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If the East became the great love of Pickthall’s life from the moment he set foot on Egyptian soil in 1894, it wasn’t until the outbreak of the Ottoman constitutional revolution in 1908 that this love took on an intense political focus. In this essay I intend to distinguish the factors that differentiate Pickthall’s early travels in Egypt-Syria-Palestine, the key experience behind his subsequent fictional representation of Arabs, from the impulse that led to a decade or more of political and religious struggle on behalf of Ottoman Turkey. Turning points in Pickthall’s love affair with the East, other than the two just mentioned, included the success of his first oriental novel, Saïd the Fisherman (1903); his public declaration of Islam in 1917; and the defeat of Turkey and fall of the Young Turks in 1918. If, as Peter Clark argued, writings such as The Valley of the Kings and Oriental Encounters demonstrate Pickthall’s awareness of a nascent Arab nationalism,1 The Early Hours, his retrospective novelistic paean to the cause of the Young Turk revolution which did not appear until 1921, re-creates his belief in the destiny of the Turks to bring about a renovation of Islam. This chapter sets out to demonstrate not so much Pickthall’s passionate engagement with and anger and bitterness at the eventual defeat of the Young Turks and their project for Turkey – the entire range of his articles in New Age amply demonstrate that – as the manner in which his early immersion in Arab and Islamic subjects in his fiction gave way to the creation of a discourse almost wholly centred on Ottoman Turkey’s aspiration toward taking its place in modern civilisation underscored by a renewed Islam. It is necessary to consider the journalistic writings, beginning in 1911, to appreciate how the imaginative inspiration of Arabia and Arabian Islam eventually ceded to near obsessive identification with the religio-political fate of Ottoman Turkey.

Before looking in more detail at the changing stances Pickthall adopted toward Ottoman Arabs and Turks, I want to advert briefly to earlier, Victorian valorisations of Arabia and Turkey, specifically as these relate to the penetration of the modern (Western) world into the East. Though it would be difficult to discuss these outside of the terms set out by Edward Said in Orientalism, most are aware that the thesis of this work has been quite considerably revised since its first publication in 1978.2 For the purposes of the discussion below, it is taken as read that the kind of “Orientalisms” on show in the work of the Western writers and thinkers I deal with are distinctive and varied, and in Pickthall’s case, can be said to intersect with forms of Orientalism that Said never touched upon. I want at this point only to draw attention to a fundamental difference between Pickthall and a line of British travellers who were “sympathetic” towards the East. David Urquhart’s valorisation, from the 1830s to the 60s, of the Ottoman Empire in pre-modern, pre-Tanzimat terms; Wilfrid Scawen Blunt’s espousal of the aristocracy of Arabia’s “desert kingdoms” in the 1880s, and T.E. Lawrence’s public advocacy of the monarchic cause of the Hashemites in Arabia after the Great War; singly and together differ in at least one key aspect to Pickthall’s adoption of a divergent discourse concerning the modernisation of the Ottoman Empire.3 Embracing the cause of reform from Tanzimat to the Young Turks, the discourse Pickthall propounds and celebrates is presented as the vehicle essential for the reform as well as the protection of Islam in the modern world. Where the three other British travellers proposed for the East similar forms of Orientalist stasis – Urquhart, an unmoving classic Ottomanism; Blunt, a personal romance of Arabian rulers evoking an imagined golden age; Lawrence, an ersatz version of Blunt’s dream – Pickthall aligns himself with a discourse of reform and modernisation which I shall compare below to a theoretical framework recently termed “Ottoman Orientalism”.

With Pickthall, one of the enigmas to emerge from his individual engagement with the East is the apparent aporia contained in the epithet Aubrey Herbert gave to him – “loyal enemy”.4 If we apply that conundrum to Pickthall’s ambiguous engagement with British foreign policy, we see how in one context – the imperial imposition over Arabic-speaking Egyptians – it is endorsed, and in another – its calculated non-intervention on behalf of the Ottoman Empire in 1908, and from 1914–1921 active pursual of that empire’s demolition – it is denounced. As regards Egypt, “Pickthall combined a respect for Cromer’s firm rule with a disdain for the slogans of the Nationalists”. Over the punishment of the villagers of Denshawai in 1907 his stance “coincided with that of the more imperially-minded British officials of Cairo”.5Children of the Nile published in 1908, opposed the 1882 Egyptian revolution; Pickthall’s stance seemed to have been confirmed when later that year he made a return journey to Egypt during which he had a “long talk with Lord Cromer”.6 However, if we are to believe both his biographers and M.A. Sherif, a major turning point also came that year with Britain’s tacit endorsement of Austria’s annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina a few months after the outbreak of the Young Turk revolution. Expecting “Britain to support the Ottoman reformers, […] his trust in Britain’s ‘even-handedness’ was […] shaken”; he “shared the Ottoman sense of betrayal” and “the progress towards disillusionment of the whole Turkish race”.7 So opened more than a decade’s political struggle on Turkey’s behalf, an experience that turned Pickthall into a “loyal enemy”, but which evolved beyond that to the point where his activism in the Khilafat movement in India left him no longer even loyal.8

An Ardent Hope: Progressive Islam in Turkey

Our main sources for Pickthall’s engagement with Islam in Turkey are With the Turk in Wartime, the political diary he composed during his visit to Istanbul in the early months of 1913;9 the letters he wrote home to his wife Muriel during the same period, and the articles he published in the periodicals New Age and The Nineteenth Century and After. Much of this material propagandises on behalf of Turkey against the Balkan nations and their supporters in Britain in a manner already passionately set out in the 1912 pieces “The Black Crusade”.10With the Turk discloses the rapid process by which Pickthall embraced a faith in the cause of the Young Turks or to be more precise that of the Committee of Union and Progress (cup), and came to identify this almost completely with Islam itself. To properly focus his adherence to the Young Turks’ brand of Islam we need to scrutinise his involvement with a wider process by which politics and religion were welded together by the watchwords “modern”, “progress”, and “freedom” bequeathed by the Young Ottomans to the makers of the Turkish revolution. To these must be added the major late Ottoman ideologies, Ottomanism, Islamism, Turkism, debated at the time and ever since.11 In point of fact Pickthall adopted positions broadly similar to those adopted by Turkish thinkers and activists at the time, though alongside them he also incorporated ideas that were peculiarly his own.

