Ottoman Multiculturalism

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  • 8/12/2019 Ottoman Multiculturalism



    The Exam ple of the Confessional System inLebanon

    A lecture given by

    M aurus ReinkowskiOrient Institute of the D eutsche

    Morgenlandische Gesellschaft, Istanbul

    17 February 1997

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    General editor: Angelika Neuw irthEditors: Judith GOtz, Bernhard Hillenkamp, Hanne SchOnigCoverdesign: W olf-Dieter LemkeSubsidised from funds of the Germ an Federal Ministry ofEducation, Science and ResearchPrinted in Lebanon by Hassib Dergham. Sons

    Orient-Institut der Deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft

    Rue H ussein BeyhumP.O.B. 2988LebanonE-Mail:

    Beirut, 19990 by the AuthorISBN 2-912374-27-8

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    T he fall of the Ottoman Empire spawned a variety of attemptsto solve the task of integrating a culturally heterogeneouspeople while at the same time establishing a modern politicalsystem. These efforts span from unitary nation-states, intolerantin ethnic and religious terms such as Turkey, Bulgaria andGreece, to consociational systems such as Lebanon. As far as thereconciliation of the interests of different ethnic and religiousgroups andlor the assimilation of minorities and the settling ofdifferences and disputes is concerned, the merits of both strate-gies remain quite limited. Recent bloodshed and unresolved ten-sions have demonstrated that Lebanon and other states need toopen up new channels for political participation, find new modesof political representation, and create new common denomina-tors.

    This paper wants to draw attention to the fact that Lebanesepolitical debate almost completely ignores how its consociation-alist system cam e about in the 19th century.11 will not argue thatLebanon has to return to its 'roots' a somewhat purified and

    chastened consociationalism of a golden age. Yet, a look backinto the Ottoman past might give some important clues on thepresent po litical culture in Lebanon.

    After a short discussion of the Ottoman millet system in thefirst section, I will give in the second chapter an outline of Leba-non's recent history. The third chapter will deal with the conceptof multiculturalism and its potential compatibility with the millet

    system: to what extent can the millet system serve as a model orprototype for a modern concept of multiculturalism? Or, to posethe question in a more general sense: What, if anything, does the

    This lecture was given at the Goethe-Institut Istanbul, February 17,1997. I am grateful to Glinter Seufert for his useful comments and toAngela Zerbe and Marguerite Wiese for helping me improving theEnglish version of this paper.

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    millet system have in com m on with m ulticulturalism ? The fourth.chapter will be devoted to a short comparison between the politi-cal debate in Lebanon and Turkey. The Lebanese political andintellectual debate does (to my knowledge) in stark contrast toT urkey recur neither to themillet nor to multiculturalism. Yet,to analyze the discussion (or non-dis- cussion) of the millet willgive important clues to underlying political visions both in Tur-key and Lebanon. In the fifth and final section I will discuss thepros and cons of using or not using the concep ts of multicul-turalism and millet as a reference point in the Lebanese publicdebate. As will become evident in the next sections, I am con-vinced that the historical experience of the millet system, or evenits ideal concept, cannot contribute to the creation of a multicul-turalist society.

    1. The survival of non-M uslim comm unities and themill t system as a set of ru les and practices

    To a certain extent non-Muslims under Ottoman rule enjoyedreligious (including cultural and educational) and juridical auto-nomy. The set of regulations and governmental practices shapingthe relation of the Ottoman Empire s ruling Muslim class with itsnon-Muslim subjects is commonly referred to as the millet sys-tem.

    The millet system of the Ottoman Empire is considered to be

    derived from an extension of the Islamic notion of dhimina,which was applied in different ways and to varying degrees bymany Islamic polities. The dhimma can be characterized as acontract through which the Islamic community granted the mem-bers of the 'people of the Book' (at first only Jews and Chris-tians) protection and the right to practice their religion, under thecondition that they recognized Islamic sovereignty. The more

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    specific origin of the Ottoman millet system probably lies in theBalkan areas as a means to deal with the mosaic of ethnicgroups and religions of the Balkan Peninsula. The millet systemseems to have been a suitable response to these conditions. In theclassical period of the Ottoman Empire only four millets existed.At the top was the Islamic millet as the ruling millet (millet-ilyikime). Ranked respectively second and third were the twoChristian millets: the Greek Orthodox and the Armenian. Infourth place was the Jewish millet. In the course of the 19th cen-tury a large number of additional millets were established.

