This essay applies the concept of “fuzzy thinking” to geopolitics, using a curious turn of phrase in a 1914 policy paper (“the Islamic-Israelite world”) to explore paradoxes of German strategy in World War I. To find the origins of this phrase, the article explores the language of prewar Orientalism, especially the potent German variety that was notoriously neglected by Edward Said in his 1979 study decrying Orientalism as the handmaiden of European imperialism. But many prominent German Orientalists were also ignored in Robert Irwin's recent book-length critique of Said's Orientalism, despite the centrality of the German case to Irwin's argument. Just as Said ignored scholarly titans of the German-speaking world such as Carl Heinrich Becker, Ignaz Goldziher, and Theodore Nöldeke — presumably because Germany, unlike France and Britain, never colonized Islamic lands in the Middle East — so, too, did Irwin ignore more worldly German Orientalists such as Max von Oppenheim and Curt Prüfer, whose covert activities on behalf of Berlin did not fit his own counterthesis that Orientalism, pace Said, “in its most important aspect was founded upon academic drudgery.” The “hack” German Orientalists who concocted a Turco-German “jihad” against the Entente Powers in World War I — accompanied by a simultaneous plan to unleash Zionism to destroy tsarist Russia — may not have been scholars of the highest caliber, which helps explain how they could tolerate a fuzzy phrase like “the Islamic-Israelite world.” The essay concludes that, nevertheless, we may learn from and even be inspired by their ideas, however illusory these proved to be in practice.
Sean McMeekin; The Islamic-Israelite World. Common Knowledge 1 April 2013; 19 (2): 275–282. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0961754X-2073260
Download citation file: