8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In response to attacks on 'objectivity'...
The arguments against this book are surprisingly vehement, but they seem to ignore one very large and glaring detail about it: the title. This book is not meant to paint an objective, all-encompassing view of the struggle between Islam and Christianity from the eighth-century onward. It is merely painting a picture of contemporary responses to the Crusades in the Muslim...
Published on Jun 15 2004
3.0 out of 5 stars Important, well written, but flawed
This book offers an important contrasting perspective to accounts of the Crusades from the European point of view. One cannot help but be appalled at the many atrocities that were perpetrated on the peoples (Christian, Jew, and Muslim) of the Middle East by the European adventurers.
I think there are two flaws, however:
1. Malouf does seem to have an axe to grind...
Published on Sep 25 2002
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5.0 out of 5 stars Required Reading for All Citizens of the World,
This review is from: The Crusades Through Arab Eyes (Paperback)This is really a terrific idea. Before this book, you probably would have needed to be a graduate student in history before you even realized that the Arab point of view of the Crusades had ever even been recorded, let alone preserved. This book strikes a beautiful balance between being a purely popular edition, and being something that people who study stuff like this for a living might read... It's the kind of book that Barbara Tuchman might have been proud to write.
Amin Maalouf specifically disavows any intention to write a "history book" in his preface. His background is in journalism, and sure enough, he shows evidence of a journalist's ear and eye for the great story... for the gripping and/or galvanizing detail... for the telling gesture that provides the key to a character's persona. Furthermore, he makes it plain that he is not out to write a balanced account, any more than Western authors have historically been interested in providing balanced accounts of the Crusades. This really is presented from the Arab point of view... That said, it might be worth balancing your reading of this book with a concurrent reading of a western account, or you might get a little lost. It isn't easy to read a long book with so few familiar points of reference. Admit it -- unless you are a major history buff, you probably don't know much about this period even from the Western point of view! I think especially as Americans, there is a tendency to feel that this period in history is not very relevant to our country's history. After all, the events of this book took place long before nationalism, before (clearly) freedom of religion or of speech, mostly even before the Magna Carta was a glimmer in anyone's eye. It's hard for us Americans to really relate to this period -- our whole country was essentially created in reaction to it! In a funny way, this book fits in well with that feeling of being alienated -- Europeans of the time of the Crusades were every bit as alien to us, in terms of their mindset, as they would have been to the Muslims of that time.
Let me offer a few thoughts. The whole text is sprinkled throughout with Arabic terms, which are helpfully explained in a glossary at the end. The glossary is only 2 or 3 pages long. You should xerox it, and keep the xerox handy while you're reading, or you might go mad from turning back and forth to the end of the book all the time. Also -- there ARE maps in this book. They aren't mentioned in the table of contents, and they're sort of tucked away obscurely, but they are in there. There's a fairly localized map of the eastern shores of the Mediterranean at the very beginning of the book, and a larger-scale map of the Islamic world in general, tucked in at the book's end... Also, don't miss Maalouf's great epilogue, where he tries to place the Crusades in context, in terms of their impact on Europe, and on the Islamic world.
If you like this book, look for Bernard Lewis' "The Political Language of Islam," which helps us understand the background of various specific Arabic terms that we hear every day on the news. Also, anything written by Edward Said will serve you in good stead. In closing, whoever reads this, remember that the Hebrew term "shalom" and the Arabic "Islam" were originally the same, perfectly well-meaning word! Anyway, this book is great. Two thumbs up.
5.0 out of 5 stars Key insights into Arab worldview,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Crusades Through Arab Eyes (Paperback)A wonderful read, yes, and I agree with all the other reviewers about everything but the "objectivity" which is simply beside the point.
For in-depth thinkers after attacks in U.S.: Very important background for understanding the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and a good part of the Arab world's attitudes toward the West. Also, key insights in the Prologue as to lack of Arab unity and meaningful political organisation; the fact that the Arab world, once the most developed and refined, has never been able to regain its former coveted status.
For history buffs and those enamoured of old chronicles: now that Europe is beginning to exist as a political entity and national histories wil be de-emphasized, this is just the beginning of more new histories to be written about the old world (the fact that there was a time when the most cultivated people in Europe spoke Arabic), a great starting point.
For people who like a good story: many characters and scenes that strike the imagination such as Alix, French-Armenian princess of Jerusalem who attempted to unite with Arab princes to oust her father. Also, fascinating descriptions of daily life and techniques.
5.0 out of 5 stars Changed my life,
This review is from: The Crusades Through Arab Eyes (Paperback)Most valuable book I have ever read on why the world (and especially the Middle East) is as it is. Impossible to understand Gulf War, jihad, Palestinian politics without the information in this book. Entertaining and a good antidote for the jive you may have been fed in high school, Sunday school, and the daily paper. Recommended to all without exception.
