Once the choreography of culture conflicts goes, it cannot be faulted. recep tayyip erdogan, the turkish president,last few days decreedthat the 1,500-year-old hagia sophia, the byzantine cathedral-turned-mosque-turned-museum, will once more come to be a mosque. this top jewel of istanbuls majestic skyline is being weaponised for the purpose of size distraction.

Mr erdogan, the imposing figure of chicken this century, has won above several electoral victories to sweep apart a parliamentary system with an authoritarian presidency enabling him to rule like a neo-sultan. he could be nevertheless underpolitical stress.

Last year his successful streak ended up being inspected by oppositiontriumphs in istanbul the city essential to his mystique, where he had his governmental begin as gran the main city ankara, and a string of various other essential urban centers. these proved he's politically mortal.

This season, the coronavirus pandemic has piled strain onto a faltering economy. mr erdogans success features more regarding their record of delivering strong financial growth than his islamist revivalism. the capacity to provide trumps identification politics. this is certainly doubly so given that thecity governmentsrun by his enemies have actually outperformed nationwide government into the covid-19 emergency.

The hagia sophia decree is all about more than spiritual chauvinism. it really is calibrated to rally far-right nationalists on whom mr erdogan more and more depends. anticipating theoutcry from abroad, from pope francis to patriarch kirill of russia, from unesco into the eu, through the white home to the kremlin, mr erdogan had hisanswerready: are you currently ruling turkey or tend to be we?

However this preaching towards the converted probably has actually limited value yourself. nor will it endear mr erdogan to their strongman buddies: president vladimir putin in russia, who has assumed the role of champ of this orthodox church internationally, or president donald trump in the usa, who can count on evangelical christian voters for his re-election in november. in european countries, if turkeys eu accession quote had been moribund, the hagia sophia decree might be its demise certification.

Hagia sophia was completed in 537 because of the byzantine emperor justinian we, ahead of the arrival of islam. it became a mosque following the ottoman conquest of constantinople (subsequent istanbul) in 1453. mustafa kemal ataturk, president associated with turkish republic, then switched it into a museum in 1934. reclaiming it as a universal history for turkey was a plural motion, pointing to a secular future, in part to move interest away from the way the collapsing ottoman empire emptied chicken of christians in mass killings of armenians, assyrians and greeks.

It is a reminder that identity politics gets particularly lethal when laced with faith. however you will find various comparative instances. jerusalem is typically many contested and combustible area worldwide, a thrice holy town to jews, christians and muslims, every one of whose customs come in the whole grain of their rock. it has also seen terrible carnage. when christian crusaders captured jerusalem in 1099, they slaughtered around 70,000 muslims and jews. but jerusalem has additionally been an arena of courtesy and tolerance.

Whenever muslim armies defeated the byzantines in syria and conquered jerusalem in 637, umar, the next caliph after the loss of the prophet mohammed, refused an invite through the patriarch to pray within the church associated with the holy sepulchre, which christian tradition holds housed the tomb of jesus before resurrection (and is it self constructed on the ruins of a roman temple to aphrodite).

Umar dreaded it may be seen as an indication to turn the church into a mosque. he in addition cleared the refuse from temple mount, called by umar the sanctuary of david, but employed by the byzantines as a well balanced.

This showed an understanding that emotive sacred custom isn't becoming trifled with. right now, after israel features annexed and colonised arab east jerusalem, and won mr trumps recognition of all the holy city as israels capital, the israelis enforce a ban on non-muslims praying in the holy sanctuary or perhaps in haram al-sharif housing the dome associated with rock and al aqsa mosque, islams third holiest website.

A contrasting instance is the babri masjid situation at ayodhya in northern asia. there, a 16th-century mosque wasdemolished in 1992by followers for the rashtriya swayamsevak sangh, a hindu supremacist moms and dad organization associated with the ruling bharatiya janata party. narendra modi, indias existing prime minister, is a life-long person in the rss. in november a year ago, indiassupreme judge offered the go-aheadto build a temple on the mosques ruins to lord ram, the hindu deity whose birthplace they claim it had been.

But will this triumphalist minute be held tantalisingly out of reach, to keep the hindu revivalist base mobilised? or will it be acted on to intimidate indias 200m muslim minority, painted as fifth columnists whom bow to mecca?

Both of these cases offer stark choices for mr erdogan to select between. he seems to like the modi model of painting turkeys huge sunni muslim vast majority as sufferers. not for him the humane formula of this caliph umar in jerusalem, let-alone ataturks universal option for hagia sophia, offering it to those of religions, or nothing.