China’s war against the Uyghurs continues

31st May 2019
China’s war against the Uyghurs continues

One of the remaining mosques in Kasghar, forced to fly the Chinese flag and red lanterns
(Photo: The Muslim News)

Meng Yihua

In attempts to destroy Uyghur culture, alongside the mass detention of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities living in East Turkestan, mosques and other religious sites have been demolished.

East Turkestan is a large region in Northwest China, with a predominantly Muslim population, home to the Chinese minority Muslim groups, such as the Uyghurs, Kazakhs and Tajiks.
The official Chinese name for the region is Xinjiang, which translates to ‘new border’, an insult to the Muslims who have lived there for centuries.

Over the past decades, the Muslim minorities in East Turkestan have been suffering severe and increasing repression, with an estimated 2 million Muslims being detained, unlawfully, and without reason, in “concentration camps” where they are tortured and forbidden from practising their religion in an attempt to Sinicize the entire region, riding the people of their faith and culture.

A recent investigation by the Guardian newspaper reported that out of the 91 sites of mosques and shrines that they analysed, 33 sites have been either fully or partially demolished between 2016 and 2018. However, independent campaigners and researchers believe that hundreds or even thousands of mosques have been bulldozed as part of this crackdown. Confirming these numbers is difficult, due to lack of records of such sites, many of them being small village mosques and shrines.

One reporter to Qumul in 2017 learnt from local officials that 200 of the region’s 800 mosques had been torn down, and 500 more were scheduled to be demolished in 2018. One example is the Keriya mosque in Hotan, which dated back to 1237, and was still in use well into 2017, but by mid-2018, it had been reduced to a smooth patch of earth.

Many other buildings had domes and minarets removed, and remaining mosques have been forced to fly Chinese flags.

A Moroccan native (who wishes to remain anonymous) visited Kashgar in May 2019 told The Muslim News that he was unable to enter any of the open mosques.

Among the sites destroyed was the shrine of Imam Asim, which thousands of Uyghur pilgrims visited each year. Rian Thum, an Islamic historian at the University of Nottingham said that “the desecration of their ancestors’ graves, the sacred shines that are the landmarks of Uyghur history” could not send a clearer message to the Uyghurs that the Government wants to rid them of their culture and break their connection to their land.

Before the crackdown, other pilgrims would trek 70 km into the desert to visit the shrine honouring Jafari Sadiq, the holy warrior who was believed to have travelled to what is now Xinjiang to help bring Islam to the region. According to satellite imagery, Jafari Sadiq’s shrine was destroyed in March 2018.

Researchers say that the destruction of these shrines, once sites of mass pilgrimages and an important religious practice for the Uyghurs, denotes a new assault on Uyghur culture.
However, the destruction is not just limited to mosques and sites of religious importance.

Demolition of the historic Old City of Kashgar, once a major stop on the Silk Road, began almost a decade ago in 2009. The Government claimed that the mud-brick homes were unsafe for living in the earthquake-prone city of Kashgar, despite the fact that these buildings have stood there for centuries. In its place, a “new” Old City was rebuilt.

The Moroccan visitor said “the look and feel is very much like Marrakesh”.

As well as built heritage, people’s everyday lives and culture is being destroyed too. An official list of ‘extremist activities’ for which police investigations can be started or for which Muslims can be arrested, includes mundane acts such as not watching television, refusing alcohol and cigarettes, or contacting people abroad.

Any of these acts are reason enough for an Uyghur or other Muslim minority to be imprisoned in the detention camps.

Other examples of ‘suspicious’ behaviour include giving petrol to friends, failing to chat and socialize with neighbours, getting a new phone number or using unusual amounts of electricity.

A report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) determined that the police were logging information about individuals on an app that is linked to a mass surveillance database, China’s Integrated Joint Operations Platform. Maya Wang, author of the report said, “Police are using illegally gathered information about people’s completely lawful behaviour and using it against them.”

Further restrictions on the use of Uyghur language, the enforcement on ordinary Uyghurs to celebrate Chinese festivals, the promotion of interethnic marriages and compulsory lessons in Mandarin Chinese are all examples of how the Government is trying to stamp out Uyghur identity and culture.

China’s vigorous propaganda drive is working hard to disguise these actions as part of the ‘global war on terror.’

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