Mind of the Musulman: Turkey as a Hope
France's foreign Muslim policy — We should help Turkey — The lessons of the Wahabite movement — In the Muslim world the Arab is an element of disorder, the Turk is an element of stability — The Arab is doomed to disappear; he will be replaced by the Turk — A policy of neutrality towards the Arabs: of friendly support towards Turkey — Conclusion.
THE slow work of breaking up the Muslim block, which should form the foundation of our policy in North Africa, should also be the basis of our foreign Muslim policy. Islam is the enemy, not because it is a religious doctrine differing from our own philosophical conceptions, but because it is an obstacle to all progress, to all evolution.
We should, therefore, scrupulously avoid any policy that could add to the power and prestige of those nations who are strict adherents to the doctrines of Islam. On the other hand we should support those who have only received a light impression of this doctrine, and whose faith is free from bigotry.
The Turks are the least Islamized of all Muslim peoples.
The Arabs of Arabia, on the contrary, are those who have received its deepest imprint. And naturally so, since Islam is nothing but a secretion of the Arab brain: “the dogmatic crystallization of Arab” thought. To support the Arabs is, therefore, to help to give a new lustre to Islam, that is to say, to a politico-religious conception of fanaticism and xenophobia.
Throughout all its stages Islam has witnessed a desperate struggle between the Arab tendency and the tendency of the non-Arab peoples, converted to Islam by force, who sought instinctively to recover their liberty. This tendency of the Arab people to revert to the pure doctrine of the most rigid Islam is illustrated in our own time by the Wahabite reformation. [Esp. in Saudi Arabia]
Palgrave, who had the opportunity of studying this movement on the spot, has correctly grasped its inspiration, its aim, and its consequences. "Mohammed-ibn-Abd-el-Wahab," he says, "resolved to consecrate the remainder of his life to the restoration of this primeval image of Islam, the Islam of Mohammed, of the Sahhabah, and now his own; convinced that this alone was the true, the unerring, the heaven-revealed path, and all beside it mere human super-addition. With a head full of his project and a heart set on carrying it into execution, Mohammed, the Wahhabee, returned to his native Nejed, after an absence of six years, most of which he had passed in Damascus." He declared that the cholera, then epidemic in the Nejed, was a sign of divine wrath, and that the best means of fighting the scourge was a sincere return to the fervour of former days. As a means to this end, there was set up a council of Medeyites or Zelators. "No Roman censors in their most palmy days had a higher range of authority, or were less fettered by ordinary restrictions. Not only were these Zelators to denounce offenders, but they might also, in their own unchallenged right, inflict the penalty incurred, beat and fine at discretion, nor was any certain limit assigned to the amount of the mulct [monetary fine], or to the number of the blows." Not to be present five times a day at public prayers, to smoke, to take snuff, to chew tobacco, to wear silk or gold, to speak or to have a light in one's house after the evening service, to sing or play any musical instrument, to swear by any other name but that of God; in a word, all that seemed to depart from the letter of the Koran and from the strict commentary of Mohammed-Abd-el-Wahab, became a crime severely punished. "Rank itself was no protection, high birth no shelter, and private or political enmities now found themselves masters of their aim. Moreover, Wahabism, being the very essence of Mohammedanism, brings ruin as its natural consequence. Systematically hostile to commerce, unfavorable to the arts and to agriculture, it kills everything it touches.
While on the one side it waxes fat on the substance of conquered countries, on the other its blind fanaticism urges it to make insensate war upon all that it is pleased to stigmatize by the name of luxury or self-indulgence; it proscribes tobacco, silk, personal adornment, and by endless petty vexations persecutes the somewhat unorthodox trader who prefers a ship to a mosque, and bales of merchandise to the Koran. "
Palgrave's observations, collected with impartiality, enable us to understand into what a state of decrepitude those nations fall who blindly follow the Koranic doctrine, and at the same time how wanting in political prudence we should be if we befriended these people.
This has been England's great mistake from the beginning of the nineteenth century. Ignoring the peculiar psychology of Muslim peoples, and judging only from appearances, she thought it worth while to intrigue against Turkey with the small native States of Arabia; but has only succeeded in creating so many centers of fanaticism and xenophobia.
France has not been much wiser: abandoning the prudent and well-advised policy of the Monarchy, which always tended to an entente with the Grand Turk, we have failed to grasp the true role of the Ottoman Empire, we have finally handed it over to German influence, and have set it against us, at a time when its help would have been of the greatest use to us, by upholding the aspirations of the Balkan States, little worthy of our interest, or by contracting illusory alliances with Arab tribes who have a supreme contempt for us.
