Are Islam and Democracy Incompatible? Some Reflections from Ottoman History

News Abroad




Mr. Furnish, Ph.D (Islamic History), is Assistant Professor, History, Georgia Perimeter College, Dunwoody, GA 30338. Mr. Furnish is the author of Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, their Jihads and Osama bin Laden (Praeger, 2005).

As the American occupation of Iraq has entered its fourth frustrating year, some conservative commentators have joined the Bush Administration’s detractors on the left and given in to despair about ever incubating democracy in a majority-Muslim country. In this view “our failure to establish liberty and justice for all in Iraq—namely, freedom of conscience and freedom before the law—is dueto the nature of Islamic culture, not to the efficacy of American efforts”1 [emphasis added]. A related assertion of even longer pedigree is that Israel is the only state in the region with a history of democratic practices.2 But are these two pessimistic views true?

No. The second is easy to refute. Perhaps because of the commonly-held, but erroneous, view that the Arab world is synonymous with the Middle East and/or the Islamic world, commentators quite often forget that Turkey, a majority-Muslim nation of almost 70 million people, is a democracy. And perhaps because of the almost total focus on recent history as context, to the exclusion of events from even as recent (at least to historians) as the 19th century, those few analysts who do examine Turkey almost never delve into the latter days of its predecessor state, the Ottoman Empire. Very few, then, know that the Ottoman Empire in its later years set up a number of democratic institutions, including a Constitution and a Parliament, “an event as momentous in Ottoman history as was the Declaration of Independence in that of America.”3 And the Ottoman Constitution and Parliament arguably demonstrate that Islam and democracy are not incompatible and that an Islamic state—even one with officially-sanctioned Islamic law—can coexist with democracy.

The Ottoman Sultan, contrary to contemporary and modern conventional wisdom, while an absolute monarch in theory was not one in practice; he and his Grand Vizier had always shared power with the advisory council or virtual cabinet known as the Divan-ı Hümayun (although the Sultan did have veto power over its decisions and edicts).4 There were a number of other advisory and decision-making bodies that met from time to time in Ottoman history,5 the most important of which was probably the Meclis-i Meşveret. This body, for example, evolved from occasionally convening to being responsible for ratifying the reforms of Mahmud II in the early 19 th century.6 But none of these was yet a parliament, much less a constitutional one.

As the 19th century progressed the Ottoman Empire enacted a series of more serious political reforms aimed at redressing the growing imbalance of power between it and European states, after finally realizing that the military modernizations of previous years were necessary but not sufficient to save the Empire. The first of these reforms was the Hatt-ı Hümayun of Gülhane, in 1839, “a semi-constitutional charter that promised security of person and property to all Ottoman subjects.”7 This kicked off the famous Tanzimat (technically, Tanzimat Fermanı) era in which “legislative power in the Ottoman empire was delegated to a semi-constitutional advisory committee….[and] the first steps were taken towards the separation of the legislative, executive and judiciary powers, and the transition towards a modern parliamentary system.”8 In the mid-19 th century the main councils were the Meclis-i Hass-ı Umumi and Meclis-i Vala. These consisted not of elected members, but rather of Muslim officials such as the Grand Vezir, the Şayh ül-Islam (chief Muslim religious authority of the Empire), top military brass, etc.,9 as well as non-Muslim Ottoman dignitaries such as patriarchs of various Christian bodies and the Empire’s chief rabbi.10 These were not simply echo chambers for the sultans, either: “lively debate could ensue, particularly when the issue at stake meant the choice between peace on unfavourable terms and war with almost certain prospect of defeat.”11

In 1856 the Islahat Fermanı, “aimed at…increasing the role of non-Muslim subjects in the state administration”12 was made law. Admittedly, pressure from European powers had probably as much to do with this as did the growing idea that Ottoman nationalism should trump religious (especially Muslim) identification. Nonetheless, in 1868 Sultan Abdülaziz formally promulgated, for the first time in Ottoman history going back over four centuries, a concept of the separation of powers.13 Eventually all of these trends—Ottoman desperation, European demands, Young Ottoman nationalism, elite demands for limited sultanate and some degree of democracy—coalesced into the constitutional movement of the 1870s.

