How Erdoğan, Moss Nightclub, & Nicki Minaj Remade Turkey’s Islam Into Pure Aesthetic

A rotating catalogue of Nicki Minaj hits referencing Islam thunders over the Bosporus and mosques built by Erdoğan; “ride with Minaj, mm-Mashallah,” “this is a blessing mashallah wallahi.” Only several minutes prior, Istanbul had fallen silent as the evening’s prayer in Arabic rang over speakers installed throughout the city. The prayer’s conclusion brings the creatures of Moss nightclub permission to reengage with American rappers: Towering above Istanbul up cobblestone streets, waiters in leather vests light sparklers in the club’s rooftop lounge overlooking Suleymaniye Mosque. Guests smile and reach for their iPhones, uploading the same video to their Instagram feeds taken from slightly different angles.

The very conditions creating the environment (capital and Western cultural exports) prove Islam exists only as a representation of its former self: Men in a back room gamble, men pursue sex, men wear shorts. Only the memory of Islam remains, and is controlled by Nicki Minaj subverting its entire essence into a catchphrase, the same way Moss has appropriated it for wealthy tourists wanting something they trick themselves into believing is an authentic experience.

Built in the 1550s, Suleymaniye Mosque functions mainly as a backdrop to the spectacle playing out at a nightclub conceptualized by venture capitalists only five years ago. Hundreds of years of religious conquest, of ethnic conflict and the creation and dissolution of the vast Ottoman Empire, reduced to an appearance for consumption; reduced to visual crack by algorithms. Although Christianity spun off into secular art, sparking the Renaissance, the later Ottoman Empire’s self-protective nature (once any Empire stops growing, arts and ideological development are the first to stagnate) insulated its religious thinking from maturing into secular philosophy. In Turkey, abundance and excess wealth never led to decorative production. Instead, Turkey’s commercialization of Islamic motifs created caricatures from Islamic art, Muslim people, and Middle East culture, turning the country into a Muslim Disneyland sold at a premium price to both the East and West.

Moss’ architects are followers of a standard set by Erdoğan understanding Islam exclusively through its iconography. As the nationalist backlashes toward globalization upended the liberal international order (Trump, Orban, Bolsanaro), Erdoğan completed his takeover of cultural landmarks, remaking Taksim square; erecting mosque after mosque like Çamlıca Cami; now the largest place of worship in Turkey. Like other rulers, he claimed the iconic Hagia Sophia as a mosque, issuing his own decree over history and a conflict lasting thousands of years between Christianity and Islam. But these nationalistic vanity projects were built at exorbitant costs and with the collaboration of foreign companies. Erdoğan’s entire fantasy of Islam would not be possible without selling his country to foreign currency and Western capital, devaluing the Lira even while promoting anti-Western education systems.

When Hagia Sofia is filled with hordes of visitors all capturing some element of remade history from smartphones, when the Blue Mosque undergoes another generation of renovation, when praying Muslims are a form of content sold by corporations rewiring our behavioral patterns, then can we really say Islam is anything other than an aesthetic; a product recreated by global capitalism? Despite Erdogan’s push to inspire a religious base, to bring back tradition as a pretext for maintaining power and his own legitimacy as an agent of history, he merely dragged Islam into a slaughter by markets.

A nightclub overlooking remnants of the Ottoman Empire; a wonder of the world converted into simulacra via phones. Istanbul is hardly alone. A year after Israeli police converted a Palestinian mosque into a nightclub, Arab countries including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed a peace treaty with Israel, united finally against the only regional power clinging to an antiquated version of Islam rejecting Western capital; the number two in command of whom was assassinated by a former reality television star via drone strike in a Baghdad airport built under the U.S. Empire. Entering new markets, winning; these are the natural evolution of Islam. Religion’s destiny is annihilation by raw social Darwinism and replaced by a copy of a copy of a copy; the ultimate triumph of capital; the replacement of one religion with another.