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Bernard Lewis’ Valediction

May 9th, 2012 - 6:01 am

We’re not going to make the world safe for democracy, or bring about the end of history, or get rid of evil. Nor are we summoning the West to a last stand against the encroaching Jihadi hordes. Islam is dying, too (not quite fast enough for our convenience). This isn’t the struggle against Communism. It’s a nasty, dirty, mopping-up operation. Done correctly, it wouldn’t be too expensive (for us, that is). The term “inglorious” comes to mind. Our epoch is a mediocre and nasty one, rather like the second half of the Thirty Years War. That’s the part no-one remembers; the really interesting participants (Richelieu, Olivares, Wallenstein) had all died and their epigonoi kept the war going until butchery became boring. People don’t like to find themselves in the sort of history that no-one will want to read about in the future. But we have to play the hand we are dealt. And it is not the hand that Prof. Lewis thought it was.

I never accepted the idea that Turkey was the model for Muslim modernization. It is questionable whether Turkey’s secular reforms should be thought of as a Muslim phenomenon to begin with: Ataturk’s reforms were physically a Western phenomenon, the result of an enormous migration into Turkey from the West. By the end of the First World War, refugees or children of refugees from the collapsed European outposts of the Ottoman Empire — along with Crimean Muslims driven out of Russia — comprised more than a quarter of the 21 million people living within the frontiers of what is now modern Turkey, in the Anatolian rump of the once vast Ottoman territories. The Turkish economist and politician Asaf Savas Akat compares the secular rule of the European “White Turks” to white rule in apartheid South Africa. Erdoğan and the AKP have taken Anatolia back from the enervated and aging secular elite. Perhaps it was inevitable, but such is the benefit of hindsight. But hindsight calls into question whether the Turkish model was a precedent or a passing anomaly.

 

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