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Introduction

 

By Abraham Kuyper

 

 

I can only be grateful for the reception this book has enjoyed. It is encouraging that the first print of 5,000 copies of a work of this format—[remember: the whole was a voluminous two-tome job--translator]—and that was available only at a rather steep price, enjoyed two reprints within two months! Even more so, given the restrictions of the small Dutch-language market. But I derived the greatest satisfaction from the young lady who had such love for the blind that she had the patience to promptly produce a Braille edition of this work! It forms a gigantic tome that can be seen at the Library for the Blind in The Hague.

Originally I was at a loss as to how to explain such humbling interest in this project. It did not pretend to be scholarly. Neither could it be regarded as a great literary work or a captivating travel journal. Market research later revealed that readers were attracted by the great amount of highly compact information about a region in which there is wide-spread interest but little knowledge. To be sure, during the 1890s a couple of major books on the region were published in French (1891) and German (1895), but the French one became too voluminous with its nine heavy tomes, while the German one was simply too broad in compass without showing the interwoven nature of developments around the Mediterranean. Thus a great need was felt for a work in compact format that would provide information about the peoples around that sea.1414Given his own verbosity that resulted in multi-volume tomes, it is almost humorous for Kuyper to present his as compact! Encouraged by the initial popularity of this work, I thus decided to proceed with a condensed description of some of the less familiar Mediterranean countries not covered so far. I included Spain and Portugal mainly because of the residue of Muslim civilization and culture that still marks these countries.

History does not stand still. In several of the countries I visited, significant changes were underway. I took careful note of these changes in the awareness that a book that is in progress for two years cannot possibly be up to date in its first chapters. This applies especially to Turkey with the revolution that took place there and that totally changed the issues surrounding the Balkan question. Allow me therefore briefly to draw your attention to this revolution.

Although Abdul Hamid remained Sultan, one must regard the change in government there as nothing less than a wholesale revolution. A groups known as “The Young Turks” had quietly blanketed the country with a network of Committees or cells that were obviously copied from the French Revolution. These Committees constitute the government, not only in Constantinople but also in the more remote villages. Government officials are totally dependent on these Committees. Even the Sultan has no choice but to go by their policies. They depose ministers and other officials at will. Even the judiciary is subject to their policies. This arrangement had since long been planned by a central committee in Paris. Actually it was Sultan Abdul Hamid with his carelessness and reckless expenditures who empowered them to suddenly carry out their plot without bloodshed.

They availed themselves of the same instrument that had upheld the regime of the Sultan, namely the army. The army had been neglected, not in terms of weaponry or training, but in salaries and promotions. Even among the troops that the Sultan had sent to Yemen to squelch a rebellion there, repeated mutiny took place. Government and the corrupt civil service slurped up all the available funds. Hence, the troops were not paid and promotions were intentionally delayed to avoid paying higher salaries. Dissatisfaction was rife and that was the weapon the Young Turks used to draw army officers to their side. The rank and file soldiers followed suit. The confusing state of affairs in Macedonia, which was close enough to Constantinople, allowed them space and time to organize themselves properly and then, from that vantage point, to dare an attack on Constantinople. They did so by raising the same slogan that already had been used by Abdul Hamid to checkmate the Western powers in the region, namely restoration of the Constitution.

The constitutional cry by itself did not raise any Muslim hackles, for it is in keeping with the Muslim spirit. Hence, even the Sultan supported the call for the retrieval of the Constitution. Islam is democratic by nature. It was accepted in Algeria, and long ago in Spanish Cordova a Muslim republic had been established. The new issue here was only the attempt to create a Turkish nation in which all inhabitants, regardless of origin or religion, would be accorded full rights. Christians cheered at the prospect, for it could spell the end of their centuries-long oppression. The neighbouring Greeks cheered, because they expected that the new situation would ensure their influence over the government. Even the Bulgarian army withdrew from the country, for now they would be able to achieve their national political aims without bloodshed. The people themselves, including some groups within the palace, were convinced that finally the heavy pressure of the Western powers upon them would come to an end. From now on, the Sultan could defend himself against the demands of the West by pointing to the refusal of Parliament. Thus, when the West hastened to withdraw their political representatives from Macedonia, the Turkish people imagined they had already won the game.

That myth soon dissolved. Bulgaria understood that it was now possible and, in fact, imperative for her to take immediate action, for once the Turkish Parliament would have its affairs in order, all chances for regaining her independence from Turkey would slip through her fingers. Austria annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina with great speed. Crete also made use of the interim period to finalize her attachment to Greece. Thus, instead of gaining or profiting from internal developments, even before the Parliament was fully established, Turkey lost the greater part of her nominal European possessions and was left only with Macedonia, Albania and the Sanjak of Novi Pazar, along with the area immediately surrounding Constantinople, now known as Istanbul. The greatest disappointment was that the West began their interference again, interference for which Turkey itself now needed to invite them. The hope was that Turkey would finally become great, free and independent. Instead, it was greatly reduced so that it is no longer a threat to anyone. A war would have put a sudden end to the new regime of the Young Turks.

Thus, though the restoration of the Constitution itself was a matter of general rejoicing, it immediately evoked bitter disappointment. That disappointment became more intense as soon as Parliament settled down to its work. Due to the power the Young Turks wielded throughout Turkey, they quickly succeeded in cobbling together a Parliament that meekly carried out their designs, but it did not take long for that Parliament to become the source of division. The Young Turks were real Occidentalists, oriented to Western culture, that wanted a constitutional atmosphere that was not rooted in the East, but was wholly to be based on the radical French model. Even in Austria that is united by the bond of a common religion, the possibility of different nationalities to live together under one constitution is visibly evaporating. How much more will Turkey have problems with its varied nationalities in addition to the division caused by its three religions? Currently, it is being realized in Hungary that under such conditions it is impossible for one nationality to place its stamp on the entire population for any length of time without even greater failure. Like the Magyars in Hungary, so do the Turks want to have their language and their religion declared the language and religion of the State. Everyone can sense ahead of time where this will lead. It is still an open question how the current crisis will develop, but we can be sure that this first crisis will be little more than prelude to a much more serious struggle. Those who dream that the Young Turks have solved the Eastern question are not familiar with Mediterranean cultures. The Turkish people are not a nation and never will be.1515For a relevant brief modern or current discussion of the “Young Turks” and of their long-range success compared to that of other Muslim nations, see Gwynne Dyer, “Turkey, Islam and the ‘Idiotic Autocrats,’” Georgia Straight, September 6-13, 2007. See also my Studies in Christian-Muslim Relations, Volume 9—Companion CD, 2009, file < Miscellaneous Articles/Other Countries/Asia/Turkey/2007-09-06 Turkey Islam Democracy >. These “Young Turks” were more successful than Kuyper predicted. Today, their descendants are serious contenders for membership in the European Union. The very movement that initially resisted European colonization, today is applying for absorption into Europe! Who says history is boring or without humour? There is a difference, of course. Today it is in terms of so-called equal partnership. Today the question is whether a Muslim country that has not experienced the Western Enlightenment movement fits in an Enlightenment-Christian-Postmodern alliance.


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