This book gives a unique perspective on the interwar history of the Middle East. By telling the life story of one man, it illuminates the political and cultural struggles of an era. Shakib Arslan
(1869–1946) was a leading member of the generation of Ottoman Arabs who came to professional maturity just before the final defeat of the Ottoman Empire. Born to a powerful Lebanese Druze family, Arslan grew up perfectly suited to his time and place in history. He was one of the leading writers of his day and a dexterous, ambitious politician. But, by the end of World War I, Arslan and others of his generation found themselves adrift in a world no longer of their choosing, as the once great Ottoman state lay broken before the West.
Rather than retreating from public life in those dark days, however, Arslan emerged militant in his opposition to Western encroachment on Islamic lands and tireless in his crusade to bring the organizing principles of a universalist Islam to the age of emerging nation-states. Organizer, pamphleteer, diplomat, spokesman, and symbol, Arslan became one of the dominant, and most controversial, Muslim political figures in the two decades between the wars. His involvements were so varied and intense that to study his life is to bring into focus all the major political issues and intellectual currents of the era. By the end of his career he was both praised and vilified, but he was arguably the most widely read Arab author of his day.
Curiously, Arslan has received relatively little attention in English-language research. This may well be due less to his contemporary importance than to the perspective from which Western scholarship has viewed Middle Eastern intellectual history. Arslan was not one of the winners. For many his evocation of the old imperial ideal and his insistence on the strategic importance of Islamic ideals seemed to be simply archaic protest in a secular age. But this impeccably researched and beautifully written biography demonstrates the power and importance of Arslan’s activist heritage, reinterpreting it for its own time and showing its importance for ours.
A Note on Sources
1. The Formation of an Arab-Ottoman Gentleman
2. War and Exile
3. Adoption of the Arab Cause
4. Advocate of Islamic Nationalism: The Arab East
5. Mentor to a Generation: North Africa
6. The Integrity of Tradition
7. Toward the Axis
A Chronology of Shakib Arslan