belt, which will be built based on the ancient Silk Road, is widely recognized as the longest economic corridor in the world due to its huge coverage that connects the Asia-Pacific economic zone with the European economic zone.

Because of the Silk Road Economic Belt, Kashgar plans to build three more airports, which will be used to strengthen industrial integration and facilitate transportation among China, Central Asia and Europe.

"In the near future, we do not need to go to Hainan Province to buy duty-free things, because Kashgar will become the biggest tax-exempt zone in China (after the Silk Road Economic Belt is completed)," said Tursun confidently, adding that helped by the economic development plan and the support from other provinces, the take-off of Kashgar is just a matter of time.

(The article is translated and edited by Ding Yi)

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