And Ottomanists Too?

I never cease to be amazed by how thoroughly politicized Middle Eastern studies have become. From time to time, I am assured that this or that branch has escaped the problem. Ottoman studies are a case in point. You would think this rather esoteric field of endeavor might provide some respite, at least from Arab-Israeli differences. You would be wrong. Here is an excerpt from a review of Suraiya Faroqhi‘s much-touted Approaching Ottoman History: An Introduction to the Sources. The review, by the Israeli Ottomanist Ehud Toledano, finds much to fault in the book—last of all,

the total absence of any reference to Israeli scholarship on the Ottoman Empire, which is really striking….If Faroqhi had only cited the most significant works by Israelis, and ignored the bulk for reasons of economy of space, I might have refrained from commenting, bowing, I suppose, to constraints of political correctness. However, this book makes no mention whatsoever of any works by Israeli scholars (I profusely apologize to the author if one has managed to sneak in unnoticed); that fairly large group of studies, not specifically noted for their poor quality, is simply yok [not there]. As it is hard to attribute this absence to some unfortunate, benign coincidence, one should not shy from sounding an alarm bell. Because Ottoman studies have remained almost completely free of the stifling politicization—due mainly to the Arab-Israeli conflict—that has poisoned the broader field of Middle Eastern studies, what appears as Faroqhi’s deliberate choice is an unwelcome and dangerous breach of accepted academic norm that must remain an isolated case.

In the little pond of Ottoman studies, this is a very weighty charge indeed. But it demonstrates a fact known to all Israeli scholars: long before some academics hostile to Israel began to call for its boycott, many in Middle Eastern studies began to banish Israelis from footnotes, bibliographies, and syllabi. That this quiet boycott reaches as far as a major reference text in Ottoman studies speaks volumes for the climate that pervades Middle Eastern studies generally.

One hopes that Toledano is right, and that this is an “isolated case.” I would not be surprised to learn that it isn’t.