Uriel Heyd on Turkey’s Re-Islamization, Circa 1968: Over Four Decades Ahead of Today’s Vacuous “Analysts”
Professor Uriel Heyd (d. 1968) described Turkey’s tenuous secularization and aggressive re-Islamization fully 42 years before todays “learned analysts” have finally come to the same pathetically belated realization…
Since the recent Mavi Marmara flotilla affair—facilitated, and perhaps even orchestrated by the Turkish government—we have been inundated with excruciatingly belated, if not downright delinquent hand-wringing assessments by so-called “expert analysts” of Turkey. These “experts” lament what they view as Turkey’s “precipitous” return to Islamic fundamentalism under the current Erdogan-led AKP regime—as if this dangerous phenomenon emerged suddenly and fully formed from the head of Zeus al-Zawahiri.
A sobering, highly informed corrective to this cacophony of ill-informed Johnny and Janey-Come –Lately “learned analyst” voices was provided by the Israeli scholar of Ottoman and Republican Turkey, Professor Uriel Heyd (1913-1968)—just over forty-two years ago!
First, a brief biography of Heyd, derived from Professor Gabriel Baer’s opening tribute and Preface (pp. 5-6) to Heyd’s “Revival of Islam in Modern Turkey,” The Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1968, pp. 5-27, and Professor Aharon Layish’s, “Uriel Heyd’s Contribution to the Study of the Legal, Religious, Cultural, and Political History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey,” Bulletin of the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1982, pp. 35-54.
Born Uriel Heydt on July 26, 1913, in Cologne, Germany, Heyd learned Hebrew in secondary school, and subsequently Arabic, Turkish, and Persian. He also studied law and economics, before ultimately focusing on oriental studies. Immigrating to Palestine in 1934, Heyd studied Islamic culture, Arabic language and literature, as well as the history of Palestine at Hebrew University under the tutelage of Professors G. Weil, L.A. Meyer, and the great scholar of Muslim-Jewish relations, S.D. Goitein. Upon graduation, Heyd continued his studies by learning Turkish in Istanbul (1939/40), subsequently joining the Middle East Department of the Jewish Agency for Palestine in 1943. Transferred to the Agency’s London office, Heyd completed a seminal analysis of the influential Turkish nationalist Ziya Gokalp (which was accepted as a PhD thesis by Hebrew University), while also studying Old and Middle Persian, Old Turkish, and Urdu at The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in the University of London. At SOAS, in addition, Heyd researched Ottoman diplomatic institutions and history under the renowned Ottomanist Professor Paul Wittek. Before joining the Hebrew University faculty in 1951, Heyd, between 1948 and 1950 served as a diplomat at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC, and the Israeli Legation in Akara, Turkey. At Hebrew University, Heyd ascended rapidly within the Department of the History of the Muslim Countries, which he would direct for some years, becoming the Eliyahu Elath Chair of the History of the Muslim Peoples in 1968, shortly before his sudden death May 13, 1968.
Heyd’s scholarly pursuits were broad, encompassing Ottoman history (including diplomatic history) and legal institutions, the mid-19th century Tanzimat reforms of the Ottoman Empire, and more generally, how Islamic religious and cultural institutions reacted to the processes of Westernization and secularization, particularly within the late Ottoman Empire, and modern Republican Turkey.
Abba Eban provided this assessment of Heyd’s contributions as both a scholar and diplomat during a eulogy delivered 30 days after Heyd’s death:
“To him [Heyd], Oriental Studies were not just an academic pursuit like any other. He regarded them as one of the conditions of integration in the region…He believed that we must understand the way the present is rooted in the past and the modes of thinking and expression of the peoples with our historical and geographical fate has perforce destined us to live in coexistence and proximity…”
But Heyd’s own candid words, from the remarkably foresighted 1968 lecture excerpted at length, below, reveal another quality almost entirely absent from our present era’s infinitely less substantial “academic experts” on Islam: self-critical humility, and the ability to express mea culpa. Taking his own measure, Heyd confessed—in 1968,
“Until a few years ago many foreign observers, including, I admit, myself, were inclined to think that this development [Turkey’s re-Islamization] was no more than a renewed expression of sentiments which for a long time could not be freely manifested and that the overall process of secularization was going on very slowly but irresistibly. Today I doubt whether this view is still tenable.”