From India to America a disturbing trend is catching attention and is becoming a new norm. It is the destruction of historical sites and icons for political gains.
The use of symbols to twist democracies, to gain popularity or to advance a cause is not new.
But for a long time since the establishment of the United Nations we have not seen such a flurry of activities in this direction.
India and America are seen as the biggest democracies in the world. USA is indeed the ‘birth’ place of modern democracy.
But the breaking of statues, the burning of ancient flags and the rejection of a turbulent past is on the rise.
Are these actions a step towards the demolition of democracy?
We saw the recent public relations success from Turkey. The use of a historic building, the Hagia Sofia as a Masjid became an iconic global moment.
It was not only a Turkish event. In many countries, it was live. Once and for all, Islam has taken the monument in Turkey and turned it into a prayer hall.
For some, the Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s move was political. It was to regain the support of the people.
They say he was losing his grip in Istanbul where his party lost the municipal elections.
Hence, the use of the symbol. But if you ask me, it was a necessary step. In a majority Muslim country, the people do what they see is best for the future.
Hagia Sofia is now a full-fledge Masjid. For those who pretend not to know what is a Masjid, it is called Mosque in English.
But was it a political move? Did it mark down the grading of Turkish democracy?
Or is the use of symbols to further the cause of Islam in a democratic society a violation of democracy itself? The experts are still arguing.
For democrats, not for Islamists, the action is a sign that democracy is trampled at the altar of religious demagogy. For Muslims, it is a sign that Islam is gaining its shine in Turkey.
If it is a popularity contest, Erdogan has won this round.
BABRI IS FINE
But for the once largest democracy in the world—India has lost this title—the use of symbols is now a political tool.
Modi took no pain in officiating the launch of a Hindu temple on the site of the destroyed Babri Masjid.
For the Muslims of India, and Muslims outside the country, the destruction of the Babri Masjid is an unforgettable incident. For the Hindus who carried out the act, it is a holy event.
And for Modi’s government, it is fine bury the Masjid under a Temple. Is it to please the supporters of his party or to push a religious agenda?
Whatever it is, Babri is gone and since its demolition by a mob in cahoot with the authorities, democracy is not the same in India.
Babri was the start of the symbolic demolition of democracy. It will not end there in India. The world will still sit back and watch.
The Atlantic, an American lifestyle magazine, carried an oped on this disruptive trend.
In the commentary, Yasmeen Serhan says India and Turkey are turning buildings into battlegrounds for nationalists.
Serhan depicts the use of the Hagia Sophia as a Masjid in Turkey. For those who pretend they do not know what is a Masjid, its a Mosque.
The commentary also links India’s Narendra Modi’s use of the demolition of the Babri Masjid to the abuse of democracy.
What is happening in India and Turkey, she says, indicates the end of the ‘secular republic’.
SAUDI ARABIAN TWIST
There is always a twist when we speak of democracy and religion.
In Saudi Arabia, the authorities went on a demolition spree.
According to Time, the UK-based Islamic Heritage Research Foundation indicates that over 98 percent of Saudi Arabia’s historical and religious sites have been destroyed since 1985.
That was in 2014. Saudi Arabia has a history of destroying heritage sites. Erasing historical sites from the time of the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) and from the Ottoman era.
What is the political message or the religious implication for such actions by the Saudis?
It is not a democratic country and it is building modern arches and buildings, including Masjids to make a point.
The country is modernising and old buildings have to go.
It appears that under an autocratic regime, historic religious sites can be done with.
But under democratic rule, historic sites can become symbols of religious effervescence or fanaticism.
UNESCO is putting all historic sites under one rule: Preservation. But there are no laws that can punish the Indian or the Turkish government for the use of historic sites to advance a political, religious case.
Remember, though, that America and Britain punished the Taliban for the destruction of a Hindu monument in Afghanistan!