SO­CI­ETY The legal ea­gle fly­ing the flag for equal­ity

As a lawyer, Nafisa Nih­mat is determined to present a fully-rounded pic­ture of a new gen­er­a­tion of highly ed­u­cated young peo­ple from the Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion, as Cui Jia re­ports from Shang­hai.

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

Nafisa Nih­mat moved to Shang­hai to study law be­cause she wanted to em­u­late the fe­male lawyer in a book she read­when­she was in ju­nior high school.

Now, as an as­so­ciate at a lead­ing law­firm in the city, the na­tive of the Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion is determined that ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing top of­fi­cials, should un­der­stand the im­por­tance of han­dling Xin­jiang-re­lated is­sues in ac­cor­dance with the law.

“My friends from Xin­jiang say I am a real Xin­jiang girl, while those from Shang­hai say I have the char­ac­ter of a Shang­hainese. My class­mates at uni­ver­sity in the United States asked me which state I was from be­cause I didn’t ap­pear Chi­nese to them at all,” said the smartly dressed 36-year-old, who has a 2-year-old son.

Re­call­ing her time grow­ing up in Tekes, a county in the Ily Kazakh au­ton­o­mous pre­fec­ture, she said: “Lit­tle did peo­ple know it, but dur­ing the 1980s the peo­ple in Ily were the trendi­est in China. Dur­ing the win­ter, they wore leather boots, fit­ted coats and col­or­ful cash­mere scarfs im­ported from the Soviet Union.”

As a child, Nafisa spent hours gaz­ing into the eyes of her rel­a­tives, who came from a num­ber of eth­nic groups — in­clud­ing Uzbek, Rus­sian, Kazakh and Uygur— and not­ing the dif­fer­ent colors. Like her mother, Nafisa has dark-brown eyes, but her aunt’s are green, and her cousin’s are blue.

“I was brought up to be­lieve peo­ple should re­spect each other’s re­li­gions and cus­toms from the start, in­stead of telling peo­ple to feel OK af­ter they have clearly been of­fended, so I am not Char­lie,” she said, re­fer­ring to the mur­ders of 17 peo­ple dur­ing and af­ter an attack on theParis of­fices of the satir­i­cal mag­a­zine Char­lie Hebdo, which she de­scribed as “a hor­rific crime”.

She said that when she was a child, her mother stressed equal­ity, and told her it would be dis­re­spect­ful to step on the ashes left on the streets when Han peo­ple burned cer­e­mo­nial pa­per gifts in mem­ory of their an­ces­tors.

“Xin­jiang is prob­a­bly the only place in China where peo­ple from so­many dif­fer­ent eth­nic groups live side by side. Un­like those who grow up in less-di­verse en­vi­ron­ments, Xin­jiang peo­ple know how to ac­cept and re­spect each other’s dif­fer­ences,” she said.

She has also be­come

familiar with the spe­cial mea­sures, in­clud­ing a tighter in­spec­tion reg­i­men, that peo­ple from Xin­jiang ex­pe­ri­ence when­ever an attack oc­curs in the re­gion, which has long been China’s front line in the fight against ter­ror­ism. In re­cent years, the growth of re­li­gious ex­trem­ism has ex­ac­er­bated the sit­u­a­tion, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials.

“Peo­ple should un­der­stand that Xin­jiang is now hit­ting ter­ror­ist cells hard, and it’s nat­u­ral that we will see more at­tacks be­cause the cells feel they are cor­nered and so they de­cide to carry out vi­o­lent acts. It’s like sweep­ing the floor — the more you sweep, the more dust you see, “she said.

She said she doesn’t re­sent the spe­cial at­ten­tion, so long as the process is con­ducted law­fully and sen­si­tively, as was the case re­cently when she was ap­proached by a po­lice of­fi­cer af­ter she checked in to a ho­tel in Hangzhou, the cap­i­tal of Zhe­jiang prov­ince.

Nafisa had trav­eled to the city for a meet­ing with 60 lawyers from around the coun­try, but the of­fi­cer asked to see her ID and wanted to know the pur­pose of her visit. “I told him the law re­quires at least two of­fi­cers to be present dur­ing ques­tion­ing. He apol­o­gized, and later re­turned with his part­ner. They very po­litely asked me some ques­tions, and apol­o­gized for the in­con­ve­nience they’d caused,” she said.

How­ever, she said that not all in­spec­tions are as friendly as that one, and ag­gres­sive at­ti­tudes and harsh ques­tions can trig­ger un­nec­es­sary con­flict.

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