Today, January 2, is a day of significance for the Ottoman Empire: on this day two men who were to become Sultans of the empire were born: Mehmed IV (1642), and Osman III (1699). European rulers whose reigns coincided with these two Sultans included William of Orange, Louis XIV of France, and Frederick the Great of Prussia. So why do most Europeans know about these European monarchs, but (I suspect) nothing whatsoever about the two Sultans? Moreover, the two Sultans ruled over more European territory than any English, German or French monarch of the time. Why, indeed, are we so ignorant of Ottoman history? Or in so far as we do know something, why do we consider the Ottomans to have been dangerous invaders? Why do we think of the Ottomans (or Turks) to have been a menace as Mehmed IV’s empire besieged Vienna? In an age of empires, should we not be looking at the Ottomans as ruling one that was, on the whole, cultured and civilised and tolerant?
I am, as the title of this post states, asking a question rather than suggesting an answer. I am asking it because, I believe, the ignorance of Ottoman history, or maybe more accurately the somewhat unbalanced perception of what it was, may be contributing today to suspicions about Turkey and, therefore, reluctance to consider Turkey for full EU membership. It may also be that ignorance of the trends and currents of Ottoman history contributed to a less than full understanding of the complexity of politics in the Balkans, not to mention an incomplete understanding of the history of Islam. Maybe it is time for Europe to look more closely at this aspect of our history and culture.