FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Searching for a Saladin

by AMIR BUTLER

Sir Ridley Scott’s treatment of the Crusades in Kingdom of Heaven focuses attention on a chapter of history that is barely remembered in our societies, yet provides the prism through which Muslims view their relations with the West.

The central storyline is mostly fictional, however the historical backdrop is essentially accurate; with its progression from the treaty broken by Crusader bandit-knights, to the attack on the Castle of Kerak, and the subsequent surrender of Jerusalem to Saladin’s armies.

Saladin, the 12th century Muslim ruler and vanquisher of the Crusaders, has long been romanticized in both Muslim and non-Muslim literature as a figure who personified bravery, chivalry and honor.

Even Dante’s Divine Comedy, where history’s heroes and villains are categorised into different levels of hell, describes Saladin as standing ‘alone, apart’ in the highest level afforded to non-Christians; alongside the likes of Plato, Homer and Dante’s own guide, Vergil.

In the Muslim world, the name ‘Saladin’ resonates with meaning. For this reason, his name peppers the speeches of Osama Bin Laden, and Saddam Hussein frequently described himself as Saladin II. Saladin is, for Muslims, the symbol of a golden age of honour and dignity; and he is, for figures such as Saddam and Bin Laden, a useful rhetorical device for giving legitimacy to their own causes.

Muslims revere Saladin because he was an embodiment of Islamic principles; and non-Muslims revered him for what they saw of his chivalry. He became a window through which the medieval world came to see something of Islam; and he now represents a window through which Muslims see something of their past. A past filled with acts of kindness that seem out of place in today’s dystopian world of made-for-TV decapitations, kidnapping of engineers, and the torture of prisoners of war.

Although he lived as a military leader at a time characterised by its violence, Saladin could teach our contemporary leaders — both Muslim and non-Muslim — something about chivalry and respect for humanity. Whilst besieging the Castle of Kerak, on his march to Jerusalem, Saladin learnt that a wedding ceremony was underway in a part of the castle. He didn’t make some utilitarian judgement about ‘collateral damage’ and continue the attack. Rather, he ordered his soldiers to refrain from bombarding that wing.

Whilst Crusaders had, according to reports of the time, massacred Jews, Christians and Muslims to the point that, “our men waded in blood up to their ankles”, Saladin did not extract revenge or conduct any of his own massacres on recapturing the city 88 years later. Instead, he granted the Crusaders protected passage to the coast.

When Richard the Lion Heart attempted to then recapture Jerusalem, he was confronted both by Saladin’s military might and his clemency. Despite having violated a treaty by slaughtering 3,000 men at Acre, when Richard’s horse was killed at Jaffa, Saladin sent two of his own horses to replace it. “It is not right,” he wrote. “That so brave a warrior should have to fight on foot.” When Richard fell sick during the siege, Saladin sent his personal physician to care for him.

After his death in 1193, they did not find Swiss bank accounts of money pilfered from his people, but an empty personal treasury; emptied by his charity to those in need.

For Muslims, Saladin represents a moment in their history of strong and honorable leadership in the face of tremendous opposition. Tyrants and dictators have since misappropriated his name and legacy; but Saladin was everything that the secular and politically emaciated dictators of the Muslim lands are not: a leader who was powerful yet just; victorious yet clement; and who was inspired not by a love of power or a thirst for wealth, but by faith alone.

In the end, Saladin was victorious over the crusading armies of Europe, but perhaps his greatest victory was not militarily, but morally. For real victory, Saladin said, “is changing the hearts of your opponents by gentleness and kindness.”

AMIR BUTLER is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia. He can be reached at: amir@amirbutler.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
Binoy Kampmark
Headaches of Empire: Brexit’s Effect on the United States
Dave Lindorff
Honest Election System Needed to Defeat Ruling Elite
Louisa Willcox
Delisting Grizzly Bears to Save the Endangered Species Act?
Jason Holland
The Tragedy of Nothing
Jeffrey St. Clair
Revolution Reconsidered: a Fragment (Guest Starring Bernard Sanders in the Role of Robespierre)
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to Europe
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
Jeffrey St. Clair
Lines Written on the Occasion of Bernie Sanders’ Announcement of His Intention to Vote for Hillary Clinton
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail