In Empire of Lies, Khoury imagines a present in which the Ottoman Empire still rules.
What inspired the book’s premise?
“Creeping Islam” has been a growing topic of concern in Europe and the U.S. for years. I thought it might be interesting to see how it might actually look if it really did happen. I’ve always loved alternate realities, and this was a great setup that hadn’t been done before: a different outcome of the Siege of Vienna in 1683 could have changed everything. It wasn’t simply about how different—or similar—a Europe under Islamic rule would be.
What do you mean?
I saw that it could be a much more interesting mirror into our current world, exploring the weaknesses of democracy, the fragility of the freedoms we take for granted, surveillance, cronyism and corruption, racism, political manipulation, and, of course, the newly fashionable appeal of demagogues.
Was this an idea you had before the election of Donald Trump?
Yes. The 2016 election certainly infused a whole new level of relevance and urgency into my writing. The darkest, most dystopian aspects of my present-day Ottoman Europe are things that are part of our world today—awful things we’ve become inured to. And while it might not be as surprising to see them happening in places like Russia, China, or Turkey, it’s quite a shock to see them happening in America.
How did you picture what the Ottoman Empire might look like in the 21st century?
The Ottoman Empire lasted until the end of WWI, but I couldn’t really use the last three centuries or so of its history, simply because, after the siege of Vienna, it began to weaken and fall behind while Europe was going through the Enlightenment, various revolutions that would topple monarchies, and the Industrial Revolution. So in our real history, the Ottoman Empire spent its last three centuries playing catch-up, desperately trying to implement various reforms that mimicked what was happening in the West. In contrast, my Ottomans would be the ones setting the example and laying down the rules; there was no Europe for them to try to mimic. So I had to figure out how they would have evolved if they didn’t have the template of a modernizing Europe to follow. The most strict, and perhaps the most obvious, guideline that I followed is that everything had to have happened for a logical and historically defensible reason. Beyond that, I wanted it to also be a reflection of our world—a disturbing parallel to our disturbing times.