We are accustomed to think of international human rights campaigns as recent phenomena. In a new book, Against Massacre: Humanitarian Interventions in the Ottoman Empire, 1815-1914 (Princeton 2011), Davide Rodogno (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva) shows that the practice goes back at least two centuries and originated from a desire to protect religious minorities. Rodogno details European intervention on behalf of Christians in late Ottoman Turkey. Then as now, he argues, human rights campaigns had mixed motives: humanitarian, but also political. European powers were selective about which groups merited protection, and how much. The publisher’s description follows.

Against Massacre looks at the rise of humanitarian intervention in the nineteenth century, from the fall of Napoleon to the First World War. Examining the concept from a historical perspective, Davide Rodogno explores the understudied cases of European interventions and noninterventions in the Ottoman Empire and brings a new view to this international practice for the contemporary era.

While it is commonly believed that humanitarian interventions are a fairly recent development, Rodogno demonstrates that almost two centuries ago an international community, under the aegis of certain European powers, claimed a moral and political right to intervene in other states’ affairs to save strangers from massacre, atrocity, or extermination. On some occasions, these powers acted to protect fellow Christians when allegedly “uncivilized” states, like the Ottoman Empire, violated a “right to life.” Exploring the political, legal, and moral status, as well as European perceptions, of the Ottoman Empire, Rodogno investigates the reasons that were put forward to exclude the Ottomans from the so-called Family of Nations. He considers the claims and mixed motives of intervening states for aiding humanity, the relationship between public outcry and state action or inaction, and the bias and selectiveness of governments and campaigners.

An original account of humanitarian interventions some two centuries ago, Against Massacre investigates the varied consequences of European involvement in the Ottoman Empire and the lessons that can be learned for similar actions today.

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