Pickthall’s position when he arrived in Istanbul in March 1913 can be categorised as strongly pro-Ottoman. His engagement in political affairs was almost immediate as he came having set himself the task of ascertaining the number and extent of Muslims massacred in Macedonia in the ongoing war with Bulgaria.12 Initially unwillingly located in the Pera district favoured by native Christians and Western visitors, he was gratified to find there that his first tutor in Turkish, a Roman Catholic Arab, was unprejudiced against Muslims and “a most enthusiastic Ottoman”.13 At this point unaware of the extent of the political divisions among Turks that threatened to tear the remainder of the empire apart, the Englishman established a close friendship with Ali Haidar Midhat, son of Midhat Pasha (1822–84), the former grand vizier and author of the 1876 Constitution, and discerned in all Muslims he met a hearty disdain for the old regime and a commitment to progress.

Indeed, there has always been a number of devout Mohammedans who regard an unbridled despotism as of nature irreligious and disastrous to Islam. Learned doctors of Islam had a large hand in drawing up Midhat Pasha’s Constitution, and the theological students in the capital were its fierce supporters. It is, therefore, a mistake to speak of El-Islam as unprogressive save by force of circumstances.14

Pickthall endorsed the message cementing Ottomanism, Islam and progress together, in his description of another tutor in Turkish, a young mullah to whom he gave the epithet “Modern Khôja”.15 Like him Pickthall believed Islam and Ottoman patriotism to be instrumental in creating “a nation out of diverse elements […] a work of education which requires at least a generation to bear any fruit”.16 Also like the khôja, Pickthall had by then come to subscribe to the political cause of the cup, admitting: “I myself was utterly misled […] and went to Turkey with a prejudice against the Unionists which obscured my judgment for the first three months”.17 Though Pickthall gave the cup wholehearted support this was not uncritical. He acknowledged their early blunders and criticised their patronising attitude towards Arabs, but still he bought into their project: “The Young Turks placed their whole idea in the future, their present hope in education and reforms” while their Liberal opponents were a privileged class, isolated from the people.18 He wrote to his wife Muriel: “from the specimens I have seen […] the Union of Progress people seem to me more patriotic than the Liberals”.19

However, owing in part to his coming from outside and his immersion within the excitement of the moment, the Englishman’s assessment of the cup has an unnuanced look to us today. For example, General Mahmut Şevket Pasha (1856–1913), commander of the Third Army in Macedonia that quashed the counter-revolution in 1909 and who headed the cabinet for the next three years, was someone Pickthall hero-worshipped. Şevket, who led his government from the front with cup ministers like Talaat Pasha (1874–1921) taking a back seat, was assassinated in June 1913 in an attempted coup. Pickthall had personally received chilling advance notice of this but was apparently unaware that the General distrusted and scorned the cup.20 We can understand Pickthall taking up an opposite stance in face of the forces that assailed the cup – the Western press and internal enemies like the Liberals. But what of the slogan of the Muhammadan Union, the group consisting mainly of conservative Muslim students, which demonstrated against the “godless, atheistic Unionists” during the attempted counter-revolution?21 Was his attribution of strong Islamic credentials to the cup grounded in reality? In practical terms, that is in relation to an English Tory who at the time styled himself as “an Englishman devoted to the cause of Moslem progress”,22 and who up to his death held to a Disraelian formula that Britain was the “mentor of the Islamic world, […] foster[ing] and assist[ing] its revival, using Turkey as interpreter and intermediary”,23 the question is largely academic.

In the field of late Ottoman studies recent work has attempted to differentiate and accurate apportion the influence of Ottomanism, Islamism, and Turkism upon the parties that shaped the revolution. Recent academic views of the praxis of the cup, especially in government after 1912, stress their manipulation of these competing ideologies to fit the circumstances. M. Şükrü Hanioglu argues that cup leaders used the three terms “interchangeably” to the point of “political opportunism”.24 Erik J Zürcher states they were consistent in their employment of them as “tools to be used to strengthen the position of the Ottoman Muslims”. The cup “tried to mobilize the population by appealing to sentiments of Muslim solidarity”; once in power “they reduced the influence of both the doctors of Islamic law – and Islamic law itself”. They “felt free to use any and all of these ideologies as they saw fit to accomplish their ultimate goal of establishing a strong, modern and unified state”.25 On the other hand, the cup did attract the support of the constitutionally-inclined ulema26 who supported them for principled as well as for tactical reasons, including Said Nursi (1876–1960) the future creator of the Nurculuk movement, then a widely-admired liberally-inclined Muslim scholar.27

