The writer participated in a delegation organized by the China/U.S. Solidarity Network that visited China from May 11 to May 31.
Over the last few years, the U.S. media have routinely run stories accusing China of the erasure of Islam, in part based on the alleged mass demolition of mosques. All over the U.S., British and French news outlets, you can find headlines claiming there is “forceful destruction” of mosques in China.
These stories are often twisted or outright fabricated. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), an anti-China think tank with ties to weapons manufacturers like Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, has produced various articles and an interactive map of China that supposedly lists sites of “forced labor camps” and “destroyed mosques.”
This so-called database has been cited as a source by many articles criticizing China. But like other widely discredited sources — such as the far-right religious extremist Adrian Zenz, known as the architect of the “Uyghur genocide” narrative — the ASPI map contains a plethora of misinformation. This map, dubbed the “Xinjiang Data Project,” has incorrectly listed mosques under renovation as “demolished,” including the Keriya Aitika Mosque in Hotan, Xinjiang.
The renovation of mosques is widely exploited by dishonest reporters looking to spin a story. Renovations of mosques, housing units, cultural sites and virtually every other type of structure are common throughout China, especially in southwestern regions like Xinjiang, where earthquakes are common.
Firsthand report from Kashgar
On a recent visit to Kashgar, Xinjiang, home to about 80% of the ethnic Uygur population, this writer had a chance to speak to residents and learn about local architecture. Many of the buildings in Kashgar are 1,000 or more years old. These old buildings, while stunningly beautiful, were not built to standards that would be considered seismically safe today in areas with a risk of earthquakes. In the past, collapses and deaths were common.
The government’s solution was to rebuild and renovate much of the Old City with modern building techniques. Taking into consideration the culture and desires of the local population, people who lived in buildings undergoing renovation were given the option of having their home built in a new style or in an upgraded version of the older style, which still maintains that ancient Kashgar feeling. The government pays for a large portion or all of the renovations, depending on which alternative was taken.
Mosques are unfortunately not immune to structural vulnerabilities. While it is true that some mosques, particularly those in a dangerous state of disrepair, have been demolished, many have been restored and upgraded with modern utilities and reinforced frames. More of them have been rebuilt anew, in fact, than those lost to disrepair over the years.
In 2020, the U.S. Mosque Survey counted 2,769 mosques in this country, compared to China’s more than 35,000 mosques. This means that Chinese Muslims have nearly three times more mosques per capita than do Muslims in the U.S.
But the accusations don’t stop at alleged demolition. The Western media have also claimed that the Chinese government is carrying out a process of “Sinification” through the renovations, meaning that China is allegedly removing the Arabic aspects of mosques and replacing them with traditional Chinese architecture.
Mosques built in the traditional Chinese-style architecture are presented in the Western media as “evidence” of “cultural erasure,” when in reality mosques built in Chinese style have existed as far back as around 700 C.E. There are also many Muslim populations in China that are not Arabic in origin, such as the Hui population, who were originally descended from Han Chinese and are Chinese-speaking.
Because of the ancient Silk Road and the historical mixing of peoples from the Chinese coast with Arab, European and many other peoples, the blending of language, religion and architecture should not be seen as an attempt at Han hegemony, but rather as a natural blending of peoples living side-by-side in a multiethnic nation with more than 5,000 years of recorded history.
Xinjiang’s unique cultural diversity
Traveling through Xinjiang, this writer saw many mosques in the cities and the countryside. Some resembled traditional Han temples of the east, and others were golden-domed traditional Arabic-style mosques with minarets.
The cultural diversity and rich history of Xinjiang are unlike any other place on Earth, especially from the perspective of someone from the U.S., where Indigenous histories have been deliberately erased. Today, genuine culture in the U.S. survives in the crevices between corporate shopping malls and billboards, despite the relentless onslaught of capitalist consumerism.
One must recognize the insurmountable hypocrisy of the U.S. and European media, which presume to be conveying the interests of Muslims in China, when these same news outlets have spent decades justifying brutal U.S. and NATO invasions, occupations, sanctions and coups throughout the Middle East, Africa and Asia, as well as the ongoing genocide and displacement of Palestinians by Zionist forces.
If the U.S. government truly cared about Muslims, it would have lifted the sanctions on Syria, cut its ties with Israel, ceased to support the brutal war in Yemen and withdrawn its troops and mercenaries from Afghanistan and Iraq long ago.
The U.S. imperialist ruling class doesn’t care about preserving Muslim traditions and architecture. Its only goal with regard to China is to create possible flashpoints for conflict, by exploiting ethnic and religious tensions or to create them from thin air in order to throw China off-balance and disrupt the Belt and Road Initiative — a project that is crucial both to the growing local economy of Xinjiang and the many majority-Muslim countries that border it.
The U.S. population is subjected to a nonstop barrage of anti-China propaganda, so the motivations of the U.S. imperialist ruling class and their media mouthpieces must always be kept in mind. There is always another side to the story.
Sources: tinyurl.com/2p9ca568; tinyurl.com/4zdmwv6m; tinyurl.com/5dr4pu7y; tinyurl.com/5vm4s642.