Just as it is told that Russian president Vladimir Putin secretly fashions himself after the czars like Peter the Great of Ivan the Terrible, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan sees in the mirror the caliph of the Ottoman empire.
Which is why when he ordered the majestic Hagia Sophia church to be reconverted into a mosque, it was intended to reset history to 29 May, 1453, when Constantinople (modern Istanbul) fell to marauding Ottoman forces of Sultan Mehmet II.
The Sultan duly allowed his forces to plunder and pillage the beautiful city for three full days, during which Hagia Sophia, with its many hidden treasures, became the main site of the looting. Soon after, it was converted into a mosque by adding a wooden minaret, a chandelier and a pulpit.
The church stayed buried in history till Turkey's modern father Kemal AtatÃ¼rk turned it into a secular museum in 1935.
Not that the original Hagia Sophia church was built in the innocent wilderness. It was built where a pagan temple existed in 325 CE by Constantine I, an emperor who freshly converted to Christianity and was eager to flash his faith with stone. Just a year after building the grand church, the pious Constantine boiled his wife Fausta to death in a bath for adultery with her stepson.
We are digressing.
Erdogan's move to open Hagia Sophia for prayers is in line with his continued Islamisation of Turkey including lifting a ban of headscarves and promoting religious imam-hatip schools. His ambition to portray himself as the neo-Ottoman caliph has manifested in his willingness to head ragtag little Islamic coalitions with fawning nations like Pakistan and Malaysia.
So, while his regime kills hundreds of rivals at home and abroad, jails the most number of journalists in the world for three straight years and converts a showpiece church into a mosque, Erdogan flogs irony by unleashing against India an Islamist campaign over the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and bringing the Citizenship Amendment Act. In contrast to Turkey's bigoted excesses, India's first move was to integrate Kashmir more firmly and end discrimination against women, homosexuals, migrant labourers and backward castes, while the second move was to fast-track citizenship for severely persecuted minorities from neighbouring Muslim nations.
Under Erdogan, Turkey has become the new hub of anti-India and anti-Hindu campaigns, with a number of young Kashmiri separatists and extremists finding shelter there. Turkey's official broadcaster TRT is now an overflowing sink of Islamist propaganda against India.
After the Delhi riots, Erdogan spoke about the "massacre of Muslims", without mentioning tens of Hindus killed in the violence, their shops, homes and schools set on fire.
He wants to be seen as the messiah of Muslims on every issue, from Palestine to Rohingyas to Uighurs. His audience is non-Arab Muslim audiences from Iran to Pakistan to India to Malaysia, because Arabs don't care about the self-appointed caliph.
Erdogan's purported support to Islamic State has lost him friends both the West and the Arab world. His cavalier interference in democracies like India while running an Islamist dictatorship at home further exposes him. The Turkish economy is projected to shrink at nearly 4% this year. Unemployment is headed for 17 percent and the currency is rolling in the dust. The US deeply distrusts it, Europe holds its nose while talking to it.
Today's Turkey is a far cry from the mighty Ottoman Empire, and its wannabe caliph is a deluded man adding to himself an imaginary flowing beard and nothing more. He should get his own sandcastle in order before throwing rocks at solidly built democracies.