Friday, October 31, 2008

How Muslims Made Europe

The New York Review of Books
Vol: 55, No: 17 Nov. 6, 2008


By Kwame Anthony Appiah

God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Modern Europe, 570–1215, David Levering Lewis, Norton, 473 pp.

The conception of the Mediterranean as the meeting of three continents goes back to classical Greece. But it took a further intellectual leap to conceive of their inhabitants as a collectivity. You can have Europe, Africa, and Asia without thinking of Europeans, Africans, and Asians as particular kinds of people.

David Levering Lewis's rich and engaging God's Crucible shows that it took two things to make Europeans think of themselves as a people. One was the creation of a vast Holy Roman Empire by the six-foot-four, thick-necked, fair-haired Frankish warrior king we know as Charlemagne. The other was the development, in the Iberian peninsula on the southwestern borders of his dominion, of the Muslim culture of Spain, which the Arabs called al-Andalus. In the process that made the various tribes of Europe into a single people, what those tribes had in common and what distinguished them from their Muslim neighbors were both important. This is, by now, a familiar idea. But God's Crucible offers a more startling proposal: in making the civilization that modern Europeans inherit, the cultural legacy of al-Andalus is at least as important as the legacy of the Catholic Franks. In borrowing from their great Other, they filled out the European Self.

Charlemagne's rule included at its high point most of France, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands, the west of Germany, Italy as far south as Rome, a strip in the north of Spain, and parts of Hungary and the Balkans. At nearly three and a half million square miles, it was larger than the continental United States. Charlemagne imposed Catholic orthodoxy on the pagan Saxons in the east at the point of a very sharp sword, massacring thousands of those who resisted, and suppressed heresy within Frankland with equal vigor. He created monastic centers of learning, drawing scholars from across his empire and beyond; and after the centuries of ignorance that had followed the collapse of the Roman Empire in Gaul and Germania, the works of men like the Northumbrian Alcuin (poet, theologian, and restorer of the classical curriculum) created a Carolingian Renaissance.

These achievements perhaps entitled Charlemagne to his self-conception as Rome's heir in the West, author of a Renovatio Romani Imperii, an imperial restoration. When he traveled to Rome in December 800, some thirty years into his reign, he went to defend the authority of Leo III as pope; and His Holiness returned the favor by crowning him Emperor of the Romans on Christmas Day 800 (much to the annoyance of the Byzantine regent Irene, who called herself Emperor, rather than Empress, and thought the title was hers).

Charlemagne was a great soldier, a devoted Catholic, an ambitious administrator, and a patron of learning. He had reason to take pride in what would prove a brilliant Carolingian legacy; we need think only of the magnificent carved ivory plaques in the Cloisters of the Metropolitan Museum or the elegance of manuscripts in Carolingian minuscule or Alcuin's Latin verse history of York. But the empire he created was, as Lewis puts it trenchantly, "religiously intolerant, intellectually impoverished, socially calcified, and economically primitive," ruled by a "warrior caste and its clerical enforcers." Despite the new currency, the economy was dominated by barter; there were few cities of any size; and wealth was measured in land, peasants, and slaves.

Charlemagne had no national system of taxation. He lived off plunder and the product of his own estates. What his lords owed him was military service. They were obliged to show up annually in the late spring, armed for a military campaign, in case he thought it necessary. (Very often, he did.) The Franks had once been a relatively free agrarian people; now they were largely a nation of serfs, working alongside slaves—many of them Slavs from Bohemia and the southern shores of the Baltic.

Charlemagne's royal hall, in his new capital at Aachen, was built on a fifty-acre complex of buildings, secular and religious, and was the largest stone structure north of the Alps. But it paled in comparison to the architectural majesty of Byzantium or Rome. The King endowed libraries with hundreds of manuscripts, impressive by comparison with anything that had been seen hitherto by the Franks, but pitiful (as Gibbon observed) beside the thousands of documents in the libraries of Italy or Spain. He created a new bureaucratic structure, sending royal officials to each of the 350 counties of his realm to deliver his commands, hear cases, and, when necessary, to summon his people to war. But as Lewis says,

much of this royal centralizing had scarcely more than a parchment reality in a world of near-universal illiteracy, deep suspicion and resentment on the part of the nobility, and a crippling disparity between resources and objectives.

