Tackling the menace of global terrorism | Daily News

Lessons learnt from countering terrorism, deradicalisation and protection of human rights from China’s Xinjian experience

Tackling the menace of global terrorism

As per the Global Threat Forecast, Counter-Terrorism Trends and Analysis (2019), the global terrorist and extremists’ threat is likely to continue in 2019. No country in the world is immune to the scourge of modern terrorism. Despite the efforts of law enforcement authorities, enhanced surveillance, and profiling and monitoring, the terrorists somehow find a way to carry out their dastardly acts. The perpetrators are becoming increasingly brutal, creating more carnage to convey their message.

Terror groups do not spare any, and even the most unknowing and innocent schoolchildren, could be a target. Kidnapping, hostage-taking, raping, ethnic cleansing, and religious-based persecution are all methods employed by terrorists, without any consideration of the violation of human rights. The perception that indicators such as democracies, good governance and prosperity do not breed terrorism is increasingly being challenged. The world has recently witnessed many affluent and educated young men and women from developed countries join terror groups. Such individuals and groups are capable of exploiting social media networks towards propaganda and recruiting, and these platforms have now become the main means of radicalization and propagating extremist ideas. Legitimate grievances of people should be addressed. This must be supplemented with economic and educational development. People feel that corruption and injustice leave them with no means of improving their lives. They should be given hope. Denying human rights of people only benefits terrorists who use it to further their goals by enlisting cadres to their cause.

The case of Sri Lanka: a violent separatist war of three decades

Sri Lanka experienced a bitter, protracted and violent conflict for nearly three decades, from the early 1980s to 2009. It destroyed the nation and created disharmony and suspicion among various communities and shattered the social fabric. It further slowed down the progress of development and adversely affected the economy. It is estimated that more than 100,000 lives were lost due to terrorism in Sri Lanka. It destroyed property and infrastructure. Economic and financial centres, places of significant religious worship and public transport were targeted by terrorists with a high degree of success. Sri Lanka has become the only country in the contemporary world to defeat terrorism by military means. This rare feat was achieved, after having fought with the ‘most ruthless terrorist organisation in the world’ for nearly three decades.

Easter terrorist carnage and counter-terrorism in Sri Lanka

The 2019 Easter bombings in Colombo was one of the deadliest terrorist attacks Sri Lanka has experienced which shattered a period of relative peace in the island. In total, eight men and one woman belonging to local Islamist groups detonated bombs almost simultaneously in several parts of the country, killing themselves and more than 250 others. These devastating attacks indicated a clear vulnerability and lack of national security in the country just ten years after defeating a much more powerful and ruthless terrorist organisation. Unlike the LTTE, Islamic State terrorism is more internationally motivated and radicalized.

The suicide bombers were well educated, rich, young men and women who had been inspired by the ideology of Wahhabism and Islamic State propaganda. Post the ‘Easter Bombings’, emergency law was declared in the country and armed forces were called to action. The military, armed with experience gained by fighting the LTTE, rose to the occasion and arrested a large number of suspects, seized training locations, weapons, ammunition and explosives. A large number of radicalized persons were arrested too. Religious leaders of all denominations were sending message after message appealing to their followers to practice tolerance and requesting them not to take the law into their own hands, which has prevented the escalation of violence against the innocent Muslim populations, albeit a few sporadic incidents.

The Easter bombings created several major concerns in Sri Lanka. Hitherto, a terrorist was seen as a person who hailed from an underprivileged community, was less educated, less economically sound and of low social status, victimized, and motivated for a cause. However, in this bombing, the perpetrators were well-educated, both locally and overseas, belonged to wealthy families, economically sound and well-travelled but believers of a religious sect and highly motivated for a cause even against their own mainstream religion. This showcases the degree of indoctrination either locally or by foreign influence.

Terrorism in Xinjiang Province in China

The Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region is situated in northwest China in the hinterland of the Eurasian continent. It borders eight countries: Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. It was a place where the famed Silk Road connected ancient China with the rest of the world and where diverse cultures gathered. Terrorism and extremism have a long history in Xinjiang. From the early twentieth century to the late 1940s, separatists and religious extremists’ forces, spreading “Pan-Turkistan” and Pan-Islamism”, attempted to create a theocratic state they called “East Turkistan” in Xinjiang. In an attempt to split China, such forces advocated religious extremism and carried out a series of terrorist activities.

China firmly believes that Xinjiang is an inseparable and integral part of China. The Uygur ethnic group has come into being through a long process of migration and integration. In Xinjiang, different cultures and religions coexist, and ethnic cultures have been fostered and developed in the embrace of Chinese civilization. In the long history, Chinese territory has experienced periods of division and unification where development has always been the overall trend. 13 main ethnic groups are living in Xinjiang and Uygurs having the largest population. Main religions practised in this region at present are Islam, Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Eastern Orthodox and Taoism. It has 24,800 venues for religious activities, including mosques, Churches, Buddhist and Taoist temples. China has always endeavoured to keep religion separate from government.

Present situation in Xinjiang

The author had the privilege to visit Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to present a paper titled “Counter-Terrorism and Deradicalisation: Lessons Learnt from Sri Lankan Experience”. The seminar was organised by the China Society for Human Right Studies. There were field visits to an Islamic Institute and a vocational and educational centre in Urumqi and historical and cultural sites including an ancient Mosque named Etgal in the city of Kashgar.

