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Saturday, July 16, 2005


One of the things that really irritates me is, when in discussions about Islamic history, you get people pointing to the diversity of the Ottoman Empire and its relative tolerance towards religious minorities, and then smugly contrasting it to the rampant religious bigotry of Christian Europe in the same period. You know the type: "ah, the Ottoman Empire was religiously and ethnically diverse when everyone in Europe was hacking each other to pieces over whether or not they were Catholic or Protestant (and when they weren't doing that they were hacking up the Jews)" like SHAZAM! argument over.

The Ottoman Empire ended in an absolute bloodbath, with the Armenians (and the Assyrians) getting butchered by the hundreds of thousands (or millions, depending on which estimates you use), and the Greeks kicked out of Anatolia (where they'd been living for thousands of years before the Turks arrived). Pretty soon after that the overwhelming majority of the Jewish community high-tailed it off to Israel and Anatolia was left quite homogenously Muslim.

Yes, indeed, for some time the Ottoman Empire was, at least in comparison to Christian Europe, quite religiously and ethnically tolerant. But if the end result turns out to be as bad as the end of the Ottoman Empire was, how is that horror redeemed by the (reasonable) good of before?

From the nineteenth century through the early twentieth century there was probably no place better to be a Jew in Europe than Germany. German Jews were, of all the different Jewish communities of Europe in this period, perhaps the best integrated into national life. Jews were German philosophers, scientists, merchants, generals, politicians, doctors, soldiers, peddlers, socialites, beggars, athletes, and so on. Jews were part of the fabric of German life. You know what happened next.

No one would think to use the prosperity and integration of German Jews as a counterpoint to the Holocaust. No one would say "well, ok, they did get gassed in the end, but twenty years before that you shoulda seen how many Jewish dentists and department store owners there were in Berlin!" Yet people will say that what happened in the end to the Christian communities of the Ottoman Empire was unfortunate, but, hey, a hundred years before that the Turks were great to their minorities, at least compared to those bigoted Christian oafs in Europe. Why?

Bad historical revisionism irritates me.

|| RPH || 4:30 PM || |