In 1875-76 the push for an Ottoman constitution was led by Midhat Paşa, the reform-minded former Grand Vizier. In meetings discussing the matter, “objections…raised by several ulema14 about the grant of equality to non-Muslims were quickly silenced by Midhat, who…drew freely on the Koran [sic] to prove that his proposals were entirely in accord with the holy law.”15 Just what Qur’anic surahs Midhat appealed to are not known, but they almost certainly would have included the usual proof text for Islamic democracy, al-Shûrâ [42]:38: “Better and more enduring is God’s reward to those who…conduct their affairs by mutual consent.”16 When some Islamic officials persisted in opposition, support from others—including, notably, Şeyfuddin Effendi of Rumelia—won the day. A constitutional convention was formed and began drafting a document, including creation of a two-chambered Parliament (Meclis-i Umum) consisting of a 120-man Chamber of Deputies (Meclis-i Mub`usan) and a 30-man Senate (Meclis-i Ayan). As the convention progressed, the major objections raised were not to the parliament or equality under law for all Ottomans, but rather to freedom of the press.18 But these were overcome and the Parliament convened on March 19, 1877. Its members had not been elected but rather chosen, between December 1976 and the convening of Parliament, by members of councils in the various administrative districts of the Ottoman Empire.19 The plan was to have popular elections for the next round of Parliament, but since this was convened by the Sultan in December, 1877, there was not time and Deputies were again chosen by a relative handful of electors in each district. Interestingly enough, Christians were better represented in the Chamber than Muslims (1:107,000 males/district for the former, as opposed to 1:133,000 for Muslims). And Baghdad was the most under-represented district, with two Arab Christians and one Jew “elected,” amounting to only one deputy for every 500,000 males.20 Overall, however, ethnic Turks were actually outnumbered in the Chamber by Arabs, Kurds and other minorities,21 demonstrating that the Ottoman democrats were serious about the rights of non-Muslims in the Empire.

Sultan Abdülhamid II was not as serious, however—neither about the “rights” of anyone in his empire, nor about a constitution and parliament at all. He tolerated the first session in spring 1877, even when its members moved from their primary purpose of supervising the government to actually trying to pass legislation. However, the only lasting legislation to emerge was the Electoral Law which made the Ottoman sancak the primary electoral district and mandated one deputy/50,000 males, as well as the requirement that voters would be at least 25 years old, not foreign nationals and of good character. This law was still on the books and resurrected for the 1908 reconvening of Parliament.22 For after the second session of Parliament, in February 1878, Abdülhamid II suspended the body for three decades, mainly because members’ temerity in actually criticizing him and his militarily incompetent government fed the Sultan’s fear of deposition. (The appointed, unelected Senate technically continued in existence and when it, too, was resurrected in 1908 three members were still actually still living.23) But constitutionalism lived on in the Young Ottoman movement and in 1908 their opposition to the Sultan resulted in his deposition and the restoration of the 1876 Constitution.24

Eventually, the idea of Islamic democracy in the Ottoman Empire was superseded by the creation of a Western-style system totally separating mosque and state in the Turkish Republic. But the Ottoman “experiment might have succeeded had one vital factor been present: sympathy for constitutional government”25 by the Sultan. And it was not any Islamic rationale that Abdülhamid used to suppress Parliament; rather, he simply acted on his own paranoia and predilection for absolute power. Had a more reform-minded sultan been ruling in Istanbul, things might have been much different. Such a leader could have joined forces with the Muslims in the Chamber of Deputies, including ulema, who treated the Christian and even Jewish MPs as fellow Ottomans and equals.26 Note, especially, that this happened even while Islam was retained as the official religion of the Empire. The Ottomans caught no end of hell from Europeans for this, despite the hypocrisy on the part of, in particular, the British—who managed to run a democratic monarchy with Anglican Christianity as the official religion!

