History of the Middle East – Essay – nkladis17
History of the Middle East
Nick Kladis3-11-16Hist. of the Middle EastTitle Is it possible to create a “modern” society based almost completely upon the ideals of foreign nations? This is what Mustafa Kemal, or Ataturk, sought to establish as he became the leader of Turkey following the carnage of World War One. Coming to power in the age of nationalism, Kemal’s goal was to unite his people around the foundations of the modern west when he took over what is now known as Turkey. His reasons for the virtually wholesale adaptation of western culture were simple – the wealthiest, most powerful countries in the world were located in Europe as well as the United States, and Kemal believed their ideals were essential to their positions on the world stage. While it is true that throughout history it has been common to imitate those who have held the most power, no one in the middle east to this point had attempted to reform everyday life on the scale that Kemal did. When he came to power in 1923, more than 80 per cent of the population was illiterate, and those who could write did so in Arabic script. Ataturks crash program of cultural modernization, affecting education, political life, communications, religion, womens rights, and even, famously, the permitted style of headwear, is surely the greatest example in modern history of an entire country being remodeled by an individual—and of that remodeling being accepted by the population as a whole. As a result, his cult of personality remains extremely strong to this day, as modern day Turks still deify the ambitious leader. In truth, throughout the majority of history there was no such thing as a “Turkish” ethnicity. Turkish was, if anything, simply a language spoken by a group of people from Anatolia who had been loosely referred to as “Turks.” Inhabiting lands in the Arab-speaking Middle East, North Africa, and Balkan Europe all the way to the gates of Vienna, the group of people that make up Turkey were traditionally Islamic. Initially known as warriors that came out of Central Asia starting around one thousand years ago, these people had no specific heritage to draw upon other than being subjects of Ottoman rule, where ideas of citizenship were abstract and held no real meaning. One must remember that the idea that large groups of people sharing a common culture, ways of life and religion and drawing borders is still a very new concept to human history that has only existed in many parts of the world since the latter parts of the nineteenth century. Thus, this new idea of nationalism afforded people an opportunity to craft their own historical narrative in an effort to display a common history that ignited a sense of pride and unity amongst groups of people that may never have associated with each other otherwise. Shrewd politicians, such as Mustafa Kemal, saw the opportunity to craft a new identity in an effort to consolidate power, as well as propel their new “nations” into the twentieth century as a force to be reckoned with on the global stage. Instead of try to negotiate between certain facets of Islam and strike a balance between the so-called “East” and “West,” Ataturk simply decided to adopt western norms full bore. Perhaps the new Turkish leader knew that there could be no half measures taken, as only making small changes here and there would lead to confusion among his people, as well as give them more of a reason to fight for a return to their strong Islamic background.Kemal essentially wanted his Turks to become Europeans, and his modernization program was all encompassing. He got rid of the caliphate, and changed the country from a kingdom ruled by religion to a secular republic. The capital city was moved from Istanbul to a previously unremarkable city in Ankara. He also installed a secular education system throughout the new nation. Additionally, a new civil code was introduced that gave unprecedented rights to Turkish women. He changed the day of the sabbath from Friday to Sunday. No longer would there be a ban on reproducing human images, as was customary in Islamic territory; soon statues and pictures of Kemal were circulated around the country that helped to create Kemal’s cult of personality. Western music was now acceptable and ended alcohol now flowed freely, opening new fields of business for people living in Turkey through the sale of wine. In the mosques sermons were to be spoken in Turkish, the new national language, a departure from the traditional Arabic. Keeping with the spirit of seeping reform, the country was also converted to the Latin alphabet and to numbers used by Europeans. One can only imagine the shock that everyday Turks must have felt in reaction to the immense changes to their lifestyle. It is easy to wonder whether or not the Turkish people supported all the change, yet “ when TIME magazine asked readers worldwide to choose the most influential “Men of the 20th century” it received over 200,000 votes for Mustafa Kemal.” This is remarkable, as many countries, such as China, who attempted their 100 day reform, were met with extreme backlash by its people.
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(2016, 03). History of the Middle East. EssaysForStudent.com. Retrieved 03, 2016, from