One might expect that this long history of terror, blood, and violence would lead Western students of the Ottomans to dehumanize them or turn them into diabolical caricatures of hate and tyrannical oppression. That is certainly what readers of Edward Said’s famous study, Orientalism (1978), would be led to expect, but it is one of Malcolm’s main points that such a representation is far too simple, if not entirely wrong. It does not begin to capture the complexity of Western responses to the Ottoman threat. There were certainly some Westerners, like Martin Luther, who regarded the new Islamic empire as essentially evil, the Sultan as the Devil’s servant, and Islam as a perverted religion of the sword. Such responses can be found throughout the three centuries covered by Malcolm’s book. But there were also many admiring responses both to the Ottomans and even to Islam.
Malcolm coins the useful term “shame-praising” to draw attention to one way that Westerners formulated positive descriptions of the great Islamic empire. To shame-praise means to praise a different culture or people as a way of shaming one’s own people and culture into better behavior. This practice has an old history in the West, going back to Xenophon’s praise of Persian monarchy in his Cyropaedia, meant to shame fractious Greek democrats,or Tacitus’s praise of barbarian virtue in the Germania, meant to shame his over-civilized fellow Romans for their lack of martial valor. The humanists of the Renaissance turned shame-praising into a light industry; the inferiority of Christian to pagan virtue was a regular theme in their pedagogy. Christian-on-Christian violence was a deplorable feature of early modern Europe, and the Ottomans, with their unswerving devotion to smiting the enemies of their faith, were constantly held up as better models of unified purpose and religious loyalty than any to be found in Christian Europe, torn apart as it was by selfishness and sectarian hatreds.
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