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A parable from the Manuscript of Samarkand, writes Amin Maalouf: "Three friends were on a promenade in the high planes

of Persia. Suddenly, a panther, with all the ferocity of the world in it, appears to them. The panther observed the three men for some time then run to them. The first was the oldest, the richest, the most powerful. He cried,' I am the master of these dwellings, I will never allow this beast to wreck havoc these lands which belong to me.' He had two hunting dogs, he let them attack the panther, they could only bite it, and it as such it became more vigourous, it assumed them, attacked their master and ripped his entrails off. Such was Nizam al-Mulk. The second said, 'I am a man of knowledge, everyone honors me and respects me, why should I let my fate be decided between dogs and panther?' He turned his back and run away, least concerned with the outcome of the combat. He had since erred from cave to cave, and hut to hut, convinced that the beast was constantly tracing his steps. Such was the fate of Omar alKhayyam. The third was a man of belief. He advanced towards the panther, and with open hands, a dominating glance and an eloquent mouth. 'Ahlan wa Sahlan, You are most welcome in these lands, he said. My companions were richer than I, you had them deprived, they were the proudest, you disgraced them.' The beast listened, seduced... He knew how to approach it. Since then, no panther could come near, men took their distance." The Manuscript concludes, " When the times of hardship came to pass, none could stop his course, none could run away from him, some were able to take advantage (of this chaos). Better than none, Hasan (Ben Sabah), knew how to domesticate the ferocity of the world. All around him he sowed fear to end up in his reduced Alamout fort, a miniscule space of sorrow." These words are the best summary of Amin Maalouf's work and the central thesis around which he built his whole epic. The three men shaped Persia and the whole East - since all relied on the outcome of events in Ray, Tehran of Old Times -: The Persian Grand Vizier for the Seldjuk dynasty, Nizam al-Mulk, representing a very intelligent and intricate officialdom that will try to lure, in war as well as in peace, every intellectual and religious figure to strengthen the power of the central state; Hasan Sabbah, founder of the Assassins - Hashashine - order, otherwise known as the Ismailite order; and Omar al-Khayyam, poet, astronomer, and mathematician, an intellectual that will "flirt" with both men, but never come to terms with either of them. Nizam, keen to strengthen his authority, will establish a secret police, will try to lure Omar to take the position of chief Intelligence officer, the Sahib Khabar. Omar, finding no rational reason for the politics of death and all that revolves around it, will introduce to Nizam, a friend, a religious student, a Talib 'Ilm, he met in a Khan, Motel, on his way to Ispahan. The friend, Hasan Sabbah, becomes chief of Nizam's Mukhabarat, intelligence services.

