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An Anti-Terror Strategy for France

Nov 20, 2020
  • Wang Zhen

    Research Professor, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences

On Oct. 16, a history teacher was beheaded outside his school in Paris. On Oct. 29, a terror attack occurred at a church in the southern French city of Nice, leaving three dead. And on the same day, terror attempts were reportedly foiled in Avignon and Lyon.

In the face of the upsurge, French President Emmanuel Macron openly referred to an “Islamist terrorist attack,” triggering an uproar among the people and leaders of some Islamic countries. It seems that France was caught in a scenario political scientist Samuel Huntington described as a clash of civilizations.

Ethnic conflicts and Muslim immigration have been long-standing issues in France. The flare-up of ethnic conflicts in recent years, however, was more or less the consequence of its anti-terror policies adopted by following the lead of the United States after the Sept. 11 terror attacks in 2001. The French government called it a “war,” and sent troops to join the Americans in Afghanistan.

But when France actively joined the war against terror, it underestimated, or even neglected, the costs of possible terrorist revenge, the “exemplary effect” of terror acts and the fact that France and the European Union have some fertile soil for breeding terrorists.

With a Muslim population accounting for about 8 percent of the country’s total, and given the country’s other marginalized social groups, the French government failed to adopt effective measures for dialogue and didn’t work to elevate the social status and economic conditions of minorities.

It follows that the rise of terror activity in France and across Europe was driven by the spillover effect from conflicts in the Middle East, the heating-up of domestic ethnic conflicts because of France’s active participation in the global anti-terror war and the growing desire for revenge by international terror groups.

China has been a victim of terrorist activity as well, notably in the Xinjiang region in the northwest. For the purposes of attracting investments and building up the image of ethnic harmony and social stability, some local officials were reluctant to reveal violent activities. According to official statistics, from 1990 to 2016 terrorists organized several thousand violent incidents in Xinjiang, causing the deaths of a great number of innocent civilians and law enforcement officers. Some religious figures took advantage of China’s policy of freedom of religious belief by using religion as an excuse to create their own lawless kingdom. Some radicals even threatened or assassinated religious leaders with different views and stances. For instance, Aronghan Aji, hatip of the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar, and senior Mullah Juma Tayier were killed, respectively, by terrorists in December 1996 and July 2014.

China stepped up its anti-terror cooperation with the international community after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, but China has always focused on the domestic front. In addition to direct military strikes against terrorists, the Chinese government has emphasized a policy of prevention —  that is, reducing or eliminating the social hotbeds that breed terrorism.

In 1997, it started implementing a policy wherein Xinjiang would be helped by developed provinces and municipalities across the country. Under this arrangement, tens of thousands of doctors, teachers and technical personnel from developed coastal cities were sent to work in Xinjiang on rotation each year. From 2017 to 2019, the amount of financial assistance and material aid provided by 19 developed provinces and municipalities to Xinjiang reached 96.4 billion yuan ($14.7 billion), with Shanghai alone providing assistance amounting to more than 2 billion yuan annually.

In 2019, the general fiscal revenue of Xinjiang was about 434 billion yuan, of which 332.7 billion yuan took the form of fiscal subsidies from the central government. For a border region like Xinjiang, which once relied heavily on agriculture, the strong assistance from other provinces is helping to write a new chapter by shedding its image of poverty, backwardness and isolation.

From 2014 to 2019, the regional GDP of Xinjiang registered annual growth of 7.2 percent; its per-capita disposable income grew by 9.1 percent annually; and nearly 3 million people were lifted out of poverty, with the poverty rate dropping from 19.4 percent to 1.24 percent.

Regrettably, the international community seems to have failed to acknowledge and follow China’s inclusive development as an approach to fighting terrorism. Some Western media and analysts are always keen to make negative judgments about China’s Xinjiang policy, even though they don’t seem to know what the words “aiding or helping” really mean, let alone making rational and in-depth analyses and assessments of the policy.

In 2009, I went to Xinjiang almost every year for study or interviews. On the streets and in the fields, I often heard heartfelt praise from ethnic people about the region’s social and economic development. Of course, because of differences in social and political systems, the Chinese approach of mobilizing other provinces and cities to provide massive domestic aid to regions inhabited by ethnic minorities cannot be copied by other countries or regions, but it is, indeed, an effective way to counter terrorism. For France which has been victimized by terrorists, it’s probably time to reconsider its anti-terror strategy.

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