In recent years I’ve written extensively about world military history, a project that began with an interest in the history of police services in the Toronto neighbourhood were I live.
Given my interest in military history, I found a July 21, 2016 Brookings article, entitled “Europe risks repeating past mistakes on Islam,” of interest. History, in my view, has the power to explain things to the extent that the accounts of it are accurate and balanced. By accuracy, I refer to the archival and other reliable evidence on which accounts of history are based. By balance I refer to the frames of reference that historians brings to the framing of the accounts.
The opening paragraphs of the Brookings article read:
Many have recently sought to understand and explain today’s crisis of legitimacy within Islam, with some analysts placing the blame for that crisis squarely on Islam itself. In my view, today’s crisis of Islamic religious legitimacy and the spread of Salafi ideology are a direct legacy of 20th century European empires. I don’t mean that as a moral cudgel, nor as a plea for political correctness. But to avoid making the same mistakes again, we need to understand both the contingency of that history and the vacuity of the term “Islamic fundamentalism,” which is used as a stand-in for everything from traditional views of gender roles and homosexuality to religiously-inspired mass murder.
Europe’s 20th century mistake. How did more rigid and fundamentalist interpretations of Islam prevail over the relatively tolerant brand of Ottoman Islam? Let’s look to history. One century ago, in summer 1916, European powers started a chain reaction that enabled and sanctioned the 1924 Saudi takeover of the Hijaz—including Mecca and Medina. In one seized territory after another, Europeans continued to interrupt traditional ties of Islamic authority and religious education between their new colonial subjects and the Sultan-Caliph in Istanbul. The new imperial rulers cut off the circular flow of judges, muftis, seminaries, and mosque projects between the Ottomans and Muslims in North Africa, the Balkans, and the Near East. Centuries-old religious endowments and religious leadership configurations were uprooted in favor of institutions that Europeans thought they could control.
[End of excerpt]