West must get facts on Xin­jiang right

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

Some re­cent re­ports in theWest­ern me­dia have brought Ak­tash, a small vil­lage in­Hotan, Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion, in the lime­light. Quot­ing some in­di­vid­u­als, Ra­dio Free Asia re­cently said the lo­cal gov­ern­ment has forced shop and restau­rant own­ers to sell liquor, which is against the teach­ings of Is­lam.

Xin­jiang has al­ways been a sen­si­tive is­sue for theWest­ern me­dia. But since some of the for­eign me­dia out­lets don’t have even the ba­sic knowl­edge of the sit­u­a­tion in Xin­jiang, they tend to quote par­ti­san or mis­lead­ing sources lead­ing to dis­torted re­ports. Worse, someWestern jour­nal­ists, hav­ing never vis­ited the re­gion, con­jure up re­ports from imag­i­na­tion that are full of prej­u­dices.

TheWest­ern me­dia’s con­cern about Xin­jiang is un­der­stand­able. The re­gion is home to China’s largestMus­lim com­mu­nity, shares bor­ders with eight coun­tries and has played an im­por­tant role in the last round of re­form of open­ing-up. And now that China is build­ing the Silk Road Eco­nomic Belt, Xin­jiang will be a key con­nect­ing point with other coun­tries on the route.

But con­cern does not mean me­dia out­lets can dis­tort facts. Ac­cord­ing to the Con­sti­tu­tion of the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China, ev­ery cit­i­zen en­joys re­li­gious free­dom, which means he/she can choose to be­lieve (or not to be­lieve) in any reli­gion, and should not be dis­crim­i­nated for his/her choice.

The sit­u­a­tion in­Hotan is more com­pli­cated than whatWestern­ers think. Since Hotan has a long Bud­dhist tra­di­tion, even the Is­lamic re­li­gious prac­tices there are dif­fer­ent from neigh­bor­ing cities. As a re­sult, Hotan res­i­dents have their own un­der­stand­ing of reli­gion, and have the con­sti­tu­tional right to do so.

In fact, var­i­ous re­li­gious groups and prac­tices co-ex­ist and in­ter­act with each other in Xin­jiang. For ex­am­ple, some Kyr­gyz eth­nic group mem­bers be­lieve in Bud­dhism while some in Is­lam. Some Uygur and Kazakh peo­ple have com­bined shaman tra­di­tions with their cur­rent re­li­gious be­liefs.

But someWestern jour­nal­ists don’t even try to know th­ese facts. They are only in­ter­ested in por­tray­ing the re­gion as one in­hab­ited mostly byMus­lims, with­out dis­tin­guish­ing one eth­nic group from an­other. They have no qualms about pre­sent­ing even non-Mus­lims or non-Mus­lim mem­bers of some eth­nic groups asMus­lims. Also, they tend to re­port some so­cial prob­lems as eth­nic or re­li­gious con­flicts.

Be­sides, West­ern me­dia out­lets use dou­ble stan­dards when it comes to cov­er­ing in­ci­dents in Xin­jiang. The same me­dia out­lets that viewa ma­jor­ity ofMus­lims as po­ten­tial ter­ror­ists in theWest of­ten use terms like “free­dom fighters” to re­fer to real ter­ror­ists in Xin­jiang, which is both un­eth­i­cal and il­le­gal.

As far as the re­ports on Ak­tash are con­cerned, China is a secular coun­try that has adopted mar­ket econ­omy and protects the legal eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties of its cit­i­zens. As long as a store or restau­rant doesn’t sell spu­ri­ous, in­ju­ri­ous or il­le­gal prod­ucts, no one can use the threat of reli­gion to stop it from sell­ing any­thing, even al­co­hol.

The true threat to Xin­jiang and its res­i­dents is re­li­gious ex­trem­ism. Re­li­gious rad­i­cals, apart from plant­ing base­less sto­ries, such as the one on Ak­tash, in theWest­ern me­dia, also force men to grow thick beards and women to wear hi­jab, and so­cially boy­cott or even attack those who dis­obey their dik­tats.

Such dis­turb­ing de­vel­op­ments have aroused con­cern world­wide, even among theWest­ern me­dia. Re­li­gious ex­trem­ism poses a threat to all coun­tries no mat­ter which ide­olo­gies they fol­low. Fac­ing this com­mon en­emy, the right choice for all coun­tries is to work to­gether to free so­ci­ety of the neg­a­tive in­flu­ences of re­li­gious ex­trem­ism, not to dis­tort facts or blame each other. The au­thor is a re­searcher at and vice-direc­tor of the In­sti­tute of Cen­tral Asia Stud­ies, af­fil­i­ated to the Xin­jiang Academy of So­cial Sciences.

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