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Erdogan’s Islamic Conquest of Hagia Sophia: West Will have to Reply

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Men and women check out the Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul, Turkey, July 10, 2020. (Murad Sezer/Reuters)

President Erdogan’s electric power enjoy really should not go unanswered by the liberal-democratic West.

The Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople is a goal-crafted composition, and its function is the worship of the Christian God. This distinct functionality is not incidental to the way the church was intended and designed by its two visionary architects at the large meridian of the Byzantine Empire. Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus have been what their contemporaries termed mechanopoioi, a expression that is greatest translated, in accordance to Richard Krautheimer, as “architect–scientists.” Their elite proficiency in arithmetic and physics suited them to the activity they’d been provided by the emperor: creating an originally Christian area of worship. In the sixth century, Christians were being even now drawing on the aesthetics of pagan antiquity, and the basilicas and colonnades of classical Rome experienced been acknowledged as the supreme expression of architectural grandeur. Hagia Sophia adjusted all that.

When Emperor Justinian entered the church for the first time immediately after its completion, he is reported to have boasted, “Solomon, I have vanquished thee!” He, or instead his two architects, undoubtedly had. With an interior house of almost 43,000 sq. feet, it was at the time the one-greatest setting up ever built. Its crowning jewel was its gravity-defying central dome, which in a single stroke supplanted the basilica as the defining function of church architecture in Eastern Christendom. The dome serves as a mirror to heaven, considered in late antiquity to be the most distant in a collection of concentric spheres, and its 40 windows allow for mild from over to shine on the glittering religious mosaics inside of the church. But its most crucial religious purpose is musical. The inside of Hagia Sophia was intended for the antiphonal singing of the Christian liturgy, with two choir sections alternating chants across from 1 one more. The dome captures and boosts the audio of this exchange. Musical notes generally reverberate for two to 3 seconds in a modern live performance corridor. In Hagia Sophia, they resound for up to twelve seconds, enveloping worshippers in the seems of the liturgy — or at minimum they did, until the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.

For 482 many years soon after that, Hagia Sophia was applied as a mosque. In the 1930s, when Turkey was born from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire as a secular condition, the mosque was repurposed once extra as a museum for Christians, Muslims, and any other admirers to check out. But now, that point out is getting systematically remade by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has arrive to dominate Turkish politics with his own malevolent brand name of neo-Ottoman Islamic nationalism. Erdogan has extensive sought to reconvert Hagia Sophia into a mosque, and this 7 days he was ultimately granted his wish by the Turkish Council of Condition. The Council’s legal reasoning was about as risible as one particular could perhaps visualize: It dominated that the first conversion of the church into a museum in 1934 was illegal, mainly because Hagia Sophia was the particular assets of Mehmet the Conqueror, the sultan who captured the town in 1453. The Council then transferred regulate of the museum to a basis named soon after the sultan, which is in favor of its repurposing as a mosque. There are many difficulties with this ruling, but chief amongst them is the simple fact that below 15th-century Ottoman legislation, as Professor Metin Günday has noticed, the full nation was the private residence of the sultan. The legal precedent set in the situation of Hagia Sophia looks to advise that by means of the shell basis named following Mehmet II, any dwelling heir of the sultan can lay own proprietary declare to the whole nation of Turkey and all of the residence therein! What is much more, the Church of Hagia Sophia has now been diminished to the exact authorized position it held at the sack of Constantinople, with Muslims worshipping there on the authorized foundation of Mehmet’s bloody conquest of the Christian population.

It is correct that the conquest ethic was, right up until incredibly recently, common in human relations, and it does no 1 any superior to condemn the actions of medieval gentlemen in this regard or to adjudicate house disputes appropriately. To phone Mehmet the Conqueror a violent and oppressive warlord is just to notice that he was a political chief in the center of the 15th century. But for a courtroom of legislation to resurrect the logic of medieval conquest in the 21st century is definitely appalling. To repeat: Christians’ obtain to one of their greatest holy internet sites will now be tremendously curtailed on the grounds that they were conquered by a Muslim sultan and pressured into what can only be described as sacred-asset forfeiture at the stage of a sword far more than 500 yrs ago.

The world wide response to Erdogan’s shift has ranged from indifference to outrage. The Turks have shut ties with Moscow, and the Russian deputy international minister claimed last Monday that modifying the standing of the church to a mosque was the inside business enterprise of the Turkish governing administration. (Offered the way in which the Kremlin has sought to blur the strains among Orthodox Christianity and Russian Nationalism, its acquiescence to the desecration of an legendary, non-Russian Orthodox church is probably unsurprising.) By contrast, the Greek society minister named Erdogan’s move an “open provocation to the civilized world” in a statement on Friday, and the Greek govt is pushing for the European Union to impose diplomatic sanctions on Turkey. The leader of the Italian Northern League, Matteo Salvini, has also criticized the final decision, citing it as evidence that “the pre-eminence of Islam is incompatible with the values of democracy, independence and tolerance of the West.”

The Turkish government’s response to the criticism has been positively schizophrenic. Erdogan and his deputies tend to rhetorically oscillate concerning the language of nationwide sovereignty and the language of Islamic expansionism. On the just one hand, a deputy chairman in the governing social gathering informed a regional publication that “estranging a structure, the home of which belongs to Turkey, was likely from our sovereignty.” On the other, Erdogan himself explained in a general public handle that “the resurrection of Hagia Sophia [as a mosque] follows the categorical will of Muslims throughout the world” and will serve as a to start with move to “the liberation of Al Aqsa” in Jerusalem. Even in advance of his speech, crowds had gathered outside Hagia Sophia chanting “Onward to Jerusalem!” In what will arrive as a shock to certainly no a single, it appears that many Turks do not feel that national sovereignty obtains for Israel. Hamas was speedy to endorse Erdogan’s choice.