Hasan is a member of the secret emissaries trained in the Fatimide courts in Cairo and Alexandria to undermine a waning Abbaside authority, only held in power by their mentors in Persia, the Seldjukides. Hasan will establish the most formidable - in terms of organization secret society that literally terrorized the East in the middle ages. The "old man of the mountains", as the Crusaders later dubbed him, will establish his fortress in Alamout, North West of Iran, and work on undermining his ex-mentor's, the Ata, father, -- Nizam al-Mulk authority. The Assassins - from Assas, foundation, and not Hashish as commonly known - were Nizam's bete noire. Omar, the dischanted intellectual, will plunge into his own soul searching, and the world of his beloved Jahan, with his cup and his Rubaiyat, and will play the role of a pacifist in a Jahan world - plugged by the politics of the sword and the logic of death. Omar will never forgive himself for introducing Hasan to Nizam. Nizam al-Mulk, by far the most prominent and powerful ministers in Islamic history, will hold office in two Seldjukide dynasties: That of Alp Arslan, the founding father of the dynasty, and that of his son Malikshah. This power will bring him support of people like the Imam alHaramayn, al-Junaid, but will bring him the wrath of Malikshah's court and especially that of the Queen, lady Terkan Hatun. "La chinoise", the Kashi, as the whisperers used to call her, will wrestle her way through to hold as much power as possible. Her Hashiya, closest circle, will include Jahan, Khayyam's beloved wife and ex-mistress, the lady he met when he first went to Samarkand, where the whole epic started. Terkan Hatun will work to undermine the campaign of her husband and that of his father before to bring Samarkand and the surrounding Khanates, her natal territory, under Seldjuk authority. Malikshah, the Khan, will arrange to kill Nizam, the usual game of power. Hasan Sabah would be the perfect skapegoat. "A military detachment, is sent to Alamout with the objective to siege the Ismaili fort. In reality, it will negociate the terms of the secret deal: The Sultan shall bring Nizam to Nihavand, a city midway between Ispahan and Alamout. There the Assassins will take care of the rest." The day the messenger came to invite the Grand Vizier to accompany the Sultan to Baghdad, Nizam knew his fate. He was an old man, nothing mattered really at his advanced age. Nizam needs to keep his imprint in history. In these last days he concentrated on writing his SiyasetNameh, the treatise of government, to record the fruit of an irreplaceable experience as a "founder of Empire". Playing by the same logic of death, Nizam will arrange for the death of his enemies: Malikshah, his wife, "la chinoise", and their court, including Jahan Omar's beloved wife among others. "I had a dream, he told Malikshah. I saw our prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. I asked him when am I going to die? He gave me a recomforting answer. The prophet told me: You are a pillar of Islam, you enjoin good around you, your existence is precious to the believers. I will give you the privilege to choose the moment of your death. I told him, "A'uzu billah, I seek refuge on the side of Allah! Who could choose such a day? we always like to live longer. Even if I fix that date, I will be chastised by it, awaiting its approach. On its eve, be it in a month, or a

hundred years, I will be trembling of fear. I cannot choose a date. The only bounty I ask you, O dear prophet, is that you make it before that of his highness, the Sultan Malikshah. I saw him grow up, I heard him calling me 'ata', and I cannot endure the humiliation and suffrance after his death. You have been granted your wish, said the prophet. You shall die forty days before the Sultan." Nizam kissed Malikshah the kiss of death one might say. And so the wish, or was it Nizam's plan, came to pass. After thirty-five days of Nizam's death, Malikshah was found dead while on a hunting trip in Northern Baghdad. The Nizamiya, a parallel organization set up by Nizam al-Mulk took its revenge. Next on the list: the lady, Terkan Hatun and associates. She will be found dead in her bedroom along with Mashuqat Omar, Jahan. Such in brief is the theme of the first part of the book.
And we, that now make merry in the Room They left, and Summer dresses in new Bloom, Ourselves must we beneath the Couch of Earth Descend, ourselves to make a Couch - for whom? -- Omar Khayyam

The second part is dedicated to the events that marred Persia at the turn of the century with the birth of the modern state. The spirit of Afghani looms over Persia: "Almost every group, religious, secular, modernist, traditionalist, etc., will claim a connection to the Sayyid." What about the manuscript of Samarkand, Omar's "secret" Rubaiyat? They will accompany Persia in its long journey to find itself, a journey that will span both space and time. It will accompany Omar along his soul searching in the old East. Vartan, the Armenian Nizami who arranged for Omar's flight to safety, will record the circumstances of its writing. It will be taken to Alamout to be preserved for the next century or so in Hasan Sabah most private quarter, only to emerge with the coming of the "Mahdi", the Messiah, a great grand son of Hasan that will grant his followers the "promised paradise" and quit once and for all his grand father's ways. The manuscript will disappear with the Tatar invasions and desctruction of Alamout's fort. It will re-appear in the nineteenth century, first accompagning Afghani and later in the hands of a Persian Princess and her American lover. The book will drown with the Titanic. Is this sound history of mere fictions? Now what to make of the whole theme of the book. Is Maalouf trying, in metaphoric manner, to show three possible pictures of Islam: "Official", "Secular", "Religious-Extreme"? Can the parallels stand knowing the backgrounds of Nizam, Omar, and Hasan?
Afiq! Awake! for morning in the Bowl of Night Has Flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight: And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught The Sultans turret in a Noose of Night The East has awakened! -- Omar Khayyam