Erdogan: Touching the Sultan’s Garment is Still a Big Deal

In the wake his victory, Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan does something distinctly Ottoman:

As he stood before the tomb of Selim I, Erdogan gazed upon the caliph’s caftan and gently touched it. Would the garment become his, and more importantly, would he inherit the powers of the conquering Turkish caliph?

This custom, which finds application in the New Testament, has a long heritage in Turkey, as I explained two years ago:

The Ottomans put fair stock in touching or kissing this hem.  When Sultan Abdul Hamid II was enthroned in 1876, he went in procession to the Eyub Mosque (the Friday procession of the Sultan and his retinue to the mosque for prayers was one of the highlights of the week for residents of Constantinople).  Once the dervishes had girded him with the sabre–the Turks were and are a military people–the Sultan took three steps towards his Grand Vizier (prime minister) who kissed the hem of his garment in the name of the people.  This gesture was done even under duress; in 1808, when Sultan Selim III was murdered and Mahmud II ended up as Sultan, his soon to be Grand Vizier Bairactar kissed the hem of the new Sultan’s robe.  (Bairactar didn’t last long; he was murdered by the Janissaries, but ultimately they came to the same end).

The Ottoman emperor was also the Caliph, the head of the Islamic faithful. I think it’s fair to say that Erdogan has always had the caliphate in view, now he is one step closer. In addition to putting him at odds with Christian states like Russia (Western Europe has long since decamped from this status, as has the United States,) it also puts him at odds with Isis, which believes the Caliph must be an Arab.  It also puts him at odds with the Iranians, who are outside of Islam in the Sunni idea.

This mess isn’t going away any time soon…but watch: Erdogan’s next move along these lines is to unfurl the banner named Barack…

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