The Ascent of the Middle East’s
The renowned Turkish journalist Falih Rifki Atay witnessed World War I and its aftermath, including the Greek occupation of western Turkey and Armenian collaboration with Russian and French invaders. He attributes the severity of the Turkish responses to a “feeling of inferiority” rooted in the undisputed economic dominance achieved by Anatolia’s Christian minorities.1 The economic successes of the Greeks and Armenians had fueled separatist movements, which then galvanized defensive military campaigns, as well as far-reaching social and economic reforms, to reverse the positional losses of Turks.
Positional losses produced defensive reactions also on the part of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Arab intellectuals who came in contact with western achievements in science and industry, and observed the minorities living in their midst leap ahead economically.2 Arab nationalism and pan-Islamism were both driven partly by efforts to improve Muslim economic fortunes.3 Likewise, mob violence against Christian Arabs, where it occurred, stemmed partly from the economic insecurity that Muslim Arabs developed in the face of steady Christian advances.4
The economic ascent of the Middle East’s religious minorities, and the concomitant loss in the relative economic performance of its Muslims, thus ranks among the most consequential social transformations of the modern era. Before we explore the underlying social mechanisms, we shall review the evidence on what the transformation entailed.