Thursday, May 2, 2013

More Uncomfortable History

Sometimes, I read more than one book at the same time. Often, really. Probably because I lack the patience to focus on a single topic long enough to go one book at a time.

A few weeks ago, I started reading Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty by Mustafa Aykol, a Muslim Turkish journalist. I'd read it before, but I wanted to reread it as an antidote to all the depressing news out of the Muslim Middle East lately.

Another book I'm reading is Preventing Genocide: Practical Steps Toward Early Detection and Effective Action, by Dr. David Hamburg.

Aykol argues that there is a long-running conflict between "rationalists" and "traditionalists" in Islam - the rationalists favoring reason and tolerance, the traditionalists seeking to subject all of human life to the tradition of Mohammad. The traditionalists, he says, have unfortunately usually been on top, but the rationalist side has broken through in some key moments in Islamic history. Moments like, say, the waning years of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.

His account of that period contains this description of the Ottoman sultan Abdulhamid II:
Sultan [Abdulhamid II] was far from being a narrow-minded reactionary. He continued modernization, making positive advances in education, legal reforms, and economic development, including the construction of railways and telegraph lines. …A pious Muslim, Abdulhamid nonetheless admired Western civilization and explicitly advised his fellow Muslims to learn from the Christians’ successful efforts to rid their faith of dogmatism and obscurantism. …Sultan Abdulhamid, a peacemaker and a reformer, also introduced “innovations” to the Islamic tradition. (pp. 158, 160)
Wow. What a great guy! Such a shame that the Ottoman Empire collapsed just forty years after he took power.

And then I start paging through Preventing Genocide. Particularly the opening chapters, which contain examples of past genocides that could have been prevented by concerted international action. Including this one:
From 1894 to 1896 the Ottoman sultan Abdul Hamid II was directly responsible for the massacre of perhaps as many as 100,000 of his Armenian subjects and indirectly responsible for an additional 100,000 deaths due to accompanying famine and disease.

Well that's awkward.

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