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Published by: tonton06 on Jul 29, 2009
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BOOK REPORT / REVIEW:The Crusades Through Arab Eyes; by Amin Maalouf.The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, by Amin Maalouf, presents Western readers and students of history with a view of the Crusades that is seldom considered in the West. Eurocentrism is a powerful influence, one that has largely shaped the writing of history that has been accepted (at least tacitly) by much of the world's communityof scholars. In this text, however, we are presented with an alternative view of the "facts" of theCrusades, in which then-contemporary Arab chronicles give us an unusual and extremely valuable perspective on the confrontation of Christian western Europe and the Islamic Middle East.Maalouf's narr ative, introduction, and the specific entries themselves demonstrate that there was a sense of genuine confusion among the Arabs, who did not at first comprehend why the strange, militaristic, foreigners were invading their land. The documents contained in the book suggest that the Arabs found theEuropean invaders to be physically strong and enormous, but hideous and barbaric in their practices.Many, many things about the Crusaders seem to have revolted the Arabs. For example, in 1099, in the area of Ma'arra, Crusaders consumed the corpses of both Saracens and Turks and of dogs - with theArabs appalled by such practices. They were equally upset with the Crusader's penchant for trials by ordeal and the cruel and irrational medical practices of the Europeans, whose knowledge of medicine, sanitation, and even personal hygiene were significantly behind those of the Islamic world. Thechroniclers suggested that the Europeans were, in some critical ways such as personal hygiene and medical care, significantly improved by their prolonged and intimate contact with Islam and its body of knowledge.What also emerges from the text is the realization that then - as now - the "Arabs" wer e not a united people; they were rather a loose collection of often very different groups, includingthe Seljuk Turks and "local" Arab peoples. In addition, the goal of retaining (or gaining) controlover the area immediately surrounding Jerusalem was shared by any number of groups - Arab and Crusader alike, for whom the Holy City contained sacred spots of enormous religious and cultural importance to both groups. Jerusalem was as much a place of worship and historical importance to the Arabs and members of the Islamic faith as it was to Christians (and, of course, Jews). Richard the Lionhearted, the Norman king of England, was also fixated on achieving control over Jerusalem and on creatinga Christian state in the area now known as Jordan. Richard was doomed to failure, but his ambitionslive on in the hearts and minds of Jews, Arabs, and Christians - all of whom "claim" Jerusalem as their own and each of whom has a vested historical interest in the area.The text makes it clear thatfrom the Christian, Eurocentric perspective, the Crusades are a romantic image of brave Christianknights (the flower of European chivalry) fighting the Muslims for control of the Holy Land and for the glory of God. For the Arabs, the Crusades represented something very different - some two centuries of repeated invasions and turmoil instigated by the West. Given that Islam was, for the most part,a relatively tolerant religion which did not force conversion on the peoples it conquered, the Arabist perspective should certainly be given greater attention than it has traditionally received in histories written by and for the West.Maalouf, himself a Lebanese who is certainly intimately and pesonally aware of the effects of religious strife, may have had a dual purpose in writing this book.It is clearly an effort of scholarship determined to "set the record straight" and to present a comprehensive Arab "response" to the traditional histories of the Crusades. AT the same time, there is an overarching moral to the story: wars fought on religious grounds are often as much about greed or economic motives and territorial aspirations than about religion per se. This book is definitivelyfocused on events that took place seven to eight hundred years ago, but it resonates with respect tomany of the issues that continue to troubled the Middle East and to shape and inform relationshipsbetween Westerners and Arabs today. The seeds of mistrust and even dislike - as well as misunderstanding - that continue to trouble the world today were quite literally sown in the era encompassed bythe Crusades. This is a point that Maalouf makes eloquently in his own epilogue, a section of the book that ties together the various themes contained in the chronicles that he incorporated and makesthe book as relevant to the present as it is to the distant past.What the West remembers as a glorious and epic effort to recapture the Holy Land, the Arab, Islamic world remembers as a brutal, oftensavage, and largely unprovoked attack. The author demonstrates that the Muslim world at the time was not "one big, happy family," but a world in which one faction was at odds with another. The SeljukTurks had conquered many Muslim lands and were quarrelling with Arabs as well as among themselves over dynastic matters. Not only national or cultural rivalries divided the Muslim's dissent over religious heterodoxy were also endemic then (again, as they are now with animosities between Shi'ia andSunni Moslems). What emerges from this narrative is a recognition that for a brief period of time,these dissenting and hostile factions within the Muslim world overcame (or at least temporarily setaside) their animosities and rivalries to create a unified and ultimately successful front against the Christian, Western attackers.It is also clear that the Crusades were, on both sides of the battlefield, very much a holy war. There is a wealth of valuable information in this text which the student of the history of the Middle Ages would be well advised to pursue. The strongest impression with which the reader is left is of the Muslim scorn for an inferior and misguided people. The writerswhose work is assembled demonstrate that they had little interest in or curiosity regarding the Frankish world; they knew they had little of importance to learn from it, and were content with their caricature of Christian beliefs which is (as the author demonstrated) as distorted as the perceptionof Islamic beliefs which much of the West continues to hold true. The book is important in that itoffers a mirror image of events that even the most cursory student of history is generally familiar with. Teachers and students alike should take notice of this book, which has taken some 30 years tomove into an inexpensive paperback format after being printed in English.book report review crusades through arab eyes amin maalouf crusades through arab eyes amin maalouf presents western readers students history with view crusades that seldom considered west eurocentrism powerful influence thatlargely shaped writing history that been accepted least tacitly much world community scholars this t

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