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Note: This is the only the first essay of three that I have written about Western orientalist discourse on Bosnia. This essay will provide proper context. To understand the discursive history of Bosnia, I propose beginning at the Ottoman empire’s influence on the European mind — and, even further, how this created the European identity. 


Western discourse towards Bosnia, and all Muslims living in Europe, historically centers around European’s deepest existential worries. It was produced as a result of growing Ottoman influence, and is therefore deeply infused with European identity, and the spatial dimensions of what constitutes a “European.” And because Bosnia occupies a unique situation within Europe, orientalist discourse on Bosnia can be also be used as commentary on Europe’s historic relations with its greater Islamic community. To understand this discourse towards Bosnia, we must first begin at the source – to a time of unprecedented European fragmentation and panic on all levels of society. It is on these grounds that it would be appropriate to begin any inquiry into on Bosnia with the creation of what Edward Said in Orientalism calls the “Ottoman peril.” OttomanEmpireExpansionto1683 The historical separation of Bosnia from the rest of Europe began most concretely in the 14th century, when Ottoman expansion entered into Southeastern Europe. It was officially declared an administrative unit (eyalet) known as Bosansko Krajište in 1451 [1]. In around 100 years the Muslim population swelled to immense numbers and constituted the majority of the providence. Bosnia was fully integrated into the Ottoman social structure: governed by a vizier, the region was administered by high civil officials (pashas) and judges while also having an elaborate tax policy, mandatory military service, and a Ottoman feudal system to reorganize land [2]. Bosnian Muslims were given privileges unavailable to non-Muslims, and they also did not need to pay the harač, which was a tax levied on all other faiths [3].

Although the Ottoman occupation had changed the very positionality of Bosnia towards Europe, it was only a precursor to the full realization of orientalism seeping into Europe’s discourse towards the historically war-torn region. This would reach its height during the Austro-Hungarian invasion of 1878, during which an orientalist Western power would dominate the supposed Bosnian Orient. This arguably positioned Bosniaks as the permanent “Other” within this imagined Europe, if they had not been already. Regardless, the Ottoman conquests and their rule over the region set the groundwork for this differentiation from the rest of the Southern Slavs – but, as it was the case until 1878, it was “the Other ruling over the Other” so the Bosniaks were not in the spotlight of European Christendom; rather, it was the Ottomans. As Ottoman armies penetrated deeper into Europe, they shook the minds of Christians living on the continent. As Edward Said writes in Orientalism:

Until the end of the seventeenth century the “Ottoman Peril” lurked alongside Europe to represent for the whole of Christian civilization a constant danger, and in time European civilization incorporated that peril and its lore, its great events, figures, virtues, and vices, as something woven into the fabric of life [4].

Therefore, it would lend itself useful to understand how the “Ottoman Peril” became a central facet of Christendom, in an effort to understand how this same pathology was reproduced in discourse on Bosnia. This fear began at a crossroads of world history, which shook all of Europe to the bones – the fall of “Second Rome,” Constantinople, in 1453.

1453 allowed all European fears to be projected onto a new enemy, and it signified a shift in how Europeans conceived of themselves. Western discourse on Islam, consequently, began to change drastically. This shift in European consciousness can be described in its many forms, and it manifested itself in an innumerable amount of ways, but for the purposes of this inquiry it would be best if we discussed the “Ottoman Peril” as relevant to Bosnia, although virtually all of it relevant just by the fact that Bosnia is an Ottoman construction. Despite this difficulty, let us be reductive for a moment and outline a few crucial changes that occurred in the European mind. First was one of narratives: a new identity of a “united Christian Europe” was popularized which ran counter to the then-fractured European narrative dominant since the Great Schism of 1054. A little over a year after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, Cardinal Enea Silvio Piccolomini, who would become Pope Pius II, delivered a speech at the Imperial Diet in Regensburg calling for the necessity of war against the Turks [5]. This speech was thereafter distributed many times over, in print form, with the Gutenberg printing press pushing the discourse to new audiences. Pope Pius II thus crowned himself as speaking on behalf of all Christendom, calling on European powers to rally together against this Ottoman threat. In doing so, he ignored the divide between Eastern and Latin Christianity. He narrativized them as one because their collective security was in the interest of all Christians.