What lessons does the ephemeral Ottoman run of democracy hold for us today? First, it gives the lie to the idea that democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan are doomed simply because both nations have incorporated aspects of shari`ah into their constitutions and governments. Even before the 19 th century reforms, the shari`ah-supporting Ottoman state was anything but intolerant and fundamentalist (in fact, the Ottomans had had to suppress true Islamic fundamentalist, such as the Wahhabis in Arabia). A constitutional Ottoman monarchy would have been even less prone to Muslim fanaticism, and modern Iraq and Afghanistan are arguably in a similar position. Second, democracy does not need to be “exported” to the Muslim Middle East, because Ottoman history proves that some degree of rulers consulting with the ruled, and indeed of constitutional democracy, is compatible with Islam. Indeed, this is all the more true in Iraq, which was a province of the Empire and elected members to the Ottoman parliament. We simply need to help Muslims in the Middle East—especially those who lived under Ottoman rule—of that fact. And finally, Usama bin Ladin, Ayman al-Zawahiri and the car-bombing terrorists in Baghdad, as well as the Taliban, are wrong to oppose democracy—for it is compatible with Islam—just not their version of the faith.

1 Diana West, Jewish World Review, June 12, 2006, www.jewishworldreview.com/0606/west061206. For similar views see Amir Taheri, “Islam is Incompatible with Democracy,” Iran Press Service, http://www.iran-press-service.com/ips/articles-2004/may/amir_taheri_21504.shtml and Robert Spencer, “On a Collision Course: Democracy and Islam,” Human Events Online, http://www.humaneventsonline.com/article.php?id=2494.

2 See, for example, Lorne Craner, “Will U.S. Democratization Policy Really Work? Democracy in the Middle East,” Middle East Quarterly. Summer 2006, www.meforum.org/article/942

3 Robert Devereux, The First Ottoman Constitutional Period. A Study of the Midhat Constitution and Parliament (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1963)

4 See Mehmet V. Şeyitdanlioğlu, “From the Divan-ı Hümayun (Imperial Council) to the Meclis-i Mebusan (House of Deputies). Legislation in the Ottoman Empire,” in The Great Ottoman-Turkish Civilization 3. Philosophy, Science and Institutions ( Ankara: Yeni Tukiye, 2000), pp.498-505.

5 For details on these, see Şeyitdanlioğlu, pp. 500ff.

6Ibid., p. 500-01

7 Şerif Mardin, “Young Ottomans,” The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World

8 Şeyitdanioğlu, p. 501

9 See Carter V. Findley, “Madjlis al-Shura,” Encyclopedia of Islam, New Edition

10 Şeyitdanioğlu, p. 502

11 Findley

12 Şeyitdanioğlu, p.503

13 Şeyitdanioğlu, p. 502

14 Muslim religious officials

15 Devereux, p. 38

16 The operative Arabic term Å y ½ ƒ (shûrâ) holds a meaning of “counsel, consultation, consent.”

17 Devereux, p. 39.

18Ibid., pp. 51ff.

19Ibid., pp. 124ff.

20Ibid., appendices.

21Ibid., pp. 144-45

22Ibid., pp. 201-02.

23Ibid., p. 233.

24 For a brief outline see Feroz Ahmad, “Young Turks,” The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World

25 Devereux, p. 253

26Ibid., p. 225




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omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

"The process of elimination has irrefutably declared democracy the best model of governance for the people at this point in history."..."among those systems experienced and tested in the WEST in modern times." would have been a much more accurate statement!
Other global systems were either driven into collapse and failure by all out war waged against them by Western Imperialism, as for variations on Marksism and communism, or fiercely opposed in collusion with local reactionary forces, Arab Nationalist Socialism (Nasser and the Baath) or are being snuffed at birth, by the same coalition , as now with Islamism .
The main point is :Western Liberal Democracy is the specific product of a specific historical development in a specific culture that proved to be acceptable to the societies in which it developed after long experimentation with other systems and with many variations on it .

However that does not make it the OPTIMUM system for every body else any where and/or any time.
(How long it will hold with the influx of "foreign" influences is another question.)
Human Societies should be allowed, forget about encouraged, to develop their own system of governance that responds to their needs and values and reflects best their collective cultural conscious and heritage.
US led Western Imperialism, the present day champion of DEMOCRACY, has unfailingly striven to hamper, up to overt and covert total war, such a development.
To cite the American model as an example of success is, to many observers in many societies, self defeating because of the patently undeniable tremendous influence of BIG MONEY, i.e. Corporate America, in forming, guiding and controlling it and its output!
There is no universal "medication" when it comes to the question of governance; even antibiotics, which deal with substantially the same physiology all over the world, proved to be a more efficient "cure" in some societies than in others!
As to the Turkish model it is much too early to predict which way it will ultimately head.


omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

"....and hundreds of thousands of non-Israeli (Palestinian)Arabs try to gain residency in the supposedly hated, racist Zionist entity." ; if that is the only available means for them to return to their own homeland, for now, that is perfectly OK!
To return to one's homeland, even under the yoke of the racist Zionist rule is a move in the right direction!


omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

"caliph" from which Caliphate is derived means "successor" to the Prophet.
Succession to the Prophet is NOT a hereditary system.
Historically the first four "successors" to the Prophet were "elected" by, as modern terms would describe it, "acclamation" of the Elders .
Had it ever been, in essence, a "hereditary" system Ali bin Abi Taleb would have been the Prophet's most eligible successor, being his closest kin !
Ali was fourth in succession, after Abu Baker, Omar ibn Al Khatab and Othman ibn Afan and was similarly "elected" as his predecessors.
That he did not succeed the Prophet immediately was the first major difference that led to the schism between Sunni and Shiite!


omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

You can go Kobashaving to your heart's content with lies, fabrications and wishfull thinking as usual!


omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

"Historically the first four "successors" to the Prophet were "elected" by, as modern terms would describe it, "acclamation" of the Elders .
Had it ever been, in essence, a "hereditary" system Ali bin Abi Taleb would have been the Prophet's most eligible successor, being his closest kin !"

Failure to read or comprehend what is written down is no excuse for inane remarks but is, unfortunately, a good one for more of the same dribble ie Kobashaving!


omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

The title question of this post "Are Islam and Democracy Incompatible?" falls in the now often repeated culturally biased presupposition that Democracy, as perceived and practiced in the West, is necessarily the optimum mode of governance for ALL NATIONS, ALL CULTURES ANY TIME & ANY WHERE!
This presupposition reflects western cultural bias (what is good for us is NECESSARILY good for you) and an implicit superiority complex!
It fails to note that the ultimate, sought after goal is the mode of governance that ensures optimum utilization of national/cultural resources to achieve what is deemed to be, by the majority of the nation, as the overriding objective AT A CERTAIN TIME and in A SPECIFIC PLACE.
To pretend that there is a universal, timeless one and only answer does not only negate history and cultural predispositions but equally assumes that the WESTERN way is the only way and that other nations/cultures are incapable of:
1-Deciding what is best for them!
2-Developing their own, possibly different and probably better, mode of governance!
With a minimum of good will towards others the question would be:

"How BEST not to obstruct the search of a nation/culture for its optimum mode of governance as decided by that nation/culture itself?”

It is not a coincidence that Israel is always, correctly, referred to as the only (Western Style) DEMOCRACY, for its Jewish inhabitants, in the Arab/Moslem, geographical, World.
Israel being an alien implant, the output from and the alter ego of Western Judeo/Christian imperialism in the region has readily carried that concept into the lands it has conquered and its "colon" population has smoothly adapted to it being the outcome of their own regionally alien culture.


andy mahan - 9/18/2006

The process of elimination has irrefutably declared democracy the best model of governance for the people at this point in history. America is only one example, and an extremely strong one.

Mr. Furnish's article is comprehensive, clear headed and chock full o great information.

The people of the Middle-East have chosen “paternalism” in favor of state or Arab nationalism. They have done so, so that the smaller power groups can retain their power. The result has been a decentralization of government. Because of this fact some claim that democracy’s centralized government and Islam are not compatible. Nonetheless, America has already proven that religion and democracy are compatible when Christianity and Democracy were merged and this great nation resulted.

My guess is that Afghanistan and Iraq might require a more socialistic leaning democracy than America, sort of the Scandinavian model.


Sukan Gurkaynak - 7/5/2006

Turkish voters expect prosperity from the politicians they elect. This they can have by economic growth, fed by western credits and markets. This encourages policies, which the West can integrate into its system. A similiar Arab policy would start by using the oil money which today is flowing into western economies for investments and consumption in the Arab world, turning the 250 million Arabs to a super power. I don't think this is going to happen.


Peter Kovachev - 7/4/2006

Forgive me for rorgetting: Happy 4th of July! I guess now is not a good time to offer you guys terms of surrender and a re-incorporation into the Empire? You'll have to make do with us Canadians as your benevolent leaders, guided by our Haitian Governor General who once liked to party with ex-FLQ terorists. But just think of the free medicare and all the great fishing up North.

