Speed Reads

Cultural Revolution Part 2

China may have recently demolished a Uighur mosque as old as Notre Dame

Much of Paris' Notre Dame cathedral, started in 1163, survived Monday's tragic conflagration. But it's not clear anything remains of the 780-year-old Keriya mosque in China's western Xinjiang province.

Last week, Shawn Zhang, a law student in Canada, posted satellite images suggesting that the Chinese government had demolished the Keriya mosque, believed to date back to 1237. Zhang has used Chinese government documents and open-source satellite images to reveal a huge network of government internment camps for Uighers and other ethnic Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.

A United Nations report says China has turned Xinjiang "into something that resembled a massive internment camp shrouded in secrecy, a 'no rights zone,'" Reuters reported in November. A month earlier, America's U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, called the imprisonment of "at least a million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities" in "so-called 're-education camps'" something "straight out of George Orwell." China tightly controls access to the region, Reuters reports, but "mosques across Xinjiang are now adorned with Chinese flags and banners exhorting people to 'Love the Party, Love the Country.' During Friday prayers, the mosques are almost empty."

That's a recent development, says Rachel Harris, who studied the Uighurs in Xinjiang for a decade. "After the Cultural Revolution, Uighur and Kazakh Muslims began to reconnect with their faith," revitalizing old mosques, she writes in The Guardian. The Keriya mosque is one of hundreds China has reportedly destroyed in Xinjiang, and "whole cities are being redesigned to facilitate maximum security and surveillance of the local population."

Much of the Old Town section of Kashgar, "once considered one of the best-preserved sites of traditional Islamic and Central Asian architecture in the region," is being razed or repurposed for Han Chinese tourists, Reuters says. "One mosque has been transformed into a trendy hookah lounge and bar serving shisha tobacco and alcohol."