By Nahir al-Adil
As I write this letter, news of Agrabah’s fall has become known to anyone who has picked up a newspaper in the last two days. An alliance of French and Austrians have occupied Agrabah’s capital, led by, to Queen Anna’s horror, an Arendellian: Viola’s Commander Hilde.
Most Europeans think of Agrabah as a legendary place out of medieval tales – of little relevance to our modern world. And one may be forgiven for holding this opinion. Contemporary Agrabah was – I must remind myself to use the past tense – independent but also left behind by the times. A tributary and sometimes-vassal of the nearby Ottoman Empire, it was marked by its failure to create a unique economic and political identity in our nineteenth century. But does that justify its military subjugation?
Of course not.
Let’s first revisit the historical legacy that most of us think of when we hear the name ‘Agrabah’ – the reign of Sultan Ḥāmed II, whose daughter Jasmine married the orphaned former thief, Alā’-ud-Dīn, better known in the West as Aladdin, partly through the intervention of an unnamed jinnī.
Ḥāmed’s modest successes – amid obvious limitations – are well documented. After his departure, Aladdin was a shrewd and kind ruler, participating enthusiastically in the advancements and progress of the Islamic Golden Age. Agrabah was not only an economic success and cultural nexus but dedicated to social improvement, the Sultan providing expanded opportunities to the unfortunate, among whom he had once been named.
He expanded Agrabah’s tenuous connections to Turkey, Persia, India and Baghdad to thoroughfares of trade, learning and culture. The once-sleepy kingdom became known for an influence so profound that even the Abbasid Caliphate feared to offend it. “Do not wake the genie” became a contemporary proverb, referring to a kingdom so wealthy, powerful and respected that the only reason it had not become an empire was because Sultan Aladdin and Sultana Jasmine did not wish it.
Then, of course, Aladdin and Jasmine turned their power over to their heir and simply vanished. Islamic theologians have a lot to say about this, none of which will be repeated here. Like King Arthur in England, it remains a popular belief that the beloved Sultan may one day return to become Caliph over all of the Middle East – not as popular a belief in the Ottoman court, for what should be obvious reasons.
I can already hear the naysayers. Even if this superstition-laced ‘history’ is true, that was the past, this is the present. Progress requires sacrifice. ‘Those people’ need ‘proper’ Western leadership. As anyone familiar with my Fjord Times letters should know by now, few things tire me half as much as feeble attempts at “realism” that are short sighted and foolish.
Let us examine the Ottoman Empire. Political experts have long considered the so-called Eastern Question, observing that the political stability we take for granted in the continent – the Concert of Europe – rests on the well-being of this declining power. In the last three years, under Tanzimat, Constantinople has committed to justice, military and economic reform in an attempt at modernisation. France and Austria were among its recent friends, considering Imperial Turkey to be a buffer between Western Europe and widespread Russian dominance.
Whatever political pressures – or temptations – were used to employ those two nations, they have betrayed said alliance for questionable gain. Agrabah was more than merely a neighbour to the Empire – it was a charge and responsibility. The fact that forces from two former allies snuck their troops in by waterway and pillaged a sultanate ostensibly under its protection leaves Emperor Abdülmecid in an impossible position.
He must commit himself to an unwinnable struggle against these Powers – diplomatic, economic or martial; otherwise, he must do nothing at all. Easier said than done, inaction is a clear sign of weakness from an empire still reeling from the Greek War of Independence, in which the French, British and Russians had previously sided with the Greeks. Meanwhile, empowered Balkan nationalists are ready to launch their own war of independence – and this moment of inaction could easily provoke said rebellion.
So could a defeat by France and Austria.
Unless current courses are reversed, Turkey stands only to lose, regardless of its choice. Whatever the reason behind this supposed master stroke, regionally it has served mainly to sprinkle arsenic into the drinking water of the ‘sick man of Europe’ and further expose Europa’s throat to the crushing jaws of the Russian bear.
Of course, my own motives here will be questioned. Am I not an anti-imperialist? Did I not write a letter to the Fjord Times to argue that no just empire has existed since the Achaemenids?
I am and I did. But I have eyes, books and experience. I recognise that imperial structures must be dismantled properly and carefully – not by mere whim. Progress requires sacrifice but this invasion was arbitrary, cruel and had nothing to do with progress. And even if I believed that Western dominance would improve the lot of Agrabah (I do not), the stage has been set for Russian conquest of even more of the region in turn.
I shall not speak of the morality of such an unprovoked attack. Neither shall I invoke the spectre of retribution – which, incidentally, is being raised most loudly by those who favoured the invasion. I see and reject the term ‘crusade’ and the corresponding Islamic term that we know too well. Blind stupidity is not a defensible virtue.
I will, however, say this. I began by speaking of Agrabah’s past – Agrabah as symbol and ideal. May the “realists” remember that we occupy a world that also contains magic, as has been proven again and again throughout history (and most recently in Arendelle proper). It would be a stretch to call me openly mystical, but I do know that symbols are as concrete to spiritual beings as our material world is to us. This attack represented not just an invitation to Russia, but a challenge to all the jinni who remain in the world.
I’m not certain any of these three powers are ready for the consequences of that.