From our particular point of view, as a State having fourteen or fifteen million Muslims under our tutelage, we have no interest in protecting the fanatical section of Islam, whose aim and object is to rid their co-religionists of all foreign domination.
These same fanatics do not regard with any more favorable eye the domination of the Turk. They submit to it, for the time being, because they are not in a position to break away; but inwardly they curse it. For them the Sultan is by no means the real Commander of the Faithful; he is no more than a usurper, whose ruin is to be desired by every true believer.
This feeling is easily explained: The Commander of the Faithful ought to be a descendant of the Prophet, that is to say, of necessity an Arab, of the Koreich; but the Sultan is not even of Arab origin, and is, moreover, a Muslim of doubtful orthodoxy.
The Turks were late comers into the world of Islam. It was in A.D. 1299 that Othman I, son of Ortogul, laid the foundations of Ottoman power, favoured by the movement of regional nationalism which in all the provinces conquered by the Arabs set the native dynasties against the invaders. Thanks to their numbers, the Turks rapidly extended their rule over all parts of the Empire. Only just Islamized, they passed from the rank of subjects to that of rulers, so that they came but very lightly under the discipline of Islam. As they were constantly being reinforced by drafts from the tribes of their nation, they formed at all times a block sufficiently compact to isolate them from the influence of their surroundings and to remain inaccessible to Arab propaganda.
Actually, their influence overlaid the Arab influence to such an extent that at the beginning of the fourteenth century it was possible to distinguish two perfectly distinct ethnic strata in the Muslim Empire: the Turkish stratum, which drew to itself every element hostile to the Arabs, and the Arab stratum, formed of Arabs and of Arabized peoples.
As the Turks held the material force, they imposed their views upon the countries subject to their rule: Turkey in Europe and Asia Minor; while in the other provinces, notably in Arabia, the pure Arab mentality with its Koranic ideal prevailed.
The present Muslim world is divided into two portions: the Turks, but slightly Islamized, devoid of ambition, wishing to live in peace; and the Arabs, penetrated to the marrow by Islamic doctrine, by Mohammedan ideas, and cherishing the hope of re-establishing the reign of Islam in all its primitive purity as soon as circumstances permit. This ideal is shared in common not only by the Arabs, but by all strongly Arabized nations, such as the Persians, Berbers, etc.
This being the case, it is clear that if the power exercised by the Turks were to suffer any serious injury, it would be to the profit of the Arabs, that is to say, of the fanatical element in Islam. The result would be an upheaval of the Muslim world, an explosion of fanaticism and xenophobia.
The Turks constitute an element of balance; they oppose their indolence to the fanatical aspirations of Arabia and Persia; they form a buffer State between Europe and the Asiatic ferment. So long as they exist we have nothing to fear from Asia. If they were to disappear, their place could only be taken by either Europeans or Asiatics; in either case Europe would be in direct contact with Asia, with the necessary result of a conflict.
It is our interest, therefore, to make the best of the Turks, to consolidate their power. There is no other people that could replace them in this role, for it is necessary to be a Muslim to act upon Muslims, and necessary to be a superficial or lax Muslim to be able to moderate their fanatical aspirations.
The Turks fulfil both conditions, and they are the only people who do so. It is true that strict Muslims bear their rule with impatience, but they would never admit the rule of a non-Muslim people; and the Arabs who, according to orthodox tradition, would be qualified to direct the Muslim Empire, would only add fuel to the flame of mutual hatred and would end by letting loose the Holy War.
The Turks could cause no uneasiness to any European people. They do not dream of any territorial acquisition; content with their lot, they want nothing. Besides, from want of imagination and from their indolent temperament, they are incapable of conceiving any vast project. In short, they will never raise themselves among civilized nations to a position which would permit them at any time to indulge in grandiose ambitions. Their culture is superficial. What they have copied of our institutions is nothing but a caricature; in reality they have shown themselves powerless to rise to the rank of a great modern State, and the organizations they have borrowed from us can only be made to work by the help of European agents.
So there is nothing to fear from Turkish ambition; they are as a people politically fast asleep. Our interest, therefore, makes it our duty to protect them, to maintain them as an element of equilibrium in the Muslim world. As a corollary, we should avoid forming intrigues with their enemies, especially with the Arabs or Arabized nations who, themselves, are absolutely opposed to our views. The Turks are and will remain neutral. The Arabs are and will remain irreconcilable enemies of Western civilization. They are not only endowed with a mentality different from ours, but they are, in addition, animated to the last degree in their bigoted enthusiasm by the desire to impose upon others this mentality which they regard as the highest expression of human genius.
There is nothing to be done with these fanatics. They bow to the force of circumstances for the time being, but as soon as they are in a position to revolt, they consider rebellion as a sacred duty. There is no evolution to be hoped for from them; they are irremediably fixed in their conception; regarding this conception as perfect, they will never agree to modify it. With regard to them, what we have advocated in respect to Islam in general, i.e., neutrality, is only an attitude of policy. We have not got to fight the Bedouins of Arabia, because from no point of view have we anything to do with them; neither should we aid or protect them under any pretext. Let us leave them to live their own life, to their habits and their traditions — inferior beings in the midst of a civilized world leading the life of barbarians of the remotest ages, they are doomed to disappear. Other races will absorb them; the Turks especially are installing themselves little by little among them, and as the Turks are hard-working and prolific peasants, they will end by absorbing them, as they have absorbed the Greeks in certain provinces of Turkey in Europe.
This is the best solution we could imagine, as it would have the result of reducing the fanatical element in the Muslim world, and of gradually substituting for it the element of balance represented by the Turkish nation.
We are, of course, only speaking of the Turks considered in general, and as an ethnic collectivity. We are not unaware that at certain times their leaders have manifested and are still manifesting, for political purposes, tendencies to fanaticism and xenophobia. It is none of our business to encourage these tendencies, which seem to suggest Arab influence; but, between two evils we should choose the lesser; and it appears from the evidence of past experience that we should always find it easier to come to an understanding with the Turks than with any other Muslim community. But we should never forget that whenever we have to deal with Muslim people, whoever they may be, they will always, in spite of appearances, be disposed to respect the law of religious solidarity; and that any interests which may, for the moment, divide them, would have but a relative value and would never constitute a harrier to their union, more or less disguised, against the foreigner. The Muslim, whoever he may be, submits to the strict discipline of Islam. He acts always in conformity with the higher interests of Islam. This amounts to saying that he will never really sacrifice any fraction whatever of the Muslim world to a non-Muslim Power. It would, therefore, be perfectly puerile to waste any enthusiasm on the Turks and to take action on their behalf against any European nation. To do so would be to expose oneself to deception, for it is certain "beyond a peradventure" that, once the danger passed, they would feel no gratitude towards the Christians for having helped them, but would make haste to betray them if the interests of Islam called for it. What we have said about the Turks is, therefore, only correct in so far as it has reference to incidents which might occur in the Muslim world, and not to any conflicts that might arise between Turks and Christians. In this latter case, we should always range ourselves on the side of nations of our own civilization.
We have not been able to make this essay as short as we should have wished, inasmuch as Muslim history being but little known, we have been obliged for the sake of our argument to give a resume of the essential events necessary for a correct understanding of the subject.
The principal ideas may be summarized as follows:
— Islam is a doctrine of death, inasmuch as the spiritual not being separated from the temporal, and every manifestation of activity being subjected to dogmatic law, it formally forbids any change, any evolution, any progress. It condemns all believers to live, to think, and to act as lived, thought and acted the Muslims of the second century of the Hegira, when the law of Islam and its interpretation were definitely fixed.
— In the history of the nations, Islam, a secretion of the Arab brain, has never been an element of civilization, but on the contrary has acted as an extinguisher upon its flickering light. Individuals under Arab rule have only been able to contribute to the advance of civilization in so far as they did not conform to Muslim dogma, but they relapsed into Arab barbarism as soon as they were obliged to make a complete submission to these dogmas.
— Islamized nations, who have not succeeded in freeing themselves from Muslim tutelage, have been stricken with intellectual paralysis and decadence. They will only escape from this condition of inferiority in proportion as they succeed in withdrawing themselves from the control of Muslim law.
— Among these peoples, the Berbers of North Africa seem the best fitted to break away from this tutelage. They are but superficially Arabized; they have a long Latin past; they are no longer subject to the discipline of a Muslim Government; it is possible for them, therefore, so to evolve that they may some day re-enter the Latin family. This, of course, will be a work of time; but it is not beyond the power of the Protectorates, and should be undertaken and followed up by every possible means, if the French wish to make of Northern Africa a province of French mentality and aspirations.