The Politicization of Islam: Reconstructing Identity, State, Faith, and Community in the Late Ottoman State, by Kemal Karpat. Oxford, UK and New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. ix + 422 pages. Notes to p. 479. Bibl. to p. 508. Index to p. 533. $ 49.95.
Reviewed by Elisabeth Ozdalga
The well-known historian of Ottoman Turkey and the Middle East, Kemal H. Karpat, has added yet another book, this one of well over 400 closely written pages, to his already impressive oeuvre. His new work is about the development of modernity in the late Ottoman Empire, and its aim is "to examine all the background forces that, by conditioning the transformation (and ultimate disintegration) of the Ottoman Empire, opened the way to the emergence of nation-states in the Middle East and the Balkans, especially Turkey. International events as well as domestic political, economic, structural, cultural-religious, and educational factors are considered to the extent they contributed to the transformation" (p. 19).
This is an immense task, especially as Karpat seems to have adopted a "historical sociology"' perspective. His works of reference are the classical sociologists Karl Marx, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, and Joseph Schumpeter; and many of the historians and sociologists who carried this methodological tradition into the twentieth century scholars like E.P. Thompson, E.J. Hobsbawm, Ernest Gellner, Benedict Anderson, and Anthony D. Smith. The author is well versed in this tradition of analytical history and offers penetrating explanations drawn from general sociological categories without compromising the historical details of his rich empirical material.
What makes this study especially intriguing, is the author's driving agenda. By emphasizing the role of Islamic revivalism and the leadership of Sultan Abdulhamid II (r. 1876-1909) in this transformation process, Professor Karpat offers a notable challenge to official Turkish historiography. In light of the urgency of his argument and the vigorousness of the analysis, it is no surprise that the idea of this book has been on the author's mind since the beginning of his academic career.
As the subtitle indicates, this work addresses the transformation of identities during a period of deep-going social, economic, and political changes. In spite of the fact that Islamic revivalism is the basic component in this analysis of altering identities, the focus is not on changing interpretations of Islamic beliefs or dogma: it is not Islam as a belief system that attracts his attention, but Islam as a system of ethical norms and values used for political purposes. …