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NEW YORK — Selcuk Esenbel was in town. For many years now a professor of history at Bogazici University, Istanbul, Selcuk was, when I met her more than 30 years ago, studying Japanese history at Columbia University. The fruit of that study is her 1998 tome, which she gave me during her previous visit to New York five years ago: “Even the Gods Rebel: The Peasants of Takaino and the 1871 Nakano Uprising in Japan.”

If the subject of her book, a peasant rebellion (hyakusho ikki) in the fourth year of Meiji Era (1868-1912), confuses most Japanese — if only because “peasant uprisings” are indelibly associated with the feudal Edo Period (1600-1868) but not with the “enlightened” Meiji — the subject of the monograph she gave me this time will dumbfound them. It deals with what she calls “a forgotten political legacy”: Japan’s extensive efforts to cultivate and maintain relations with Muslims until the country was defeated in World War II.

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