Coinciding with a major BBC three-part series about the Ottoman Empire, Middlesex University brought together the series' makers and two leading human rights experts to debate the empire and how it relates to the Middle East in today's context.
BBC Head of Religion and Ethics, Commissioning Editor and Middlesex University Professor Aaqil Ahmed told the audience that right now was an important time to tell the story of the Ottomans particularly seeing what is being played out on the streets of Cairo, Damascus and Istanbul – which were all part of the empire.
The programme's Executive Producer Mike Smith talked about the importance of the empire that covered such a large, and strategically important area of Europe, suggesting that "most of us didn't know the first thing about it" – which all made it an important story to tell.
The debate about 600 years of the 'last great Islamic empire' looked at what the Ottomans can teach us about minority rights in the Middle East today, what history reveals about tolerance and minority rights across Europe and the Middle East, and whether Turkey holds a key to understanding the West's relationship with Islam?
The talking points thrown up by the BBC series 'The Ottomans: Europe's Muslim Emperors' were discussed by the programme's Executive Producer Mike Smith; BBC Head of Religion and Ethics, Commissioning Editor and Middlesex University Professor Aaqil Ahmed; and leading human rights expert Dr Kathleen Cavanaugh.
Professor Castellino discussed why Turkey is considered an important way of the West understanding Islam – but questioned the West's view of 'why the Middle East can't be more like Turkey'. But Turkey was only created in 1923 and doesn't have a legacy of colonial ways of working many other countries have he pointed out. Castellino added that it is "important that we don't impose western agendas on the Middle East. There is a role in maintaining basic order but that's it".
The debate will be followed by the launch of the book 'Minority Rights in the Middle East' by Middlesex University's Professor Joshua Castellino and NUI Galway's Dr Kathleen Cavanaugh.