    In early Ottoman times the term millet was used mainly forthe Islamic community the umma; non-Muslim communitieswere referred to as icTife, jemdat, gebran or dhimmt. Later, theterm millet was extended to non-Muslim communities, andeventually came to refer to them exclusively. The source of thischange in meaning is probably to be found in the 19th centurywhen the term, misinterpreted by European Orientalists, was re-introduced to the Ottoman Empire. 2 The millets were quasi-autonomous units which performed functions in legislative, judi-cial, fiscal, religious and charitable affairs and were responsiblefor educating their members. Until 1878 the Ottoman state corre-sponded with the millet leaderships by way of the Foreign Min-istry. 3 The millet system allowed individual communities to re-

    2 Benjamin Braude, 'Foundation Myths of the Millet System', in:Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire. The Functioning of aPlural Society, eds. Benjamin Braude and Bernard Lewis, New York:Holmes and Meier 1982, 72; but see Michael Ursinus, art. 'Millet', in:The Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 7, Leiden: Brill 1993, 62f,who sees the change of meaning already setting in with the 17th cen-tury in the attempt to ward off European missionary activities.


    Roderic Davison, 'Nationalism as an Ottoman Problem and the Otto-man Response' in: Nationalism in a Non-National State. The Disso-


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    t n their local ethnic and linguistic distinctiveness, and thus pro-duced a system of 'religious universality and local parochialism'.It was universal in the sense that a specific church in the Otto-man Em pire was seen as an entity. It was limited because eachreligious group at a given place defined itself as a unit and re-lated primarily to mem bers of its own g roup. The mill t system.was thus a socio-cultural and communitarian form of organiza-tion which w as based primarily on sectarian identity, and onlysecondarily on linguistic and ethnic features.4

    Nonetheless, critics rightly charge that the term mill t falselysuggests an unchanging phenomenon w hich endured throughoutthe centuries. The term has for this reason been labelled as an'historical fetish' plaguing the historiography of the last hundredyears. Indeed, in today's usage the term sugg ests an administra-tive and technical concreteness which, in the face of large re-gional and temporal differences, could never really have been. Inpoint of fact, a consistent designation or organization for thevarious non-Muslim communities scattered throughout the Em-

    pire does not seem to have ex isted until the 19th century.

    lution of the Ottoman Empire, eds. William Haddad and WilliamOchsenwald, Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press 1977, 33-37.

    4 Kemal Karpat, 'Millets and Nationality: The Roots of Incongruity ofNation and State in the Post-Ottoman Era', in: Braude and Lewis,Christians and Jews, 141ff, citation on 147.

    Braude Foundation M yths,72ff.


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    guag e', while maintaining a 'special nature'. The special natureof Lebanon springs from the multitude of its confessional groups

    and the high percentage of non-Muslims.

    Six confessionalgroups are of greater political significance, among them threeMuslim communities: the Sunnis, the Shiites, and the Druzes.The other three are Christian: the M aronites, the Greek Ortho-dox, and the Greek Catholic.

    2.1. Political Confessionalism in the F irst Republic

    The pact also reconfirmed the principle of po litical confession-alism and consociationalist democracy in L ebanon. In the L eba-nese confessionalist system confessional groups, and not parties,were (and still are) acknowledged a s the main actors in the po-litical arena. Whereas the term political confessionalism ismostly used with a negative connotation to depict the whole ofthe political culture of Lebanon, hinting at its deep-rooted clien-tism, the term `consociationalism' designates in a more specific

    way the m echanisms of conflict resolution and interest balancingin a multi-confessional society. Gerhard L ehmbruch coined theterm proportional democracy to describe historically grownmechanism s of accomm odating political conflict, as in Sw itzer-land, for example. Arend Lijphart adopted this theory, naming