The world is faced with so many juxtapositions that one is left to make judgement and to test its veracity in a wider context. These judgements are further contested by the reality that the world is under immense flux due to the obtuse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic socially, politically, economically, culturally and technologically. In the instant of any decision taken or made, one is left more challenged by the fact that the world was never is such state of uncertainty and in a realm of such a terrain of uncharted territory.
As I stood on the steps of the school’s assembly point my words began to phrase carefully in my mind because, what I had to say came from an encounter with events in an uncharted terrotiry. I looked at the teachers in the school and felt their pain as people in the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic. I saw them as unsung heroes. I addressed them on the fact that the school will close until further notice because of rising infections. The despair was palpable and fear became phobic was in itself infectious. It ushered a sudden atmosphere of hopelessness with just a ray of optimism. The Imam’s prayer reinstated assurance and the spiritual feeling soothed the soul. In a sombre yet confident mood, the teachers greeted each uncharacteristically because of the social distance protocol. The school was then empty. The reality of loneliness was stark! It was then that I looked to the sky and wondered at my loneliness. I was not alone in this but, still in a fortunate situation. My heart felt embarrassed in comparison to the utter grief when I recalled the Srebrenica Genocide of 1995. The news of the 25 year commemoration broke around the same time our school closed. My feeling of despair was a striking difference to the deeper despair and relived anguish of the Muslims in Srebrenica.
The reality of the Srebrenica genocide of 1995 came back to me like a cold slap on a cold winter’s morning. Why this reality was so stark for me relates to then fact that I started teaching in 1994 and in 1995 the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina was world news. We were alerted to it by the news and the issues around it informed our teaching of creative writing and debates. It was really strange for us in South Africa to see white, blue-eyed and blond men, women and children in situations of despair, deprivation, standing in breadlines and ravaged by civil war. The purgatory submerged the world into the realities of the holocaust and the killing fields of WW1 & 2 and today, we look back into history and realise that the misery and happiness is all the result of what man’s hands have earned. The world is juxtaposed with the good, the bad and the ugly. Prayer seems the only sanity because when the hands are raised in prayer, the gun is at the side.
The prayers in Hagia Sophia stopped when converted into a museum in 1934 and in July this year it re-opened as a mosque and the call to prayers will echo again through the ancient walls. The celebration of its re-opening as a mosque is not to everyones delight and liking but, its the reality. In a time of great strife and despair another public prayer place is not a harbinger of war but of peace. Whilst museums are an attraction of souls, it fills the void of feeding the curiosity but, does not bind a people. Places of worship are binding, still and peaceful; save that today, religion has become a tool in the hands of misplaced zealots who sit on high thrones of leadership causing corruption. The world cries about the reconversion of a museum into a mosque but, has failed to look at the cries of the people of Srebrenica in time to save lives. It failed to look at the howling horrors of the recent genocide in Myanmar in time to save lives. The media houses carved out the siege of Kashmir and Gaza from global media attention in time to ensure it continues unabated. The UN WORLD kept silent on the lie of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq in time to ensure USA accomplishes Operation Desert Shield, but was swift in alerting humanity in time on the bombing of the Bhudda statues in Afghanistan. The Taliban, through this act of statue genocide got the attention of the world to highlight the starvation of its people. They were further maligned as mad Muslims for bombing statues which they told the world they would destroy if food aid was not given. The world turned a deaf ear but, heard the fall of rock when the statues fell but, wept not when innocent blood cursed the soil. These are all indelible imprints of the mixed-up values of powerful war-mongering countries. The timing of the Nakba in May 1948 where 700,000 Palestinians were expelled is no more on our news time; and so silent in time now is the annexation of the West Bank taking place that history books, in time will not bear the name Palestine. These unsavoury realities when placed side by side to the Hagia Sophia conversion, pails in comparison. I compare it to what we remained silent on because, our silence in the main of global issues decimating human life, has made us more vulnerable to the war economy. These are the realities.
Two realities: Srebrenica and Hagia Sophia in juxtaposition reflecting our human condition. Realities of hope and fear. Srebrenica is our fear and Hagia Sophia is our hope. In the remembrance of the 8000 men and boys who were chased and killed in the forests we come face to face with the devil within man doomed in the abyss of hate. The lust for power entices man further in the political quagmire of a war economy and racism. This is the gruesome reality masked as regime change or the Green fear (Islam).
The reality of the Hagia Sophia reflects the side of humanity that speaks of peace and how humanity will not engage in war, but will be gentle in taking ownership of what is legally their own. To keep the peace they have made an open call for unity in diversity. We still see this as a problem because every decision has a trade off, a bias or a prejudice. The question that begs the mind is: ” Would you, 25 years from today want to pray in a mosque that was once a museum or, walk through a grave site that cradles victims of genocide?” At the present moment with our world engulfed in so many wars, tribal conflicts, land expropriation, forced land grabs, sieges, refugee camps, influx of refugees, deforestation, ocean pollution, air pollution and the globalisation of poverty; there is little harm in a peaceful transition of a museum into a mosque. If the neo-cons want a destabilisation of Turkey then rest assured it would be clandestine politics branded with the clash of civilisations mantra which would create a means to disagreement that can escalate into civil strife or war. Lord save our souls.