The fact is that Charlemagne's empire, impressive as it was, lacked many of the marks of what we think of as civilization: cities, commerce, great libraries, a literate elite. This is especially clear if we compare the world he made with the cultivated society of his new Muslim neighbors.


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the book image, taken from

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Osman's Dream: The History of the Ottoman Empire

Caroline Finkel
Perseus Publishing, 2006
Barnes &

The Ottoman Empire was one of the largest and most influential empires in world history. Its reach extended to three continents and it survived for more than six centuries, but its history is too often colored by the memory of its bloody final throes on the battlefields of World War I. In this magisterial work-the first definitive account written for the general reader-renowned scholar and journalist Caroline Finkel lucidly recounts the epic story of the Ottoman Empire from its origins in the thirteenth century through its destruction in the twentieth.

Publishers Weekly

What Finkel calls the "old" narrative of the Ottoman Empire is simple to relate: "it rose, declined, and fell." An exotic parade of salacious sultans, grand viziers and duplicitous eunuchs inhabit the sultry harems and domed palaces of Istanbul-at least in our imaginations. Finkel, a long-time resident of Turkey and Ottoman scholar, relates a "new" narrative of empire that properly accounts for the richness and complexity of the Ottoman state over nearly seven centuries. By presiding over their multiethnic empire for so long, and ushering it from medievalism to modernity, the Ottomans should be ranked alongside the Hapsburgs and the Romanovs, she argues. That they are overlooked is the fault of Western historians who have peered at their subjects through the lens of their own prejudices. Finkel's striking innovation is to turn a mirror on the Ottomans and examine how they saw themselves and their empire. While this approach yields a refreshingly original perspective, Finkel's quest to improve Westerners' understanding occasionally leads her into some questionable stretches (an implication, for instance, that Westerners think all Muslims are terrorists). Happily, these remain unintrusive and this history makes a riveting and enjoyable read for all audiences. 16 pages of photos; maps. (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Library Journal

In the year 1300, Osman, a Muslim tribal leader in Asia Minor (the future Turkey), dreamed that he would found a great, centuries-spanning empire. Of course, he and his descendants fulfilled that vision with the Ottoman Empire, which lasted from the Crusades until after World War I. Finkel, a noted Ottoman scholar who contributed to the History Channel's forthcoming special, The Ottoman Empire, has penned possibly the first book in English on the entire history of the Ottoman Empire for general readers. In her well-written narrative, she breaks with Western scholarship by not treating the empire as the stereotypical "Sick Man of Europe," preferring to let the extensive Turkish sources tell a story of an enormous, complex, multiethnic state. Her story culminates with the rise of the Turkish republic in the early 1920s and a new founding myth based on the speech of Mustafa Kemal (Atat rk). Finkel, writing from the Turkish point of view, uses Turkish titles and place names that will be unfamiliar to most of her audience. In spite of this, her book should be in most general and academic libraries.-Robert Harbison, Western Kentucky Univ. Lib., Bowling Green Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews

Readable survey of one of the world's great empires. Founded by the Turkoman Emir Osman, who had dreamed that he was destined to do so, the Ottoman Empire lasted 600 years and came to incorporate much of western Asia, northeastern Africa and southeastern Europe. Yet, as British historian Finkel tells it in her U.S. debut, though the dominion may have been vast, it was also tenuous. The Ottomans conquered most of the Arabian peninsula, for instance, but for some reason could never take control of the rich province of Yemen, "singularly failing to subdue it" over the course of a century. They were more effective closer to home, forging an empire by gathering rural Anatolians of many ethnicities and religions and moving them into Istanbul. They similarly pacified the countryside, establishing tight control over the comings and goings of the citizenry. In its more tranquil moments, the Ottoman Empire was an oasis of learning, with much attention given to pleasures and vices. (Its rulers, Finkel writes, appreciated that tobacco and alcohol served "as a means of raising ready cash.") When bellicose, it was something to fear, as the good citizens of Austro-Hungary and various Balkan principalities understood. The empire dwindled in the 18th and early-19th centuries, as Russia seized the Crimea, and Greece gained independence; it disintegrated rapidly in the early-20th century with the collapse of the Central Powers with which the last Ottomans had allied themselves. Finkel's text is a satisfying blend of narrative history, anecdote and character study (featuring such players as "Fairskinned Bosnian" Suleyman Agha and Chief Black Eunuch Yusuf Agha). Her careful but brief discussion of theArmenian genocide, however, may not please readers with a stake in either side of the issue. The more we know about the Ottomans, the more easily comprehensible the subsequent history of the region they ruled becomes. Finkel's study makes a useful contribution.


Caroline Finkel has lived in Istanbul for many years and traveled widely in Turkey and the former Ottoman lands. She has a doctorate in Ottoman history from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. Osman’s Dream is her third book. She currently divides her time between Istanbul and London.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Publishing Advice for Graduate Students

Thom Brooks
Univ. of Newcastle upon Tyne (UK) - Newcastle Law School
Social Science Research Network

January 18, 2008

Graduate students often lack concrete advice on publishing. This essay is an attempt to fill this important gap. Advice is given on how to publish everything from book reviews to articles, replies to book chapters, and how to secure both edited book contracts and authored monograph contracts, along with plenty of helpful tips and advice on the publishing world (and how it works) along the way in what is meant to be a comprehensive, concrete guide to publishing that should be of tremendous value to graduate students working in any area of the humanities and social sciences.

Download the paper

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Development Impacts of Financial Crisis

Liliana Rojas-Suarez
Center for Global Development

U.S. Financial Crisis Will Mean Slower Growth, Rising Inequality in Developing World

For many developing countries, the U.S. credit crisis will mean slower growth and rising inequality. The effects will be protracted, and not all will show up at the same time. And the nature and degree of impact will vary widely. Some countries, notably those with extensive foreign exchange reserves and strong fiscal positions, will be much better able to cope than others. But overall the crisis is very bad news for developing countries and especially for the poor.

During the first stage, impacts will be felt through two channels. First, lower growth in the industrial countries will mean less demand for developing countries' exports, both manufactured goods and most commodities (gold will be a notable exception). A few developing countries are growing based on domestic demand but many are growing based on exports, and for them sagging rich-world demand will be a problem.

The second channel will be a reduction in capital inflows to developing countries. Because the U.S. crisis has created a global credit crunch, investors are becoming more risk averse and thus less willing to invest in developing countries. As uncertainty and risk have increased in international capital markets, investors will continue to shift the composition of their portfolios, away from riskier assets, such as emerging markets securities, and into traditional stores of value, such as U.S. treasury bonds and gold.

Countries with strong reserve accumulations and solid fiscal positions will be better able to cope. In the past many developing countries faced financial crises of their own when they were unable to roll over maturing debt and also unable to pay it off. This time many countries have substantial reserves -- and I'm not just talking about China. Some countries in Latin America have ample reserves, too.

Most at risk are countries that have deteriorating current account balances and fiscal problems. Possible examples include several Eastern European countries, Turkey, Argentina, maybe even Brazil. Mexico is susceptible because of its close ties to the U.S., and Russia also is potentially in trouble. Of course, the numbers are still evolving and it's too early to be picking winners or losers with any confidence.

