Hagia Sophia’s Conversion
Reverting Hagia Sophia to its status as a mosque, President Erdogan said: “I would like to underline once again that Hagia Sophia has been reverted not from a church to a mosque but from a museum to a mosque. No one should worry; we will protect the cultural heritage of Hagia Sophia”.
The President also emphasized: “There is on average one place of sanctuary for 460 non-Muslims in Turkey whereas only one place of worship for 2,000 Muslims in Europe”. From 1453 to 1935, almost five centuries, Ayasofya remained a mosque without raising any hackles, as no one ever considered it to be a contentious issue.
The conversion was a momentous occasion in Turkish history but devoid of chest-thumping that has been the hallmark of President Erdogan’s remarkable leadership. Hagia Sophia the museum symbolized Kemalism, a Turkey that was forcibly Western and exhibited secularism; Ayasofya, the mosque, is an annulment of the same.
This Turkish trek to its religious roots can be understood better in the words of famed philosopher and sociologist Ernest Gellner who says: “In social sciences, one of the commonest thesis is secularization where conditions prevailing in industrial-scientific society, the hold of religion over society and its people diminishes. By and large, this is true, but it is not completely true, for there is one major exception, Islam. In the last hundred years, the hold of Islam over Muslims has not diminished but has rather increased. It is one striking counter-example to the secularization thesis”.
Islamic vs Western Values
Hagia Sophia was always on the mind of President Erdogan, various references to it go as far back as when he was mayor of Istanbul. However, it took patience, leadership, moral authority and legitimacy in the eyes of the people; a combination which is the painstaking achievement of President Erdogan’s years in power.
The Hagia Sophia decision has resonated around the world because symbols and legacies have always played a defining part in the history of nations and civilizations. Today, the Muslim world is a fractious lot, lacking in education, research and scientific theory. It is a prevalent myth, reaffirmed by many Muslim rulers and liberals, that Islamic beliefs personify stagnation and primitive mindsets, whereas Westernization remains the key to progress.
This has led almost all Muslim countries to ape Western norms and values, shunning their Islamic heritage as a yoke symbolizing backwardness. This is a fallacy, given Islam’s glorious scientific achievements and its inclusive charter of society and governance. Given its dubious history, the double standards of the Islamophobic West should not be a surprise anymore.
Muslim countries that do not conform to Western values are castigated and reduced to outcasts. If any country dares to stand up to them, they are invaded and the dissenting leaders are assassinated. Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Afghanistan are prime examples; Iran and Pakistan are perpetually in the cross-hairs. It is also epitomized in the deafening silence that is a criminal affront to the millions of brutalized Kashmiris and Palestinians; dehumanized beings incarcerated in what is their own land.
The Holiness of Western Secularism
Hitler, probably the most demonized person in history, was born and raised Catholic. In 1941, he said to Gerhard Engel, one of his generals: “I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so.” He further wrote in Mein Kampf: “Therefore, I am convinced that I am acting as the agent of our Creator. By fighting off the Jews, I am doing the Lord’s work”.
At a Christmas celebration in 1926, Hitler declared: “Christ was the greatest early fighter in the battle against the world enemy, the Jews. The work that Christ started but could not finish, I, Adolph Hitler will conclude”. In 1974, Ronald Reagan addressed a Conservative Political Action Conference. Invoking religion repeatedly he referred to like-minded people as “prophets of our philosophy”.
He referred to America as “a part of some divine plan” and quoted Pope Pius XII: “Into the hands of America, God has placed the destinies of an afflicted mankind”. Christian theologian, John Walvoord is the author of the New York Times bestseller, “Armageddon, Oil and the Middle East Crisis”. The book refers to the Middle East as the place where Armageddon (Biblical final battle) shall take place. To prove this, Walvoord relies heavily on prophecies from the Bible.
When Desert Storm, the first Iraq war, was still in its infancy, President Bush (Sr) and his staff read the book to grasp the importance of Biblical prophecies regarding their attack on Iraq. In an interview with French journalist Jean-Claude Maurice, former French President Jacques Chirac recounted the baffling George Bush (Jr) telephone call of 2003 in which Bush called their common Christian faith reason enough to attack Iraq.
Bush said, “Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East. The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled. This confrontation is willed by God, Who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins”. Bush boasted divine guidance for invoking horrors as US planes dropped bombs on Iraq bearing the inscription of Isaiah 21:9.
The verse states: “And behold, here cometh a chariot of men, with a couple of horsemen. And he answered and said, Babylon (present-day Iraq) is fallen, is fallen; and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground”. It is a fact that post 9/11, evangelicals, with their myriad speeches, dominated airwaves, and their churches engulfed entire communities.
It was this religious bigotry that induced the US-led global Islamophobia in the post-9/11 years. George Bush called himself a “messenger of God doing the Lord’s will”. He justified the Afghanistan/Iraq invasion by telling Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and foreign minister Nabil Shaath: “I am driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan and I did, and then God would tell me, George go and end the tyranny in Iraq and I did”.
The reprehensible fact remains that the Iraq genocide was based on forged evidence against Saddam. The common perception after the “divine mandate” was that Bush was talking about the god of oil, not the Trinity of Christianity. Ideologies are always self-justifying; they are not confined to one religion. Islam may be an anathema to the West, yet Christian kings and emperors have pillaged, suppressed critical thought, and scientific advancement and created empires in the name of religion (some invoking divine guidance to this day); the Dark Ages being at the height of Christian power.
The Need for Religion
Darwin’s evolution theory deemed God unnecessary; Freud tried his best to prove His irrelevance; Nietzsche declared Him dead. No social order can exist on these mantras. Much as secularism is a buzzword today, religion is an integral part of each society. Despite the myth of Western secularism, misconstrued religious beliefs still hold absolute sway over brutal policies in what is touted as ‘secular’ democracies.
Hindustan (India) is a glaring example; its horrors in Occupied Kashmir are overlooked by the Islamophobic West. Israel blatantly furthers its brutal subjugation of Palestinians proclaiming that “Israel is the national state, not of all its citizens but only of the Jewish people”. Needless to say, we live in a world where Islam is an anathema, Islamic heritage a scourge.
The Muslim world comprises 1.9 billion rudderless Muslims led by individuals whose survival in power rests in their absolute servitude to the West. In this leadership vacuum, President Recip Erdogan is someone that epitomizes what sort of leaders the Muslim world really needs; if only we had more like him.
Imran Khan is one other leader who, given a short span of time as head of state, has commendably emerged as a leader with an ideological vision buttressed by unflinching determination and resolve to change the destiny of Pakistan. The people stand with him.
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