China's experience can help the world fight against terrorism in the "post-truth" era

By Alvaro Lago (People's Daily Online) 14:40, October 18, 2021

Hello everybody! I'm Alvaro Lago, from Spain. I work at the online version of People's Daily, People's Daily Online.

The world has become increasingly agitated and intolerant as a society, with social media playing a big part in this shift.

With so much at stake, it is all the more important for people to remain vigilant against the corrosive power of so-called "post-truth". The term "post-truth", which was newly included in the Oxford Dictionary in 2016 after the United Kingdom left the European Union (EU) and Donald Trump was elected as US president, refers to emotive and often irrational arguments which have no factual basis. The dictionary defines post-truth as when "objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief." As such, post-truth constitutes a real threat to the fabric of any society.

Many academics point out that the post-truth world has been shaped by the rapidly widening wealth gap in many developed economies. This trend has been strengthened since the outbreak of the financial crisis in 2008, which led to a groundswell of resentment among the middle-to lower-income groups.

The post-truth society is further fanned by the rise of social media where strong opinions can shout down the evidence.

To combat this social disease, governments will need to take a more proactive stand in explaining its policies and the thinking behind them to the public in simple and easy-to-understand terms.

Under the increased influence of lies, the world as a society has become increasingly intolerant. For example, the rise in anti-Muslim sentiment among the public has been exploited by some politicians to get public support for their personal agenda. Post-truth arguments have also done lots of damage to governments´ fight against terrorism.

From Madrid to Kunming, from America to Asia and even remote places like Christchurch in New Zealand, our world has suffered a lot from terrorism.

The global spread of terrorism and extremism over the years has inflicted agony on humanity, and post truth has done nothing but to make the situation worse. Some of the most notorious terrorist attacks include the September 11 attacks in 2001 that killed 2,996 people in the US; and the Madrid train bombings on March 11, 2004 that killed at least 190 and injured over 1,500 people in my own country, Spain.

Throughout the world, terrorism and extremism gravely threaten peace and development, and endanger the life and property of individuals. Striking aggressively at terrorism and furthering the de-radicalization effort is the common responsibility of the international community and essential to the protection of human rights.

Terrorism cannot be wiped out unless the root cause can be addressed, and I believe the root is poverty and inequality, and the key solution is education and development. In a world of development, there is no space for terror, but in a world of terror, there is no space for development.

That is the lesson I draw from China’s approach and practice in fighting terrorism.

Much like the post-September 11 war on terrorism, China has been waging its own counterterrorism efforts against the extremists who operate across China’s borders.

China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region has long been perplexed with terror threats. Starting around 2009, it became increasingly dangerous to visit Xinjiang, which was rocked by a spate of horrific terrorist attacks, resulting in many deaths and countless injuries.

To tackle this, the region has taken a slew of measures to combat violent terrorist crimes in accordance with the law. The vocational education and training programs are one such measure.

The programs are designed to improve students' abilities in commanding Mandarin, along with using their own ethnic languages, enabling them to acquire legal knowledge and vocational skills.

And this is, from my point of view, the key to prevent terrorism. I believe that terrorism comes from exclusion. When people feel excluded and different, they tend to become more agitated and frustrated with the system. Then they tend to form their own groupings that usually make their integration more difficult. And this is why China has succeeded in counter-terrorism in Xinjiang. The country has made “integration” a top priority, making sure that everyone there can communicate and enjoy the benefits and advantages of China´s development. By not feeling excluded, people move away from violence and crime.

Unlike the US’ war on terrorism, which has claimed half a million lives in Afghanistan and Iraq, and many more in Pakistan, Syria and Libya, China’s counterterrorism campaign, which includes enhanced security, economic development and social integration programs, have worked. There have been no reports of terrorist attacks since 2017.

It is actually quite remarkable that China has been able to rein in terrorism without inflicting as much collateral damage. This point never seems to be made in the torrent of the “smearing China” propaganda pouring from the Western press during the post truth era. Rather, there are anti-China forces that fabricate lies of so-called human rights abuses in the region. Thus, China has to actually fight two wars simultaneously – that is, the war against terrorism and the war against fake news.