There is no evidence, however, to suggest any of this influenced Pickthall’s espousal of the cup’s programme as one of Ottomanism and modernisation, although he must have had some appreciation of the ground of the early twentieth-century politics of Turkey. A discourse conjoining progressive political ideals and Islamic belief had operated among Young Ottoman thinkers from the time of Namık Kemal (1840–1888), whose poetry in particular famously invoked hurriyet, “freedom”, and whose prose was instrumental in forming the debate over Islam’s endorsement of the constitutional state.28 How conversant Pickthall actually was with the tumult of ideas surrounding the Turkish experiment with constitutionalism, reform, Islam and nationalism is difficult to define clearly. I have not found evidence in the writings he produced during his Turkish sojourn, or indeed in those he wrote before he moved to India in 1920, that he had read any of the works of late Tanzimat thinkers such as Ahmet Cevdet Pasha (1822–95), or of Young Turk ideologues and secular radicals Ahmet Riza (1859–1930) or Abdullah Cevdet (1869–1932), or nationalist thinkers like Ziya Gökalp (1876–1924), or even those cup supporters of Islamist orientation such as Mehmet Akif Ersoy (1873–1936) or Filibeli Ahmet Hilmi (1865–1914). Considering that, as Clark points out, Pickthall was “able to discuss politics and read newspapers” in Turkish only by the time he left Istanbul this is not surprising.29 Anyway, if Zürcher is to be believed, figures such as the above, who are associated with the ideological underpinning to the cup as a movement, did not affect the cup in practical ways.30

The one exception as far as Pickthall’s engagement with cup thinkers is concerned is Mehmet Saïd Halim Pasha (1865–1921), great grandson of Mehmet Ali Pasha, Governor and later Khedive of Egypt. Pickthall met him while in Istanbul soon after which he became grand vizier, a position he held until 1917. However Said Halim’s influence as a thinker did not impact on Pickthall until later.31 By then the Young Turks had been defeated and Ottomanism was on the way to being proscribed in Atatürk’s republic. However, being an Egyptian Saïd Halim had no interest in Turkism and had ceased to hold personal credence in Ottomanism after the outbreak of the Balkan Wars. At that moment the cup’s ideological orientation also changed: “it tried to make Turkism the formal ideology of the state while still upholding Ottomanism and Islamism, and from that point on, the relationship among the three identities of modern Turks has been subject to debate”.32 It is as an Islamist that Saïd Halim’s ideas later held appeal for Pickthall. He would in time distance himself from the Young Turks. In his 1927 articles titled “Islamic Culture”, he delimited the role of Turkey in the pursuit of Islamic renewal: “The Turkish revolution was the small beginning of a great revival of Islam, of which the signs can be seen in every quarter of the Muslim world”.33

Pickthall’s political journalism, which had taken off so suddenly and seriously with the New Age “Black Crusade” series of articles in which Ottoman affairs had stood paramount, petered out in 1920 with a few letters in the same journal and an article on the Armenian massacres in Foreign Affairs. Talaat’s death in Berlin the next year, like Saïd Halim’s at the same time delivered by Armenian assassins, brought sadness to him, as he wrote to the young Anne Fremantle from Poona –

[He] was a great friend of mine […] There was a memorial meeting for him in the old cemetery in the Muslim quarter, at which I presided and had to address more than ten thousand people. I tried to tell them what a brave man Talaat was, and how […] such a death, while working for the cause of Islam […] was really a most glorious martyrdom.34

Speaking to an audience largely comprised of Indian Muslims – a community which had long held the Ottoman Empire in high esteem – the passage encapsulates Pictkhall’s attachment to the cup and his own brand of Ottomanism which for him at the time had embodied the hopes of Islam. Talaat, who he had met in Istanbul in 1913, was part of the cup triumvirate which ruled Turkey during the Great War and according to some was a key mover of the Armenian genocide. Here he is presented as a hero engaged in a struggle for Islam. It would be pointless to question the extent of Talaat’s religious belief, let alone attempt to assess his heroic status. For Pickthall these were incorporated into his personal faith.

Ottoman Orientalism?

When he revived the figure of Marmaduke Pickthall in his landmark biography thirty years ago, Peter Clark referred to the conundrum of his subject’s endorsement of British imperialism in Egypt, his support for Turkey’s revolution and his consequent disaffection with his own government when he felt Britain’s foreign policies worked against it. In a chapter written some years ago, trying to account for this apparently strange doubling I wrote of Pickthall’s “curious imperialist brand of thinking […] curious because it expressed a sort of Turkish Islamic imperialism refracted through British imperialist eyes […]”35 This point was made without awareness of Selim Deringil’s classic study The Well-Protected Domains: Ideology and Legitimation of Power in the Ottoman Empire 1876–1909 in which the distinguished Turkish historian discusses the Ottoman elite’s sense of superiority towards the empire’s eastern subjects and its anxiety to assert the modern aspects of the empire while the eyes of Western Orientalism were fixated on the exotic.36 Accordingly, a figure such as the Ottoman translator Mehmed Izzed could speak of the benefits of Ottoman rule over the barbaric and savage races of the empire much as a British imperial pro-consul would about Britain’s civilising mission in Africa or Asia. Deringil’s argument crystallizes in his statement that the Ottoman rulers had “internalized much of the West’s perception of ‘the Orient’, even as they were striving for authority”.37 The corollary of the official projection of an image of Ottoman modernity and the empire’s membership of the family of advanced nations was the elite’s patronising view of its more “backward” peoples and their lands.

