The global face of Islamist radicalism, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made the first formal step towards his Caliph ambitions. And the entire leftist-liberal lobby both within and outside India that was fuming at the prospect of Indian Hindus reclaiming a grand temple at the birthplace of Lord Ram has suddenly fallen silent. Erdogan has announced that the Hagia Sophia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was constructed in the sixth century during the reign of Justinian I, a Byzantine ruler, would be reopened for Muslim worship.
Erdogan made this announcement after a rubber-stamp of a Turkish Court revoked the status of the ancient building, Hagia Sophia, as a Museum and paved the way for the building to be converted into a Mosque.
This is particularly grotesque move for it has burnt all bridges of peace and compromise between the Christian and the Muslim world. For the record, Hagia Sophia was the main seat of the Greek Orthodox Church and remained so until the conquest of the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire by the Ottomans.
In 1453, Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) was captured by the Ottoman ruler, Mehmed the Conqueror. And the Cathedral, Hagia Sophia located here was plundered and converted into a Mosque.
The Church-turned Mosque became a Museum in 1935 as a goodwill measure on the part of the secular founder of Turkey Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
As for Erdogan, he was indifferent to the demands for converting the structure into a Mosque when he joined active Turkish politics three decades ago.
He is now converting the Church-turned-Mosque-turned-Museum into a Mosque because he wants to relive and reinvent the brutal glory and plunder of the Ottomans.
Erdogan knows that Hagia Sophia remains close to orthodox Christians. Four popes have visited the monument, and countries like Greece are going to be profoundly hurt by Turkey’s new move owing to the historical connections. And this is what he exactly wants to do. He wants to tell the Christian world that he is reclaiming what was originally one of the most important Christian places of worship.
The radical ideology behind the wannabe Khalifa’s move is telling. He is legitimising a radical form of Islam and glorifying the Ottoman brutality that really shouldn’t have any place in the 21st-century era.
Erdogan however is not the problem. The real problem is that there are people around the world, including in India who actually pass of Erdogan’s version of radicalism as secularism and pluralism.
This is the reason why the leftists around the world are not protesting against Erdogan’s Hagia Sophia offensive. But they definitely had an issue with attempts to reclaim the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya.
Ayodhya and Hagia cannot be compared. We are not comparing them either. The only similarity is that Babri Masjid was a symbol of the Mughal invasion of India and the Mosque at Hagia Sophia is a symbol of the Ottoman invasion of Eastern Roman Empire.
The crusades to reclaim the Ayodhya temple and the one to reclaim a Mosque at Hagia Sophia are diametrically opposed to each other. The Ayodhya crusade wanted to reclaim the originality of the structure, while the Hagia crusade wants to revive the brutality of the Ottomans.
The methods to achieve the end object too are different. The Hindu parties in India went through a long-drawn legal process that lasted more than a century before reclaiming the temple. The radical Islamists in Turkey however constituted a rubber-stamp of a Court to push through their claims.
Yet Hindus were slandered as extremists both by Indian leftists and the global media. The same elements now feel that Turkey encouraging radicalism is its internal matter.
Erdogan’s moves are dangerous. And what is even more dangerous is that he has self-acclaimed liberal fans across the world, including India. Erdogan’s anti-India remarks about Kashmir over abrogation of Article 370 had, for example, resonated with India’s left-liberal lobby deeply.
The meltdown over the Ayodhya verdict last year and the legitimisation of conversion in Hagia Sophia’s status truly captures the myopia of the leftist narrative. Hindus are being shamed for making legitimate demands, but Turkey is being given a free pass for truly exposing some serious fault-lines in international peace and order.