Yet, still earlier, the very fabric of Europe was being reimagined in Italy around the mid-15th century. Italian humanism turned patriotism and cultural pride into a super-national European concept, which meant “also a rebirth of the Classical semantics of discrimination and xenophobia” [6]. One such Italian humanist, Flavio Biondo, wrote of the First Crusade as a “Pan-European project,” as opposed to a purely Frankish one as medieval sources describe [7]. In doing so, he directly connected the first crusade to the war against the Turks as both being in defense against an existential threat to all of Europe. Thus, Italian humanism and its corresponding Renaissance was a “source of European identity… and [it] decidedly contributed to a cognitive-cultural nationalization of Europe through the initiation of the (re)discovery of Greek and Roman historiography and ethnography” [8]. In doing so, they also inherited “one of the key concepts of Roman cultural superiority… ‘barbarism’” along with an “ancient tradition” which Europe could now cling to and mythologize to justify their superiority [9]. These influences permeated from the cultural hub of Italy and spread throughout Europe, as Christendom became rejuvenated with the threat of Ottoman destruction. “Europe” had begun to take on actual, political signification. Christian salvation history (Heilsgeschichte) had moved from Jerusalem to Europe, and everyone on the continent was implicated in protecting it; God was now invigilated in the continent’s steady march forward in history, against the barbarians, on behalf of the true heirs of His justice.

I am no making a value judgement on the Italian Renaissance -- there is little doubt that some of the work produced was breathtaking, as is the above piece inspired by the Anient Greek artist Apelles, The Calumny of Apelles by Sandro Botticelli.

So there’s not any confusion, I am not making a value judgement on the Italian Renaissance — there is little doubt that some of the work produced was breathtaking, as is the above piece titled The Calumny of Apelles by Sandro Botticelli inspired by the ancient Greek artist Apelles. I am simply describing the Italian Renaissance as it was. The innumerable historical consequences of such a period does not diminish the artful works. However, we must also speak of its influence in creating the “European” and how the Renaissance anchored the entirety of the continent to a mythologized Greco-Roman past. This was critical in the development of Orientalist discourse.

Peter_the_Hermit

Peter the Hermit promised the poor peasants a better life in the Holy Land and spoke of God pushing them forward. They would embark on the First Crusade. This historical moment would be re-imagined by Flavio Biondo as a Pan-European military endeavor instead of a Frankish one. The above illustration is from the 14th century text, Abreviamen de las Estorias.

From the mid-15th century onwards, the discourse on Islam within Europe began to change to reflect this shift in European consciousness – or, alternatively, to reflect the creation of a European consciousness. “Muslim” had become a signifier of “Turk.” The phrase “turning Turk” to describe Islamic conversion gained currency in Western discourse, captured in works such as the play A Christian Turn’d Turk by Robert Daborne, Paradise Lost by John Milton, or even Othello by William Shakespeare. In this sense, Europe had absurdly essentialized “Turkish-ness” centuries before the Ottomans had even categorized themselves ethnically as such; “Turkish-ness” only emerged in Ottoman thought around the late 19th century [10].  The European narrative had totalized the Ottoman narrative, making religious, ethnic, and racial categories synonymous, and placed them in direct opposition to the new European, Christian identity. This new-found equation was the basis from which Bosnia would be Other-ized, for now Bosniaks were effectively Turks, and this placed them in direct opposition to the very fabric of European society.

The bulwark myth is still the basis of much of Balkan nationalism and folklore. In the Serbian city of Kikinda, the coat of arms is an Ottoman Turk whose head is impaled with a sword.

In the Serbian city of Kikinda, the coat of arms is an Ottoman Turk whose head is impaled with a sword.

