Why has religious extremism become rootless grass in China's Xinjiang?
"Islamism is not the original religious belief of Uyghur people, let alone the unique religion of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang." Wang Zhen, a professor of the The Central Institute of Socialism, pointed out in a recent interview with "W.E. Talk" of China News Service that many religions have been existing in Xinjiang for a long time and subject to evolution until now.
Wang Zhen indicated that in the name of religion, religious extremism, a common enemy of the world, poses threat to people's lives and properties. The Chinese government's de-radicalization in Xinjiang is an important measure to protect the sanctity of life and property safety of all local ethnic peoples as well as their true freedom of religious belief.
Coexistence of multiple religions has always been a basic feature of the religious pattern in Xinjiang.
Wang Zhen said that before the 4th century B.C., some primitive religions had prevailed in Xinjiang, such as Shamanism. About in the 1st century BC, Buddhism was introduced into Xinjiang and thrived in the duration from the 4th to the 10th century. To a certain extent, the scene described in Journey to the West, based on Xuanzang's journey to the West in seek of Buddhism scriptures, reflected the prevalence of Buddhism in Xinjiang at that time. Meanwhile, Zoroastrianism was also spread throughout Xinjiang. Taoism came to Xinjiang around the 5th century, mainly in Turpan and Hami. In the Qing Dynasty, Taoism once revived in most areas of Xinjiang. Bagua (eight diagrams) City is the best case in point. Around the 6th century, Manichaeism and Nestorianism were successively introduced into Xinjiang. From the 10th century to the 14th century, Nestorianism boomed due to its popularity among Uyghur. In the 16th and 17th century, Tibetan Buddhism rose as an influential religion in northern Xinjiang.
"Islamism was introduced into Xinjiang in the late 9th and early 10th centuries," Wang Zhen said. At that time, the ruler of Karakhanid Empire accepted Islamism as its state belief. Then in the mid-10th century, it waged religious battles against some local Buddhist authorities such as Khotan Kingdom for more than 40 years. At the beginning of the 11th century, after Khotan Kingdom was conquered, Islamism was imposed to this region, where the thousand-year history of Buddhism as the main religion in Xinjiang was ended as a result. With the continuous spread of Islamism, in the 16th century, the pattern of religious beliefs in Xinjiang came into being, in which Islamism is the main religion and the others are minor ones. This pattern has lasted till now. "Although there are some fluctuations regarding the positions of different religions, the pattern of religious beliefs in Xinjiang follows the same mode, that is, under the unification of China, one or two religions play the major role while the others exist as the minor ones," Wang emphasized.
Freedom of religious belief is not equal to freedom of arbitrary religious activities
Recently, some Western politicians and media accused Xinjiang of carrying out "genocide" against Muslimism and other ethnic minorities among Uyghur to restrict freedom of religious belief in Xinjiang.
Wang Zhen pointed out that from 2010 to 2018, the Uygur population in Xinjiang increased from about 10.17 million to 12.72 million, an increase of nearly 2.55 million and more than 25%. It is twice the 14% increase of the whole Xinjiang population, and the increase of the Uygur population was 12.5 times of the Han population.
Wang Zhen admitted that, in her deep mind, she was unwilling to use terms such as "ethnic groups" and "ethnic minorities". The reason for using such terms lies in the language habit, which was formed in history. In fact, in thousands of years of Chinese history, people are cautious in dividing ethnic groups by their races or population numbers. In some historical documents, the differentiation between barbarians and Central Kingdom is mainly based on cultural backgrounds instead of bloodlines or geographical origins. More importantly, China has been adopting the policy of "Treating different peoples in the unified country as family members".
When it comes to some western media hyping up the Chinese government's restriction on freedom of religious belief in Xinjiang, Wang Zhen stressed that if those criticisms were made with good intention, they might result from misunderstandings out of different historical experiences. However, when "freedom of religious belief" becomes the rhetoric of Western politicians with ulterior motives, it can only be reduced to a sorrowful political instrument.
"It becomes our responsibility to tell the truth out," Wang said. It should be noted that the term "freedom of religious belief" was not created in China but in the West. Freedom and non-freedom in religious belief were seldom referred to in Chinese tradition. If we must include this topic in the discussion, the freedom in Chinese traditions can be explained from two perspectives, i.e., the inner spirit and the external action.
She holds that freedom in Chinese tradition firstly meant to seek inner spiritual freedom by oneself. According to Chuang Tzu, he enjoyed enough spiritual freedom by thinking about everything in every place without going out. Confucius once said that "the wise are not puzzled, the benevolent are not worried, and the brave are not frightened", which means that people can get freedom by emancipating themself from such emotions as ignorance, anxiety, and fear. But in external action, freedom is restricted. As Zhang Zai said, "Everything has its opposite and they may conflict with each other. Only knowing how to make compromise can the conflict be solved between them".
