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Squandering

Zapatero´s Alliance of Civilizations has become an expensive joke, yet the PP does not do away with it

One of Zapatero's showiest political ventures was the Alliance of Civilizations. There did exist a precedent, the Iranian Mohammad Khatami's modest Dialogue of Civilizations: in view of the distancing between Islam and other cultures, the rise of terrorism and Islamophobia, the only solution was better communication. Valid enough.

Zapatero was more ambitious and, as usual, less reasonable. He thought it possible not only to converse with Islam, but to create conditions for an alliance. He cannot have known much about Islamism, but was willing to accept guidance from his foreign minister, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, and from his academic guru. At that time, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was interested in snuggling up to the EU, and decided to play the game, at zero cost to himself. His presence in the Alliance did not even serve to obtain the reopening of a famous Orthodox Christian seminary near Istanbul. But what was this to Zapatero and Moratinos?

So, amid ceremonies and rhetoric, the Alliance was born. At some cost, it must be said. Some 30 percent of its budget in the UN was, and I believe still is, paid by Spain. The surprise has come when the PP, after lambasting the Alliance for years as a waste, came to power and now seems bent on maintaining it for reasons of international prestige, in the glorious hope of obtaining a seat on the UN Security Council.

Once the mirage of joining the EU vanished, Turkey's Islamist government started undoing the work of Atatürk

Yet in the present circumstances, with the recent involution of Turkish policy in the matter of religion, this Alliance has become a joke. Once the mirage of joining the EU vanished, the Islamist party in power has sedulously turned to undoing the work of Kemal Atatürk in the 1930s, when he turned several signal works of Byzantine architecture into museums, beginning with Hagia Sophia and the Chora Church in Istanbul. Now, under the active management of the Islamist deputy PM, Bülent Arinç, museums are being turned back into mosques one after the other, without the least debate on the vandalism inherent in covering up the frescos to satisfy the believer's abhorrence of graven images, or the architectural alteration of introducing the mihrab or qibla.

In 2011 came the turn of Hagia Sophia in Iznik (Nicaea), and now the Hagia Sophia in Trabzon (Trebizond), which was the seat of empire under the Komnenos dynasty. Arinç, who belongs to the religious wing of Erdogan's party, is rubbing his hands in pious beatitude at having wrought these "good works." Naturally, his sights are set on another Hagia Sophia, the great one in Istanbul. Hard-line religion, as we know well enough in Spain, is incompatible with culture. Meanwhile, the famous pianist Fazil Say is sentenced to 10 months in jail for tweeting a poem by Omar Khayyam, the famous one on wine and houries.

Given that we are still officially interested in inter-religious dialogue, this is why our foreign affairs minister would do well to take a hand in the matter, by pushing for the intervention of European cultural institutions to stop this insanity, instead of pontificating on the Venezuelan electoral process, however questionable that may be. In view of Spain's wealth in monuments of Muslim origin, he is in an optimal position to do so.

And let's get back to money. In the present circumstances, not a single euro ought to be spent on alliances, or on bidding for the Olympics, where, besides, we are nowhere in the running against Istanbul, as we weren't last time against Rio — yet the squandering went on until the very last moment before the deciding vote. These seem minor matters when the Spanish standard of living is plunging and young people in particular are turning their backs on democracy. Those in power ought to think about paring down every sort of squandering; while not neglecting the recovery of a certain dignity in our foreign policy, which existed until Spain's embarrassing flunkey role in the Iraq war.