Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Legacy of Saladin Part II

When we last saw Saladin, he was riding triumphant into the Holy City. He had defeated the Christian armies and liberated most of the cities and strongholds. MOST! Saladin was not a ruthless leader, and it takes a ruthless leader to snuff out an enemy. His compassion got the best of him, and he let thousands of would be prisoners walk free. He made them pinky promise that they wouldn't start anymore wars. The Christian knights were thankful, they made their promises of peace to this hippie, and skipped away to Tyre to join the rest of the Christians who were biding their time. In a sense, Saladin himself created the next stage of the Crusades. What would be worse? Should he have destroyed his enemies like any other leader would have? Or are we thankful to see a man with never before seen compassion towards the rest of his fellow man? It's a lose-lose, unfortunately. Each way leads to bloodshed. And I have a feeling Saladin knew this and was postponing the inevitable.

Saladin knew that his good fortune would have to run out sooner or later. He had done what he set out to do. Jerusalem no longer bowed down to the Christians, and the Muslim realm was more strongly connected than it had ever been before. Once again, a leader who could have threatened his power passed away. German emperor Frederick Barbosa was about to lead another Crusade to take back those lands the Latin Christians lost until he had a heart attack on the trip east. Then, out of the distant land of England, came a man who wanted so badly to be Saladin's match but never quite lived up to his adversary. Richard the Lionheart made his way to the Middle East, and with the help of the Italian fleet and the survivors in Tyre, began to slowly make their voices heard.

The most important city that the Christians were threatening was Acre, and the differences in approaches could not have been more different. Whereas Saladin quickly stormed through his opponents, offering them safe passage along with their possessions, Richard took to a siege of Acre that lasted nearly 2 years. Saladin could have done more to stop the siege and the famine that raged inside, but his heart didn't seem in it. He finally gave up the city. Richard marched in and slayed any man, woman and child who didn't worship the same god he did. He took a big Christian piss on all the generosities Saladin had shown.

With Acre down, Richard had his sights set upon some of the other cities his predecessors had lost. But he lacked the organization and the compelling qualities that drew people to Saladin. What followed was more a battle of the mind between Richard and Saladin. Richard began somewhat courting Saladin's brother, al-Adil. He flattered the brother and suggested meetings with Saladin. He whispered things in al-Adil's ear that might make al-Adil jealous of his brother. Richard wanted to cause a rift. Saladin, on his part, refused to meet with Richard because they were currently in open war. But Sly Saladin had a confidant of his own, the Marquis Conrad, who was a rival of Richard's. He also hit Richard with the biggest of all truths: even if Richard took back some land, the Muslims would wait. They lived here. This was their home. Eventually Richard would want to go home back to England, and when he did, Saladin and his followers would be there to take it all back. Talk about about a buzzkill!

By 1192, the Latin Christians held Jaffa and their old safeguard Tyre. Saladin ruled everything else. He set up his brother in Egypt, far away, just in case Richard did succeed in putting any silly ideas in his head. A new truce was signed. Saladin's words must have gotten to Richard for he went home without much to show for his time on Crusade. He was probably hurrying back to marry Maid Marian and Robin Hood! The next year, the unthinkable happened. Saladin passed away in his favorite city of Damascus, fragile and tired. An expected flurry of fighting broke out, but his brother al-Adil, brought the Egyptian-Syrian empire back together in 1202. Thereafter was another wonderful, brief period of peace. Then, al-Adil died and the sons of Saladin tore apart what their father had built. Most prominent of these sons was al-Kamil.

Al-Kamil ruled in Cairo, his brother al-Mu'azam in Damascus. The death of their uncle not only split up the hard earned territory, but it also emboldened the French. They had taken Damietta just as al-Adil had passed on, and al-Kamil, lacking the same convictions of his father, began bargaining away the lands they held. He offered up Jerusalem a number of times to the French who were extremely suspicious and turned it down. Then, a curious friendship was struck between al-Kamil and the King of Germany, Frederick II. The latter was known for his distaste for the western Christian world. He spoke Arabic, admired the Arabic architecture, and even enjoyed worshiping with the Muslims, though he himself did not seem to lean towards any sort of religion. The two men enjoyed a close friendship, talking about religion, science, and their personal zoos. Then al-Kamil got a great idea. He didn't trust his brother over in Damascus, and he didn't much care for all the hard work his father had put into uniting the Muslim people under one cause. He decided to offer his friend Frederick the Kingdom of Jerusalem as a buffer zone between he and his brother.

I think it is important at this point in the story to stop and marvel at a man like Frederick, who, like Saladin, lived in a way that was bizarre and uncouth compared to the social standards of the day. It is incredibly refreshing to know that then, just as there is today, there existed a group of people who refused to be dictated by religion or cultural and social expectations. When you look back at history, it is easy to lump people into categories, good and bad, right and wrong. But people were complex then. We're complex now. Frederick, surrounded by intolerant zealots, was not afraid to show his appreciation of the Muslim world. Saladin who was raised in violence allowed his softer heart to take control of his actions and spared many lives. It's good to know that good dudes are on both sides.

Al-kamil's plan backfired with the death of his brother, al-Mu'azam. Suddenly, the old empire was there for his taking, and he no longer needed that buffer zone. "But," Frederick complained, "I already told the Pope and everybody I was about to get Jerusalem! Don't make me look like a doofus!" Al-kamil knew that if the empire was to come back together, and he gave away Jerusalem to the Franks, he would be criticized and could perhaps entice civil war. So the two pals decided on a cunning compromise. They faked a battle, one that Frederick had won, and al-Kamil handed over Jerusalem. They thought that they could both save face with this little bit of trickery. So in 1229, the Christians returned to power in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem remained in Christian power for about fifteen years. It couldn't have held out for very long, cut off from the other Christian communities way over in the Byzantine and back in Tyre. Unfortunately for al-Kamil, the people saw through his farce and his rival from Damascus, al-Nasir, threatened to overthrow him. Al-Nasir was neutralized but he waited. In 1239, he retook Jerusalem in a surprise raid, and the Christians would never get it back. Not because of an inability or lack of trying. There loomed in the east the violent and unending seed of Ghengis Khan. The Mongols, who had successfully united many of the Turkish tribes, traveled into Syria and Egypt and laid waste to its cities. Jerusalem fell along with the others.

Crusades would continue after the loss of Jerusalem. After the Turks were converted, Muslims were everywhere. The European Christians continued to fight a losing battle. But there was never again a personality quite like Saladin, who in his love of humanity, united the people for a common goal under his selfless guidance. Saladin never cared for riches or power. He was a man who saw a need and knew he could provide that need. His name was called and he responded, not out of any earthly desire, but out of the knowledge that he was the best person. He could unite the Muslims and fight the Christians, and he could do it better than anyone else and with less bloodshed. I don't believe that Saladin ever desired his role but reluctantly accepted it, acknowledging his gifts and putting them at the feet of his God and of his people who shared that common burden of a foreign ruler. He accepted it with a grace that has not been seen since.

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