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'Nahda'. Exploring the Origins of Arab Nationalism

Essay 2014 10 Pages

History - Miscellaneous

Excerpt

Critically examine the crucial forces underlying the emergence of Arab nationalism.

Exploring the origins of Arab nationalism is a challenging project. To assess this particular subject is to enter a huge arena of discussion; the multifaceted nature of the word ‘nationalism’ itself - which as Z. Lockman notes ‘always means different things to people in different contexts’ – presents difficulties when engaging the subject from a variety of different historical perspectives.[1] The objective of this essay will be to assess several aspects surrounding the genesis of Arab Nationalism in the Middle East from various political, cultural and intellectual dimensions in order to gather a basic understanding as to when and why this movement occurred. Complications emerge in such a study when one considers that the genesis of this movement was by no means a single and stable birth of ideas overnight, but rather a fragmented series of awakenings, occurring across the Arab heartlands at different times and for slightly varying reasons from surrounding neighbours. For example, Egypt presents an interesting case. J. Jankowski notes the nationalist movement of the Egyptians to pre-date collective Arab nationalism by roughly a generation and recognises the Egyptian variant of nationalism to be a distinct and separate phenomenon which gathered strength from the 1870s onward.[2] The area’s historical and cultural distinctiveness from that of her neighbours meant she appeared to work against rather than for ‘Arab’ orientation and instead focused upon her own individual ideals in promoting ‘Egypt for the Egyptians.’[3] As separate instances of territorial nationalism such as the case of Egypt illuminate, no definitive answers to the question of what caused nationalism to occur may accurately represent the Arab community as an entirety. However, by assessing general factors which bound the Arab peoples together in spirit as one, this essay will attempt to piece together a basic understanding of what pushed an undercurrent of Arab awareness to the surface in the early decades of the 20th century.

In order to successfully trace the genesis of Arab nationalism, a basic definition should perhaps be applied to the movement for a fuller understanding of the factors which may have influenced its creation. H. Kohn’s influential and much studied work The Idea of Nationalism (1944) positions the movement to be ‘first and foremost a state of mind, an act of consciousness’[4] and A. Toyn’s earlier provided definition of the movement being ‘a subjective psychological feeling in a living people’ similarly aligns with this assertion.[5] It appears that most scholars have a shared definition of a nahda amongst the Arab people to be some form of consciousness which manifested itself within the Arab peoples in various forms. Disputed amongst them however, is what both what actually caused such an awakening to occur and when these feelings of Arab consciousness actually began to appear in the Middle East. In his study of Arabism within the Ottoman Empire, H. Kayali asserts that re-appraisal of Arab nationalism cannot begin without reference to George Antonius’s The Arab Awakening (1944).[6] In Antonius’s work, the origins of Arab Nationalism are placed as early as the 18th century, apparent in the attempts of resurgence within the Wahabi movement and later in Muhammad Ali’s attempts to found a Near Eastern Empire based on Egypt. However, S.G. Haim notes that the Wahabis were not nationalists ‘by any acceptable definition of the term’ and their motives were rooted in Islamic resurgence, not Arabic.[7] Kayali nonetheless remarks the importance of Antonius’s work upon conventional historians of Arab history, who would later dwell upon what they viewed as the oppression of the Arabs under Turkish domination as the Second Constitutional period of the empire began on 13 July 1908. For some, it is this complicated period of Ottoman politics which marks the beginning of Arabian consciousness and unity. Historians such as Z. Zeine appoint the reinstatement of the original Ottoman constitution to mark the period in which true Arab consciousness was allowed to develop, due to a series of intense centralizing policies put in place by the political organisation of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP).[8]

The genesis of the Committee of Union and Progress - an umbrella term used to cover a series of underground groups united in the goal to overthrow Abdulhamid’s despotic regime - and an intense period of ‘Ottomanization’ which coloured politics at the turn of the century have been noted by some to present the root cause which caused Arab nationalism to rise. Having promoted civil and military educational expansion as one of the key reforms in attempts to modernize the Ottoman Empire in the late nineteenth century, Sultan Abdulhamid had effectively and unconsciously created a new educated middle class within the Empire.[9] Whilst ideas presented by this new class were initially suppressed, echoes of opposition to the Sultan’s reign continued to sound throughout the Empire and in 1908, culminating in a revolt within the Macedonia capital of Salonika.[10] This revolt resulted in the re-initiation of the Second Constitutional Era and the promise to align both Turks and Arabs as equals within the Middle East. Enver Bey, a prominent leader of the Young Turks, proudly proclaimed following the Revolution of 1908: ‘Henceforth we are all brothers. There are no longer Bulgars, Greeks, Romanians, Jews, Muslims: under the same blue sky we are all equal, we glory in being Ottomans.’[11] Whilst this passionate speech promoted a brief period of blissful harmony between Turks and Arabs, the honeymoon was not to last. The primary problem in this newly invigorated spirit of nationalism was that ‘Ottomanization really meant Turkification’, leaving the Arabs in an undesirable position within their own Empire.[12] Despite the fact Turks and Arabs were of the same religion, the Young Turks viewed their Arab counterparts in the kingdom as an inferior ethnic group. One example of this superior Turkish attitude can be viewed in a private letter to Ishak Sukuti from one of the leaders of the Young Turks in which the leader of the Patri Constitutionnel en Turquie Selim Faris is referred to as an ‘Arab dog’ who doesn’t even know what he is doing.[13] Their primary reason for not supporting Faris was based upon his Arab origins. In further studies of confidential correspondence between CUP party officials, M.S. Hanioglu notes a wholly different attitude to Enver Bey’s optimistic speech on ‘Ottoman equality.’ Instead, a multitude of derogatory phrases for the Arabs such as ‘the dogs of the Turkish nation’ appear in the letters and correspondences of the key members of the party.[14]

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[1] Jankowski, J. P. and Gershoni, I., Rethinking Nationalism in the Arab Middle East (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), p.ix.

[2] Jankowski, J. P., ‘Egypt and Early Arab Nationalism, 1908-1922’, in Khalidi, R., Anderson, L., Muslih, M., and Simon, R.S., (eds.), The Origins of Arab Nationalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), pp. 243-271.

[3] Qadir, A., Arab Nationalism and Islamic Universalism (New Dehli: Global Vision Publishing House, 1st edn., 2006), p.97.

[4] Jankowski, J. P. and Gershoni, I., Rethinking Nationalism in the Arab Middle East (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), p.x.

[5] Jankowski, J. P. and Gershoni, I., Rethinking Nationalism in the Arab Middle East (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), p.ix.

[6] Kayali, H., Arabs and Young Turks: Ottomanism, Arabism, and Islamism in the Ottoman Empire, 1908 – 1918 (London: University of California Press, Ltd., 1997), p.6.

[7] Haim, S.G., Arab Nationalism: An Anthology (California: University of California Press, Ltd., 1962), p.3.

[8] Kayali, H., Arabs and Young Turks: Ottomanism, Arabism, and Islamism in the Ottoman Empire, 1908 – 1918 (London: University of California Press, Ltd., 1997), p.6.

[9] Mansfield, P., A History of the Middle East (London: Penguin Books Ltd., 4th edn., 2013), p.141.

[10] Mansfield, P., A History of the Middle East (London: Penguin Books Ltd., 4th edn., 2013), p.142.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Mansfield, P., A History of the Middle East (London: Penguin Books Ltd., 4th edn., 2013), p.146

[13] Hanioglu, M.S., ‘The Young Turks and the Arabs Before the Revolution of 1908’, in Khalidi, R., Anderson, L., Muslih, M., and Simon, R.S., (eds.), The Origins of Arab Nationalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), pp.31-50.

[14] Hanioglu, M.S., ‘The Young Turks and the Arabs Before the Revolution of 1908’, in Khalidi, R., Anderson, L., Muslih, M., and Simon, R.S., (eds.), The Origins of Arab Nationalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), pp.31-50.

Details

Pages
10
Year
2014
ISBN (eBook)
9783668451247
ISBN (Book)
9783668451254
File size
476 KB
Language
English
Catalog Number
v366419
Institution / College
University of Strathclyde
Grade
68
Tags
History Middle Eastern History Arab Nationalism Nationalism

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Title: 'Nahda'. Exploring the Origins of Arab Nationalism