But even for countries with adequate reserves and strong macroeconomic performance, the global credit crunch will impose a cost. The combination of less export demand and perceived higher-risk for investors means that developing country governments and businesses needing access to capital will face higher interest rates, both externally and locally. Higher interest rates and less willingness to lend make it harder for middle class and poor people to borrow. Moreover, developing countries will need to cut fiscal expenditures to deal with reduced sources of revenue and finance. History shows that when fiscal expenditures are cut, social programs and infrastructure projects that help the poor are especially vulnerable to being curtailed.

Thus, the result will be increased poverty and inequality.

All of that is just the first stage. How the second stage develops is going to depend on the depth of the crisis and the cost of resolving it. In addition to the public costs associated with the de facto nationalization of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the latest U.S. government proposal involves creating a new entity, something like the Resolution Trust Corp. that was created to deal with failed Savings and Loans (S&Ls) in the 1980s. But at this point we don't know the size of the assets that this new entity will be absorbing, and we have no way to know the amount of public money that will be put at risk. What we do know is that the U.S. fiscal deficit will soar; but nobody knows by how much. This uncertainty can itself be a problem if it undermines confidence in the dollar, and if the U.S. government then responds by raising interest rates, to defend the dollar.

Developing countries know well the problems that can come from high U.S. interest rates. A number of previous crises were triggered when significant increases in U.S. interest rates reversed capital inflows to developing countries, exposing macroeconomic fragilities in these countries. At this time, we don't know for sure if this will happen, but if it does, for developing countries already weakened during stage one, that is, suffering from reduced export demand and capital flows, high U.S. interest rates could be like getting hit with a double whammy.

Facing high interest rates, governments in the developing world would have to adjust their fiscal position again! That is, raise taxes or cut expenditures, beyond what was needed during the first stage. And poor people get hit a second time, as the most likely expenditure cuts are those directly directed to the poor.

For all these reasons, the dip in growth rates that accompanies a crisis such as the current U.S. financial crisis is extremely worrying. In the long run, growth may rebound, but during the dip many people may lose their jobs and the real value of their wealth. There are huge distributional effects. The rich can minimize the impact of the crisis because they are able to diversify their portfolios and even move funds abroad as needed. Who pays for all this? The middle class -- some of whom slip into poverty -- and the already poor. In Latin America in the 80s and 90s the sharp reduction in the size of the middle class due to various financial crises has had important political effects, leading directly to the rise of leftist regimes that are opposed to the U.S.

Fortunately, many developing countries not only have reserves, they also have more and better policy tools for responding to external shocks, including flexible exchange rates in a number of cases. How well they are able to cope with the fallout from the crisis unfolding in Washington and New York is hard to predict. In the past, developing countries were not well prepared to cope with such shocks. This time countries are better prepared but the shock is also much larger. So the impact on the developing world will depend a great deal on the magnitude of the crisis resolution in the United States.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Cafe Bookshelf (I)

For more information about the books, click over the cover images...

The latest book from Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf explains why global imbalances cause financial crises—including the one ravaging the United States right now—and outlines the steps for ending this destructive cycle. Reviewing global financial crises since 1980, Wolf lays bare the links between the microeconomics of finance and the macroeconomics of the balance of payments, demonstrating how the subprime lending crisis in the United States fits into a pattern that includes the economic shocks of 1997, 1998, and early 1999 in Latin America, Russia, and Asia. He explains why the United States is now the “borrower and spender of last resort,” makes the case that this is an untenable arrangement, and argues that global economic security depends on the ability of emerging economies to develop robust financial systems based on domestic currencies. Sharply and clearly argued, Wolf’s prescription for fixing global finance illustrates why he has been described as "the world's preeminent financial journalist."

U.S. national security policy is at a critically important crossroads. The Bush Doctrine of unilateralism, pre-emptive war, and the imposition of democracy by force has proven disastrous. The United States now finds itself vilified abroad, weakened at home, and bogged down in a seemingly endless and unwinnable war.

