Wall Street Opinion Journal Matthew Kaminski April 11, 2006
Practicing a tolerant strain of Islam, the Ottomans clashed with fundamentalists.
The Ottoman Empire passed into history in 1922, a mere lifetime ago. Yet in a certain way it feels as distant as ancient Athens or Rome, known to us mostly through architectural relics, a few striking events and a mythical aura. Kemal Atatürk’s secular Turkish republic, the empire’s successor state, consciously rejected much of the Ottoman heritage and most of its traditions, while the empire’s colonial outposts have reverted to the imperatives of their local identities.
Yet the religious aspect of the 9/11 attacks has made the Ottomans, who led the Muslim world for half a millennium, topical again. The sultans are famous for sacking Constantinople in the 15th century and besieging Vienna in the 16th. Both events became symbols of Muslim aggression against Christendom. And the “barbarian Turk” is still a villain in the folklore of the empire’s northern reaches. Yet such caricature fails to do justice to the remarkable Ottomans, whose story is a corrective to the perceived wisdom that Islam is inherently unable to reconcile itself with the West.
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