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SLUG: 7-35277 Lessons From History


TYPE=English Programs Feature


TITLE=Lessons From History

BYLINE=Zlatica Hoke



EDITOR=vicki swaney



INTRO: For more than fifty years, the world has watched the violence in the Middle East, seeing few signs of peace on the horizon. The author of a new book titled "Warriors of God" says the hatred and distrust in the region started more than eight hundred years ago. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has a report.

TEXT: At the turn of the fist millennium, the Arab civilization was one of the most advanced and most powerful in the world. The cities of Damascus, Cairo and Baghdad had a combined population of more than two million -- at a time when London and Paris had barely tens of thousands. European scientists had to learn Arabic to acquire the best knowledge in science, astronomy and geography. Powerful sultans and emirs of the Arab East lived in luxury and were protected by powerful armies. Their complacency came to a crashing end when, in the last decade of the eleventh century, Jerusalem fell into the hands of European invaders during the First Crusade. The Holy City was awash with the blood of massacred Jews and Muslims, including women and children. It took about eighty years, but a strong and charismatic leader, Kurdish sultan Saladin, united Muslim forces and recaptured Jerusalem in 1187. Author James Reston, Jr., who writes about the Third Crusade, says most Arabs today feel towards Israel what the 12th century Arabs felt towards the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem.


"(I.E.)A small state within the larger context of what is called Palestine, which basically is populated by people who come from elsewhere. And crusaders were Europeans and therefore regarded by the Arab population as invaders and colonialists. That is exactly the way the Jewish State of Israel is regarded by the Arab population today."

TEXT: James Reston,Jr. says Saladin is a mythical hero, almost a demi-god to the Arab population. And so in their mosques today many Muslims pray for a new Saladin to come and rescue them from perceived invaders.


"The Arab ideology today has as its central tenet that at some point or another, a new Saladin will come on the scene and that the Crusader Kingdom after the First Crusade until the story of the Third Crusade only lasted 80 years. And they say: you see the state of Israel is only 50 years old. So say the Arab ideologues: eventually we'll have a new Saladin and the forces of history will eliminate the state of Israel."

TEXT: James Reston, Jr. says a number of Jewish intellectuals take that ideology of some of their neighbors quite seriously. Some Jews fear that a charismatic figure with military know-how might emerge one day and see it as the ultimate nightmare for the Israeli state.


"There has actually been some writing of Israeli intellectuals. One in particular who comes to mind is a prominent Israeli writer by the name of Amos Oz who has written in the New York Times about the specter of Saladin raising its head again. So I think Saladin is a very vibrant character, even though he is an 800-year old figure. He is a very vibrant figure both to the Arabs and to the Jews today."

TEXT: The author of "Warriors of God" says throughout history, leaders of the Arab world have tried to, as he says, "don the mantle" of Saladin, including contemporaries such as Nasser of Egypt, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, and Yasser Arafat of Palestine.


"Last year, after the collapse of the Camp David discussions between Arafat and Barak, Yassir Arafat went back to the Gaza strip and apparently all across the Gaza Strip there were great banners which proclaimed Yassir Arafat to be the new Saladin."

TEXT: Similarly, some groups of Arab youths that commit terrorist acts against the Israeli state, call themselves Saladin brigades. But author James Reston Jr. reminds us that Saladin was a very noble man. When Saladin recaptured Jerusalem in the twelfth century, he explicitly forbade reprisals. He ordered the rebuilding of the city, including all its places of worship - Islamic, Christian and Jewish. The Jews were provided state money to rebuild their synagogues.


"Saladin is a great and noble figure and a worthy mentor who has lasted through the ages, in every respect. He was, of course, responsible militarily for uniting Egypt and Syria, which made it possible to defeat the crusader kingdom, but beyond that, personally he was very generous and very noble and very concerned about the victims of warfare."

TEXT: James Reston says Saladin had great respect and even some affection for his chief enemy in the Third Crusade - English King Richard the First. It is said that he sent his personal physician to Richard when the king got sick. Some legends have it that when King Richard the Lionheart had his horse killed from under him in a battle, Saladin sent one of his best horses to him because he felt that no great king should fight without a horse. Unfortunately, notes James Reston in his book "Warriors of God," there seems to be no such respect between the leaders of Israel and the Arab countries today.

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