The End of the Cosmopolitan Ottomans

The End of the Cosmopolitan Ottomans:

Via Arts & Letters Daily, which is indeed a daily read of mine for several years now, a story about the good old days in Istanbul. The lesson is meant to be much wider than Turkey, however.

Sectarian violence, ethnic conflict, religious politics, are all prominent features of the current situation in many Middle Eastern countries. Thriving Jewish communities came to an end in every country after the inauguration of the state of Israel and the subsequent wars. Christian communities, integral to the population and society of many countries, and prominent participants in the politics of Arab and regional nationalism, are now increasingly under pressure....

A common theme in public discourse, in both the region and the West, is that these patterns of conflict have deep historical roots in the ‘mosaic society’ of the region, conflicts being only suppressed by imperial impositions, whether of the Ottomans or the British, and subsequently by violent dictatorships such as that of the Ba`th regimes. When these are removed, as in the case of Iraq, then the deep-seated schisms are given a free reign and manifested in conflict and violence. The opposite reaction comes from more liberal quarters of Middle Eastern as well as some Western commentators, who point to past periods of co-existence and harmony, as well as the lowering or even the erasure of communal barriers under the impact of modernity. Many Iraqis, for instance, appear bewildered at the sharpening of Sunni-Shi`i conflict, and protest that in their days nobody knew or cared who was Sunni or Shi`i in their circles, and point to the many inter-marriages. The current conflicts, then are explained in terms of imperialist manipulation...
Who's right? Both parties, the author says: but they are descendants of two different parts of society, one of which won, and one of which lost. The cosmopolitans lost.

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