John Gallagher in The Telegraph:
In the last year of the 16th century, an English craftsman named Thomas Dallam found himself at the heart of the Ottoman empire. Dallam had been commissioned to build an organ to be presented to the Sultan, and he travelled with his creation through the Mediterranean as far as the court at Istanbul and back. Writing an account of his journey home, he remembered how the interpreter who accompanied him was not a local, but an Englishman named Finch, born in Chorley in Lancashire. Dallam wrote: “He was … in religion a perfit Turke [Muslim], but he was our trustie frende.” To run into an English convert to Islam on the shores of the Mediterranean was not as unlikely an event as it might seem. In the 16th century, the Mediterranean was what historians have called a “contact zone” – a region characterised not by rigid boundaries and borders, but by a bewildering mixture of faiths, peoples, languages and traditions. Classic narratives of a “clash of civilisations” may seem seductive (and serve contemporary political interests), but they are inadequate for thinking about the Middle Sea’s many overlapping histories: the reality on the ground was far more complex and infinitely more interesting than such a simplistic paradigm can account for.