Was the Middle East really in decline in the eighteenth century, like the "paradigm of decline" claims it? And if this is the case, what did actually decline and what happened to other aspects of society and the economy? I will first discuss the two approaches regarding the "paradigm of decline" and their critics, and I will then explain why the Middle East was indeed in decline before the modern era.
To begin with, the "paradigm of decline" is composed of two different approaches. First the meta-narrative, which focuses on the story of the state, perceives Islamic history as characterized by constant rises and declines, with the apogee being always lower and lower. This theory is simplistic since it focuses only on one aspect of history and omits the story of culture and society. Moreover, it perceives the Middle East as having been in constant decline, a viewpoint that's difficult to validate considering that the Ottoman Empire managed to live for 600 years. On the other hand, the narrative approach perceives the sixteenth century, characterized by the rule of Süleyman the Magnificent, as marking the apogee of the Ottoman Empire, a period followed by the decline of the Middle East. This explanation is based on two sources. First, in the 1500's, the Europeans feared sultan Süleyman and the Middle East in general. But as a shift occurred from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century and Europe gained strength, it progressively came to consider the Middle East unfavorably. Secondly, as the Ottoman state became weak in the eighteenth century, officials close to the government came to compare the state to what it had been back in the good days, that is in the sixteenth century, and concluded that the Middle East had undergone a decline ever since that period. The European sense of superiority in the eighteenth century, as well as the lack of distance of the Ottoman officials, contribute to the weakness of this approach and its lack of objectivity. However, whereas...
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