Irreconcilable Goals of the Young Turks

From Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Scott Anderson (Doubleday, 2013), Kindle Loc. 717-728:

By 1911, the Young Turks had begun to solidify their hold on power, and had come up with three main rallying points in hopes of keeping their fractious empire together: modernization, the defense of Islam, and a call for a rejoining of the greater Turkic-speaking world, or Turanism. All of which sounded good, except that these three planks stood in direct opposition to one another.

The very progressivism of many of the Young Turks’ social decrees may have played well with secularists and the empire’s Jewish and Christian minorities, but they simultaneously enraged huge numbers of Muslim traditionalists. Similarly, while their increasingly jingoistic Turanist rhetoric surely excited the ethnic Turk populace, it just as surely alienated the non-Turkish populations—Arabs, Slavs, Armenians, Greeks—who now constituted a majority within the empire. As for wrapping themselves in the mantle of Islam’s defenders, that might conceivably win over Turkish, Kurdish, and Arab Muslims, but it didn’t do much for everyone else—including, for that matter, the sizable minority of Arabs who were Christians. In effect, by trying to find something to appeal to every segment of their polyglot society, the Young Turks were giving all of them something to hate and fear.

For Lawrence, a young man increasingly attuned to the political and social currents swirling around him, an inescapable conclusion began to form: little by little, the Ottoman Empire was coming apart at the seams.

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Filed under Middle East, military, nationalism, religion, Turkey

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