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Suavi, Ali

By:
Şerif Mardin
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Suavi, Ali

Ali Suavi (1839–1878), was a popular re- formist figure of the nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire. Suavi exemplifies the ideas of conservative Ottomans who were drawn into a struggle for the expression of the popular will. Although trained in the modern educational system of the rüşdiye, the secular postprimary schools established during the Tanzimat reforms, he assumed the role of a spokesperson for a type of popular discontent with the Tanzimat which was expressed in a religious idiom. His ideas acquired a wide audience when he began to contribute to a newspaper published in Istanbul, Muhbir.

Suavi joined the Young Ottoman leaders Mehmet Namık Kemal (d. 1888) and Mehmet Ziya Paşa (d. 1880) when they fled to Europe, and he was the editor of the first newspaper published by these exiles, also titled Muhbir. It soon became clear that there were fundamental differences between his political ideals and those of Kemal and Ziya. Suavi was suspicious of parliamentary government, and his idea of democracy was one in which the just ruler dealt directly with his subjects. After leaving the Young Ottomans, Suavi devoted himself to the publication of Ulûm, an encyclopedic periodical. This attempt to demonstrate that conservative Muslims like himself could keep abreast of Western scientific knowledge predated that of better-known nineteenth-century Muslim thinkers, such as Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī (d. 1897), who wrote in the same vein. Returning from France, where he had established himself after the dethroning of Sultan Abdülaziz (1876), he was made the director of the Galatasary Lyceé, a school for training the Ottoman elite in conformity with a French program of instruction. He was dismissed for incompetence. Abdülaziz's successor, Murad V, had a short reign, having been found mentally unbalanced. In 1878, Suavi attempted to re-establish Murad, but was killed during the coup that he organized.

Suavi's populism was bolstered by an Islamic conception of politics that underscores the differences between his worldview and that of the Young Ottomans. Suavi found Kemal's principle of popular sovereignty to be meaningless. In response to the Young Ottomans’ separation of powers, he proposed the “unity of the imamate,” referring to all forms of leadership. Suavi also believed that violence was a legitimate means of achieving the just political system; here, too, he was at odds with Kemal. Suavi believed that the natural social hierarchy was one where the ʿulamāʿ (religious authority) acted as arbiter of sociopolitical regulations. This type of elitism coexisting with a sincere populism provides us a model of the ideas that were to appear much later in the thought of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1902–1989) and underlines the necessity to see Islamic social ideals as incommensurable with those of Western democracy. Suavi's literary style was also a harbinger of “pure” Turkish to be used increasingly in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He was among the first to explore the original identity of Ottomans as “Turks” in a well-known article that appeared in his Ulûm, published in Europe after his split with the Young Ottomans.

See also Kemal, Mehmet Namık; Tanzimat; and Young Ottomans.

Bibliography

  • Çelik, Hüseyin. Ali Suavi ve dönemi (Ali Suavi and His Era). Istanbul, 1994.
  • Mardin, Şerif. The Genesis of Young Ottoman Thought. Princeton, N.J., 1962.
  • Suavi, Ali. “Democracy: Government by the People, Equality.”In Modernist Islam, 1840–1940: A Sourcebook, edited by Charles Kurzman, pp. 138–143. Oxford, and New York, 2002.
  • Uzunçarşili Ismail Hakkı. “Ali Suavi ve Çirağan Sarayı Vak’ası.”Belleten8 (1944): 71–118.
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