Wang added that the biggest freedom is "to act at one's will". But we cannot ignore the latter part of this phrase, that is, "without breaking the rules", which is the prerequisite of "to act at one's will" in Chinese tradition. "Abiding by the rules is the prerequisite for freedom. The rules here refer to the national laws and regulations of the whole society," she expounded.
With regard to the reason why western countries created the expression of "freedom of religious belief", Wang Zhen argued that this concept was used to prevent "non-freedom of religious belief", which might pose danger to others and themselves. Therefore, we should first clarify the real freedom of religious belief before discussing this issue. In fact, the essence of this concept lies in individuals' free will in choosing their own religious beliefs. To be specific, everyone can choose any religion and change their beliefs without any restriction.
"At the same time, everyone must abide by rules once they choose a religion. Otherwise, everything may be in a mess." Wang Zhen emphasized that different religions have different religious tenets and activities, which should be followed by religious believers. As John Locke, a British philosopher, said, "Liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others; which cannot be where there is not law." Freedom of religious belief means that one is not controlled by others' forces when choosing religious belief.
Unfortunately, in some regions of the world, people are pressed to choose one religion while choosing the other religions is a rare case. In some other places, people are obliged to believe in one religion while few of them boast the right to be nonbelievers. There are also some places where people can choose to believe in religion or not but they are not equally protected by the law. "We not only give respect to traditions of different countries and ethnic groups but also believe that they are striving for a better and free life," Wang said.
"In China, our understanding and defending the freedom of religious belief are manifested in three perspectives. First, everyone has the freedom to choose different religious beliefs. Second, everyone has the freedom to choose to become a religious believer or not. Third, people, who have religious belief or not, enjoy their dignity and is strictly under the equal protection of the law." She also added, "The freedom of religious belief in Xinjiang is truly and thoroughly secured only after 1949, when it was truly and equally guaranteed by the law for all ethnic groups in Xinjiang."
Why can people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang enjoy true freedom of religious belief?
"People play the key role in promoting the Tao while the Tao cannot actively promote people" Wang Zhen quoted Confucius famous words. Good theories should be put into practice. True freedom of religious belief can be realized only when there are people who can and will shoulder the responsibility. She thought there were mainly three reasons for determining the realization of the true and complete freedom of religious belief by people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang after the founding of the People's Republic of China: the strong leadership of the CPC; the joint work of people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang and the whole country; the joint effort and cooperation of all international friends.
Wang Zhen emphasized that, on one hand, the CPC firstly freed itself from shackling the old Chinese society and became the pioneer of China, striving for true and complete freedom, human rights, and freedom of religious belief, which were finally secured in China. A brand-new China was established and the freedom of people in Xinjiang was realized before the whole country was destroyed by foreign forces. In this sense, the building of the PRC amounts to the creation of the universe.
On the other hand, the CPC freed Chinese people from the old ideas and morale of the old society, founding a new socialist China and contributing to building a more peaceful, steady, and prosperous world. Wang Zhen said: "Karl Marx was born in the western civilization, who once was selected as the greatest man of the millennium by Britain and German people." It is under the guidance of Marxism that the CPC, together with the Chinese people of all ethnic groups, separated religion and state and defended the freedom of religious belief politically and legally.
Wang Zhen proposed that, based on the above two reasons, Chinese people, including those in Xinjiang, are freed from the traditional "theocracy" and "superstition". The era of religion being used as the ruling instrument was ended in China and people of all ethnic groups boast truer and greater freedom than before. More importantly, people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang have not only inherited the outstanding Chinese traditions but also become the pioneering nation of the world which can demonstrate the true freedom of religious belief.
How does the New China protect freedom of religious belief for people of all ethnic groups?
"First of all, we must clarify that we must guarantee the freedom of people's having faith or having no faith. The law should equally protect people's freedom of believing or not believing and no belief should be given preferential treatment". Wang Zhen also declared that the freedom of religious belief guaranteed by the law of China is comprehensive and thorough. There is no exception or discrimination due to the identities of believers or non-believers or different religions.
She said that, in changes of the times, many young people in Xinjiang, just like their peers in other countries and regions, have made some changes that are different from the tradition. Guaranteeing the freedom of non-believers means that the freedom of believers' present and future changes in belief is protected. Of course, the right of making change depends on themselves, but the state and society bear the responsibility to meet their demands for diverse freedoms and possibilities at different stages of life. In addition, some relatives, friends, and neighbors of the believers may have different faiths or no faith. Therefore, protecting the freedom of non-believers is to protect the freedom and rights of people around them, by which a more comfortable and freer environment is provided for them to live and work. "This is the real connotation of the notion of ‘All people are equal before the law’. This is the prerequisite in realizing the true freedom of religious belief."
