The requisites of civilization? Satirical critiques of “the West” in the later Ottoman Empire

Defining “the West” is a challenging proposition in the later Ottoman context. This paper proposes to consider Ottoman – almost exclusively elite and Istanbulite – attitudes towards “the West” through the notion of medeniyet, civilization, and the debate between alaturca and alafranga  – essentially Western and Eastern – cultures. The historian Ahmed Cevdet attributed one of the causes of the overthrow of Sultan Selim III in 1807 as the excessive adoption of European mores as ‘the requisites of civilization’. Such critiques would recur throughout later Ottoman history in a number of media. The notion of medeniyet had far older roots, and to begin with I will consider examples of comparisons between new European and older Islamic civilization, specifically Şemseddin Sami’s Medeniyet-i İslamiye (1296 / 1880) and Akyiğitzade Musa’s Avrupa Medeniyetinin Esasına Bir Nazar (1315 / 1887). The ideas and debates found in these publications were played out elsewhere in late Ottoman discourse, and I will consider an important source for understanding how the West and its ideas were viewed in the later Ottoman context, the satirical cartoons of magazines, newspapers and journals, with a particular focus on the difference in attitude between those from the 1870s and 1910s. Humour and satire became increasingly focused on the tensions between “Ottoman” and “Western” (alaturca and alafranga) culture and ideas within Ottoman society, but humour and satire itself became increasingly alafranga by the turn of the twentieth century. The irreverent and often grotesque and surreal critiques of the alafranga elite found in the 1870s transformed to more polished and accessible images by the 1910s, but critiques of some of the absurdities and excesses of the ‘requisites of civilization’ remained. The changing aesthetic and tone of satirical cartoons were indicative of shifting focus of wider debates in Ottoman culture over the degree to which “the West” should form ‘the requisites of civilization’.

Michael Talbot (Greenwich)

Muslims in interwar Europe: A Transcultural Historical Perspective

The study of Muslims in interwar Europe is a rising and intriguing field of research. No comprehensive attempt has yet been made to cover the history of Muslims in interwar Europe. The history of Muslims in Europe during this period is still fragmented into various fields of study as a side aspect of other issues. Historians of the modern Middle East underestimate the role of interwar Muslim actors in writing a history of Islam, whereas historians of Europe underestimate their role in intra-European developments. Some of these works deal with Muslims in interwar Europe as part of Middle Eastern and Asian history, colonial studies or briefly as related to European migration history. Other historians deliver nationally focused narratives of the Muslim presence in western, central, and eastern European territories focused on specific countries, framed within a national history. The talk thus emphasizes the interconnections between Muslim religiosity, political activism, and modernity in interwar Europe by considering them as complex, borderless, self-organized, cross-cultural, and multi-ethnic groups. Here there is a focus on the idea of the entanglement of Muslim and European memories as “parallel histories.” Studying Muslim networks in interwar Europe from this perspective of “entanglement,” and “trans-culturality” with and within Europe will, therefore, be useful in creating a global approach and a bigger picture by avoiding the numerous traps of the politics of forgetting or selective remembering beyond the historical narrative of the nation-state. The talk represents a step towards a systematic global approach of Muslim connections in interwar Europe. More historical reflection on Islam in Europe can put the present “fear” for Islamization of the West into perspective.

Umar Ryad (Utrecht)

Occidentalism – Images of the West and Western Civilisation in Korea

The perceptions of the West in non-Western countries are influenced by all sorts of domestic circumstances. Therefore the political significance of representations of the West varies with time and place. In one and the same country even different and competing views of the West may co-exist. These perceptions may have a deep impact on domestic affairs. In this respect Korea is no exception. However, Korean perceptions of the West between 1860 and 1940 are somewhat special, because they were blended with Japan’s process of modernization and Westernisation. Still, domestic circumstances played a decisive role in the construction of images of the West. This is illustrated with certain historical episodes, among them the “short-hair edict”. One conclusion is that East Asian “Occidentalism” cannot be squeezed into a single ideological frame.

Eun-Jeung Lee (Freie Universität)

Environments of “The West” in Chinese Travel Diaries and Photo Albums during the 1920s and 1930s

This paper examines the travel diaries and photo albums assembled by Chinese engineers when they visited America and Europe to study modern hydraulic structures. As China’s state builders sought to modernize China’s water systems on the Western model, they traveled to America and Europe to visually document port and waterway infrastructures. How were European and American environments and technology presented in the assembled travel diaries and photo albums? What values and hopes for the future of the Chinese nation were revealed in how they recorded their travels and observations of Western environments and infrastructures? At the intersection of environmental history and visual culture, this paper interrogates the meaning of global science and exchange through the engineering landscapes of “the West” in the photographs and writings by Chinese traveler engineers.

Shirley Ye (Birmingham)

Neither West nor Rest. Changing Concepts of Civilization in Japan, 1860-1940

When Fukuzawa Yukichi published Seiyō Jijō [Things Western] in the mid-1860s, he not only coined the term “West,” he simultaneously linked it firmly with the concept of civilization and race. For him, the adoption of Western civilization was the only way to preserve Japan’s independence. Thus, in the early years of the civilization and enlightenment movement (bunmei kaika) it seemed clear in which direction Japan should turn. But this age of clear direction and simple dichotomies was over all too soon. By 1900, Japan found itself in a complicated and ambiguous position, torn between the West and the Rest – or as Okakura Tenshin famously lamented in The Ideals of the East: “But today the great mass of Western thought perplexes us. The mirror of Yamato is clouded.” Thus, intellectuals increasingly distanced themselves from Western civilization by turning to the concept of (Japanese) culture. Hereinafter, pan-Asianists in particular tried to move in the direction of a non-Western, alternative modernity, a process that had huge implications all over East Asia. In this sense, the age of dichotomies was not yet over. Thus, this paper will discuss the changing Japanese concepts of Western civilization from a longue durée perspective.

Daniel Hedinger (Munich)