Walter Scott, The Talisman, the Crusades, Richard I of England and Saladin: Myths, Legends and History
by Ibn Warraq
Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6 / Part 7 / Part 8 / Part 9 / Part 10 / Part 11 / Part 12 / Part 13 / Part 14 / Part 15 / Part 16 / Part 17 / Part 18 / Part 19 / Part 20 / Part 21 / Part 22 / Part 23 / Part 24 / Part 25 / Part 26
Though he is often accused of romanticising the life of Saladin, a careful reading of Lane-Poole’s biography of the Kurd shows that he was perfectly aware of the limitations of Saladin’s putative magnanimity. Robert Irwin misconstrues Lane-Poole entirely when he writes what he apparently takes to be a witty put-down of the historian: “In Lane-Poole’s view, Saladin’s ‘chivalry to the crusaders was the good breeding of a gentleman’. The Saladin created by Lane-Poole’s pen was very gentle gentleman, a rather quiet scholarly figure (not perhaps so very different from Lane-Poole himself)”. Ho! Ho! Ho! Except the laughs are on Irwin who fails to read Lane-Poole attentively. First, Lane-Poole criticises Lessing for turning Saladin into a European, “The main defect, however, of Lessing’s delineation (considered historically) is that it is too European. His Saladin is no real Saracen, as Scott’s.” Thus, Lane-Poole would not have dreamed of depicting Saladin as an Englishman like himself. Lane-Poole continues, “The set purpose of ‘Nathan the Wise,’ as a motive-drama, to preach toleration, and to silence the bigoted criticism of worthy pastor Goetze, compels Lessing to hold up Saladin as a type not only of a good Moslem, but a tolerant. The former he was, beyond question; but tolerance was not his virtue [Ibn Warraq’s emphasis]; his chivalry and clemency were in act, not in thought. He could be kind to Christians, but he never doubted that they must eventually go down into the Pit. He had a holy horror of philosophy, free-thought, ‘broad views’, and all manner of heterodoxy. The only cruel act recorded against him, outside the retaliations of war, was the deliberate execution of a ‘philosopher’- a mystic Sufi. Like many fanatics [I.W.’s emphasis], he could better tolerate the flat opposition of other religions than heresy within the pale of his own creed. His chivalry to crusaders was the good breeding of a gentleman; it did not touch his intellectual appreciation of their errors. He had a gentle soul and a soft heart, but they did not dispel his conviction that Christians were ‘fuel for Hell’. He is a type of a true Moslem of the purest breed; Lessing gives him a theological latitude which he would have indignantly disowned”.
Earlier in his summing up of Saladin’s life and character, Lane-Poole wrote, “his religion was all the world to him. In this alone he was fanatical….In nothing did he show his religious zeal more fervently than in the chief and supreme duty of Moslems, the Jihad or Holy War. Naturally averse to bloodshed, even unwarlike, as he was, he was a changed man when it came to fighting the infidels. To wage God’s war was a genuine passion with him, his whole heart was wrapped up in it, and to this cause he devoted himself, body and soul”. The totalitarian nature of Jihad is nowhere better expressed than in this anecdote that Lane-Poole repeats from Saladin’s biographer Bahā’ ad-Dīn, “Saladin even dreamed of wider battles for the faith: when the Franks should e driven out of Palestine, he told his secretary [Bahā’ ad-Dīn], he would pursue them over the sea and conquer them, till there should not remain one unbeliever on the face of the earth.”
To be continued.