Anyhow, it's not due to accident or disinterest that I've avoided the central argument, or question, in your paper. Likewise, it's also not an accident that I've been hanging around here, waiting for who-knows-what. You raise core issues on which I haven't consolidated my fragmented and at times contradictory positions, and as my last post to Mr. Gurkaynak hints, I'm not even sure such a thing is possible or even advisable. I think the best I can do is to answer you with a lot of "on-one-hand-and-on-the-other-hand" waffling.

So, then, on one hand there is the perspective which views Islam as a unique historical phenomenon specifically geared to an aggressive struggle for domination against all other systems. Absolutism and authoritarianism in Islam are not incidental, but have been "written" into the "DNA" of the system. As such, any break in that struggle is not the result of internal changes or growth, but a temporary set-back caused by weakness, decadence, economic opportunities or external pressures. The history of Islam's remarkable expansion through a successions of jihads against civilizations and cultures of Asia, Africa and Europe certainly supports such a perspective. One of the down-sides of a Euro-centric view of the world and its history is that it's easy to miss how close Europe came to becoming yet another caliphate among many. It was through sheer luck and geography, and not a unified response or military genius that Islam's march was halted or reversed in the Iberian peninsula, the Russian plains, the walls of Vienna, the Balkans, China, Israel or sub-Saharan Africa. Viewed this way, the brief period from the early part of 20th century which saw the defeat of the Ottoman Empire and our own day, in which Islam is again resurgent thanks to the petrodollar, was but a brief hiatus in what will probably be a long and bitter struggle with an unpredictable outcome. In this scenario Islam will never adopt liberal democracy because a) liberal democracies are not neutral or universal systems, but a variety of Protestant Christianity and secularism and b) a non-political, non-expansionist, tolerant and peaceful Islam will cease to be Islam.

On the other hand, with human history being so long ... especially if we consider that the emergence of civilizations took place in the last one percent or so of human history ... Islam, as most other religions and cultural movements, is a temporary blip no different from all other temporary blips in the vast canvas of time. There is certainly plenty to suggest that religions and cultures are not just cerebrally-driven entities independent of the ground they walk on, but complex cultural responses or coping strategies to environmental, geographic and economic realities. As humans we share many more common qualities than differences and our seemingly irreconcilable cultural idiosyncracies are actually less than skin-deep. Such a perspective sees Islam, like most rigid systems, in an unavoidable spiral towards radical changes or a dissolution in the face of modern technology, communications and global commerce. In this scenario, Islam is currently convulsed with re-birth pangs in its encounter with modernity, and will change just as Animism, Judaism, Christianity and others did. All Islam requires is a few social and economic conditions like a strong middle class and a genuine free market economy to develop a liberal democratic system on its own.

There you have it. Depending on what's in the news or what I've had for breakfast on a given day, I can go with either one of the perspectives. As for the specifics relating to your thought-provoking (if not thought-disturbing) paper, Professor, I don't know enough about the Ottoman Empire or modern Turkey to offer many useful comments. Over the last couple of weeks I must have read your paper at least half a dozen times, and came close to just as many times to broaching the topic, but found it easier to horse around and tweak poor Omar's tail instead.
My gut feeling, since you ask, is that Turkey is not a typical or easily reproduced case.

First of all, as Mr. Gurkaynak reminds us, large numbers of the modern Turks' ancestors hail from Europe, and although he and others would surely disagree, I would go as far as saying that given how the victorious invader tends to "go native," modern urban Turks are closer to Christianity and secularism than to classical Islam. Ataturk and his Young Turks were in a way even more European than Europeans, as they dragged their nation into what we call the Modern West with the kind of zeal and draconian measures even Peter the Great would admire. I'm also not certain as to how far liberal democracy extends into the strata of Turkey's society, as it's my impression that it's more a creature of its powerful army and the middle and upper-middle classes.

