How will the history of the world be written in another century? I am glad I will not be around to find out, although I suspect future historians will look at the post-9/11 operations at home on the patriot front and abroad with patriot missiles as a low point in America’s future past. We can always look back and see how history was written a century ago. Here is a passage from a popular “History of the World” by John Clarke Ridpath, who penned it near the end of the 19th century. Although dated in its racial and ethnocentric overtones, it is refreshing to see some critical assessment on Western stereotypes at work as well. As an exercise, read the excerpt below to sort out the prejudice from the attempt, even if not up to present-day standards, to be less rather than more subjective.

Some allowance, however, must be made for the judgment which the Western peoples have passed upon the Turks. There is no denying the fact that a part of this judgment is prejudiced. The Aryan races have always shown a disposition to reject and contemn those usages with which they themselves are unfamiliar. They have done so. Not because the usages in question have contradicted the laws of right reason, the interests of the state, of the principles of morality, but simply because such facts have been strange, unfamiliar. The intolerance of the Western people in this respect has been as severe and inexcusable as many of the usages which they have contemned and despised.

There is much of this in the opinions of the peoples of the West respecting the Turks. The latter people have been seen as Asiatics in Europe, and have been judged simply by European standards. No allowance has been made for race differences. No attempt has been put forth to establish a standard by any other than Western preconceptions. The Turks have thus been grossly disparaged by measures and estimates the rule of which they do not admit. We should remember in this connection that Turkish domestic institutions have been formed in accordance with principles and precedents which to that race seem as natural and inevitable as do the most approved usages of the West to the peoples among whom they prevail.

It is not intended, however, to carry this apology beyond the limits of truth and justice. The Turks, on their apparition in Asia Minor, Syria, and Europe, were undoubtedly a fierce race of semi-barbarians, cold, cruel, and without a sentimental life. They were so judged by both Islamites and Christians. None complained more bitterly of the character of the Turks than the polite Arabs, who deplored their ferocious dispositions, though they were obliged to accept them in the bonds of Islam.

… Nevertheless, we are not to suppose that the social state is not without virtue, or that the principles of jealousy, intrigue, hatred, and revenge are wholly prevalent therein.

On the contrary, there is much that is mild, peaceable, comfortable, in the Turkish home. It has been one of the errors of the Western mind to deduce by logic from the social conditions present in the East all the evils of which they are capable. Such a method of reasoning and statement would be as far from the truth as it would be to deduce from monogamy all the blessings and happiness of which that state is capable, and to give the deduction for the fact! …

It may suffice to say that the Turks, of nearly all the nations that have accepted Islam, have proved to be its greatest defenders. Perhaps they are not more deeply imbued than are the Arabs, the Egyptians, and the North African races with the spirit and zeal of the faith; but the latter peoples do not prominently present themselves on the stage of modern history. Only the Turks have the strength and persistency to hold up the banners of Islam in a large place and to make it conspicuous. Only they are able to represent the doctrines of the Prophet as a great available force in modern society.

At this the reader may well fell some surprise; but a moment’s reflection will show that the fact referred to is not peculiar, but general. It is a common feature of religions that they begin among one people and end among another. They spread and diffuse themselves, losing ground in the lands of their origin, and again in a conquest of some powerful foreign race. Thus did Buddhism, losing everything in India, but regaining empires and foreign dominions beyond the Himalayas. Thus did Christianity, losing its place in Syria and the East, and regaining it in Rome. Thrown into the wreck and ruin by the downfall of empire, it then found refuge among the Barbarians, and finally selectd the English-speaking race as the vehicle of its strength and power in modern times. Thus did Islam, conquering the Turks, who were the conquerors of the Arabs, and ultimately giving into their charge the defense and promulgation of the prophet’s fame and doctrine. The mosque became the symbol of Ottoman civilization.

The domination of Islam has cost the Turkish race most dearly. Nearly all of the displeasing features which that race presents in modern times may be referred to the evil influence of Mohammedanism. It should be observed in this connection that the results of the acceptance of the doctrine of the Prophet by the Turks are very different from the corresponding results on the Arabs. Islam was suited to the Arabian genius, but it fell on the Turkish spirit like a paralysis. The energy of the race has been abated by it. At the present time not only the Turkish mind, in a large sense, but every Turkish enterprise is held in thrall by the iron bands of Islam. But for this, the genius of the Turks might display itself with a brilliancy which would light the Eastern Mediterranean, and but for this the civil life of the people might project itself without offense into the history and diplomacy of Europe and America.


[Excerpt from John Clark Ridpath, Ridpath’s History of the World (Cincinnati: The Jones Brothers Publishing Company, 1899), vol IV, pp. 286-290, 307. My thanks to Bill Larsen for giving me a copy of this book.]

Daniel Martin Varisco