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 / Part 27
In other words, Lane-Poole is saying that to be a true Muslim you must pursue the totalitarian goal of turning the entire world Muslim, with the sword when necessary; that a true Muslim is not tolerant. In his world view, and the world view of all true Muslims, Christians and Jews are inferior, and treated accordingly — as dhimmis. But Lane-Poole and all other apologists of Saladin do not write of the plight of non-Muslims in Islamic society. Certainly Lane-Poole was aware of Saladin’s limitations, the necessary limitations of true Muslims, but does not spell out the consequences of such beliefs for non-Muslims. But I shall indeed look at the treatment of Jews and Christians during Saladin’s times later in the essay.
Nonetheless, Lane-Poole’s history is written entirely from the Muslim point of view, a perspective that Gibb was also to take. Lane-Poole’s account was the first account in English that took the trouble of going to the original Arabic sources, BahÄ” ad-DÄ«n, ImÄd ad-DÄ«n, Ibn al-Athir, and for that reason is of historical importance.
But Lane-Poole pays little heed to Saladin’s early years, especially the Egyptian. And he seems to have been the originator of the view that Saladin, in his younger days, was essentially a shy retiring, unambitious youth who preferred a quiet seclusion to court intrigues, politics and war.
His literary tastes were theological, and loved to hear passages from the Koran explained, and the origins of Traditions traced. He longed for nothing more than the discourse of pious men. But then he had greatness thrust upon him. He was dragged to Egypt against his will, but once there he acquired a passion for Jihad, a desire to found a Muslim empire strong enough to drive the infidels out of the land.
Lane-Poole concluded, “Thenceforward his career was one long championship of Islam. He had vowed himself to the Holy War.”
Lane-Poole was, like Walter Scott, a child of the Scottish Enlightenment, brought up on ideas put forth by philosophers like William Robertson , who argued that non-European civilizations were at least the equal of, and perhaps even superior to, Western civilization. Lane-Poole clearly considers the Saracens far superior to the Crusaders. He wrote, “But the students of the Crusades do not need to be told that in this struggle the virtues of civilisation, magnanimity, toleration, real chivalry, and gentle culture, were all on the side of the Saracens”. This is quite an extraordinary statement. Lane-Poole is willing to overlook, minimize, or justify the acts of cruelty and barbarism of the Saracens under Saladin, but not of the Crusaders. He had the Enlightenment contempt for Christianity, which prejudices pervade his account of the Crusaders. It shows through on other occasions, as when he mocks the very notion that anyone could possibly have the True Cross; what of imitations, he asks sarcastically. “There were doubtless several ‘True Cosses’ — and imitations”, wrote Lane-Poole. I cannot imagine him mocking Muslim beliefs in the same way; there were enough examples of absurdities in the Islamic faith had he so wished, including the superstition that Muhammad ascended heaven from Jerusalem on Buraq — a steed with wings and a “handsome head”. Lane-Poole was also writing at a moment in history when Islamic culture and civilization was at a low ebb, and to kick it at a time when it was on its knees and so degraded was not very gentlemanly. Least of all was Islam a threat to the West, and hence he could quietly disquisit on Jihad without thinking it would ever pose any dangers.
 William Robertson, An historical disquisition concerning the knowledge which the ancients had of India, Edinburgh, (1791).
To be continued.