In To Lead the World , Melvyn P. Leffler and Jeffrey W. Legro bring together eleven of America's most esteemed writers and thinkers to offer concrete, historically grounded suggestions for how America can regain its standing in the world and use its power more wisely than it has during the Bush years. Best-selling authors such as David Kennedy, Niall Ferguson, Robert Kagan, Francis Fukuyama, and Samantha Power address such issues as how the U.S. can regain its respect in the world, respond to the biggest threats now facing the country, identify reasonable foreign policy goals, manage the growing debt burden, achieve greater national security, and successfully engage a host of other problems left unsolved and in many cases exacerbated by the Bush Doctrine. Representing a wide range of perspectives, the writers gathered here place the current foreign-policy predicament firmly in the larger context of American and world history and draw upon realistic appraisals of both the strengths and the limits of American power. They argue persuasively that the kind of leadership that made the United States a great--and greatly admired--nation in the past can be revitalized to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Written by prize-winning authors and filled with level-headed, far-sighted, and achievable recommendations, To Lead the World will serve as a primary source of political wisdom in the post-Bush era and will add immeasurably to the policy debates surrounding the 2008 presidential election.

How do leaders perceive threat levels in world politics, and what effects do those perceptions have on policy choices? Mark L. Haas focuses on how ideology shapes perception. He does not delineate the content of particular ideologies, but rather the degree of difference among them. Degree of ideological difference is, he believes, the crucial factor as leaders decide which nations threaten and which bolster their state’s security and their own domestic power. These threat perceptions will in turn impel leaders to make particular foreign-policy choices.

Haas examines great-power relations in five periods: the 1790s in Europe, the Concert of Europe (1815–1848), the 1930s in Europe, Sino-Soviet relations from 1949 to 1960, and the end of the Cold War. In each case he finds a clear relationship between the degree of ideological differences that divided state leaders and those leaders’ perceptions of threat level (and so of appropriate foreign-policy choices). These relationships held in most cases, regardless of the nature of the ideologies in question, the offense-defense balance, and changes in the international distribution of power.

Beyond Sacred and Secular
Politics of Religion in Israel and Turkey
Sultan Tepe

The global rise of political religion is one of the defining and most puzzling characteristics of current world politics. Since the early 1990s, religious parties have achieved stunning electoral victories around the world.

Beyond Sacred and Secular investigates religious politics and its implications for contemporary democracy through a comparison of political parties in Israel and Turkey. While the politics of Judaism and Islam are typically seen as outgrowths of oppositionally different beliefs, Sultan Tepe's comparative inquiry shows how limiting this understanding of religious politics can be. Her cross-country and cross-religion analysis develops a unique approach to identify religious parties' idiosyncratic and shared characteristics without reducing them to simple categories of religious/secular, Judeo-Christian/Islamic, or democratic/antidemocratic. Tepe shows that religious parties in both Israel and Turkey attract broad coalitions of supporters and skillfully inhabit religious and secular worlds simultaneously. They imbue existing traditional ideas with new political messages, blur conventional political lines and allegiances, offer strategic political choices, and exhibit remarkably similar political views.

This book's findings will be especially relevant to those who want to pass beyond rudimentary typologies to better assess religious parties' capacities to undermine and contribute to liberal democracy. The Israeli and Turkish cases open a window to better understand the complexities of religious parties. Ultimately, this book demonstrates that the characteristics of religious political parties—whether Jewish, Muslim, or yet another religion—can be as striking in their similarities as in their differences.

Social Science Concepts: A Users Guide will prove an indispensable guide for graduate students and scholars in the social sciences. More broadly, it will appeal to scholars in any field who wish to think more carefully about the concepts used to create theories and research designs.

The Myth of the Rational Voter takes an unflinching look at how people who vote under the influence of false beliefs ultimately end up with government that delivers lousy results. With the upcoming presidential election season drawing nearer, this thought-provoking book is sure to spark a long-overdue reappraisal of our elective system.
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