Imperial Citizenship at the End of Empire: The Ottomans in Comparative Perspective
- Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East
- Duke University Press
- Volume 37, Number 3, December 2017
- pp. 588-607
- Additional Information
The genesis of this comparative perspective first took shape at a two- part panel organized by the author at the AHA in 2007, “Between Empires and Nations: Imperial Subjecthood, Citizenship, and the End of Empire in Comparative Perspective”; I would like to thank my fellow panelists and our discussant, Pieter Judson, for their stimulating comments. Reşat Kasaba read an earlier draft of this paper and gave key feedback; I have also benefitted from the comparative insights of Charles Kurzman and Dominique Reill. 1. Mer’at al-Sharq, November 29, 1920. 2. For a discussion of the utilization of the rationale of self- determination in Egypt and other colonized settings, see Manela, The Wilsonian Moment. 588 Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East Vol. 37, No. 3, 2017 • doi 10.1215/1089201x-4279272 • © 2017 by Duke University Press Imperial Citizenship at the End of Empire The Ottomans in Comparative Perspective Michelle U. Campos I n the fall of 1920, the Jerusalem- based newspaper Mer’at al-Sharq (Mirror of the East) published an exasperated editorial complaining about the first civilian British high commissioner for Palestine, Herbert Samuel. The catalyst was a failed meeting between Samuel and a delegation of Palestinian leaders who demanded political representation in the mandate government; Samuel denied their request while reportedly telling them that they were as yet “unfit for such responsibility,” echoing the exact language and rationale of Article 22 of the League of Nations’ Mandate, which had legitimized European rule in former Ottoman lands. “Even under the Turks [sic] the people were given a semblance of representation,” the newspaper editor bitterly wrote. “The people here are not natives of Africa, and cannot be treated as such. They are more awake and far more civilized than many of the European politicians themselves.”1 The editor’s palpable affront at the high commissioner’s suggestion that Palestinians were new to the obligations of citizenship (and therefore had not yet earned the rights of citizenship) was understandable . In the two years since the British occupation, Palestinians had attempted to express their political will in a number of ways—they joined the short- lived Arab parliamentary monarchy based in Damascus, established Muslim- Christian political associations throughout Palestine, took to the streets in public demonstrations, and wrote petitions against the pro- Zionist policy of the British mandate regime. The British and Israeli archives hold hundreds of these petitions sent to military and civilian officials between 1918 and 1920 in which Palestinians argued for the right to determine the fate of their country and, when that failed, to take part meaningfully in its daily affairs. These petitions very often used the language of self- determination, political justice, and citizenship.2 The margin comments scribbled by British colonial officials on these documents largely dismissing their claims substantiate a reading that the British problem with Palestinians by late 1920 was decidedly not that they were politically immature, but rather that they were too politically aware and refused to accept their political subordination—indeed, erasure—embedded in the Balfour Declaration and G L O B A L I N T E R W A R 3. For recent notable exceptions that deliberately seek to close this temporal and conceptual gap, see Thompson, Justice Interrupted; Jacobson, From Empire to Empire; Mazza, Jerusalem from the Ottomans to the British; Gingeras , Sorrowful Shores; and Watenpaugh, Being Modern in the Middle East. For a discussion of the problematic nature of this periodization in the case of Turkey, see Zürcher, “The Ottoman Legacy of the Turkish Republic.” 4. For a fascinating discussion of the complexities in the case of interwar Mosul, see Shields, “Mosul, the Ottoman Legacy and the League of Nations.” 5. For a more general overview of the reciprocal impact of the “imperial turn” on Ottoman studies, see Mikhail and Philliou, “The Ottoman Empire and the Imperial Turn.” 6. As suggested by Hannah Arendt and Jürgen Habermas, respectively. For Craig Calhoun, this Arendtian “world- making” leads to a stronger, “thicker” sense of peoplehood that can buttress political membership. “In this sense,” Calhoun writes, “the nation seems more a common project, mediated by public discourse and the collective formation of culture, than...