Because of European discourse on the Turkish Other, some nations infused nationalist myth with protecting Christendom. They believed themselves to be bulwarks against Islam, against any force that supposedly existentially threatened Europe [11]. It is no coincidence that the bulwarks against intruders was taken up by the Balkan nations, as if they had to further prove their allegiance to Europe in order to demonstrate that they were, too, part of the European Christian project. Countries fighting against the “Turkish menace” were given the Papal title of Antemurale Christianitatis (i.e. “Bulwark of Christianity”) as Croatia was in 1519 [12]. The “bulwark myth” manifested itself in many nationalist myths including Albania, Serbia, Croatia, Poland, and Russia [13]. However, the stern belief of these nations being a protective wall against invaders was invalidated by the very existence of Muslims living in Bosnia. This proved to be a contradiction in the nationalist myth; the Bosniaks were thus a historical miscalculation, a mistake, an anachronism, and a people whose very existence was a disgrace to these nations that constituted the “the protective wall of Christianity” (antemurale Christianitatis).This cemented the Bosniaks are the definitive Other within their Balkan neighbors, and greater Christendom, because they were a living embodiment of Europe’s Christian failure. This has been demonstrated in the discourse towards Bosnia up until the present day. For Europe, and especially for the Balkan peoples, the Bosniaks was the Orient seeping into Europe; It was a contradiction that called the entire narrative of European Christendom into question, and the only way to resolve such contradictions in the given framework, in an example of pure politics, was through removal and violence – the contradiction had to remedied at all costs, and the Other had to be brought back to their “original” Christian-European past. This was the historical reality Bosnia was thrown into upon being re-imagined as a nation by the Ottoman Empire through their occupation.

***

– 1. Pickering, Paula. Bosnia and Herzegovina (Encyclopedia Britannica). Accessed May, 2015. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/700826/Bosnia-and-Herzegovina/42681/Ottoman-Bosnia
– 2. Ibid.
– 3. Ibid.
– 4. Orientalism (Vintage Books, 1979), pp. 59 – 60.
– 5. Konrad, Felix. “Turkish Menace” to Exoticism and Orientalism: Islam as Antithesis of Europe 1453 – 1914 (European History Online, 2011). Accessed May, 2015. http://ieg-ego.eu/en/threads/models-and-stereotypes/from-the-turkish-menace-to-orientalism/felix-konrad-from-the-turkish-menace-to-exoticism-and-orientalism-1453-1914
– 6. Almási, Gábor. Composite States, National Histories and Patriotic Discourses in Early Modern East Central Europe (BRILL, 2011), pp. 91.
– 7. “Turkish Menace” to Exoticism and Orientalism: Islam as Antithesis of Europe 1453 – 1914 (European History Online, 2011)
– 8. Composite States, National Histories and Patriotic Discourses in Early Modern East Central Europe (BRILL, 2011), pp. 91.
– 9. Ibid., pp. 92.
– 10. Ziya, Gokalp. Nationalism in Asia and Africa (World Publishing Company, 1972), pp. 189.
– 11. Kolstø, Pål. Myth and Boundaries in South-East Europe (Hurst and Co., 2005).
– 12. Tanner, Marcus. Croatia: A Nation Forged in War (Yale Press, 1997), pp. 32.
– 13. Timothy, A. Byrnes. Katzenstein, Peter J. Religion in an Expanding Europe (Cambridge, 2006), pp. 180.

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Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind (Burnt Norton, 1-15)

Burnt Norton (Rose Garden) - P7040004

The “Burnt Norton” manor house in Cotswold, south central England that T.S. Eliot drew his inspiration from. These are some of the beautiful rose-gardens.

If you have been following my blog, you might have noticed I changed its name. I decided this was best. My previous title The Popular Front seemed to outlive any meaning I had attached to it initially. This blog has changed from what I had originally intended it to be — from a (loosely) Marxist commentary on history, to a medium where I can write about the other humanities. All of these many topics intersect and the name The Popular Front, I feel, carries too much historical weight. It corners me to uphold certain political beliefs I had when I created it, some of which I do not hold now. I needed something more amenable, a title that didn’t signify an exact political ideology, and also one that was more curious than definitive. This isn’t to say that the bases of my politics are drastically different of course, but I am saying that the way I view my interests in relation to one another has changed, for the better. This has led to me to rename my blog to what it is now: Into the Rose-Garden, taken from the first part of T.S. Eliot’s poem Burnt Norton. 