Kashgar is the last major city in westernmost China and close to Karakorum highway through the Pamir mountains into Pakistan. Incidentally, there has not been a single incident of terrorism in Xinjiang since 2015. The region has witnessed a fast-tracked development with new roads, bridges and the airport at Urumqi is expanding. The Chinese strategy has been to address both root causes and integrating preventive measures and forceful response to terrorism. The government seems to be committed to protecting the right to life, health, and development of the people of all ethnic groups with worthwhile results achieved.

Education and training

Education and training in Xinjiang are practised with the spirit and requirements of the rule of law in China. To contain and systematically remedy the dissemination of religious extremism and frequent terrorist incidents, Xinjiang has set up vocational education and training centres in some prefectures and counties. These centres deliver a curriculum that includes standard and written Chinese language, understanding of the Law, vocational skills and deradicalisation.

Priority is given to mastering spoken and written the Chinese language, whilst allowing the students to use and develop their own spoken and written languages. It is considered a state responsibility. It was witnessed that by learning the common language, trainees are now able to communicate freely with the rest of the country and they feel comfortable to work with others. Vocational training is provided with latest facilities as in a university with smart classrooms, dormitory, cafeteria and other facilities of high standards. The trainees are free to communicate with their parents, relatives and friends and they can use without any restriction popular social media platforms such as WeChat as is the case with any other Chinese national.

To remedy a lack of understanding of the law, the education and training centres offer legal courses, which is taken as the key link to strengthen national, civic and legal awareness. Some of the legal lectures include an introduction to the Chinese constitution, the law on regional ethnic autonomy, criminal law, general provisions of the civil law, protection of women’s rights and interests, protection of minors, labour laws, educational law, counter-terrorism law, public security administration law etc. Through these legal courses, the trainees are expected to develop a better understanding of their civil rights and obligations, a realization that they have the same entitlement to these rights and obligations as others and an acceptance that they must abide by the constitution and laws and act following the rights and obligations they confer.

As a remedy for the lack of occupational and employment skills, vocational training programmes are provided. This vocational training is an important channel to improve the trainee’s employability. Based on local demand and employment opportunities, the courses they present include garment making, food processing, assembly of electronic products, typesetting and printing, hairdressing and beauty services, e-commerce, auto repairing and maintenance, interior design and decoration, livestock breeding, pomiculture, therapeutic massage, household services, handicrafts, flower arrangements, rug weaving, tour guide training, and performing arts such as music and dance. These courses include a practical component.

Many trainees have already benefitted from these programmes and found employment. There is hope among the current trainees that they will find suitable employment and can lead a better life.

As trainees have fallen under the influence and control of religious extremism to a greater or lesser extent, the centres integrate deradicalisation into the whole process of education and training. Through step-by-step teaching of laws and regulations, policies on ethnic and religious affairs, and religious knowledge, and by exposing the damage caused by terrorism and religious extremism, the centres provide trainees with a full and accurate understanding of the national policy of freedom of religious belief. To rehabilitate the trainees, these facilitate them to distinguish between lawful and unlawful religious activities, understand how religious extremism runs counter to religious doctrine, and realize the evil nature and serious harm of terrorism and religious extremism so that they can eventually break free from the influence and control of terrorism and religious extremism.

These centres never interfere in the trainee’s freedom of religious beliefs nor make any attempt to have the trainee change his/her religious beliefs.

Islamic teaching

Another main programme is the teaching of Islam to young people, mainly boys. Islamic training centres also have modern and high-quality facilities and senior Imams and teachers. These institutions teach Islam as a peaceful religion and not an extremist version. They teach Islamic doctrine and canons as preached by the Holy Quran. The trainees are groomed to be Imams or teachers in Islamic study centres. They attempt to prevent followers to ‘engage in the holy war and die for their beliefs to enter heaven’ and injuring and killing those they describe as ‘pagans’ and ‘renegades’. These institutions promote tolerance, mutual respect to other religions and to those who do not believe in a religion. The objective of these Islamic institutions is to educate youth in the true nature of Islam and to promote peace and harmony instead of extremism and violence.

Remarkable results in education and training

These education and training programmes have succeeded to an enormous extent in eliminating the conditions in which terrorism and religious extremism breed, by rehabilitating those who have committed unlawful or criminal acts and protecting basic civil rights. Some of the trainees have been nominated by law enforcement authorities whilst others attend the courses voluntarily or upon their parents’ suggestion. Youth who could be victims of extremist teaching are now learning vocational skills and experiencing a better life.

The comprehensive quality of the trainees has shown improvement with their skills developed. This has helped to positively convert the social atmosphere. Trainees have developed mutual respect and good mannerisms. They have acquired the requirements of modern society in term of food, clothing, housing, transport, weddings, funerals, etiquette and customs.

As a result of these efforts, the province of Xinjiang has witnessed a marked transformation in the social environment in recent years. The infiltration of religious extremism has been curbed, public order and security returned to society and people enjoying peace and stability. Local as well as foreign tourists visit the region in large numbers and the local inhabitants are earning a better livelihood. There is hope among the young as they value freedom and the right to life and their minds are been prevented from being poisoned by religious extremism. 


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