Ussama Makdisi considers Deringal’s work foundational for what in an article of the same name he terms “Ottoman Orientalism”. According to Makdisi:

Whether coded in secular or Islamic terms, Ottoman reformers acknowledge the subject position of the empire as the “sick man of Europe” only to […] articulate an Ottoman modernity: a state and civilization technologically equal to and temporally coeval with the West but culturally distinct from and politically independent of it. This ambivalent relationship with the West was mirrored by an equally ambivalent relationship between Ottoman rulers and subjects […] [who] they saw as fellow victims of European intrigue and imperialism [yet] at the same time […] regarded […] as backward and as not-yet-Ottoman, as hindrances as well as objects of imperial reform.38

Makdisi’s formulation of Ottoman Orientalism can be distilled into a tripartite division:

Makdisi argues “the nineteenth century saw a fundamental shift from [an] earlier imperial paradigm [the supposedly stable Ottoman imperial system] into an imperial view suffused with nationalist modernization […] an advanced imperial center reformed and disciplined backward peripheries of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious empire. This led to the birth of Ottoman Orientalism”.39 Deringal demonstrated how “[d]uring the reign of Abdul Hamid ii there occurred a self-conscious attempt on the part of the Ottoman bureaucrat/intellectuals to recharge and redefine basic Islamic institutions, namely the Şeriat and the caliphate as the basis for a new Imperial/national identity”.40 The Ottoman ruling elite “subsumed a discourse of Islam within the imperative of Ottoman modernization”.41

These points are significant when considering the demarcation I have already made regarding Pickthall’s promotion of a progressive type of Orientalism in comparison with the static kind favoured by other “pro-oriental” travellers. It would be fair to say that very few westerners valorised the modernisation process put into place by successive late Ottoman rulers either in terms of the sincerity with which it was implemented or its viability for success. Fewer still understood the significance of the dimension of Islamic modernism given the currency of Western Orientalist ideas denigrating Islam as backward and beyond reform. Yet these are the areas where the educated reader of With the Turk can see Pickthall’s Ottomanism confirmed. In whichever way he assembled his ideas on a reforming Ottomanism – and here we would need to revert to the curious doubling of British and Ottoman imperialisms already mentioned – the parallels between Pickthall’s views and Ottoman Orientalism seem to me worth following through his writings even if they correspond mostly at one particular moment.

To speak of Pickthall adopting an Ottoman Orientalist discourse would require observing him defending the Ottoman Empire’s progress toward modernity against Western Orientalism’s claims that it was incapable of applying reforms of an effective kind. Then, moving to relations within the empire, it would be apparent that he adjudged the Ottoman bureaucracy as proactive in reforming those peoples of the empire deemed in need of reform. Such a formulation however is mainly applicable to his journalism on behalf of Ottoman Turkey; it is less relevant to his largely fictional representations of Egypt-Syria-Palestine and their Arab populations. It features mainly in the articles he wrote asserting the significance of Ottomanism as a unifying force among Muslims; later in his lecturers titled “Islamic Culture” delivered in India this approach softened.

As regards the non-journalistic writing, outside of the entirely Young Turk framing of The Early Hours, which is his last published novel, and to some extent House of War, Turkish characters do not feature centrally within Pickthall’s oriental fiction. This is not so surprising given that the setting is almost entirely Arabic-speaking lands (Egypt, greater Syria and Yemen). Furthermore, it might be argued these works are predominantly concerned with juxtaposition of mainly pre-modern Middle Eastern societies with modernising trends introduced by the Frank. This is a largely two-way process and the setting is one that involves encounter between indigenous, mainly Arab characters – Christian and Muslim – and Europeans, mainly British. The Ottoman dimension is mostly absent, and Pickthall is not much concerned with a tripartite division that includes the Turk. For that reason it is difficult to apply Ottoman Orientalism to these works. Moreover there is an implicit refusal to project these societies as exotic or as stagnant. Indeed there is a positive dimension in which his intent is to validate and defend the people who populate the novels against Orientalist Frankish arrogance and charges of deceit, backwardness and imperviousness to reform.

Pickthall wrote in 1913: “It had been my lot in early youth to be immersed in the unconsciousness of the old East, to receive its spirit for a season and to know its charm”.42 As well as in the fiction this position particularly comes across in Oriental Encounters – a text we should remember was written towards the end of the Great War by a middle-aged man recalling his younger self a generation before. Here Arabs of various sectarian backgrounds are presented in culturally-constructed behaviours different (and in human terms often superior) to the Western traveller’s and those of his compatriots with whom they periodically engage. The text is one of cross-cultural explication, and is not intended as an exercise in celebration of the Arabs as exotic remnants of a pre-modern world. Nor does Pickthall set out to clearly demarcate them from their Turkish rulers. The latter do appear in, for example, a Qaim-makan whose support the young Englishman is taken to solicit on behalf of his plan to purchase a plot of local land. The official responds enthusiastically exhorting him to “set up [a] model farm […] [and] improve the native breeds of sheep and oxen”, showing he is embedded in, if at the same time set above the local culture. Interestingly, the narrator’s comment: “He might have been an Englishman but for the crimson fez upon his brow and chaplet of red beads, with which he toyed perpetually”,43 strongly hints towards a similarity if not an identity of roles between the Ottoman Turk and British imperial administrator. The Qaim-makan’s modernising impulses are not satirised44 so much as gently indulged. The scene may be adjudged a mature Turkophile’s gloss on an incident of his youth, as it indicates both his sympathies toward an organically functioning society threatened by the intervention of outside Frankish intruders, and his acknowledgment of an official who is clearly a product of Tanzimat educational reforms and of the Sultan’s time “(‘His Imperial Majesty’ he called Him always)” and therefore ready to accept bribes. Here Pickthall marries the Arabs’ qualities of warmth and humanity – unsullied by the cold utilitarianism of the British intruders – with the “natural governance” inflected by an impulse toward modernisation of a late Ottoman Turkish official.

