Those of us who have studied modern history know well the story of the rise of the dominant West, with its history of world exploration, the rise of humanism, the ascent of notions of human rights and the evolution of inclusive societies.
Often the line is drawn directly from the classical civilisations of Greece and Rome to the Renaissance and Leonardo da Vinci, the time when “the West rediscovered its past.”
Mikhail points out; “Since the Industrial revolution and the so-called European glories of the nineteenth century, this history has been rewritten to portray European ascendancy as somehow stretching back to Columbus. This is a historical absurdity. …it also masks the fact that the Ottoman Empire struck fear into the world for centuries before it earned its derogatory nineteenth century sobriquet, “the sick man of Europe.”
His book begins with a reference to a small town in north eastern Mexico, on the border with Texas, called Matamoro, “Moor slayer.”
This was a term originating from the Spanish Catholics who had taken Muslim Spain from its inhabitants over years of armed struggle.
Andalus, the Land of the Vandals, had been under Muslim rule from 711 CE and culminated in the crusade against Granada led by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492.
The review presented by Ian Morris in the New York Times mentioned the two main claims made by this work.
“The first, and less controversial, is that 16th-century Christians saw everything, including the Americas, through the lens of their struggle against Islam.” [NYT, 18 August 2020 ]
“The Ottoman Empire, contrary to nearly all conventional accounts of world history, was the very reason Europeans went to America.”
Mikhail’s second claim is more controversial, that “the Ottoman Empire made our modern world.”
“He calls his book “a revisionist account … demonstrating Islam’s constituent role in forming some of the most fundamental aspects of the history of Europe, the Americas and the United States.” From it, he says, “a bold new world history emerges, one that overturns shibboleths that have held sway for a millennium.” [NYT, 18 August 2020]
The power of the Ottomans was directly related to the Reformation, that world changing revolution in European thought.
In 1517 Selim conquered the Mamluk’s declining empire, the same year that Luther began his reformation of the church.
Mikhail traces the history of the Indulgences to the twelfth century campaign to raise troops for the Crusades to free Jerusalem from the infidels. Forgiveness of sins was offered in return for service in the Crusade.
“By Luther’s time, individuals could simply pay the Church – no warring required – for the forgiveness of ordinary sins such as lying or lust.”
This was satanic papal corruption as far as Luther was concerned.
That Luther was not burnt at the stake like earlier religious reformers was due to the dominance of the Ottomans.
The Holy Roman Emperor wanted to retain the support of the Protestant Princes in his battle against them.
However these princes had political objectives behind their protection of Luther, so the Emperor could not move to destroy him.
The opening up of the New World, the “Christian” transatlantic slave trade, the rise of Protestantism, the deepening division between Sunni and Shia Islam and the slow spread of religious toleration (a feature of the Ottoman Empire of which Luther appears to have been ignorant), can all be traced back to Ottoman domination of the Mediterranean, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
The writing down of the Ottoman contribution to the development of the modern world has been challenged before but this work makes a major contribution to the revision of the Western Christendom school of history making.
God’s Shadow: Sultan Selim, His Ottoman Empire, and the Making of the Modern World, Alan Mikhail Liveright; Illustrated Edition (18 August 2020).