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
Scott is not, however, afraid to point to personal and ultimately cultural differences. Here are some exquisite observations: “The manners of the Eastern warrior were grave, graceful, and decorous; indicating, however, in some particulars, the habitual restraint which men of warm and choleric tempers often set as a guard upon their native impetuosity of disposition, and at the same time a sense of his own dignity which seemed to impose a certain formality of behavior in him who entertained it. This haughty feeling of superiority was perhaps equally entertained by his new European acquaintance, but the effect was different; and the same feeling which dictated to the Christian knight a bold, blunt, and somewhat careless bearing, as one too conscious of his own importance to be anxious about the opinions of others, appeared to prescribe to the Saracen a style of courtesy more studiously and formally observant of ceremony. Both were courteous; but the courtesy of the Christian seemed to flow rather from a good-humored sense of what was due to others; that of the Moslem, from a high feeling of what was to be expected from himself.”
Edward Said’s conclusions quoted above turn out to be totally absurd when one realises that in the first two chapters the Saracen gives as good as he gets from the Christian. The Emir reproaches Sir Kenneth for feeding “like a dog or wolf”. Then as Sir Kenneth exercises his “Christian freedom” by drinking some wine, the Emir contemptuously pronounces, “That, too, you call a part of your liberty, and as you feed like the brutes, so you degrade yourself to the bestial condition, by drinking a poisonous liquor which even they refuse!”
But the Christian Knight has his reply ready, “Know, foolish Saracen that thou blasphemest the gifts of God, even with the blasphemy of thy father Ishmael. The juice of the grape is given to him that will use it wisely, as that which cheers the heart of man after toil, refreshes him in sickness, and comforts him in sorrow. He who so enjoyeth it may thank God for his wine-cup as for his daily bread; and he who abuseth the gift of Heaven, is not a greater fool in his intoxication than thou in thine abstinence.”
Then follow some delicious exchanges on the relative merits of monogamy and polygamy, the Muslim delighting in the “black-eyed houris of Paradise”.
Scott ably summarises the raison d”etre of the Crusades, and what he obviously sees as the essential honourableness of the Islamic position on the Holy Land,
“for the cruel hand of your people has been red with the blood of the servants of the Lord, and therefore do we come hither in plate and mail, with sword and lance, to open the road to the Holy Sepulchre, and protect the chosen saints and anchorites who yet dwell in this land of promise and of miracle.”
“Nazarene,” said the Moslem, “in this the Greeks and Syrians have much belied us, seeing we do but after the word of Abubeker Alwakel, the successor of the Prophet, and, after him, the first commander of true believers. ‘Go forth,’ he said,’ Yezed Ben Sophian,’ when he sent that renowned general to take Syria from the infidels, ‘quit yourselves like men in battle, but slay neither the aged, the infirm, the women, nor the children. Waste not the land, neither destroy corn and fruit-trees: they are the gifts of Allah. Keep faith when you have made any covenant, even if it be to your own harm. If ye find holy men laboring with their hands, and serving God in the desert, hurt them not, neither destroy their dwellings. But when you find them with shaven crowns, they are of the synagogue of Satan! smite with the sabre, slay, cease not till they become believers or tributaries.’ As the Caliph, companion of the Prophet, hath told us, so have we done, and those whom our justice has smitten are but the priests of Satan. But unto the good men who, without stirring up nation against nation, worship sincerely in the faith of Issa Ben Marian, we are a shadow and a shield; and such being he whom you seek, even though the light of the Prophet hath not reached him, from me he will only have love, favor, and regard.”
To be continued.