The passage embeds a point of view not inconsistent with the political articles which largely predate it. In these too, Arabs can be celebrated but they are also placed under Turkish governance. British machinations towards unravelling this state of affairs – replacing the Ottoman Empire with Arab self-government under British tutelage – are roundly condemned. Pickthall’s strong endorsement of Ottoman aspirations toward modernization contrast with the Western Orientalism of Turkophiles such as Mark Sykes;45 this position also runs parallel to the desire of officials belonging to the Ottoman elite to disassociate from the Western taste for the exotic. “The effort to depict themselves as ‘modern’ or even ‘normal’ clashed head on with the West’s relentless quest for the ‘unchanging Orient’”.46 Pickthall’s iterative use of the signifier “progress” in With the Turk placed him firmly on the side of Young Ottoman thinkers of the second constitutional period. He had in effect thrown in his lot with the modernising programme of Tanzimat reforms in the bureaucracy and education, which Şerif Mardin argues reified religion, linked it to culture, and turned it into an ideology, at least among the middle classes. Though he might occasionally express “a nostalgia for the looseness of the old society”, alone amongst the Western travellers and Orientalists Pickthall knew Islam “had stopped being something which was lived and not questioned”.47

In most of his journalism from 1913 onwards Pickthall’s embrace of Ottomanism veers towards the cup; like them he is not greatly interested in the provinces (the Balkans ones by then had all but disappeared) and rejects the decentralisation policy of the liberal Young Turk faction (“The League of Private Initiative and Decentralisation”) led by Prince Sabaheddin (1887–1948). The journalism that incorporates intensification of Pickthall’s support for Turkey against British projects to replace Ottoman leadership with Arab ones, sees him employing Ottoman Orientalist tropes vis-à-vis the progressive character of Turkey and the backwardness of non-Turks, and becomes “an articulation of a modern Ottoman Turkish nation that had to lead the empire’s putative stagnant ethnic and national groups into modernity”.48

The Turks, as a white race, have a natural precedence over the many white races of the Muslim world […] That the Turks are capable of understanding Europe more than any other race of Muslims is deserving of remembrance […] If progressive Turkey must be crushed, as Europe says, then one day Europe will behold an Arab Empire, with little of the toleration and good temper of the Turks. Much as I love the Arabs and respect their many virtues, I recognize a difference in their mentality, which makes it most desirable, from Europe’s standpoint, that the Turks should long remain the leaders of the Muslim world.49

In Istanbul Pickthall told a supporter of de-centralisation: “In Syria you have at least a hundred tribes and interests, always embroiled and generally on the verge of war. The only way to keep them quiet is to keep them separate, and this at least Turkish rule has done, or tried to do”.50

Positions cognate to Ottoman Orientalism were affirmed strongly by Pickthall when the chips were down: that is immediately before and during the Great War when the struggle was directly about the survival of the cup and the disloyalty of those Arabs who were swayed by British gold and blandishments to raise the “Arab Revolt”. In India twenty years later reviewing Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Pickthall looked back with barely concealed contempt at the British colonel’s putative project to create the “Great Arab Empire”.51 Otherwise it is fair to say on Pickthall’s behalf that he rarely descended to the caricature of Easterners necessarily encoded in whatever brand of Orientalism was being employed. Still, in his rejection of Western Orientalism as applied to Ottomanism, and in his insistence on Ottoman Turkey’s membership of the community of modern, civilised nations, together with his assertion of the Turks’ superior skills of governance over the non-white peoples in the empire, his position runs close to Ottoman Orientalism. It may be that the component of Islam, which Pickthall needless to say took very seriously, held him back from caricaturing his fellow Muslims, in this case Arab ones. Some in the cup whose Islamism he tended to take at face value might not always have risen to the same standards.52 By the time he arrived in Hyderabad and took up the editorship of Islamic Culture, we could say Pickthall’s Ottoman Orientalism had become softened, if not transmuted. The Young Turk episode was now a matter of the past, and the direction Turkey had begun to follow – as we shall see below – gave no immediate hope that the modernising Islamising trends he associated with Ottomanism would come back anytime soon.

Post- Ottoman Turkey: The Revival of Islam

The fruit of the cross-fertilisation between the reformist positions Pickthall adopted via his interface with Turkey and his new experience in India is to be viewed in the two articles “Islamic Culture” and “Islamic Culture: Causes of its Rise and Decline” based on the Madras lectures he gave in 1925. These should also be viewed with a companion article titled “Muslim Education”. Together they are perhaps the clearest epitome of Pickthall’s post-Orientalism, in which he consigns to history the “old, beautiful, decaying fabric” which he had observed as a young man, and which many Muslims still regarded as Islam itself (“deeming it impious to […] renovate or improve it”). Gently, though firmly, he gives the lie to Cromer’s adage “if Islam were modernised it would cease to be Islam”.53 The hope of Islamic revival rested in obtaining a true vision of Islam as of the present, and this was achievable only through Muslim education. Together these articles are all the more remarkable for their projection of an optimistic, almost utopian vision of Islam’s power and potential. “Islam is a religion which specifically aims at human progress”; it “foresees, and works for, a radiant future for the human race”; it promises success in this world if its laws are followed and applied but “not the success of one human being at the expense of others, nor of one nation to the despair of others, but the success of mankind as a whole”.54 Revisiting the great medieval period of Muslim scientific and mathematical inquiry Pickthall also gives renewed flourish to the modernist axiom that Islam can only be in accord with reason and science. The rationality of Islam’s teachings is contrasted – a ploy already adopted by Syed Ameer Ali (a contributor to the periodical) and Abdullah Quilliam (also a contributor in his incarnation of Haroun Mustafa Léon) – with the irrationality of Christian dogma, and deemed in accordance with modern thought. “Are the two things, the living faith in God and the large measure of free thought, incompatible? A considerable school of thought in the West seems to think that they are incompatible. Islam has proved that they are perfectly compatible”. This was evidenced “in the early, successful centuries of Islam” when “nothing upon earth [was considered] so sacred as to be immune from criticism”. God “had bestowed on man the gift of reason […] to be used quite freely in the name of Allah”.55

