by Emily Greble
New York: Oxford University Press, 2021. 354 pp. $35.
Reviewed by Daniel Pipes
Middle East Forum
Middle East Quarterly
Arguing against conventional thinking, Greble asserts, “Southeastern Europe was central to the European experience of encountering Islam.” In so doing, she focuses on a small and peripheral population over about seventy years. Even granting the validity of this thesis, the grandiose title misleadingly conjures up fourteen centuries of Muslim-Christian interaction. A title like “Balkan Muslims, 1878-1949: A History of Small-Scale Complexity” would far more accurately capture the topic of her book.
But is the thesis convincing? Were the Muslims of southeastern Europe really more central to the European experience of Islam than the impact of Indians on Great Britain, Algerians on France, and Turks on Germany? In larger historical terms, did they have a greater effect than the church over fourteen centuries? Or is this the special pleading of a young scholar, an associate professor of history and Russian and East European studies at Vanderbilt University, for her specific area of research?
Greble’s thesis comes down to a perverse interpretation of Western nationalism: “Discrimination against women, working-class men, and linguistic, confessional, and racial minorities was central to nation-building projects from the United States to Central Europe.” According to this view,
Muslims who challenged arbitrary European norms … were cast as bandits or foreign agents, their cultures depicted as a “clash of civilizations,” their ideas critiqued as non-Western, foreign, Other.
The alleged centrality of Balkan Muslims lies in their being the first to experience the global reality that non-Muslim-majority states “prove unable to accept the existence and possibility of Muslim citizens.” One simple fact shows up the inanity of this conclusion, namely the vast, steady, and enthusiastic 60-year-long immigration of Muslims to Western countries where they became citizens.
Greble would have done better to stay away from the grand theorizing and instead have stuck to her topic, where she is a fine researcher, especially capable at turning up obscure but noteworthy stories. Maybe the second edition of her book will adopt this reviewer’s suggested title and drop the elements of Edward-Saidian pretention.
Related Topics: History, Muslims in Europe | Daniel Pipes | Summer 2022 MEQreceive the latest by email: subscribe to the free mef mailing listThis text may be reposted or forwarded so long as it is presented as an integral whole with complete and accurate information provided about its author, date, place of publication, and original URL.