5.0 out of 5 stars Objective Hell! But a MUST READ,
This review is from: The Crusades Through Arab Eyes (Paperback)The best effort I've ever seen at putting the reader in Arab shoes. It's not objective - read the title, it's not INTENDED to be objective. It's the Arab viewpoint, and it's grand. Perhaps the subtler lesson is that the Arab viewpoint is not a simplistic view of Arab victims and Western criminal aggression. It's far more nuanced; the Arabs of the day and of today were and are perfectly aware of the effects of internecine politics on their ability to stand up to the Afranj. What one might mistake for objectivity is the surprising discovery that the subjective viewpoint of the Arabs is complex and does not absolve them of all responsibility for their travails. What Maalouf succeeds best at is planting the reader squarely in a world centered around Baghdad, Damascus, and Cairo. Much as the Western depictions of the Mongols and Huns gain resolution as the events draw nearer to Europe's heart, the Afranj begin as a nebulous barbaric horde passing Constantinople, and become real people with real personalities as they approach Jerusalem, establish roots, and become part of the Middle Eastern political reality. One of the most successful attempts I've seen at portraying a familiar historical event from an unfamiliar perspective.
5.0 out of 5 stars Fair, lively, and full of surprises.,
This review is from: The Crusades Through Arab Eyes (Paperback)I ordered several books on the Crusades for a research project I conducted last year, and this may have been the most interesting. Maalouf describes the book as a "true life novel," and he does indeed succeed in depicting the characters, European and Middle Eastern, in all their bumbling, hopeful, fracticious, murderous, and occasionally heroic or far-seeing humanity. The main body of the book is divided into six parts entitled "invasion," "occupation," "riposte," "victory," "reprieve," and "expulsion," and each section is full of freshly personal details. In part this is the story of a religious invasion and its repulsion, in part, of the education of a group of European semi-barbarians, and in part, a mixing of two cultures both with something to learn from the other.
At the end is added an interesting epilogue in which Maalouf offers lessons to be learned, about pluralism and prosperity and about openness to ideas from other societies. As a scholar of East Asia, I immediately recognized in his arguments the contrary stories of Japan and China in the 20th Century.
No one should take this book as the story of the Crusades; Maalouf is in part trying to balance the more common "Western" viewpoint. He begins the story with the "invasion" of the "Franj;" but of course that invasion was, from the point of view of the Franks, a counter-offensive. But within the limits the author has set, this is an excellent, helpful and fascinating piece of historical reconstruction.
author, Jesus and the Religions of Man
5.0 out of 5 stars Saladin - The Machiavelli Prince,
This review is from: The Crusades Through Arab Eyes (Paperback)Amin Maalouf in "The Crusades Through Arab Eyes" presents an unbiased account of the events occurred from the time crusaders set foot in the East. In this document he has combed the works of arab chronicles, many of them eye witness and participants in the events described. Marred by internal dissent ion and conflicts, the muslin cities became victims to a more organized alien force on their borders preying on the prized Jerusalem. The arabs having lost crucial cities of Syria, Asia Minor (present Turkey) and Jerusalem there was a prevalent sense of disarray and dis-orientation. Saladin a brilliant strategist and tactician, utilized every honorable means to undo the damage done and regain the lost territories. Under this dynamic general the muslims, from Egypt to Syria united under one banner and gave resistance to the ambitions of the alien force. Even thought the fall of Jerusalem is credited to Saladin, the very initial seeds of re-unification were begun by Zanghi and Nur-Uldin both Turkish generals, preceding Saladin.
`My uncle Shirkuh turned to me and said " Yusuf, pack your things were going", when i heard this order, I felt as if my heart had been pierced by a dagger, and i answered "In Gods name, even where i granted the entire kingdom of Egypt, I would not go". The man who spoke these wordswas none other than Saladin recounting the timid beginnings of the adventure that some day make him one of the history's most prestigious sovereigns.
The arab word seemingly won a stunning victory. If the west had sought, through its successive invasions to contain the thrust of islam, the result was exactly opposite. Not only were the Frankish states of middle east uprooted after two centuries of colonization, but the muslims had so completely gained the upper hand that not long after this they would seek to conquer Europe itself. In 1453 they took Constantinople and by 1529 their cavalry was encamped at the walls of Vienna.
