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Emet m'Tsiyon

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Ottoman Empire as an Oppressive State for Non-Muslims

Edward Said belonged to a whole school of American apologists for Islam and the Arabs. This school goes back before WW2 and continued with Roosevelt's visit with King Ibn Saud on the Red Sea on an American warship. Once large amounts of oil were being shipped out of Arabia, which Abdul-Aziz ibn Saud had named "Saudi Arabia" after his dynasty, pro-Arab, anti-Israel policies could be justified by Washington as necessary to keep the oil flowing, a considerable part of the profits of which went to the American oil consortium ARAMCO, made up of four major US oil companies.

Did Prof William Polk have to gloss over Muslim crimes in order to keep the oil and profits flowing to American oil companies? I don't know but the Saudi royal family too was making large profits from the oil extracted by ARAMCO.

Polk was writing back in the 1950s and 1960s, when he was also for a time the director of  Middle East policy planning on the State Department's Policy Planning Council. In the late 1970s, Edward Said, a rather obscure English and comparative literature prof at Columbia U came out with the first of his books glossing over all the faults and blemishes of traditional Islamic society. Said's fairy tales were all the more persuasive because he himself came from a Middle Eastern family, albeit his family had been converted to the Anglican/Episcopal denomination of Christianity, most likely from the Greek Orthodox Church. Said's family originated in the Jerusalem area but his father had left there for America before the First World War. William Said served in the US Army in the war and gained US citizenship. He was hardly typical of the Muslim Middle Easterner, although he came back to the Middle East  after the war but he went to Cairo rather than Jerusalem. In Cairo he built up a large stationery and textbook business and became rather wealthy. Nevertheless, in the early 1950s, Nasser's pan-Arabist "socialist" regime was making life hard for all those who were not Muslim or "authentically" Egyptian (here too Muslims were favored over native Christian Copts). So William Said, a US citizen, brought his family to America where Edward took up an academic career and at some point married a Middle Eastern Christian woman from Lebanon. But she was not Anglican. Rather she was the daughter of a prominent Lebanese Quaker, a leader of a Church with a large Middle Eastern missionary establishment, which was deeply involved with the 1948 Arab refugees from Israel.

Said's books sanded down the rough spots and whitewashed the history of Muslim relations with non-Muslims, although his family were non-Muslims and had no doubt been dhimmis before the Ottoman Empire eliminated the dhimma in its full original form as Western influence over the Ottomans increased in  the late 19th century. Despite the tendentious fraud that Said's books Orientalism [1978], The Question of Palestine [1979], and Covering Islam [1981] and others represented, they made a great impact on Western intellectuals, especially on the breed called "leftists."

However, writing before the age of Said, Prof. Wayne Vucinich gave in 1965 a sketch of social conditions in the Muslim Ottoman Empire for non-Muslims that is accurate, although he softens the picture by keeping to a concise statement of the general facts, omitting the gory details. Here are quotes from Vucinich below the broken line:
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Discrimination. The Ottoman state system fostered denominational and social discrimination, for the population was grouped by religion, classes, and ranks. One alleged purpose of this division was to separate various groups from one another "as much as possible in order to prevent contact and possible conflict."[quoting S Shaw] Each individual . . . had a place in life established by his social status, and within "the bounds (hadd) of his place, he was absolute." . . .  The confessional and social compartmentalization was scarcely adopted by the Ottoman rulers out of altruistic reasons, but rather in order to make it easier for them to rule the heterogeneous populations they had conquered.

The non-Muslims were never able to mix freely in Muslim society. As subject infidels they were socially castigated and denied many of the rights enjoyed by the ruling Muslims. The government was Muslim, and the official language was Turkish. It was Islam and not the Turkish "national identity" that separated the rulers from the ruled. The Turks thought of themselves "almost exclusively as Muslims," and in this way they were no different from many of their subjects. Not until the nineteenth century did the concepts of "a Turkish nationality" and "Ottomanism" develop. But . . . not all Muslims were held equal. After the seventeenth century we note, for example,  a tendency for the "born" Muslims to blame "converted" Muslims for the empire's plight.
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[Wayne Vucinich, The Ottoman Empire: Its Record and Legacy (New York: Van Nostrand 1965), pp 63-64]

We will present more on this topic from Professor Vucinich in following posts.

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