How the Middle East reacted to secularism

For this week, I was very interested in what Gelvin had to say about secularism in chapter 9 of The Modern Middle East, where he contrasts the rise of secularism in Europe with the attempts to do the same in the Ottoman empire.

Gelvin mentions both the tanzimat period, where the Ottomans first tried osmanlilik, an attempt to unite the empire via political ties and a sense of pride in being ottoman, and the rule of Sultan Abdulhamid II, the second time osmanlilik was promoted as a sense of pride in being both ottoman and Islamic. I was interested in why that it took mixing being an ottoman and being Islamic was what made this kind of ideology feasible. I also think that the answer to this question can help with understanding the dominance of Islam in the governments and politics of the region.

Although the young turks supported a restoration of the first osmanlilik in turkey (which shows in its more secular focused society), even they ended up having to go back to the Islamic osmanlilk. But with the rest of that fall of the ottomans, the nations that came out of it followed this combination of religion and politics. And I feel like this has been a huge contribution to the current politics and governments of the region. Compared to the governments of Europe, where there is a definitive line between government and religion, many of the political forces in the Middle East are intertwined with religion.

One of the major effects these governments had in the region was the concessions and the effects of them on the industries and countries involved. For instance, the D’Arcy Concession that we read this week pretty much created the oil industry in Iran. This document was the beginning of oil in the Middle East, which we all know is a huge deal today. I am surprised that this agreement survived in some form all the way until 1951, when many other concessions from the era lasted for only a year or less. I think that this shows that not all of these agreements of this era were created equal.


One thought on “How the Middle East reacted to secularism

  1. I also shared a piqued interest in Gelvin’s Chapter 9 reading, especially with consideration of how my Western upbringing influences how I feel about the role of religion in the public sphere of the Middle East. It makes sense that after The War of Roses and Tudor dynasty in England during the 15th and 16th centuries that all of the bloodshed linked to religion left a bad taste in the mouth of Englishmen, urging secularism. However, that is the experience of Europe alone, so why should The Middle East naturally follow their every move?

    When Sultan Abdulhamid II introduced an updated edition of osmanlilik, he gave merit to pride within Ottoman/Islamic identity rather than focusing on specific religions. This is feasible due to its inclusive nature and ability to link together an entire population over a natural-born commonality as opposed to a chosen religion. I agree that the Middle East is very much so currently tied to religion that oppresses certain demographics of their citizenry, but does that mean they need to entirely adopt secularism? I wonder if there could be a limited way that religion could be integrated into politics while taking every citizen’s needs into consideration. That is a lofty goal indeed.

    The d’Arcy Concession, as you mentioned, is a pretty amazing agreement in terms of longevity. How interesting that the Shah of Persia granted European access to the development sites for the extraction of natal gas, petroleum, asphalt, and ozokerite through the Persian Empire for an entire sixty years. In our world today, I doubt such agreements would span over six decades. Technology and industry change so rapidly that so much time would almost certainly lead to a business deficit.


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