Another thing to remember is that the europeanized Turkish exiles who left or were expelled from the Balkans were not ideologues, landed nobility or oil-rich money-bags, but entrepreneurs akin to the thrifty Protestant variety who ran light manufacturing and agri-business ventures and trade networks over three continents. While to most Europeans these people may have looked Oriental and Islamic, appearances were deceiving, as they were more in touch with the culture of modernity than the majority of Europe's middle classes who were still under the whip of conservative forms of Christianity and authoritarian governments. Nowhere else in the Islamic world today can we find similar circumstances to Turkey's. Whatever meaningful bourgeoisie there was got blown away in Beirut and the Ba'ath and other secular nationalistic parties are of no help either, as they got muddled over by communism and fascism and after the Fascists, Nazis and the Communists kicked the old bucket, they found it more convenient to grow a beard, to go to bed with the Islamists and to blame the Jews for everything.

While I'm not willing to commit to a position that Islam and democracy are incompatible, I don't think that Turkey's example is of much help other than to Turkey and perhaps to a few former Soviet republics. But since more guess-work than competent scholarship went into this, be kind and go easy on me.


Tim R. Furnish - 7/4/2006

Make it so. Here on the Fourth of July I'm just taking it easy and basking in American global imperialism. But it must just be another workday in the Canadian Federation, eh?


Peter Kovachev - 7/4/2006

Professor Furnish,

Thank you for your very kind words; I should print them out and pin them to the wall for whenever I feel blue. I'm having a hectic day, but will respond ASAP, as your questions have been on mind even as I'm trying to get a whole bunch of things done.


Tim R. Furnish - 7/4/2006

Peter,
Your comments are, as always, breathtakingly erudite and logical.
But I'm curious: as to my original point, that the abortive attempt at Ottoman constitutional democracy (may) demonstrate(s) that Islam and democracy are not akin to oil and water--what do you think?
And I find it revealing that an article like this, that says something positive about an aspect of Islamic history, elicits rather few comments; but any of my others, pointing out the other side of the fence (Islamic predilections to violence and beheading) engender a plethora of screeds and near-fatwas.


Peter Kovachev - 7/4/2006

Mr. Gurkaynak,

Growing up in Bulgaria I, like everyone else, was subject to a nationalistic narrative which taught that the 500-year history of Bulgaria under, or as part of the Ottoman Empire was one of unmitigated horrors perpetrated by fanatical Muslims against a peace-loving Slavic Christian population which bravely threw off the "Turkish yoke" in its final war for independence. I'm in what appears to be a very small minority of Bulgarians who no longer accepts this naive narrative lock, stock and barrel. Neither responsible historical scholarship, nor my own family history, with its recollections support such a one-sided version.

I imagine that the situation on the "other side" is similar and that because of the chronological and geographic proximities of the events and ongoing political realities, a dispassionate inquiry may well be out of reach for some time.

To give an example of the complexities involved just from my own family history, I have ancestors who lived as wealthy merchants in Istamblul and owned rose oil and opium growing ventures throughout the Balkans, others who were urban Phanariots (Hellenized Bulgarians), some who survived wholesale massacres by Turkish janissaries and bashi-bozouks, some who inter-married with Sufi Muslims and Sephardic Jews, a few French-speaking converts to Catholicism and others who were anti-Ottoman insurgents, some as Christian Orthodox theocrats, others as under modernist secular ideologues. At the same time time, against this salad of micro-histories, looms the larger historical and on-going struggle between Christian Europe and Islam.

While I'm philosophically opposed to historiographical obscurantism, that notion that history is just a collection of narratives and is therefore objectively unknowable, I'm inclined to believe that a dispassionate historical discussion of the events in the Balkans may be currently unreachable, as it is nationalist historians, with their carefully selected documentation and ethnicly and politically-driven agendas who are at the forefront of the inquiry. Our current dialogue here is a tiny example of these dynamics, as we both gravitate towards a "leidensgeschichte" (history-of-sorrows") version of history, with its irreconcilable absolutist claims. Well, if you can think of a way out of this conundrum, I'm all ears.

On the subject of jihadism and the Balkans, I agree with you that Turkey is not the issue at this time. But there is history to contend with and the fact that the claim on the Balkans and the Iberian peninsula is central to militant Wah'habi and Salafi Islamist philosophies emerging form the madrassas and the various terrorist groups. Since this trend only began in the 80s and appears to be growing exponentially, you cannot guarantee that Turkey will remain imune to it, just as I cannot guarantee that the Balkans will contain its revival of pan-Slavism and resurgence of Christian Orthodox militancy, which also began in the 80s. Again, the frustrating bottom line here may be that dispassionate historiography may not be attainable by those who are connected to the current geopolitical "hot-spots," and that people like you and I may not be able to positively contribute to the growth of knowledge in this area simply because any advance or retreat on any of the myriads of issues carries serious political implications. What a bummer, eh?


