"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Reason Over Religion; Restructuring Government and Divided Loyalties

Notes and reflections on Peace Be Upon You: The Story of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Coexistence by Zachary Karabell

I promise y'all one of these days I *will* be done with this book!  It's interesting, but just lots of stuff for me to note.  Sorry if it bores you. Not many chapters left!  :-)

The French Revolution and its influence on Muslim lands were topics of this chapter. Karabell shared how Napoleon and his army went into Egypt and how disgusted the Egyptians were with their uncouth behavior.  The Egyptians thought of these French aggressors as a Christian army although Napoleon, with his love of reason and science and hatred for religion especially the Catholic church, would not have agreed in the slightest.  This was a time in history where answering to king and God was cast aside as progress was measured by man's ability to shed primitive forces, purge past impurities (such as organized religion) and obtain the highest levels of civilization based on inquiry, reason and science.  Islam wasn't being picked on by Napoleon because it was Islam, but simply because it was religion - another faith to be shed in the eyes of these secularists.

Next the author discussed Muhammad Ali an Albanian guy on a quest to modernize Egypt.  He got rid of the Mamelukes who were controlling Egypt by inviting them to a banquet, sealing the doors and ordering his soldiers to kill them while they ate.  Karabell says all but one Mameluke was killed and Muhammad Ali emerged as the sole ruler answerable only to the sultan.  However he and the sultan had their clashes, which at one point lead to European states having to help the Ottoman sultan send Ali back to Egypt.

Muhammad Ali sent Egyptians to the Western world for education.  He wanted them "to take what they could from Europe and apply it to the betterment of Egypt."  Instead of separating faith from progress Ali and his followers tried to implement a model where faith was compatible with progress. They took the parts of the European model that they liked and skipped the ones that were not favorable to them.

About European expansion the author says it "combined a passion for progress with pure power politics. The utopian impulse to create a better world, where human reason and ingenuity would invent technologies to make hunger, war, and disease obsolete, walked hand in hand with the ancient human desire to conquer and control." (pg. 216)

Also in this chapter the author tells how the Ottomans tried to restructure their government by copying the Europeans with their strong central governments.  The Ottomans saw how this worked favorably in Europe with the Europeans' advances in technology and army power. So they gave all people basically the same rights and privileges which was good, however, these reforms made people start seeing themselves as separate millet community groups instead of a united empire.  It's like they saw themselves as Catholics, Arabs, Armenians, Jews and Greek Orthodox instead of Ottomans and they became loyal to their own groups more than they were loyal to the empire.  

This section reminded me of the United States in the sense that we have fifty states within the country.  In reading about Civil War history, I was always struck with how the Southerners fought for states' rights over the strong central government telling them what to do from hundreds of miles away.  In fact when General Robert E. Lee had to choose between staying with the United States army or fighting with the South, he said he could not fight against his state of Virginia and led Confederate troops.  I believe for many back then loyalty to and connection with the state rather than the nation was of more importance. Of course we know states' rights suffered a blow when the North defeated the Confederates and the southern states were forced back into the Union.  I'm guessing that these Ottomans seeing themselves as "states" first lead to the empire's demise just as southern states seeing themselves as "individuals" led to war.

Any thoughts or comments to share?


Suroor said...

This was an interesting read! Thanks for sharing.

Susanne said...

Thanks for taking time to read. :)

Lat said...

I've read bits of the Mamerlukes too and the mass killing by poisoning.How hypocritical.

And I like your assessment about US states.It's US history that I've never studied and read before in detail.Whatever I know is glimpsed from novels and movies.From this alone,I'm very fascinated.Have you ever wondered whether you're a 'foreigner' in your own country if the original inhabitants are the (red)Indians? (is that what you call them there?)

Susanne said...

Lat, glad you enjoyed the part about the US. This book is so much about older parts of world, it's *almost* like the US didn't exist at all. Well, it didn't for most of the time the author is discussing, but even when it was in existence, it hasn't played a huge role in his subject matter. :) I'm glad I was able to relate this nationalistic zeal to my own country and now I am curious if the Southerners, for instance, got any of this zeal from reading about the happenings in Europe at the time. The things that make ya go "hmmm." :)

Yeah, growing up we called them Indians although I know that it was a misappropriate label due to Christopher Columbus' error. He thought he'd landed in India! :) Now they are referred to more as Native Americans, but I often use either term since I'm familiar with both. I may say "American Indian" to distinguish them from the Asian ones. :)

No, I've never felt like a foreigner here, but when talking to some of my Arab friends I have sometimes felt no strong connections to another place like they sometimes do. Compared to Damascus, for instance, the US is so new. And I have a fairly mixed-up ancestry...do I celebrate my English, Irish, Scottish, Dutch or French side? Samer will occasionally asked if I feel some connection to Europeans and really, I don't. I never went there. I don't have family there that I know. I am American whatever that means. :)

Thanks for your comment and question!

Lat said...

I really enjoyed your comment! Are you the 3rd,4th generation in the family? That would explain the distant feeling you have.Although my grandparents are from India,I always feel and call S'pore my home,something like you :)

Ah native Americans..I'll remember that!Love their names.I find that very special calling,unique even.Oh I think I've mentioned that before :) Columbus was fooled but nevertheless he founded a new nation and created a holiday to celebrate :) I think it was Vasgodamar(hope I've spelled his name correctly :) )beat Columbus in finding India for the British spice trade.It's funny isn't it? When people are attributed to finding nations when nations have existed all along!

Susanne said...

Glad you liked my comment. I enjoyed yours as well. :) I think I'm more like 6th, 7th or 8th generation American...maybe more!

I know what you mean about people 'discovering' new countries that have been there all along. It's kinda funny! :D