The spiritual eyesight of pan-Islamic civilization that appears to drive Erdogan’s makes an attempt to dismantle the secular constitution of Turkey, a document of which numerous Turks are still pretty very pleased, does not stand up to any variety of scrutiny. In historical terms, there is vanishingly minor evidence of Islamic civilization to start with. Most of the wonderful achievements attributed to Islamic cultures have been all those of conquered peoples, or dhimmis, to use the theological expression, whose function has been co-opted by their conquerors. Hagia Sophia is a circumstance in stage. The dome that was so ingeniously made by Anthemius and Isidore has been used as the model for mosque architecture at any time due to the fact. In fact, when Caliph Abd el-Malik commissioned the Dome of the Rock, now considered just one of the fantastic masterpieces of Islamic artwork, to be designed in Jerusalem, he employed Byzantine architects and craftsmen, which is possibly why the framework seems to be so significantly like the exact same city’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre. “To the extent that Arab elites acquired a innovative tradition, they realized it from their matter peoples,” the sociologist Rodney Stark has famous. The much-vaunted “Arabic” numeral method is in simple fact Hindu in origin, centered on the concept of zero, which had theretofore eluded the Muslim overlords of Hindu populations. The earliest scientific textual content that appeared in Arabic, the holy language of Islam, was translated by a Jewish physician from the work of a Syrian Christian priest in Alexandria, which would have stunned no Arabian Muslim of that time. As Stark notes, “‘Muslim’ or ‘Arab’ medicine was in truth Nestorian Christian drugs even the main Muslim and Arab physicians were skilled at the enormous Nestorian clinical middle at Nisibus in Syria.” It was the Nestorian Christian Johannitius who gathered and supervised the translation of Hippocrates, Galen, Plato, and Aristotle into Arabic. On top of that, a Muslim writer of the eleventh century, Nasir-i Khrusau, noted that “the scribes listed here in Syria, as is the circumstance of Egypt, are all Christians. . . . It is [also] most normal for the physicians . . . to be Christians.”

There are numerous examples of this dynamic, and they have been chronicled exhaustively by Stark and historians such as Donald R. Hill. The thought of Islamic civilization, which regularly threatens the security of Israel, the West, and any individual unlucky more than enough to stay under the rule of adult males these as Erdogan, resembles almost nothing so significantly as a fantastic act of intellectual-house theft.

Worse yet, this terrific fiction has true-world implications past the religious annexation of Hagia Sophia. Erdogan has made available extremely generous army support to the Libyan federal government in Tripoli as it fights a war in opposition to the insurgent Haftar in Benghazi. He’s explained Turkish navy casualties in the conflict as “martyrs” in the custom of the Ottoman troopers who fought in Libya from the 16th by means of 20th centuries. And subsequent his announcement about the reconversion of Hagia Sophia, the Turkish Media outlet Haber 7 tweeted, “Hagia Sophia is completed! Upcoming is Athens.” Sentiments these kinds of as this counsel that the spirit of conquest amongst devout Muslim Turks has elevated rather than lessened since the country’s secular founding in the 1930s. In this respect, Western governments have made the exact same miscalculation with Turkey as they have with China, assuming axiomatically that exposure to liberal-democratic capitalism raises the need for it over time. The real truth is that Turkey and quite a few other conservative Islamic countries are having a diverse path by way of the 21st century than the United States and its allies. The holy texts of Islam propose that this path will not be one that seeks to stay clear of conquest. According to the Hadith of Sahih Bukhari, the Prophet Muhammad himself claimed to have “been manufactured victorious with terror” (4:52:220). The steps not only of Turkey in Libya but of Saudi Arabia and Iran in Yemen testify to the long lasting affect of this sentiment upon the author’s religious progeny.

The United States are not able to continue on to deal with Islamist nations around the world as if they have been nation-states like any other individuals. Turkey and its allies have learned to use Western concepts this sort of as “national sovereignty” in pursuit of their have theocratic, imperialist finishes. If they are not challenged robustly when they employ this tactic to gain enormous symbolic victories, as they have with Hagia Sophia, they will only really feel much more emboldened to get to for it yet again when lives are on the line in its place of mosaics. Turkey’s standing as a member of NATO and its possible accession to complete membership in the European Union really should be conditional on the rejection of political Islam and the total cessation of all rhetorical or navy hostility towards Greece, Cyprus, Israel, and the West in standard. Entry into the Western group of nations have to be contingent on adherence to a standard of civilized authorities, and until eventually it is, American leaders should really emphasize the issue as often, as forcefully, and as publicly as they can. Historical past teaches us that the instant Islam shifts from religious self-control to governing philosophy, cost-free “infidels” have bring about for worry. After 85 yrs of secular Turkish governing administration, it seems like President Erdogan is effecting that shift at the time again. If Turkey is to acquire any extra financial, military services, or diplomatic favors from the Western globe, Hagia Sophia need to both be returned to its position as a museum or remanded into the treatment of the Greek Orthodox Church, for whose liturgy and worship it was purpose-built so numerous generations ago.

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