Saladin has a vaunted place in Medieval history, normally tagged along with ‘Crusades’ and ‘Richard the Lionheart’. Its a common feature of history that folklore will find two adversaries and link them together irretrevably. But does this ‘versus’ school of history take anything away from the individuals concerned?
One of the problems about our understanding of Saladin, is that his place in history normally begins when Richard the Lionheart landed in the Holy Land. When in fact, he had a long career much predating the Third Crusade. While western readers may not be particularly interested in anything that happened pre-Lionheart, it is vital to understand how Saladin’s early life led to his development into one of the first – and indeed very few – leaders who managed to achieve pan-islamic unity in a common cause.
I must admit to having trouble following the early chapters, with the numerous caliphs, emirs, vizirs and sultans that existed throughout the Middle East in the 12th Century. As I’m not exactly a Medieval Historian, it is very hard to get to grips with the political situation that affected the Crusades. But what I can substantiate from Hindley’s account, is that Middle East politics were incredibly complex, even 850 years ago. It was an incredible achievement by Saladin to unite such disparate groups.
What does the story of Saladin tell us about the modern era, particularly regarding past troubles in Palestine? Firstly, that viewing the issue of the Middle East in terms of religion versus religion is not adequate – in 1189 islamic unity was extremely fragile to say the least. Also, that there was a significant amount of chivalry between the two sides. Attempts to paint one side or the other as infidels were largely a construction. Saladin much admired the dedication of the crusaders in fighting for their cause, whereas many crusaders keenly absorbed eastern culture.
It would be all to easy to express revulsion at the frequent massacres and atrocites that were committed during the Crusades. But is this right? We are guilty of looking through modern eyes at events that took place long ago, in an era of completely different social codes – the war crime is a twentieth century phenomenon. Yet in the same context, codes of chivalry were prevalent among Christian and Muslim alike.
Perhaps these are events that modern day inhabitants of the Middle East might like to reflect on? Far too often in history old misdemeanours and unpleasant events are dragged up and misused as justification for yet more bloodshed. While past events should not be forgotten, they should be learnt from. When Richard the Lionheart’s Crusade faltered just before Jerusalem, Saladin promised that Christian pilgrims would be allowed ino Jerusalem unhindered. An example of magnanitude that encaspsulates an extraordinary man.