Monday, May 09, 2005

Salaheddin Youssef Ibn Ayyub

The Franj and the Saracens, always fighting the last Crusade…

Children, I mean, my children for real, do not take "The Kingdom of Heaven" as the last historical word about the fall of Jerusalem in 1187. The battle might be lost for so many who just wait for the "final" consolidated "truth" brought by epic cinema to file that particular historical archive in their personal databanks. But Children, you’ve been there in the Holy Land, in the Horns of Hittin and in Saladin-walled Jerusalem! You, my daughters, no doubt fantasize about Orlando Bloom but Balian of Ibelin was the Lord of Toron, Oultrejourdain, Nablus and Ramallah, and you have traveled there! (Remember the narguileh your DNA-donor bought in a nice tobacco shop in Ramallah, with an imposing humidor room, not far from Hanan Ashrawi's place?).

I really enjoyed the film, of course. Several reasons and the usual mental links that pop up like junk-advertising on the Net. (I even shared Salzburg seminar discussions with the present day Guy de Lusignan, for goodness sake!). Just as an example, I always felt that there must be a away to resuscitate the grandeur of awesomely beautiful places like the Casa de Pilatos or the Alcazar of Seville. Thanks to Ridley Scott I've found the answer. An epic with this kind of means can bring alive again these unique gems of our architectural heritage. That could almost be reason enough to go and see the movie. But there are the more serious motivations too. The key issue of tolerance, to begin with. (Uncle Ridley wants to make a "dialogue of civilizations" point, and I'm all for that, of course. The whereabouts of extremist Reynauld of Chatillon versus the moderate Jeremy Irons (Sorry, Tiberias. Although it looks to me he's a fictional clone of the real life, Arabic-speaker, leader of the "appeasers", Raymond, Count of Tripolis). A metaphor for the respective fates of the two main Western postures towards Islam. The generosity of Saladin when conquering Jerusalem, refusing himself and his men to tit-for-that the previous century massacre when the Holy City changed to Christian hands.

( As Frederico, a dear friend of mine used to say: "You're a privileged bastard. You can't discuss Sex, Politics and Religion at table but you've lived in the places where those Totems acquire a sense for us all. Lucky fellow! How can one understand Religion without diving in the Middle East shallow waters and breathe Jerusalem? How can one say anything meaningful about Politics if his knowlegde of the Russian Revolution world is not first-hand? A Moscow stay as a passport for understanding what Democracy is all about." I quickly remember him that he forgot Sex. "Sex? Elementary, my dear Watson. Moscow, again, of course." )

The dialectics of theory and praxis are crucial here. So, having been there on the Land and seeing the film is not enough. Some further reading is highly recommended. I went again for the story of Baldwin, Saladine & Co on two books I had at home. Professor Steven Runciman immense and immensely boring "History of the Crusades" and Amin Maalouf's fair attempt at fairness in "The Crusades as seen by the Arabs". (Delicious the way Arab historians referred to Raymond, son of Raymond and from the lineage of the Saint-Gilles, as "Raumundo Ibn Raumundo as-Sanjili ").

The serious point I'm trying to make here is obviously that every effort to understand the Middle East is worth doing. The roots and the core of almost every single serious issue nowadays are there.

I remember how surprised I was when in heard for the first time in a Palestinian mouth the word "Crusader" used as a contemporary insult.

As Maalouf said in 1983, closing that book: " (...) political and religious leaders in the Arab world constantly speak of Saladin, of the fall of Jerusalem and of its re-taking. Israel is assimilated, both in the popular voice and in certain official discourses to a new crusader State. Of the three divisions of the Palestine Liberation Army, one still holds the name of Hittin and another one Ain Jalut. President Nasser, in his times of glory, was regularly compared to Saladin who, as himself, united Syria and Egypt ... and even Yemen! As to the Suez Canal expedition in 1956, it was interpreted, as in 1191, as a Crusade engaged upon by French and English. (...) its obvious that the Arab East continues to see in the West is natural enemy. Against it, any hostile act, being it political, military or "petrol related", is nothing more than legitimate payback. And we cannot doubt that the fracture between those two worlds stem from the crusades, still today seen by the Arabs as a rape.”

Children, go and see the movie. Enjoy it. But go further, please.

1 comment:

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