HOLY LANDS by Nicolas Pelham
Kirkus Star


Reviving Pluralism in the Middle East
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A sound, accessible argument for why returning to the mixed-faith communities living among each other in the Ottoman model might just save the Middle East.

British Middle East journalist Pelham (A New Muslim Order, 2008, etc.) traces the current crisis of violent, xenophobic sectarianism in the region to the series of forced population transfers and displacements carried out through the 20th century, most critically from the fall of the ethnically diverse Ottoman Empire to the creation of Israel and Pakistan. In the Ottoman Empire, writes the author, the sultans had learned how their strength derived from the heady mix of faith communities, living among each other, their houses of faith side by side. This borderless fluidity of groups—encompassing Arabs, Turks, Armenians, Greeks, Kurds, Jews, Christians, and others—provided a paradigm of diversity and tolerance, subsequently destroyed with the rise of the secular Young Turks and the accompanying attributes of a Turkish nation-state—i.e., nationalism, defense of the land, and service in the military. A kind of “cultural homogenization” inevitably followed, involving forced displacement of people and even genocide, a pattern that was repeated in the creation of Israel and Pakistan and is now occurring again in the establishment of the Islamic State group—a brand-new caliphate. Through his firsthand examples, Pelham explores the richness that has been lost in these lands once teeming with ethnic and religious pluralism—e.g., the formerly Arab towns of Safed and Acre, before the Jewish battle cry of “redeeming the land” produced the sanctioned, barren segregation. Moreover, the rise of militant radicalism has violently cleaved the two sects of Islam, Shia and Sunni, with both battling for assumption of power claimed over centuries. However, Pelham does not see only doom but rather a resurgence of pluralism as a natural, human response given the chance for peaceable community.

A lively, succinct, nonpolemical study that will offer much thought for discussion.

Pub Date: April 12th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-9909763-4-9
Page count: 174pp
Publisher: Columbia Global Reports
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2016


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