Daily Archives: 15 January 2014

Irreconcilable Goals of the Young Turks

From Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Scott Anderson (Doubleday, 2013), Kindle Loc. 717-728:

By 1911, the Young Turks had begun to solidify their hold on power, and had come up with three main rallying points in hopes of keeping their fractious empire together: modernization, the defense of Islam, and a call for a rejoining of the greater Turkic-speaking world, or Turanism. All of which sounded good, except that these three planks stood in direct opposition to one another.

The very progressivism of many of the Young Turks’ social decrees may have played well with secularists and the empire’s Jewish and Christian minorities, but they simultaneously enraged huge numbers of Muslim traditionalists. Similarly, while their increasingly jingoistic Turanist rhetoric surely excited the ethnic Turk populace, it just as surely alienated the non-Turkish populations—Arabs, Slavs, Armenians, Greeks—who now constituted a majority within the empire. As for wrapping themselves in the mantle of Islam’s defenders, that might conceivably win over Turkish, Kurdish, and Arab Muslims, but it didn’t do much for everyone else—including, for that matter, the sizable minority of Arabs who were Christians. In effect, by trying to find something to appeal to every segment of their polyglot society, the Young Turks were giving all of them something to hate and fear.

For Lawrence, a young man increasingly attuned to the political and social currents swirling around him, an inescapable conclusion began to form: little by little, the Ottoman Empire was coming apart at the seams.

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Filed under Middle East, military, nationalism, religion, Turkey

Germans Fomenting Jihad in the Early 1900s

From Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Scott Anderson (Doubleday, 2013), Kindle Loc. 768-786:

The count was a man of catholic enthusiasms, and in addition to archaeology and horse racing and slave girls, there was one that Germany’s imperial rivals in the Near East found particularly irksome: Max von Oppenheim wanted to rearrange the regional political chessboard through stoking the fires of Islamic jihad.

He had begun formulating the idea shortly after taking up his consular position in Cairo. In Oppenheim’s estimation, the great Achilles’ heels of Germany’s principal European competitors—Great Britain, France, and Russia—were the Muslim populations to be found within their imperial borders, populations that deeply resented being under the thumb of Christian colonial powers. As the only major European power never to have attempted colonization in the Muslim world, Oppenheim propounded, Germany was uniquely positioned to turn this situation to its advantage—especially if it could forge an alliance with the Ottoman Empire. If it came to a Europe-wide war, Oppenheim posited in a flurry of reports to the German foreign ministry, and the Ottoman authorities in Constantinople could be persuaded to call for a holy war against the Christian occupiers of their former lands, what would happen in British-ruled Egypt, or French Tunisia, or the Russian Caucasus?

One person who was itching to find out was Kaiser Wilhelm II. Forwarded some of Oppenheim’s “war by revolution” treatises, the German emperor quickly became a committed proponent of the jihad notion. Wilhem saw to it that Oppenheim, “my feared spy,” was promoted at the Cairo embassy, assuming the somewhat ironic title of chief legal counsel.

Until the blessed day of pan-Islamic jihad came, there was plenty of work to be done in British Egypt. Through the early 1900s, Oppenheim spent much of his time—and not a little of his personal fortune—quietly wooing a broad cross section of the Egyptian elite opposed to British rule: tribal sheikhs, urban intellectuals, nationalists, and religious figures. While he had already won the kaiser to his jihadist ideas, in 1907 Oppenheim gained another adherent in the form of his new subordinate, Curt Prüfer. Enough with scholarly articles and Egyptian shadow plays; under the tutelage of his charismatic supervisor, Prüfer now saw the opportunity to spread gasoline over the region, put a match to it, and see what happened.

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Filed under Britain, Germany, Middle East, nationalism, religion, war