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De-Historicizing (Mainstream) Ottoman Historiography on Tanzimat and Tahdith: Jus Gentium and Pax Britannica Violate Osmanli Sovereignty in Arabia

Khaled Al-Kassimi
American University in the Emirates


The (secular-humanist) philosophical theology governing (positivist) disciplines such as International Law and International Relations precludes a priori any communicative examination of how the exclusion of Arab-Ottoman jurisprudence is necessary for the ontological coherence of jurisprudent concepts such as society and sovereignty, together with teleological narratives constellating the “Age of Reason” such as modernity and civilization. The exercise of sovereignty by the British Crown—in 19th and 20th century Arabia—consisted of (positivist) legal doctrines comprising “scientific processes” denying Ottoman legal sovereignty, thereby proceeding to “order” societies situated in Dar al-Islam and “detach” Ottoman-Arab subjects from their Ummah. This “rational exercise” of power by the British Crown—mythologizing an unbridgeable epistemological gap between a Latin-European subject as civic and an objectified Ottoman-Arab as despotic—legalized (regulatory) measures referencing ethno/sect-centric paradigms which not only “deported” Ottoman-Arab ijtihad (Eng. legal reasoning and exegetic hermeneutics) from the realm of “international law”, but also rationalized geographic demarcations and demographic alterations across Ottoman-Arab vilayets. Both inter-related disciplines, therefore, affirm an “exclusionary self-image” when dealing with “foreign epistemologies” by transforming “cultural difference” into “legal difference”, thus suing that it is in the protection of jus gentium that “recognized sovereigns” exercise redeeming measures on “Turks”, “Moors”, or “Arabs”. It is precisely the knowledge lost ensuing from such irreflexive “positivist image” that this legal-historical research seeks to deconstruct by moving beyond a myopic analysis claiming Ottoman-Arab ‘Umran (Eng. civilization) as homme malade (i.e., sick man); or that the Caliphate attempted but failed to become reasonable during the 18th and 19th century because it adhered to Arab-Islamic philosophical theology. Therefore, this research commits to deconstructing “mainstream” Ottoman historiography claiming that tanzimat (Eng. reorganization) and tahdith (Eng. modernization) were simply “degenerative periods” affirming the temporal “backwardness” of Ottoman civilization and/or the innate incapacity of its epistemology in furnishing a (modern) civil society.


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