Much of the material in these articles revisits the arguments made on behalf of Islamic science and culture by the Indian modernists in their articles in the same volume.56 In their excavation of different aspects of the Islamic past, adopting a corrective, apologetic, but also illuminating tone, Pickthall’s contribute to a standard modernist celebration of classical Islamic civilization. His emphasis falls particularly on the brotherhood of different races brought about by Islam, which is still superior to non-Islamic attempts to replicate it such as the League of Nations; and toleration, which stems from the example of the Prophet himself. Pickthall agreed that Muslim ignorance was the cause of Islam’s decline. Blame for the failures of modern-day Muslim societies including superstition, fatalism, “acceptance of something indistinguishable from a priesthood” – the main bêtes noirs of Enlightenment philosophers – are fully laid at the door of Muslims themselves. “At a certain period of their history, they began to turn their backs upon a part of what had been enjoined to them, they discarded half the Shari’ah, the path which ordered them to seek knowledge and education, and to study God’s creation”.57 The necessary resources were all still there however, waiting for “modern education” to revive Islam.

In the articles Pickthall argues that renewal of Islam must be affected by recourse to fundamental Islamic principles associated with natural law and the shariah. Specifically, he took up Saïd Halim’s emphasis on the congruence of Islamic injunctions with natural law. The golden mean he discerns in Islam’s operation in the past is joined to natural law, and this in turn to the shariah, with theocracy freely invoked without specification as to how it might be applied in the modern world. Saïd Halim’s identification of shariah with natural law, an advance on Syed Ahmad Khan’s and in some ways cognate to Namıl Kemal’s position, was no doubt influenced by his readings in French philosophy. To begin with, the shariah is not a code of supernatural laws but it is akin to scientific laws. However where the latter are “of a purely objective order” and can be discovered through empirical observation and reason, social and moral laws, because they refer to the human being who is a moral, conscious, social creature, are by no means as easy to arrive at. “They are of a sentimental, psychological order […] pre-eminently subjective, and afford no ground for positive regulation”.58 The moral and social laws, which have their source in nature itself, are immutable and independent of human will. The social existence of man is wholly dependent on his knowing what these laws are, just as physical existence is subject to physical laws. Human society needs to adhere to these laws as incorporated within the shariat:

If the Shari‘at deserves absolute respect and submission, it is because it contains the Divine Truth as applied to the organization of society – truth precious above all because it alone is able to give social happiness, and because, to be known, it required a Prophet to reveal it.59

Pickthall clearly follows the substance of this thinking when he writes:

The injunctions of the Quran and the Prophet are laws for all mankind – natural laws which men transgress at their peril […]It was because those laws could not be found out by individual experiment, and could only partly be detected in the long run of history by a student and a thinker here and there, that they required to be revealed by a Prophet. Otherwise they are as natural as the physical laws, which govern our existence evidently and which no one would dream of disputing.60

Epilogue: Pickthall on Atatürk and Kemalism

We left Pickthall transferred to a new theatre of activism mourning the death of cup leader Talaat. The episode in which his Indian and Turkish affiliations coalesced by his acting as envoy in the marriage that joined the House of Osman with that of the Nizam of Hyderabad is vividly evoked in M.A. Sherif’s chapter in this volume. Pickthall’s tracking of Turkey’s development after the establishment of the Republic (December 1923) can be followed in review articles he wrote for Islamic Culture. These disclose a muted, outwardly neutral acknowledgment of the new path his former idée fixe was being taken along by an authoritarian nationalist and militantly secular regime. Surprisingly, perhaps, traces of the old enthusiasm for Turkey’s modernisation programme remain, tempered by unavoidable reference to its accompanying secularism. His acknowledgment of the insertion of nationalism and race into an erstwhile Muslim society, tempered by his fear of Bolshevism, also features in the articles. Pickthall, as Anne Fremantle pointed out, was wary of the emergence of Soviet Russia but he realised that in some respects this influence had been beneficial for both Turkey and Iran immediately after the First World War.61 Implied, but not expressed, is what must have been for him – recently involved in the Khilafatist agitation against Britain – painful awareness of the role played in the affairs of these nations by his native government. British imperialist adventurism in the Islamic Near East (not to reach its nadir until Suez in 1956), so opposite to his former dream, had after the war taken the form of Lloyd George’s encouragement of the Greek invasion and potential dismemberment of Turkish Anatolia, and Lord Curzon’s abortive attempt to impose a British protectorate on Persia. “The Russian Revolution saved Persia, as it saved Turkey; and gratitude for that salvation, with the need to keep in touch with Moscow, has given to Persian, as to Turkish progress a bent which many Muslims view with grave misgivings – Muslims who have not suffered what the Turks and Persians have suffered”.62 The stress on “progress” also can be inferred from two earlier articles (from 1928) that in addition present an intriguingly positive assessment of the Turkish dictator. The first, a review of Kemal’s memoirs, describes these as “form[ing] an amazing frank and vivid human document” in which he “portrays himself as a quiet, strong, far-seeing, and by nature incorruptible man”.63 In the second, made in relation to the replacement of Arabic by Latin script for writing Turkish, which Pickthall notes had also been implemented in Soviet Central Asia, Kemal is judged to be “a great man, undoubtedly, but one who might admire the action of the Russian Communists in forcing practical reform upon a reluctant people. The Muslim world must come to terms with modern life, and someone must make the necessary experiments, take the necessary risks and bear the odium”.64 A later piece from 1932, a review of a recent study of Turkey by Eugene Pittard, confirms the country’s economic recovery, notes the book’s report on the turning of mosques into barracks, and takes issue with the author’s evident endorsement of the new regime’s racial ideology. He doubts that Turks were “a white race”, but one of Mongols and European admixture.65