Wang Zhen said that those Chinese people with lofty ideals in history never gave judgment by their own standards. Instead, the standard is set on the judgment and willingness of most common people, which has been passed down from our ancestors for several thousand years as an outstanding tradition. Such practice has been demonstrated in the following deeds in the history: the rain-praying of Emperor Tang in the Shang Dynasty three thousand years ago, the idea of "In a nation, the people are more important than the king. The state comes after them.", which was put forward by Mencius two thousand years ago, and Fan Zhongyan's epigram "To be the first to concern the country and the last to enjoy". As the inheritor, practitioner, and promoter of the splendid Chinese culture, the CPC gives more stress to serving the people wholeheartedly. "To be frank," said Wang Zhen, "the CPC does not believe in religion but gives due respect to people's choice of religion. In case of people's choosing to have religious belief, we will sincerely respect and protect people's right in choosing religious belief freely, which is chosen by the CPC and determined by the tenets of CPC."
People's self-consciousness is another important guarantee in protecting the freedom of religious belief of all ethnic groups in China. Wang Zhen purported that people should be able to give the right judgment on religions and freedom in order to enjoy the freedom of religious belief. On one hand, if people cannot fully understand the religions they choose to believe in and the other religions, they will lack the ability to discern misleading propaganda in the name of religion, which may bring bad results in running after truth and virtue. On the other hand, if we can't fully understand what real freedom is, and fail to realize that freedom actually comes from the shared norms of different groups and different religious cultures, and comes from discipline and restrictions, the freedom and rights may be lost when we are striving to go after them.
In addition, citizens should have the ability to consciously abide by discipline and law. Wang Zhen pointed out that if people can't abide by the law and discipline consciously, they may find inner disturbance when their external actions have restricted the law. Law is a kind of social norm, which requires people to abide by. Religious belief is a self demandant, which cannot be imposed on other people. Otherwise, if each person and each group impose their own rules on others, the world is bound to become a jungle, and ultimately the people will suffer from such practice.
The nature of religious extremism is anti-humanity, anti-society and anti-civilization
Since the late 1970s and early 1980s, especially after the end of the cold war, influenced by foreign religious extremism, Xinjiang witnessed the sprout and spreading of religious extremism. Wang Zhen said The Chinese government has cracked down on religious extremism in accordance with the law and regulations in such a new context, which contributes to keeping peace in the world and defends the rights of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang.
"All sorts of extremism will bring damage to extremists first, and then to the others. Therefore, we take pity on those who commit extremism, but we are angry that they hurt the innocent." Wang Zhen pointed out that the extreme action of extremism is to breed harmful ideas and promote violent and terrorist activities. A series of serious terrorist attacks, such as the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, Nov. 13 attacks in France and Mar. 22 in Belgium in the West as well as Mar. 1 attacks in Kunming and May 22 attacks in Urumqi of China, have exemplified that, in essence, religious extremism is opposite to the conscience of human being, violates the social morality and tramples the bottom-line of civilization. "We need to promote the goodness, but we are more in need of eliminating the evil."
"Religious extremism is the common enemy of people all over the world." Wang Zhen posited that to prevent and combat religious extremism, we should first strengthen our own immunity, develop the economy, protect people's livelihood, make people live with more dignity, and receive better education, so as to improve their ability to distinguish extremism.
Second, the law must be used to ensure national security, especially the safety of lives and property of the people. In accordance with relevant laws and regulations, such as the Criminal Law of the People's Republic of China, Counter-Terrorism Law of the People's Republic of China, Regulations on Religious Affairs and Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Regulation on De-Radicalization, the Chinese government resolutely cracks down on and suppresses advocation of terrorism and extremism as well as the instigation of terrorist and extremist activities.
Third, we will strengthen international cooperation and mutual assistance. Resisting religious extremism is the common and basic interest of the people of all countries. In this process, China should continue to strengthen cooperation with those experienced countries which are fighting against extremism, such as Middle East countries, France, Britain, and some countries in Southeast Asia.
"My predecessor told me that even the worst person can tell the right from the wrong," Wang Zhen said. In Chinese traditional knowledge, benevolence, justice, propriety, and wisdom exist in everyone's inner mind, which is contaminated by selfish desires, and the black is mistakenly regarded as the bright, the wrong track as the right one, and the blind act as regularity, the illusory as ideal.
Chinese people believe that innate conscience is the internal impetus for continuous development of the world, which is also widely rooted in cultures of all ethnic groups around the world. The cultures of all nations in the world, in different places and historical stages, shine their lights of virtue and truth which are inherent characteristics in human beings. As the saying goes: "A virtuous man will never be alone." Wang said that with the joint efforts of the people of China and the world, religious extremism will eventually become a rootless grass, a common enemy of human conscience and just action, and disappear in the historical process of the continuous development of the world.
The report was first published on March 1st, 2021 by China News Service.