The Last Word
Karl Marx, the Jews of Jerusalem, and UNESCO
When the Crimean War broke out in 1854, pitting Russia against the Ottoman Empire and its European allies, Karl Marx was working on Das Kapital in the British Museum Reading Room. Meanwhile, he eked out a meager living writing for Horace Greeley's radical New York Daily Tribune. Most of these articles were pure journalistic hackwork, but a few of them reflect Marx's sophisticated historical insight.
Although the Ottoman Empire at that time stretched far into Eastern Europe, the intricacies of its internal politics and social conditions were little known even to informed Western European readers. In faraway America, people knew even less, and this gave Marx an opportunity to write a lengthy article on the subject, published in the Daily Tribune on April 15, 1854. Marx describes the complex ethnic and religious demography of the Ottoman Empire and dwells at some length on the conditions of the minority communities living under Muslim rule. He provided his readers with detailed explanation of the millet system, which gave non-Muslims a degree of cultural autonomy and religious self-rule, with the right to maintain their own internal courts and collect their own taxes.
Because the Crimean War started with a religious dispute centered on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, Marx devotes a paragraph to the city and its population. He begins by stating that its "sedentary population numbers about 15,500 souls, of whom 4,000 are Mussulmans [Muslims] and 8,000 Jews." He goes on to say that "the Mussulmans, forming about a quarter of the whole, consisting of Turks, Arabs, and Moors, are, of course, the masters in every respect." After this dry recitation of facts, what follows is somewhat surprising. Marx goes on:
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