PROFESSOR KARSH CORRECTS BERNARD LEWIS’ STATEMENTS ON PRE-MODERN MID-EASTERN REGIMES

Efraim Karsh, head of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at King’s College London is a scholar’s scholar, and has written a number of books, many of which line the Tundra Tabloids’ own book shelf. He writes in the J’lem Post a very interesting article highlighting the often violent past of pre-Middle-Eastern regimes, the early Islamic ummah set the tone for future generations, and history bears out that nothing has changed since then. KGS

Efraim Karsh: “WESTERN SCHOLARS often hold up the Ottoman Empire as an exception to this earlier pattern. In fact, the caliphate did deal relatively gently with its vast non- Muslim subject populations – provided they acknowledged their legal and institutional inferiority in the Islamic order of things. When these groups dared to question their subordinate status – let alone attempt to break the Ottoman yoke – they were viciously put down.”

A legacy of violence

J’Post: Turbulent times often breed nostalgia for a supposedly idyllic past. Viewing the upheavals sweeping the Middle East as a mass expression of outrage against oppression, eminent historian Bernard Lewis fondly recalled past regional order.

“The sort of authoritarian, even dictatorial regimes that rule most of the countries in the modern Islamic Middle East are a modern creation. They are a result of modernization,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “The pre-modern regimes were much more open, much more tolerant. You can see this from a number of contemporary descriptions. And the memory of that is still living.”

I doubt past generations of Muslims would share this view. In the long history of the Islamic empire, the wide gap between delusions of grandeur and the forces of localism would be bridged time and again by force of arms, making violence a key element of Islamic political culture. No sooner had the prophet Muhammad died than his successor, Abu Bakr, had to suppress a widespread revolt among the Arabian tribes. Twenty-three years later, the head of the umma, Caliph Uthman ibn Affan, was murdered by disgruntled rebels; his successor, Ali ibn Abi Talib, was confronted for most of his reign with armed insurrections, most notably by the governor of Syria, Mu’awiya ibn Abi Sufian, who went on to establish the Umayyad dynasty after Ali’s assassination.

Mu’awiya’s successors managed to hang onto power mainly by relying on physical force to prevent or quell revolts in the diverse corners of their empire. The same was true for the Abbasids during the long centuries of their sovereignty.

WESTERN SCHOLARS often hold up the Ottoman Empire as an exception to this earlier pattern. In fact, the caliphate did deal relatively gently with its vast non- Muslim subject populations – provided they acknowledged their legal and institutional inferiority in the Islamic order of things. When these groups dared to question their subordinate status – let alone attempt to break the Ottoman yoke – they were viciously put down.

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