Western media outlets have a great influence in the world and their unbalanced and inauthentic China reporting also affects people´s understanding of China. Due to some media reports on Xinjiang during the post-truth era, many might believe some of the lies that have since been perpetuated, such as detention camps and forced labor camps.

However, there are many real stories that can show the world how Xinjiang has become a safe, peaceful and prosperous place to live.

I traveled to Xinjiang´s city of Turpan in 2019. During my documentary for People´s Daily Online on Uyghur´s traditional music festival, called “Muqam”, not only did I learn how the local people embrace and preserve this beautiful intangible cultural heritage, but I also had the chance to communicate with them directly, visit their schools, houses and even attend a traditional Uyghur wedding in Shanshan County.

I realized that thanks to continued socioeconomic development and preferential policies, Xinjiang has not only become a safer place, but also a happier one. Everybody is engaged in a job and enjoying life. I believe this is a significant protection and advancement of human rights.

When I visited one primary school in Lukeqin town, I saw young students learning Mandarin and English, but at the same time keeping alive their traditional culture by attending local music and language lessons. All these people are absorbing culture and education instead of submitting themselves to some kind of fundamentalist movement or religious extremism, which might negatively impact their thinking and behavior, and might push them someday to ultimately engage in terrorist acts.

China has provided many chances for a lot of people, especially its younger people, to become engaged in education and jobs. This is really a good way to eradicate all kinds of bad habits in a society, especially when it comes to terrorism.

The preventive counterterrorism and deradicalization measures taken in Xinjiang have significantly contributed to the international counterterrorism cause. This achievement is really laudable and China’s experiences should be exchanged with other countries.

Countering terrorism and eradicating the spread of extremism is a common and arduous task facing the whole world. All countries should actively explore their own distinctive measures against this pernicious disease. At the same time, all the countries around the world need to join forces to fight the pandemic of false information. In the fight against terrorism in the post-truth era, media outlets have the responsibility to relay authentic information to the world.

During this summer, People’s Daily Online sent a group of multi-lingual, multi-media journalists to Xinjiang to conduct interviews. The team produced a documentary series about Xinjiang called “Xinjiang, Our Stories Be Told”. Featuring the daily life stories of Xinjiang locals, the five-episode documentary focuses on various topics that cover Xinjiang’s educational system, religious freedom, poverty alleviation, the region’s anti-terrorism efforts, as well as its swift economic and scientific development. A large number of interviewees of different cultural backgrounds and group ages were selected to ensure the impartiality of the documentary, including elementary school students, religious leaders, cotton farmers and local artists.

To conclude my speech, let me summarize the main points:

It is important to adopt effective measures in counter-terrorism. Development holds the crux to solving all problems. We need to address both the symptoms and root causes of terrorism, facilitate economic and social development in developing countries, and effectively alleviate and eradicate poverty.

More attention should be paid to the impact of COVID-19 so that terrorist organizations will not be able to use the pandemic to further instigate and execute attacks.

Meanwhile, it is important to follow a unified standard. There is no "good" or "bad" terrorism, but just terrorism. The attacks in New York were terrorism, in London it was terrorism, and it is also terrorism in Xinjiang. We should reject ideological biases or double standards. China’s anti-terrorism effort in Xinjiang is not an issue of religious freedom nor of ethnic minority rights.

The 21st century brings us all into a new stage where humans have never been before, and yet many people still live under the shadow of terrorism. As international terrorism still poses a major threat, every individual should realize their roles in society and remember no one will survive if he or she just wants to be a passive onlooker.

This is why all countries should unify standards in the conduct of counter-terrorism efforts. If all countries join their hands in the fight against terrorism, a long-lasting world peace can be reasonably expected. 

Alvaro Lago is a Spanish editor of People's Daily Online.

This is the full text of his speech at the International Counterterrorism Cooperation and Rights Protection in the "Post-Truth" Era.

(Web editor: Zhong Wenxing, Liang Jun)


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