Burnt Norton by T.S. Eliot is undoubtedly one of the greatest pieces of work I have ever read. It is part of a greater set of poems titled Four Quartets. Part I, especially, evokes a certain feeling (which I’ll get to in a bit) that I have yet to see captured in other literature so brilliantly. In the opening stanza of this poem (cited above the image), Eliot is merging two very crucial movements in intellectual history to reach an understanding of Truth. One is the European tradition of Romanticism which centered on ideals and realizing them. It was a very uplifting interpretation of human progress and historical necessity and was captured probably most famously in Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog by Casper David Friedrich (you’ve likely seen it before; if not, here is a link). One of the problems of Romanticism, however, was that in a finite world, how can you capture the fullness of all experiences and all we can achieve (i.e. the infinite)? The early romantic poet Novalis writes of this:

Time originates with displeasure. Thus, all displeasures [are] so long and all joy so short… displeasures are finite like time. Everything finite originates out of displeasure [1].

In other words, finality becomes the ultimate limitation to the Romanticist dream: time and eventual death are the ultimate equalizer. As it is said, “whether rich or poor, [all are] equal in death.”

The second school(s) of thought that are also at play here are also some elements of Buddhism. Eliot was clearly familiar with Buddhist thought because it’s outright mentioned in his other poem The Waste Land. Eliot’s conception of time in the first above-mentioned stanza of the poem is extremely similar to Buddhist conceptions of dependent origination — the idea that everything which exists, all beings, are intrinsically related to one another. Eliot applies this idea of dependent origination to also include time itself; a moment captures either all of time or none of it because all temporality is intimately linked together. These concepts of “past, present, and future” are merely our own abstractions and the only real reason we can make these distinctions is because of the present experience. Time can thus be viewed as a metaphorical “hall of mirrors” — where the present encapsulates all that has occurred and all of what is to come. It is through the reflection of the present that we can see all time. As the Buddhist philosopher Dogen rhetorically wrote in the 13th century:

Just reflect: right now, is there an entire being or an entire world missing from your present time, or not? [3].

The present is thus the most important moment there is. This makes all of our choices immediately relevant and if you read further down in the poem, T.S. Eliot writes:

Other echoes
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?
Quick, said the bird, find them, find them,
Round the corner. Through the first gate…

The poem goes on to describe what the bird (symbolic of Truth) leads Eliot to sees in his Manor. He moves from one thing to the next, following the bird, showing the continuity of all experience. Finally, the second section closes with:

But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.

What exactly is this “rose-garden?” — I view it as the greatest manifestation of the Romantic ideal, where language breaks down into what we cannot ever describe; it is the infinite, the most perfect, and an encapsulation of all time; it is also the metaphorical escape from the limits of materialism. However, the irony is that the rose-garden, despite being the greatest manifestation of the infinite, must still be viewed through time. This is because we have no choice. It is “only through time [that] time [be conquered]” and thus it is only through the finite that we can step into, or even glimpse, the rose-garden. Therefore, I do not view entering the rose-garden as an actual choice between one event or another. The choice isn’t to go into the rose-garden or not. We can never fully comprehend this splendor (i.e. actually go into the rose-garden) because we are bound as finite beings. Because of this, we are forced to view it through time itself — which, if we understand what T.S. Eliot said in the beginning of the poem and its Buddhist origins — encompasses virtually everything we can conceive of. The rose-garden is thus present in virtually every situation, we just need to make the conscious choice to be aware of it and capture whatever part of it that we can. The bird even hints at this in these excellent lines where the “hidden” (a crucial word, here) laughing children in the leaves are comparable to the rose-garden itself:

Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

This symbolic potential for transcendence — the rose-garden– is present everywhere; held together by a radical conception of the present, the rose-garden is the interpolation of all time, of every possible narrative, and a symbol of infinitude. It captures a feeling that can be grasped but never fully realized, and as such its poetry more often resembles fervent religiosity rather than just an elaborate illustration of what life could be. 

I highly recommend reading the entire poem. I have only broken down this small portion of a greater masterpiece, but it definitely deserves a very detailed read. Regardless, this was the inspiration that brought me to alter the meaning of my blog, and even to reconsider all my writing in new light — my own literature should reorient itself to this end. And on that note, after a long hiatus on this blog, I would like to make it active again.

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