The Ottoman Counterfactual

mehmedI offer up this alternate history for consideration:

What if the Ottoman Empire had not fallen, or crumbled rather, in the wake of World War I?  What if, on the other hand, the Turkish reforms had come sooner, watering down the rise in Arab nationalism and secessionist trends?  What if, rather than joining forces with Central Powers in WWI, the Empire had remained neutral?  Better yet, what if the Empire had chosen a less warlike course even earlier, avoiding involvement in the Crimean War?

Even had the Empire lost its Eastern European provinces, what if they had remained a significant power in the Middle East?

This is the heart of the question, because the effects of the fallen Ottoman Empire most impacted the Middle East.  In a sense, the collapse of the Empire had a very similar backlash in the Middle East as the fall of Soviet Russia had in Eastern Europe, save for two major differences: First, colonial powers temporarily filled the void left by the Ottoman collapse, essentially forcing many of the nationalist movements to bubble beneath the surface for decades; and second, the Zionist project entered into this confluence of colonialism and nationalism and religiosity.

The Ottomans had dealt rather beneficently with Jews and Christians alike over the Jerusalem question for centuries prior to the advent of Zionism.  And yet, the Zionists emerged prior to the final collapse of the Empire, but gained little traction until the period of British Mandate over Palestine and Transjordan.  How would the Ottomans have dealt with the Zionist cause?  Would Arab nationalism have played such an integral role in the inability of that movement to ever peacefully come about?  At the time, Palestine was essentially an Ottoman backwater, and Jerusalem was populated mostly by warring Christian factions.

I think much of the failure of the Zionist project, and the continued state of persistent war between Israel and her neighbors, lies in the fact that all these fires burned at once–the Arab nationalism, the Zionism, the Holocaust, the end of European colonial rule–and all these were profoundly, or inadvertently, effected by the end of Ottoman rule.  Had that rule not came to an end, how would the world, and the region, look today?

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One thought on “The Ottoman Counterfactual

  1. A more interesting counter factual is: what would have happened if Europeans weren’t ingrained Jew haters? For sure, they would never have gone to Palestine—what would have been pushing them out? They wouldn’t have gone to the States in such great numbers either, so Europe would still be benefiting from their excellence in the arts, finance, business, the professions, etc etc. and we wouldn’t be. But then, what? Jews would be just citizen-Jews in Europe, like they are in the States. But there would be no Middle East crisis to blame on them. There would have been no Holocaust that Europeans could accuse Jews of exploiting for financial gain. But this is where my counterfactual imagination hits a wall. The rest of it—wars, colonizing and decolonizing etc etc—would have happened anyway. The Middle East today would be home to much the same ancestral violence—except that there would be no Israel. Jews would still be in Europe. I can’t see any reason that the depressing progression of remedies for the decline of the Islamic world wouldn’t wouldn’t have happened even without a Jewish state in the Middle East or that Islamists would not have attacked us.


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