What Went Wrong?:
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In this landmark volume, an authority on the Middle East examines the anguished reaction of the Islamic world as it tries to understand why things have changed, how they have been overtaken, overshadowed, and to an increasing extent dominated by the West.
For centuries, the world of Islam was in the forefront of human achievement -- the foremost military and economic power in the world, the leader in the arts and sciences of civilization. Christian Europe was seen as an outer darkness of barbarism and unbelief from which there was nothing to learn or to fear. And then everything changed. The West won victory after victory, first on the battlefield and then in the marketplace.
In a fascinating portrait of a culture in turmoil, Bernard Lewis shows how the Middle East turned its attention to understanding European weaponry, industry, government, education, and culture. He also describes how some Middle Easterners fastened blame on a series of scapegoats, while others asked not "Who did this to us?" but rather "Where did we go wrong?"
With a new Afterword that addresses September 11 and its aftermath, What Went Wrong? is an urgent, accessible book that no one who is concerned with contemporary affairs will want to miss.
Bernard Lewis is the Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Near Eastern Studies Emeritus at Princeton University.
The Lessons of the Battlefield
The Treaty of Carlowitz has a special importance in the history of the Ottoman Empire, and even, more broadly, in the history of the Islamic world, as the first peace signed by a defeated Ottoman Empire with victorious Christian adversaries.
In a global perspective, this was not entirely new. There had been previous defeats of Islam by Christendom; the loss of Spain and Portugal, the rise of Russia, the growing European presence in South and Southeast Asia. But few observers at that time, Muslim or Western, could command a global perspective. In the perspective of the Muslim heartlands in the Middle East, these events were remote and peripheral, barely affecting the balance of power between the Islamic and Christian worlds in the long struggle that had been going on between them since the advent of Islam in the seventh century and the irruption of the Muslim armies from Arabia into the then Christian lands of Syria, Palestine, Egypt, North Africa, and, for a while, Southern Europe. The Crusaders had briefly halted the triumphal march of Islam,but they had been held, defeated, and ejected. The Muslim advance had continued with the extinction of Byzantium and the Ottoman entry into Europe. The Empire of Constantinople had fallen; the Holy Roman Empire was next. Ottoman and more broadly Muslim consciousness of the world in which they lived is reflected in the very copious historical literature that they produced and, in greater detail, in the millions of documents preserved in the Ottoman archives, illustrating the functioning of the Ottoman state year by year, almost day by day, in its manifold activities. There are occasional references to the loss of Spain, but it appears as a relatively minor issue - far away, not threatening. There is some mention of the arrival of Muslim refugees and of Jewish refugees who came from Spain to the Ottoman lands, but little more.
The peace signed at Carlowitz drove home two lessons. The first was military, defeat by superior force. The second lesson, more complex, was diplomatic, and was learnt in the process of negotiation. In the early centuries of Ottoman experience, a treaty was a simple matter. The Ottoman government dictated its terms, and the defeated enemy accepted them. After the first siege of Vienna there was, for a while, some sort of negotiation, and even - a startling innovation - a concession to the kaiser of equal status with the sultan, but no conclusive result one way or the other. In negotiating the Treaty of Carlowitz, the Ottomans had, for the first time, to resort to that strange art we call diplomacy, by which they tried, through political means, to modify, or even to reduce the results of the military outcome. For the Ottoman officials this was a new task, one in which they had no experience: how to negotiate the best terms they could after a military defeat.
In this, they had some assistance, some guidance, from two foreign embassies in Istanbul, those of Britain and of the Netherlands. The Ottomans at first were unwilling to accept what they regarded as Christian interference, but they soon learned to recognize and make use of such help. The Western maritime and commercial states had no interest in the consolidation and extension of Austrian power and influence in Central and Eastern Europe, and thought it would be more to their advantage to have a weakened but surviving Ottoman Empire, in which their merchants could come and go at will. The British and Dutch emissaries managed to provide the Ottomans with some discreet help and advice, and were even able to take part in the negotiation of the peace treaty.
Western help was not limited to diplomacy. Military help - the supply of weapons, even the financing of purchases, were old and familiar, going back beyond the beginnings of the Ottoman state to the time of the Crusades. What was new was for the Ottomans to seek European help in training and equipping their forces, and to form alliances with European powers against other European powers.
In the first half of the eighteenth century, the struggle was indecisive, and even brought some gains for the Ottomans. In 1710 and 1711 they won a significant victory over the Russians who, by the Treaty of the Pruth (1711), were obliged to return the peninsula of Azov. But another war against Venice and then against Austria ended with another defeat and further territorial losses, specified in the Treaty of Passarowitz of 1718.
At about that time, we have an Ottoman document, recording, or to be more accurate purporting to record, a conversation between two officers, one a Christian, (not more precisely described), the other an Ottoman Muslim. The purpose of the document is obviously propagandistic. It is, to my knowledge, the first Muslim document in which Muslim and Christian methods of warfare are compared,to the advantage of the latter, and the previously unthinkable suggestion is advanced that the true believers should follow the infidels in military organization and the conduct of warfare. The document laid great stress in particular on the Christian use of firepower, both cannon and muskets, and on the training and reorganizations of their forces, to make the most effective use of both. "The superior skill of the Austrian lies only in the use of the musket. They cannot face the sword." The thrust of the argument was that it was no longer sufficient, as in the past, to adopt Western weapons. It was also necessary to adopt Western training, structures, and tactics for their effective use.
That was bad enough; even worse was that this adoption by the Ottomans - and later the Persians and other Muslim armies - did not produce the desired result. The military confrontation revealed in a dramatic form the root cause of the new imbalance. The problem was not, as was once argued, one of decline. The Ottoman state and armed forces were as effective as they had ever been, in traditional terms. In this as in much else, it was European invention and experiment that changed the balance of power between the two sides.
Excerpted from What Went Wrong? by Bernard Lewis
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.