Sukan Gurkaynak - 7/3/2006

Why is the Caliphate more antidemocratic than the Pope or the Greek Partiarch?


Sukan Gurkaynak - 7/3/2006

Mr Kovachev,

You are right in saying that present day Bulgaria is trying hard to accommodate her ethnic diversity as Turkey continues with assimilationist policies. This here is a discussion about history. I am saying that Turkey started with these policies after she saw her liberal treatment of all ethnic groups turn to genocide against the moslem majority. I grew up in Turkey and when I was 30 I met a Turk, whose entire family was decended from present day Turkey. All other Turks whom I met had ancestors who had been forced out of the Balkans, Caucasia and Crimea, the biggest group being Turks forced out of Bulgaria. There are about 15 million Turks, whose ancestors are from the Balkans, 5 Million Crimean Tatars and 7 Million Cherkess, Caucasian Moslems. These people are descended from the 5 Millions who were forced out of their homes, approximately the same number was murdered. In Bulgaria 1876 it was the Russians Cossacks who did the murdering, in the Balkan war 1912, Bulgarian Christians. The Christian attitude to this historical fact is what the Nazis would have done with the Holocaust, if they had won, they erased it out of their history books and claim we had never existed. We don’t even need to back all too far, in Bosnia in the 1990ies 300 000 Moslems were murdered by the Christians, in the Armenian invasion of Aserbaidjanian Nagorny Karabagh 1 000 000 Moslems were displaced, the Genocide against the Turks of Cyprus had to be stopped by military means. This is how the Christian world deals with us, when they get a chance.

I have never heards of an Islamist dream of reconquering the Balkans. Official Turkish policy since 1924 (the grounding of the Turkish republic) has been to let bygones be gone and look towards the future. Turkish Islamists are not interested in changing borders, they are obsessed with head scarves, prayers and banning cartoon pigs from television. But there is discussion of history which for a long time the governments tried to suppress. Turkey is being asked by the West to look at her history, the expectation being that Turks realize they have done horrible things to the Armenians, the Turks are looking at their history and realizing that the Chrstians have done horrible things to the Turks. All those tens of millions of people I have mentioned above have tens of millions of stories of how their ancestors have suffered.


Peter Kovachev - 7/2/2006

Mr. Gurkaynak,

Your revisionist history would be amusing if it wasn't connected to the recently revived dream of an Islamists reconquest of the Balkans.

Where do you get a "Muslim majority" in Bulgaria, for example? Or a murder of half a million? The presence of Ottoman armies and thousands of bashi-bouzouks, jannissaries and other cut-throats who roamed the countryside to plunder and terrorise the Bulgarian population with gory massacres, slave-raids and forced conversions doesn't count as a legitimate "majority." Neither Ottoman or any other records suggest the preposterous claim of a Muslim majority in Bulgaria.

Bulgaria can cite hundreds of specific massacres and destruction of hundreds of villages throughout Bulgaria. Even the typically uninterested West was shocked at the savage suppression of Bulgaria's struggle for independence, hence the term, "Bulgarian Horrors." Can you site an example of one documented case of a massacre of Turkish non-combatants against the Turks? From day-one Bulgarian nationalists stressed the importance of tolerance and co-existence not only in their constitutional charters, but in the fact that Turkish settlements were left unmolested, which is why you still have hundreds of Turkish villages throughout Bulgaria.

The first and only concerted campaign against the Turkish population took place in the 80s under the communist government of Zhivkov when after years of anti-Turkish propaganda and crude attempts to assimilite Turks and Mulsim Bulgarians. The Bulgarian government and its interior police initiated an ethnic cleansing campaign in the southern regions bordering Turkey and what is puzzling that with all the clamouring about "Palestinians," none of the Muslim governments protested this wrong. Historians may argue over whether the cause was the appearance of jihadism in a formerly Sufi population and political cesessionism in those regions, or whether it was an attempt by the failing communist government to distract its population from economic failures, which drove this campaign. It seems that both of these causes were at play.

