Helping victims of extremist doctrines get a new life in Xinjiang
By Sun Tianyuan
While terrorism is a global enemy, many countries now help educate and transform those who were once influenced by extremist ideology. In northwestern China, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region has introduced vocational training centers to help victims of extremist ideologies gain a new lease on life.
Abudusaimaiti and his wife are training at an educational center in Hotan. As recently as six years ago, they owned a restaurant. At first, business was good, but religious extremists eventually started harassing the couple.
"Extremists told us to separate tableware into two groups for Muslims and non-Muslims. Either we would provide non-Muslims disposable dishware, or don't serve them food at all. That's how serious it was. Their goal was to segregate the Han and Uygur people," said Abudusaimaiti.
Those demands affected Abubusaimati even more. He followed their doctrines closely over the next few years.
"I put up a sign at the door that says no admission for non-Muslims. If my thoughts went on like this, I would have probably kicked customers out," he said.
He even enforced a dress code for his employees to keep ideologies on the same page.
"All in black burka, because we were under the influence of extremists, so when we hired, we accepted only those who think alike," said Abudusaimaiti.
Starting with little things, they eventually lost their judgment abilities.
"We believed terrorists were doing the right thing killing the police or government officials. Uygurs who work for the government are not true Muslims. We thought they deserve to die, that the killers will go to heaven," noted the trainee.
Abudusaimaiti said he felt lucky to be accepted by the vocational training center.
"One who has been infected with extremism is not him or herself. They could kill or do even worse things if his or her thoughts are infected by extremism. If one's not transformed in time, there will be dire consequences. Through learning law and policies, I realized if I continued doing so, my future, my children's and my family's would hit a dead end. My hometown would also become a troubled region," he said.
There are many like Abudusaimaiti under the influence of terrorism and extremism.
Many were coerced or lured into criminal activities. People who study at the centers are those who had committed minor offenses.
In southern areas of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, women were once not even allowed to wear a dress or put on make-up.
Mailiyamu opened a hair salon in 2014, but was forced to shut down a month later.
"I like to dress up, but people would reject us under the influence of religious extremism. There was a time, I was at a bazaar, an elderly man looked at me and said, look at yourself now, why don't you dress more conservatively. I was so frightened and cried," said Mailiyamu.
Religious extremism and terrorism are closely linked with each other.
In 2014, a serious terrorist attack hit Shache County, causing many casualties.
Despite the difficulty in solving the issue, training centers are expected to find the answer.
Now twenty-two months without a terrorist attack, the centers are targeting the source of Xinjiang's violent incidents with jobs and education.
Trainees take Chinese Mandarin language classes, learn legal knowledge and develop occupational skills. They come to the centers for a change. Their relatives say they are glad to see the improvement.
The centers are also teaching trainees how to make a living, and can earn money practicing professional skills at companies in the centers.
"I earned 2,800 yuan this month. I kept 500 and sent the rest home. My family is very happy, and at the same time, surprised," said Maisaidi.
Maisaidi said his income will help his family get out of poverty by the end of the year.
The centers also set up factories near the trainees' homes for their convenience.
Humaguli Abudu graduated in September. She is working in a clothing classmates sometimes," said Humaguli Abudu.
"The center is like a college, really. We work and study, and go to activities to understand our country's history and culture. There's still a lot that I hope to learn. I hope I can go back and say hi to my classmates sometimes," said Humaguli Abudu.
Besides the hard skills, trainees can also choose to learn arts and culture.