Holy Lands: Reviving Pluralism in the Middle East

Columbia Global Reports. Apr. 2016. 174p. maps. notes. ISBN 9780990976349. pap. $13.99; ebk. ISBN 9780990976356. REL
One may believe that the conflicts in the Middle East are owing to centuries-old religious and ethnic clashes that are well-nigh irreconcilable. Having spent over 20 years in the region, journalist Pelham (A History of the Middle East) sets out to upend this conceit. He starts with the multicultural and interreligious harmony that once existed within the Ottoman Empire (1299–1923). This cooperation was accomplished by a system of overlapping nongeographical jurisdictions called millets, which were based on religious and cultural affiliations. Between Western ideals of uniform justice and Europe's efforts to dismantle the empire, the system of millets collapsed into ethnic enclaves. Secular practices of justice degenerated into sectarian struggles for dominance and survival. Much of Pelham's study concentrates on this aftermath and concludes with tidbits of hope that the region can again produce diverse societies.
VERDICT While the reasons for optimism may be anecdotal, this is a thoughtful response to the claim that the problems are insolvable or that the blame lies firmly on the doorstep of religious and ethnic strife.
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