On July 24, 2020 the Turkish government opened Hagia Sophia in Istanbul to prayer for the first time in 86 years, reverting the building’s status from museum back to mosque. Blessing and Yaycıoğlu explain the politics behind this decision and explore the ramifications for Hagia Sophia and other monuments with similarly rich and multilayered histories.
For the past 25 years, every evening around sunset, an elderly man could be seen gingerly crossing the Boulevard Pasteur, Tangier’s busy main thoroughfare. Shuffling toward the Grand Poste, he would walk slowly down the pavement to Café Maravillosa. Regulars would stand up to shake his hand. “Marhba, Si Juan.” Waiters would greet him, “Ja’izat Nobel dyalna, our own Nobel laureate,” and set him up at a table with a pot of green tea. For the next two hours, a steady rotation of old acquaintances, students and tourists would stop by to chat or take a photo. Before his death on June 4, 2017, Juan Goytisolo, the acclaimed Spanish novelist, was the last of his breed, the lone survivor of the American and European writers who settled in Tangier in the post-war years, constructing the myth of the northern Moroccan port as a literary and epicurean capital.
Nearly every day, off the Mediterranean coast of Spain, wealthy windsurfers unfold their multicolored sails and plunge into the waters. As often as the wind invites acrobatic risk taking on the crest of the waves, it turns the Straits into a graveyard for hundreds of Moroccan migrants. More than 200 drowned from January to October 1992 alone. Their journeys occur under conditions of extraordinary risk and with minimal chances of success. Many are captured the moment they set foot on Spanish soil, or even while still at sea. During the first ten months of 1992, 2,000 undocumented immigrants were detained on the coasts of Cadiz. In 1991, 2,500 were captured in Andalusia alone.  This risk they evidently prefer to the desperate poverty that motivated their flight.
One of the events planned for 1992 is to “marry” the Statue of Liberty in New York to the statue of Christopher Columbus in Barcelona. Although they do share a similar aesthetic kitsch style, it will be a difficult union. Consider only the 300-year span between the ages of the groom and the bride, aside from all the ideological baggage that each one of them carries.
In southern Spain’s province of Andalusia 1992 is a year of controversy, not because it is the five hundredth anniversary of Columbus’ voyage, but because it commemorates the conquest of the Moorish kingdom of Granada by “foreign invaders from the North.” In other parts of Spain, and even more so in other parts of Europe and America, 1492 is also remembered as the year Spain’s Jews were expelled from that land. In Andalusia, people know it as part of a time when large numbers of Muslims were made to leave the country.
Many European countries claim a special relationship with the Arab world. The English see themselves as having some unique affinity for Arabs, because of their colonial role in developing Egypt and the Anglo-Bedouin fraternizations of Arabia. The French vaunt their cultural impact upon the Maghreb, Lebanon and Syria. The Italians point to bonds of Mediterranean communality, the Germans stress their lack of colonial involvement, the Greeks evoke their role as the yefira, the bridge, between Europe and the Arabs. Even the Irish have their version of this vocation, based on a history of anti-colonial struggle. The Spanish are no exception.