. . . I began to imagine an occupying army of moral relativists, enforcing the peace by drawing a lesson from the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans lasted a much longer time than the British Empire in part because they had a brilliant counterinsurgency strategy. They did not try to impose their values on others. Instead, they made room — their famous “millet system” — for cultural pluralism, leaving each ethnic and religious group to control its own territory and at liberty to carry forward its distinctive way of life.The Ottoman Turks knew the secret to keeping peace in the Middle East. One of the great tragic mistakes of the past century was the decision by the allies to break up the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. A Peace to End all Peace by David Fromkin remains one of most important books on the Middle East.
As Rick Schweder points out, the experience of the Ottoman Turks holds some important lessons for America. And so far as anthropologists can position themselves to help the United States to hear that message, so much the better.
Update: To read my follow-up to this post, click here.