Nevertheless, today there is a strong Turkish minority with its own political party in Bulgaria. The situation is far from perfect, but Bulgarian Turks and Muslims are in a far better situation that the Greeks and Slavs in Turkey.


Sukan Gurkaynak - 7/1/2006

In all discussions of Turkish history one main factor determining Turkish reactions is ignored: the Russian led attempt to exterminate the Turks during the 19th century, to turn their country over to christian minorities living in the empire. The democracy of 1876 was short lived, because it led to the Russian attack on at that point moslem majority Bulgaria. Half a million moslems were murdered to turn the christians into a majority. This led to the sultan closiung the parliament and to poisoning the realtionship to the christian minorities of the empire. The next attempt at democracy 30 years later in 1908 led to the balkan war, where 1,5 million moslems were murdered, and the dictatorship of the union and progress party. In all 5 million Turks were murdered between 1800 and 1925, the next planned step of dividing present day Turkey between Russia, Greece and Armenia did not work due to Russian defeat in the first world war, and another 30 years later Turkey this time under protection by the NATO could finally become a democratic state.


Peter Kovachev - 6/26/2006

Failure to read or comprehend your own drivel is even more remarkable. Trying to weasel out of your glaring ignorance about matters one would think you would know about is hilarious.

You began by attempting to correct Mr. Thomas' mention of hereditary caliphates by saying that the caliphates were not hereditary because, get this, the first caliphs did not succeed from Mohammed. That's like saying that Egyptian dynasties weren't really hereditary because the pharaohs didn't succeed from the Great Dung Beatle or whatever.


Peter Kovachev - 6/26/2006

A resounding rebuttal, as ever. With a profusion of Muslim Brotherhood types like you, someone should write a self-help book titled, "How to Lose All Arguments with Grace and Dignity."

Let's see if your "Kovashaving" thigh-slapper will get you out of your hilarious claim that caliphates are not dynastic.


Peter Kovachev - 6/26/2006

The Caliphate not a hereditary system? In which universe? What about the Umayyad dynasty or the caliphs of Baghdad...just off the top of my head? Does "hereditary" for you mean only when siblings marry?


Peter Kovachev - 6/26/2006

Sure, non-refugee-status Arabs, Egyptians, Jordanians and Syrians try to marry Israeli Arabs out of pure love for a "Palestine" that never existed ... not to mention generous welfare, medicare and free education. Meanwhile the supposedly real let's-all-pretend-they-are-refugees cling to their posh UNRWA resorts, the "refugee camps," like rats to a meat truck.

But I'm surprised that you admit that Gaza, Judea and Samaria are not the Arabs' "homeland." Not that your admission is necessary, since only squatters would turn those parts into open sewers and garbage dumps.


Frederick Thomas - 6/26/2006


It seems to me that "Islam" is not what should be opposed to Western democratic values, but the concept of the Caliphate, ie an established heheditary Islamic government.

Islam itself, before the second-guessers got ahold of it, was liberating for the average person, who received a degree of moral autonomy for the first time in most cases, which is precisely why it became so popular. But the Caliphates made that liberation subordinate to governance by a priest-king figure, and with that went any liberation.

Let's not forget that theoretical democratization and disestablishmentarianism were the outcome both the Ataturk and Baath movements, however corrupted they became in practice.

Democracy incompatible? Not to the basic precepts of Islam, but definitely to the concept of the Caliph.


Peter Kovachev - 6/26/2006

Yes, Omar, a system which empowers the greatest number of peple and guarantees individual rights even against a majority ... which is what we mean by democracy ... IS the best system there is, assuming one finds tyranny repulsive.

Without democracy a people cannot decide "what is best for them" and cannot choose "their own, possibly different and probably better, mode of governance." Which is precisely why your little jihadist mind seethes at Western democracies and at the existence of Israel.

No matter how you spin things, even the poorest Muslim in Paris wouldn't dream of going "home" and it's no secret that problems notwithstanding, Israeli Arabs enjoy more human rights and security than anywhere in the Arab world. The proof is in the pudding: Millions of Muslims are clamoring to get themselves to democratic Europe, North America or Australia, and hundreds of thousands of non-Israeli Arabs try to gain residency in the supposedly hated, racist Zionist entity.