published on April 21, 2021
People Don’t Want a Mosque Here: Destruction of Minority Religious Sites as a Strategy of Nationalism
Religious sites are often at the center of confrontation. Groups frequently clash over the structures and the historical narratives surrounding sacred spaces. Religious sites encompass deeply entrenched meanings for groups of all backgrounds. These spaces represent identity, tradition, history, family, and belief systems. For minority groups, their religious sites can help provide a sense of belonging and serve as a monument to their history in the community. Due to their symbolic importance, religious sites are also vulnerable to violence by outside groups. Destructive acts targeting religious architecture and symbols are common throughout the world, but are especially frequent in identity-based conflicts, such as in Bosnia. However, the study of these attacks and their relationship to nationalist movements, particularly in Asia, has not been adequately studied. This article examines the destruction of Islamic sites in three distinct countries and contexts: India, Myanmar, and Xinjiang, China. In each case, Muslims are religious minorities and face varying levels of persecution. This article argues that the destruction of religious spaces and symbols has been used both literally and symbolically to claim a space for the dominant group and assert a right to the associated territory. The elimination of Muslim sites is part of a broader attempt to engage in a historical revisionism that diminishes or vilifies Muslims belonging in the region.