I’m back! Just to clarify, I have not been in a state of hibernation, nor did I disappear from the face of the earth. I’m still alive and kicking. Rather, I’ve been doing a significant amount of reading and research in order to write my next series of posts. Having recently taken an interest in the Balkans, I just finished reading all 706 pages of Misha Glenny’s The Balkans. This project is part of my general interest in non-Western imperialism, as well as the forgotten white victims of imperialism.
In the eyes of critics of Western civilization, white Western history is a mere litany of colonial crimes committed against noble brown and black people. From the Crusades to the war in Iraq, it would seem that relations between the East and West have always been characterized by white depredations.
Of course, those who haven’t been brainwashed by anti-white propaganda know that such a view of history is incredibly simplistic and just plain incorrect. There have been numerous instances in world history that have involved non-whites invading, subjugating, and enslaving various parts of white Europe. Middle Eastern and Central Asian peoples such as the Huns, Arabs, Mongols, Barbary pirates, and Turks have all played their part in disturbing the peace within the white continent. The violence and conquests of the Huns resulted in the displacement of various Germanic tribes, which played a significant role in the collapse of Western Rome. The Arabs ultimately failed to subjugate all of Europe, and it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Had they not been stopped at Tours and Constantinople, they could have overrun the entire continent. The Mongols slaughtered countless people and also spread the black death from Asia to Europe, which decimated a third of the continent’s population. Barbary pirates from North Africa raided for white slaves as far north as Iceland, which significantly disrupted coastal life in Europe. The Tartars likewise took slaves from Russia and Eastern Europe.
However, none of those groups left a legacy as negative as the Turks. Ruling a significant chunk of Europe that extended all the way to Austria’s doorstep, the Turks are in many ways responsible for the various problems, demographic and otherwise, that continue to afflict the Balkans. The history of the Ottoman occupation of the Balkans provides several very instructive lessons.
For starters, Ottoman rule should put to rest the tired notion that Eastern and Islamic societies were “tolerant.” I’ve frequently seen various postcolonial and liberal scholars argue that in comparison to Europe, the Islamic world was tolerant and open towards different groups of people. Of course, that depends on how you define “tolerance.” From a purely technical standpoint, the Ottomans and other Muslim rulers were indeed tolerant, if by “tolerant” you mean a willingness to endure and put up with people you don’t particularly like. For the most part, Muslims did not commit massacres and more or less allowed their subjects to practice their religion and live quietly.
However, the word “tolerance” in today’s Western imagination conjures up images of equality, egalitarianism, mutual respect, integration, and full acceptance. I suspect that various apologists for Middle Eastern/Muslim imperialism are aware of this, and describe Islamic empires as “tolerant” as a means of downplaying the less savory aspects of those societies. It’s also their way of branding Europe as “intolerant.”
Using today’s idea of “tolerance,” the Ottoman Empire’s rule over the white Christian peoples of Balkans was most certainly not tolerant in any sense. For starters, Ottoman rule enforced and encouraged segregation between the various millets. Members of millets were classified solely based on their religion, ethnicity, language, and culture be damned (more on this later). As Misha Glenny illustrates, the attitude of Muslims towards non-Muslims would be regarded as very un-PC in today’s climate:
“There were ‘countless traditions urging the Muslims to distinguish themselves, even in appearance, from the infidels and to avoid imitating their habits in dress as well as all else…The turban is the barrier separating belief and unbelief’. ‘He who imitates a people, becomes one of them.’
Well, at least they wouldn’t have been accused of “cultural appropriation” or “hipster racism.” The indigenous Christians were also subjected to a variety of daily humiliations and injustices that make today’s complaints about “microaggressions” seem very trivial and whiny by comparison. Christians were forced to dismount from their horses in the presence of a Muslim, were forbidden to bear arms, and were not permitted to own land. Christian testimony against Muslims was invalid, and Muslims who murdered Christians were merely required to pay a modest “blood tax” to the murdered Christian’s family. Needless to say, a Christian who murdered a Muslim would face a much stiffer penalty. Christian families were also subjected to the practice known as devsirme, where their children were forcibly taken from them in order to serve the empire in either a military or administrative setting.
In so many words, non-Muslims in the Ottoman Empire were “tolerated” so long as they kept their heads low and knew their place. Minorities certainly wouldn’t have been allowed to make waves, agitate against the Muslim majority, or enjoy university departments dedicated to deconstructing “Muslim privilege.” They also lived segregated from the dominant Muslim group, and always had to demonstrate their inferiority in the presence of Muslims. Sounds a lot like another social system that once existed in the Deep South of a certain North American country.
Since so many anti-Western types love to emphasize the tolerance and peacefulness of traditional non-Western Islamic societies compared to the West, perhaps we could learn from the noble Islamic example. Perhaps the West should impose its own version of the millet system to govern relations between whites and non-whites. Sure, non-whites will be legally inferior to whites and forced to endure repeated humiliations, but at least there will be “peace” and “tolerance.” Do you honestly think for a second that today’s leftists who treat every “microaggression” as a crime against humanity would want to live as non-Muslims in a millet type system? Of course not.
However, the daily injustices and humiliations aside, the most disastrous legacy of Ottoman rule in the Balkans was the volatile demographic balance bequeathed to the region by the aforementioned millet system:
“For the Ottomans, nationhood meant religious affiliation, so that Bosnian, Turkish, and Albanian Muslims, for example, would all speak different languages and enjoy widely different cultural traditions but would still be part of the same ‘nation’…As far as the religious hierarchies and the Ottoman state were concerned, religion always took precedence over culture, language and race in defining one’s identity.”
While it’s fashionable to denounce race as a “social construct,” it’s even more foolish and dangerous to treat religion as a group’s primary identity. When the Ottoman Empire was wealthy and strong, the segregation and stagnancy promoted by the millet system was of little concern. However, as various national and ethnic groups in the Balkans began to assert themselves amid the empire’s decay, the empire’s overemphasis on religion proved to be catastrophic for the region. The empire’s late and lame attempt to promote “Ottomanism,” which transcended religion and ethnicity, did nothing to cure the demographic tinderbox left in the region by the Turks. It never had a prayer of winning the loyalty of numerous competing groups. It was only a matter of time before the different peoples of the Balkans turned on one another following the end of Turkish rule.
I intend for this post to permanently refute the idea that Eastern empires such as the Ottomans were “tolerant.” I also intend to challenge the narrative of imperialism that situates whites as the sole aggressors, while ignoring the millions of white Europeans who lived under the yoke of non-white imperialism for five centuries. Finally, I also hope this post illustrates that one does not so easily ignore race and ethnicity. The future tragedies caused by the neglect and ignorance promoted by the millet system should be a warning to us all. One must always look at race, ethnicity, and culture when analyzing a conflict between peoples, and not treat “Muslims” or “Christians” as virtual ethnic groups.
My next post will focus on crimes committed against the Balkans by various European imperial powers, and the forgotten white victims of European imperialism.