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkably objective,
This review is from: The Crusades Through Arab Eyes (Paperback)This book is one of my favourites. In addition to reiterating the usual historical facts concerning the crusades, Maalouf manages to remain an objective and excellent writer. His objectivity is evident in the fact that instead of idolizing, or vilifying, either side in the conflict; he presents the facts as seen from BOTH sides. Maalouf is of the few people who have managed to transcend the Middle Eastern/Western perspective. His value as a writer is that he emerges with an insider's understanding of both. That understanding allows him to be far more extensive in his research material than many other writers have been. As a result, both sides of the conflict are equally represented. Finally, this book is a genuine "good read", its well written and very involving. I finished it in two days. For anyone interested in an equally well scripted dialogue on the crusades, check out the BBC's 4 part series. ;)
4.0 out of 5 stars Long winded but Excellent,
This review is from: The Crusades Through Arab Eyes (Paperback)This book paints a very open minded picture of the crusades. I was very impressed with the way it presented the information. I guess, being a Muslim my self, Alls Well That Ends Well was particularly appealing, but the thought of the thousands who died in the name of a senseless conflict, is spine tingling. If you can visualize, this book is bound to transport you.
4.0 out of 5 stars UNIQUE IN THAT IT COMPILES ARABIC SOURCES,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Crusades Through Arab Eyes (Paperback)I found this work unique, but coming a little late. Most "western" scholarship about the Near East is very balanced and objective today (often unintentionally villifying the Crusaders), but still this makes for an interesting comparison. What was left out were Turkish sources and also keeping in mind that many of the Islamic participants were not Arabs, but instead Kurds (speaking a language more akin to the Crusaders than to Arabic), Armenians (again speakers of an Indoeuropean language and being Christians), and Turks. Keeping in mind that in the past invasions were a constant as nations constantly struggled to overcome one another, there is some bias here. I'm of Middle Eastern ancestry, but of Afghan derivation and born here in the states. I got to spend time in Europe and have been to the Mediterranean region and I think the first mistake made by many modern academics is the attempt to draw lines in terms of civilization or regions. clearly, the Middle East is very similar culturally and otherwise to Southern Europe. The Crusades were interesting in that they involved the resurgence of the Christianity albeit in a more militant form. Also the orientalizing influence upon the Crusaders is an interesting aspect as they were outnumbered by native Christians that spoke Arabic, Armenian, or Syriac. In turn many returning Crusaders were half-breeds (poulains) and they returned to Europe to sometimes gain control of prominent fiefdoms in France and Belgium (primarily the region whence the Crusaders came). All in all, this work could've been a bit more expansive, but it is still a unique book that can be read with other books about the Crusades such as one written by P. Holt.
5.0 out of 5 stars Staggeringly Well Researched, But Not Complete In Itself,
This review is from: The Crusades Through Arab Eyes (Paperback)What can one say about a book that has the chief fault of leaving one wanting more? The Crusades Through Arab Eyes (hereafter, "Arab Eyes") is a beautifully composed book that draws almost exclusively from Arabic primary sources to tell the tale of the Western conquest, 1100-1300 AD. Unfortunately, whenever Maalouf isn't talking about military or political intrigue, he seems to loose interest. The book raises many fascinating topics -- the influence of Arab society on the Holy Roman Empire, the rise of a slave class to become the masters of all Islam -- without going into detail on any of them.
The first encounter between Muslim and Crusader is told from the perspective of Kilij Arslan, a seventeen-year-old sultan who would go on to become a legendary name in the struggle of the Islamic people. The "Franj", as the invaders were called, were pouring into his country by the tens of thousands. A skilled military leader, Arslan carefully withdrew his forces into a defensive position, only to be startled by his first glimpse of this "army": ragged, untrained peasants with strips of cloth pinned to their tunics in the shape of the cross. Reluctantly forced into battle, Arslan easily smashed the Crusader legion into bits, considering the matter settled. He had no way of knowing that what he had seen was only the rumor of war, not the war itself.
What may be most surprising to Western readers, such as myself, was that the majority of the Islamic struggle during the Crusader period, 1100-1300 AD, was not against Europeans, but against other Muslim leaders. The "empire" of Islam was sharply divided, and the question of rule was always at issue. In fact, many great Islamic kingdoms actually _joined with the Crusaders_ to gain rivals' territories.
This is one of the many intriguing topics that Maalouf does not deem worth going into. In fact, he saves direct analysis of this for his epilogue, writing:
"Every monarchy was threatened by the death of its monarch, and every transmission of power provoked civil war. Does full responsibility for this lie with the successive invasions, which constantly imperilled the very existence of these states?... Such a complex question cannot be dealt with in this brief epiloue. But let us at least note that in the Arab world the question is still on the agenda."
As noted above, this is just one of many fascinating questions the book raises without answering. Students of Western history may be surprised to learn that the Florentine renaissance may have been the outgrowth of the Syrian renaissance that began with a bloody revolution led by a former slave. That a major Holy Roman Emperor favored Islam in every respect was certainly news to me.
Maalouf's book isn't necessarily a place to find the answers to questions you may have about the evolution of world history during the period of the Crusades. Instead, it's a wonderful jumping off point, a brilliantly-organized work that suggests questions so that you may find their resolution elsewhere. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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The Crusades Through Arab Eyes by Amin Maalouf (Paperback - April 29 1989)
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