Pickthall’s late view of the Turkish Republic is expressed in “The Turkish Experiment”, published in the year of his death, 1936. He sees the new republic as a response to the defeat of 1918, paralleled by the success of the Bolsheviks in Russia, opining that the “strong nationalistic position was forced on the Turks by circumstances over which they had no control, as was happening to other Muslim peoples”. The Turkish government had adopted a “policy of indifference […] in their treatment of religion as something separate”. Here the critique of Kemalist secularism (if the language adopted can be considered critical) is muted, the tone resigned. “We […] have read the so-called secular publications quoted no less keenly than the sermons and have found nothing in them unIslamic. The only positively unIslamic feature is the talk of ‘secular’ and ‘religious’”.66

Written at the moment when an iron curtain was made to descend between modern Turkey and its Ottoman past, Pickthall’s articles demonstrate a nuance we said was missing from his earlier, pro-Young Turk writing. At a remove from the white heat of cup activity, he was astute enough not to allow his love for Islam to obscure his awareness of the practical achievements of Kemalism, endorsing Atatürk’s construction of a strong, modernised, unified state as a continuation of the project begun by the Young Turks. This political goal Pickthall respected, even if it was decoupled from the religious aims that had been so integral to his dream for Turkey. The reviews in Islamic Culture that touch upon Kemalism are mature and considered. The years of struggle against Britain have been ingested, and anyway, Pickthall signed a pledge of political non-involvement when he took up his employment in Hyderabad. In the background to his remarks on Turkey, however, is his contemptuous rejection of Britain’s Hashemite project in the Arab mashreq. There is no doubt Pickthall retained a strong regard for Turkey. He couldn’t share the regime’s Turkism because for him Islam was still paramount, though he recognised the value of national feeling. Where Turkey is concerned, did he leave a political legacy? One cannot help feeling he would have been pleased to see the relatively recent revival of interest in Turkey’s Ottoman past, and rejection of the previous “narrowly focused Turkish ethnic nationalism”.67 As a man of modern religious faith, we could also see him looking favourably on the emergence (or some have argued, re-emergence) of a democratic, liberal Turkish Islam of the kind that “flourished in the late Ottoman Empire, but […] waned with the destruction of the empire and the colonization of Muslim lands”.68 Even if optimism for this now seems to be once again on the wane.


