Share via Email Photo: Amin Malouf Soon after the Lebanese civil war broke out in , Amin Maalouf, then a journalist in Beirut, took refuge in his ancestral mountain village. He recalls hearing explosions from a war in which he refused to take sides, and wondering whether to join an endless family exodus. Now 53, Maalouf has published seven novels in addition to journalism, essays and a work of history, The Crusades Through Arab Eyes , widely seen as a classic in the Arab world. His early journalism was in Arabic, but all his books were written in French he also speaks fluent English. They have been translated into more than 20 languages.
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Shelves: history Ever since I started reading, I have come across the stereotype of the "bloodthirsty Muslim". Also, Islam was said to be a religion which was spread "by the sword" - that is, through force, Ever since I started reading, I have come across the stereotype of the "bloodthirsty Muslim". Also, Islam was said to be a religion which was spread "by the sword" - that is, through force, giving conquered people only two choices: death or conversion.
With this was contrasted Christianity, the religion of love, which was spread through the proselytising activities of pure-hearted missionaries. History is written by the winners, always: and since the West had "won" the world, their version of history was the one which was in popular circulation.
The actual truth is much more nuanced. The characterisation of the Muslim as a marauder had its start probably in the crusades, I think. In those days, when there was no separation of the Church and the State which is still not there in many Islamic countries , any war for territorial supremacy was a religious war by default.
So when the Frankish knights decided to "reclaim" the Middle East in the name of "Christendom", what actually transpired was pure, unadulterated land grabbing: and when the natives of the desert kingdoms resisted, soon they were fighting for "Islam" against the "Infidel". Here, the knights are not the honourable and chivalrous warriors we have seen in countless comic books, novels and movies: they are cruel, rapacious and battle-hardened fighting machines bent on murder and pillage.
And they are intent on spreading their religion "through the sword" - though one can safely say they were interested only in conquest in the name of religion. The book is divided into six parts, describing the victories of the early crusades, the invasion and occupation, followed by the consolidation of Muslim power which ultimately threw out the Franks. The main takeaways I got from the book was: 1.
The original Frankish invaders were almost barbarians, compared to the Arabs. They thought nothing of massacring populations en-masse, and even indulged in cannibalism at times. The Arab world was a cauldron seething with internal discontent and internecine wars, and hardly the homogeneous "Islamic world" we think it was. And even the word Arab is a misnomer - as mentioned earlier, it was a potpourri of races and nationalities. Christians, Muslims and Jews lived under relative peace in the Middle East.
There was no religious persecution unless required politically. In fact, most of the Eastern Christians preferred living under the sultans to a rule by the Pope!
During the war years, often Franks and Muslims forged alliances to fight against other Franks and Muslims. The wars were not strictly divided on religious lines.
And finally - I have become a fan of Saladin, the humble conqueror. Such a sensitive, just and honest man. The author narrates history for the layman as it should be narrated - like a story. Culled from multiple sources, Maalouf is careful to moderate his views and warn the reader of the possible bias of the writer. At the end, however, the question remains: after such a backlash in the Middle Ages, how did Europe emerge as the de facto leader of the world in the modern age, while the Islamic society stagnated?
The Crusades Through Arab Eyes
A son of the road