Who is Arnold Toynbee

Arnold Toynbee - Another point of view

In Turkey, east and west, but also north and south, combine in a unique way. My impression has always been that this country in particular has a special role to play in promoting the harmony of humanity.

When I visited Turkey for the first time in 30 years in 1992, I found myself in Istanbul, where I looked out over the Bosporus. To the west of the strait lay Europe, to the east of it Asia. Travelers from the west encounter the cultural richness of the east here, and travelers from there experience the west, the master of modernity. For both of them, the face of the world appears new and different.

The birthplace of the poet Homer is in what is now Turkey. Alexander the Great crossed the country on his campaigns of conquest. Classical Greek culture once flourished here. At the time of the Byzantine Empire, the country was the center of the Christian world and later, under the Ottomans, the heart of Islamic culture.

Turkey is a place of tremendous human diversity that reflects this kaleidoscopic history. In the cities and metropolises one sees people with Arab and Mongolian facial features and those whose expressions are reminiscent of Greek statues; you can see Russian faces and Eastern European faces there.

It is as if Turkey wanted to encompass all of humanity, to unite them and thereby exclaim: “West, in my embrace you can be the East! East, in my home you can be the West! "

For the historian Dr. Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975) Turkey had a special meaning: the events there prompted him to be the first to look at history beyond the Eurocentric point of view. Once, while we were talking in his London apartment, he told me that he had been forced to quit his job at London University. His frank accounts of events in Turkey had "angered people with prejudice against Turkey".

When Toynbee visited Turkey in 1921, he was almost 32 years old. He wanted to watch the Greco-Turkish war, which had been raging there for two years. First he followed the situation from a Greek perspective, then from a Turkish one. He was guided by the invitation of St. Augustine: “Audi alteram partem” (also listen to the other side). Above all, he wanted to make that side heard "which was most in danger of not being properly heard". Or as he said himself:
“In the conflict between Greeks and Turks, the Greeks once again set the tone. The Greeks were heard in the West and its influence was predominant in the world. I knew exactly what the Greeks were doing and they seemed to be in good hands. So under all circumstances I had to understand what the Turks were about. "

Toynbee drove to a town where Turkish civilians had been massacred. He saw immediately the suffering of the refugees and was outraged that the West took no notice of these atrocities. He wrote down his observations carefully and cabled them to the Manchester Guardian, a respected British newspaper. The editor of the newspaper was brave enough to publish Toynbee's reports in full.

Why "so brave"?

For centuries, the Turks in the West had only been seen as "uncivilized barbarians". To make matters worse, memories of the horrors of 1915, when the Ottoman Turks massacred the Armenians, were still fresh. So when Toynbee's reports came out, a storm of indignation swept over the paper. People insulted her for shamelessly publishing articles that showed understanding for the “unspeakable Turks”. For Toynbee, these were prejudices against Muslims. The fact that the newspaper did not bow to these prejudices is a shining example of admirable steadfastness to this day.

The Turks, on the other hand, were deeply impressed by the article. They were amazed that a young Englishman had visited a Turkish refugee camp, reported impartially about what he had seen, and that a British newspaper also published all of this. For the first time, the world learned of their side of history. Years later, Toynbee was still delighted to tell how the Turks gathered around an issue of the newspaper and how their faces glowed with excitement as they read his article.

If you only rely on information from the West - which even sheds light on things from a Western perspective - you don't get to know what the world really is like. There is an African view of the world, one of the Middle East, one of Latin America, and one from the perspective of various ethnic minorities. International society is more than just the West.

On his return trip from Istanbul Toynbee began already on the train to sketch the main features of what would later become his life's work with “The Course of World History”. He developed his groundbreaking theory of history from a global perspective. She became his great gift to humanity.

Back in Britain, Toynbee was soon forced to resign from London University because of his alleged support for the Turks. He told me that for the next 33 years he made a living writing articles on international issues for the Royal Institute of International Affairs, an independent research organization.

The young Toynbee knew very well that it was wrong to cover people with clichés: This denied them - like the Turks - that they were human. It was important to him to get to know individual Turks instead. Toynbee put his convictions into practice, learned Turkish and befriended the common people. "When you get to know someone, regardless of religion, nationality or race, personally, you inevitably recognize that they are exactly the same as you are."

Has the risk of stereotyping people been reduced since Toynbees was young? I do not think so. In fact, the spread of clichés and preconceived notions has probably increased: I call this the “tyranny of images”. Much of the information that floods our world is carefully selected and tailored to affirm preconceived notions and stereotypes.

Each of us should definitely ask ourselves such important questions as: Do I accept the images that are presented to me without questioning them? Do I believe unconfirmed reports without examining them first? Did I unconsciously let myself be carried away by prejudice? Do I really know what this is about? Have I checked the facts myself? Have I been there? Did I meet the people who were involved? Am I really listening to you? Do I let malicious rumors influence me?

I consider such an “inner dialogue” to be very important. Therefore, people who are aware of their prejudices can speak much more easily with people from other cultures than those who are convinced that they are free from prejudice.

If we think about it carefully, we realize that the people are not native Turks or Armenians. They are also not native Palestinians or Jews. These are all just labels.

Each of us came into the world as something uniquely valuable, as a person. When our mothers gave birth, they didn't think, “I gave birth to a Japanese” or “I gave birth to an Arab.” Their only thought was, “I hope this new life is healthy and growing.”

In every country, a rose is a rose, a violet is a violet, and humans are humans, even if their names differ from country to country.

Perhaps the clouds and winds whisper to each other as they look at people high above the blue waters of the Bosporus: “Wake up at last! There are no Americans and there are no Iraqis. There's just this boy named Bob who happens to live in America. There is only this boy Mohammed who happens to live in Iraq. You are both children of the earth. Wake up from this stupidity and from this cruel habit of passing on hatred and prejudice to the next generation. "

We have to develop a common awareness that we are all inhabitants of the earth. We do not find this awareness anywhere in the distance or on the screen of our computer. It hides in our hearts and in our compassion for the suffering of other people. It is the appeal to us: "No matter who you are and no matter what you suffer from: As long as you suffer, I also suffer."