FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Searching for a Saladin

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:

Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
Nomi Prins 
The Inequality Gap on a Planet Growing More Extreme
John W. Whitehead
Know Your Rights or You Will Lose Them
David Swanson
The Abolition of War Requires New Thoughts, Words, and Actions
J.P. Linstroth
Primates Are Us
Bill Willers
The War Against Cash
Jonah Raskin
Doris Lessing: What’s There to Celebrate?
Ralph Nader
Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out
Binoy Kampmark
William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
Green New Deal Advocates Should Address Militarism
John Feffer
Review: Season 2 of Trump Presidency
Rich Whitney
General Motors’ Factories Should Not Be Closed. They Should Be Turned Over to the Workers
Christopher Brauchli
Deported for Christmas
Kerri Kennedy
This Holiday Season, I’m Standing With Migrants
Mel Gurtov
Weaponizing Humanitarian Aid
Thomas Knapp
Lame Duck Shutdown Theater Time: Pride Goeth Before a Wall?
George Wuerthner
The Thrill Bike Threat to the Elkhorn Mountains
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Selfhood and Her Ability to Act in the Public Domain: Resilience of Nadia Murad
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
On the Killing of an Ash Tree
Graham Peebles
Britain’s Homeless Crisis
Louis Proyect
America: a Breeding Ground for Maladjustment
Steve Carlson
A Hell of a Time
Dan Corjescu
America and The Last Ship
Jeffrey St. Clair
Booked Up: the 25 Best Books of 2018
David Yearsley
Bikini by Rita, Voice by Anita
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail