My colleague, Mark Movsesian, has posted a short, highly readable, and instructive piece about an important episode in nineteenth-century religion-state relations in the Middle East, The Price of Ottoman Failure. The abstract follows.
This essay, written for a symposium on secularity in the contemporary Middle East, explores the dangers secularization may pose for non-Muslims, especially Christians. It looks to a historical example, the 19th Century Ottoman reform movement known as the Tanzimat. The Tanzimat aimed to modernize the empire and revise its law to reflect secular European models. One major reform gave legal equality for the first time to non-Muslims. Equality contradicted classical Islamic law and contributed to a violent backlash against Christians that set the stage for genocide in the 20th Century. Of course, the story of the Tanzimat’s failure is complex. Factors other than religious law were also involved, and one cannot draw a direct analogy to events that occurred 150 years ago in a different society. Nonetheless, the story of the Tanzimat and its failure suggests that secularization in the Middle East is a delicate matter that poses risks for Christian communities.