[...] An important venue for this Ottoman cosmopolitanism were the Masonic lodges. Ottoman Muslims were admitted into these lodges in the 1860s and many intellectuals and public figures embraced Masonry with enthusiasm. The lodges they favoured followed the French Grand Orient, which, unlike its British counterparts, jettisoned the references to a Supreme Being, and the Immortality of the Soul, the deistic principle of earlier Masonry. It also embraced the slogan of the French Revolution of Equality, Liberty and Fraternity (to which the later Young Turks added Justice). In effect, those lodges favoured secular positivism and rationality, which was part of its attraction to Ottoman liberals. Membership included Greeks, Armenians and Jews, as well as European residents. Turkish was introduced as one of the languages of proceeding in some lodges. Many Ottoman intellectuals combined Masonry and positivism with heterodox Muslim mysticism, notably Bektashism, a historic Turkish Sufi order, outlawed in the 1820s and organised in secret societies. Ibn Arabi (1165-1240), the main reference of Muslim mysticism, was embraced alongside Herbert Spencer and Auguste Comte. What the two strands had in common was the rejection of religious authority and institutions. Masonry was equally prevalent in Egypt, where the Muslim reformer Jamal-ad-Din Al-Afghani (1838-1897) was the master of a lodge, which also embraced some of his followers, including Muhammad Abdu (1849-1905). It played an important part in the politics of the elites. The Iraqi poet, Ma`ruf al-Rusafi (d.1945) was recruited into a lodge when in Istanbul, but renounced that affiliation in statements in later life as an Iraqi and Arab nationalist.
The conspiracy which culminated in the Young Turk revolution of 1908 took place within the Italian Masonic lodge in Salonica. The legal immunities of the foreigners and their homes in that city offered protection for the military conspirators from Hamidian police and spies. In 1909 there was a counter-revolution in Istanbul, in support of the Sultan and the Islamic shari`a, led by religious figures. This was put down by army contingents from Salonica, and culminated in the deposition of the Sultan. The four member delegation which went to the Palace to inform Abdul-Hamid of his deposition were all from minority communities, including the Jew Emmanuel Karasso, a prominent Mason. Of course this fed into later conspiracy theories about Masons and Jews plotting to end the last Islamic caliphate. Karasso, in fact, was an Ottomanist, and explicitly rejected Zionist claims.
Posts Tagged ‘Young Turks’
[...] a small group of Sephardic Jews, many of them descended from conversos, did not think that Zevi’s apostasy invalidated his mission. On the contrary, they decided to follow him by converting to Islam themselves, while continuing to believe in their messiah and follow his commandments. This group, totaling about 300 families, became known in Turkish as Dönme, “converts,” though they referred to themselves in Hebrew as Ma’aminim, “believers.” By the 1680s, the Dönme had congregated in Salonika, the cosmopolitan and majority-Jewish city in Ottoman Greece. For the next 250 years, they would lead an independent communal life—intermarrying, doing business together, maintaining their own shrines, and handing down their secret traditions.
In The Dönme: Jewish Converts, Muslim Revolutionaries, and Secular Turks, Marc David Baer has produced the first scholarly study of this group. That it is a scholarly work, limited in its scope and sticking closely to written archives, is something that Baer insists on, and with good reason. For while the Spanish conversos are now seen as an interesting historical phenomenon, and it is even rather fashionable to claim converso ancestry, Turkey is still a part of the world where the anti-Semitic imagination runs wild.
And because the Dönme played an outsize role at key moments in modern Turkish history, the myth of their secret Jewish power has itself become powerful. As Baer writes in his introduction, there have recently been bestselling books in Turkey claiming that everyone from the current prime minister, the religious Muslim Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the revered founder of modern secular Turkey, are secretly Jewish. “Ghost Jews haunt the Turkish popular imagination,” as Baer puts it.
This makes it a delicate matter to write about the Dönme. In fact, Baer says, most of the descendants of Dönme whom he interviewed for the book asked him not to use their names. “Although many believe conspiracy theories about the Dönme,” Baer writes, “very few know the real character and history of the group.” His book, perhaps deliberately, will not raise the profile of the Dönme very much. Not only is it an academic book, published by Stanford University Press, but Baer says very little about the origin of the Dönme, or about their religious beliefs and practices—matters that many Jewish readers would be curious about.