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1Peter Clark, Marmaduke Pickthall: British Muslim (London: Quartet, 1986), 89.
2Edward W. Said. Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978); A.L. Macfie, Orientalism (London: Pearson Education, 2002).
3See Geoffrey P. Nash, From Empire to Orient: Travellers to the Middle East 1830–1926(London: I.B. Tauris, 2005); Nazan Çiçek, The Young Ottomans: Turkish Critics of the Eastern Question in the Late Nineteenth Century (London: I.B. Tauris, 2010).
4Anne Fremantle, Loyal Enemy (London, Hutchinson, 1938), 7.
5Clark, Marmaduke Pickthall, 15–16, 17.
6Fremantle, Loyal, 149.
7Clark, Marmaduke Pickthall, 18; M.A. Sherif, Brave Hearts: Pickthall and Philby, Two English Muslims in a Changing World (Selangor, Malaysia, Islamic Book Trust, 2011),15; Fremantle, Loyal, 256. Sherif, op. cit., sees “a change of heart […] between September 1908 and May 1909”.
8See M.A. Sherif’s chapter in this volume.
9Marmaduke Pickthall, With the Turk in War Time (London, J.M. Dent, 1914); Marmaduke Pickthall, “Letters from Turkey”, Islamic Culture [hereafter ic], xi (1937), 419–32.
10“The Black Crusade”, New Age [hereafter na] 1, 1–5 (1912).
11See Bernard Lewis, “Islamic Revival in Turkey”, International Affairs 1 (1952), 38–48.
12See Letters to the Editor, “The Fate of the Mohammedans of Macedonia”, na 12, 16 (1913), 388–89.
13Pickthall, With the Turk, 31.
14Ibid., 36.
15Ibid., ch. 8.
16Ibid., 8.
17Ibid., 151–52.
18Ibid., 153–54.
19Pickthall, “Letters from Turkey”, 425.
20Feroz Ahmad, The Making of Modern Turkey (London: Routledge, 1993), 37; Ahmet Şeyhun, Saïd Halim Pasha: Ottoman Statesman (Istanbul: Isis Press, 2003), 86.
21Ahmad, Making, 36.
22Marmaduke Pickhtall, “The Future of Islam”, na 12, 8 (1912), 175.
23Clark, Marmaduke Pickthall, 20.
24Quoted in Şeyhun, Saïd Halim, 71.
25Erik J. Zürcher, The Young Turk Legacy and Nation Building (London: I.B. Tauris, 2010), 230–31.
26See Ismail Kara, “Turban and fez: Ulema as opposition”, in Elisabeth Ozdalga, ed., Late Ottoman Society: The Intellectual Legacy (London: Routledge, 2005), 162–200.
27“Three days after the Young Turk’s military coup against Abdülhamid, Nursi delivered a speech titled ‘Address to Freedom ’ […] The speech was organized by the cup, but although Nursi was one of its supporters, he nevertheless criticized the deleterious social consequences of their misrule”, Colin Turner and Hasan Horkuc, Said Nursi (London: I.B. Tauris, 2009), 14.
28According to Niyazi Berkes, The Development of Secularism in Turkey (Montreal: McGill University Press, 1964, 210–11) Namik Kemal was the first Ottoman thinker to endeavour to explain Western ideas on liberalism, constitutionalism, natural rights and the sovereignty of the people to a Turkish readership. However in his “Letters on a Constitutional Regime” he left open the question as to whether such ideas derived from shariat and were a revivification of old Islamic forms of government, or were borrowed from Western nations.
29Clark, Marmaduke Pickthall, 23. In 1927 Pickthall mentioned by name Namık Kemal, and his follower, poet and theorist of Turkish literature Ekrem (Recaizade Mahmut), and praised Saïd Halim Pasha for his exposition of the principles of the shariah “in modern terms”. Pickthall, “Islamic Culture”, ici (1927), 275.
30Zürcher, Young Turk, 218.
31See “The Reform of Muslim Society by the Late Saïd Halim Pasha”, ic, i (1927): 111–35. For further articulation of his ideas see Şeyhun, Saïd Halim; Syed Tanvir Wasti, “Saïd Halim Pasha – Philosopher Prince”, Middle Eastern Studies, 44, 1 (2008), 85–104. See also M.A. Sherif, above ch. 6.
32Kemal H. Karpat, Ottoman Past and Today’s Turkey (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 26.
33Marmaduke Pickthall, “Islamic Culture”, ici (1927), 175.
34Fremantle, Loyal, 346.
35Nash, Empire, 191. It is noteworthy that Pickthall largely collapses distinctions between the institutions of Sultan and Caliph in his writings on Turkey. For him, Ottoman Turkey’s imperial political leadership and potential symbolic leadership of the Muslim world mattered the most.
36Selim Deringil, The Well-Protected Domains – Ideology and the Legitimation of Power in the Ottoman Empire, 1876–1909 (London: I.B. Tauris), 150–52.
37Deringil, Well-Protected, 157.
38Ussama Makdisi, “Ottoman Orientalism”, American Historical Review 107, 3 (2002), 768–96, 770.
39Makdisi, “Ottoman”, 769.
40Deringal, Well-Protected, 48.
41Makdisi, “Ottoman”, 769.
42Pickthall, With the Turk, xi.
43Marmaduke Pickthall, Oriental Encounters: Palestine and Syria (1894-5-6) (London: W. Collins, 1918), 212–13.
44…or sneeringly dismissed as for example David Hogarth does in A Wandering Scholar in the Levant. See Geoffrey Nash, Travellers to the Middle East from Burckhardt to Thesiger: An Anthology (London: Anthem, 2011), 42–7.
45See Nash, Empire, ch. 6.
46Deringil, Well-Protected, 156.
47Şerif Mardin, Religion and Social Change in Modern Turkey (Albany ny: State University of New York Press, 1989), 118.
48Makdisi, “Ottoman”, 769; italics in text.
49Pickthall, With the Turk, 198.
50Ibid., 122.
51Marmaduke Pickthall, “The End of the Legend”, icix (1935), 665–67.
52Aubrey Herbert reports the following remarks of Turkish officer, Khalil Pasha (a nephew of Enver Pasha) when negotiating over prisoners at Kut in 1916: “‘Perhaps one of our [i.e. Turkish] men in ten is weak or cowardly but it is only one in a hundred of the Arabs who is brave. Look those brutes have surrendered to you because they were a lot of cowards. What are you to do with men like that? You can send them back to me if you like, but I have already condemned them to death. I should like to have them to hang.’” Margaret FitzHerbert, The Man who was Greenmantle: A Biography of Aubrey Herbert (London: John Murray, 1983), 180.
53Marmaduke Pickthall, “Muslim Education”, ici (1927), 100–1. Pg. 100 repeats “modern” four times along with “modernity”.
54Pickthall, “Islamic Culture”, ic, i (1927), 152–54.
55ibid., 153.
56In addition to Ameer Ali other notable Indian modernist contributors to Islamic Culture included S. Khuda Bukhsh and Abdullah Yusuf Ali.
57Ibid., 162.
58Halim Pasha, “The Reform”, 112–13.
60Pickthall, “Islamic Culture”, 153.
61Fremantle, Loyal, 288.
62Marmaduke Pickthall, “Westernising Persia”, icvi (1932), 153–56, 155.
63Marmaduke Pickthall, “Shorter Notices”, ICii, (1928), 158–61, 158.
64Marmaduke Pickthall, “For Iran”, icii (1928), 475–76, 475.
65Marmaduke Pickthall, “New Turkey”, icvi (1932), 325–27.
66Marmaduke Pickthall, “The Turkish Experiment”, ic x (1936), 486–92, 492.
67Karpat, Ottoman Past, 2.
68Mustafa Akyol, Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty (New York: W.W. Norton), 326.

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