There thousands of mosques in Spain that have lost its right to open because of the end of Muslim rule is history telling us of the rise and fall of empires. In fact, mosques in Spain have been turned into churches, bars, and night clubs. The fact that very, few mosques in the main are maintained for posterity, dignity and historical value, indicates tolerance and human kindness. The Alhambra Palace Mosque in Granada was converted to the Santa Maria cathedral and many others too. Hagia Sophia has never been desecrated or left to ruin and this tells a story that humans can rebuild their lives and land. People don’t like further destruction of infrastructure. However, the destruction of the Babri Mosque on 6 December 1992 in India speaks the reality of human beings lack of desire for dialogue and the inability to be proactive with over religious zealots who are given a free hand. The destruction had catastrophic consequences that continue to disrupt lives up to date. How does one pray on the ground that witnessed a martyrdom of a holy place for the establishment of a another holy place in it’s place? Prayer soaked in blood is satanic to say the least. The irony is frightening because it reflects the nature of man – racial superiority is an innate desire. It figures out then, that the Roman Empire is dead, but the desire for an empire is still alive and real. This empire realisation is a vision on the grounds of Masjid-al-Aqsa for the Zionist State’s capital. In the chase of an empire, nations fall.
Empires rise and fall. These two realities cannot be separated. In my visit to Turkey I realised how empires rise and fall, how rulers are dismissed by history or deified by history. How the triumph of the human spirit always prevails making heroes of people who had valour and courage. When I walked into the Hagia Sophia museum and learnt its history and knowing then that I was actually standing in a mosque, gave me a sense of sadness. Sadness that the place I was standing on, was, once alive with worshippers. I looked around and felt that one can still pray here and still have a museum too. Congregational prayers are five times day and not relentless like the waves of the ocean. Many huge mosques in Turkey are open to the public and the pristine maintenance gives them all a museum touch and feel. The Tokpai Palace museum and the Panorama 1453 Museum are historical grandeurs signifying great human victories and defeats but, showing that human beings have the relentless desire to rise from the ashes again and again and again. Therefore, in opinion, the Hagia Sophia reversion to a mosque is just and indication of the rise of people who once ruled the world and are reclaiming their history in a way where no lives are lost or, where there is no drumbeat for a war or no sinister plot to brew ethnic violence like that of the destruction of the Babri Mosque. Humanity, I believe should have a reality check on what they prefer: war or peace. In the absence of justice in this world, peace will remain in a museum as an artefact for special viewing.
In the war museums we lament the heroes of WW1 & 2 and our anthem is that for a doomed youth because their stories remain untold and their sufferings are masked by the generals who are clad in medals glorifying King and country. The women of Srebrenica looked at their sons graves and one wonders what goes through their minds for their sorrows are not captured in museums rather, they seek solace in the sanctity of a mosque and in prayer. Two realities knock at the heart and two judgments emerge. Which is a better future – a museum reverted into a mosque or a walk among tombstones to recall a genocide? History will judge us on actions. Let it be that historians write a textbook on how in July 2020, a museum was reverted to a mosque in peace whilst in Srebrenica in July 2020, the world mourned the loss of 8000 victims of a 1995 genocide and; in the main the killers walked free. Two realities…
Two realities in the mind accompany the two histories above. The two accompanying mindsets are remorse or racism. Remorse will enable the deepening of regret and the seeking for truth and reconciliation whilst, racism will anchor the whole episode on an empire narrative then; all is lost. What is lost is the chance for justice as means to peace. The dawning of the new realities of the consequences of the war in Syria and Yemen is yet to be understood because the drums of war are still beating. It is reaching a crescendo and it appears to the world that the rhythm is mesmerising and sadistically enjoyed among the writers of the New World Order. The world is tired of war but, economies that are dependent on wars will continue to present realities that show the need to have wars. Therefore, we need to look at history with a trained eye and discern truth from fabrication because, we need to leave a better world for the future generations to inherit.
Perhaps the reading of the conclusion from BBC.Com online newspaper will make you understand why we must be grounded into reality with the big picture of the world in front of us.
The effects of that massacre still reverberate to this day.
New mass graves and bodies of victims are still being discovered, 25 years after the genocide.
A 2002 report blamed the Dutch government and military officials for failing to prevent the killings. The entire government resigned in the wake of the report. In 2019, the country’s supreme court upheld a ruling that the Netherlands was partially responsible for 350 deaths at Srebrenica.
In 2017, a UN tribunal in The Hague convicted Mladic of genocide and other atrocities. The commander had gone into hiding after the end of the war in 1995 and was not found until 2011, in his cousin’s home in northern Serbia.
Serbia has since apologised for the crime but still refuses to accept this was a genocide.
In the juxtaposition of the two realities discussed above look at it like walk in the forest, where two roads emerge and you take the one less traveled all because it allows for a new realisation. A realisation of truth. One life; two realties: Heaven or Hell. These realities have to draw you closer to know the greater reality: Allah, the High the Great.