Dec 30, 2010

Hero Who Fought Crusaders Is Role Model for Muslims

For many Syrian Muslims, the Crusades still rankle. But the 12th-century leader Saladin may inspire today's peacemakers.

-- BY: Rhonda Roumani

On a dark street in a wealthy district of Damascus, a light shines from an arched, brass
doorway. The door is slightly ajar. Inside, except for a small computer in the corner, the room
seems like a medieval study Ottoman-engraved silver  plates, carved wood
couches, and stained glass windows line the sides of this narrow office. Here,
University of Damascus professor Suhair Zakkar is translating old manuscripts
for a 90-volume series on the Crusades--an accumulation of his life's work. To Zakkar, these texts are
not exactly ancient history. "We feel the campaigns never ceased," says Zakkar, who speaks with
the precision of a historian. "Europe invaded our country, and we fought the Europeans here and at
last succeeded in liberating our country." In Syria, the memory of the Crusades runs deep. It is
here that Muslims fought an onslaught of crusaders all along the coastline from Damascus to Aleppo.
For Arabs and Muslims, the Crusades marked a time of assault and destruction-a
time when the Muslim world was in dire jeopardy, defending against bloodthirsty
crusaders bent on destroying their land and their people simply because they were not Christian-or
because they were Muslim. "For two centuries, the crusaders killed several million Muslims," explains
Zakkar. "They left in this country a very bad memory of killing, destruction, spoiling and
devastation. More than that, they came to this country to `rescue' or help the local Christians. Before
the coming of the Christians, in every part of Syria, there was a considerable number of
Christians. But because of the Crusades, [ Christianity ] became a smaller religion in
Syria and the Christians became a real minority." Like Zakkar, many Muslims in the region believe that
the current political situation in the Arab world--which began when
the French and the British attempted to divide the region and helped establishthe state of Israel after the
second world war--is nothing more than another
wave of the Crusades. "The Crusades have continued until today," Zakkar says. "In 1291 we had
the Crusades against Egypt by Cyprus and then
several Crusades against North Africa. The Ottoman Empire faced several Crusades. Then we have
the French and the British mandate. Then up to today. When President Bush wanted to take his forces
to Iraq, he used the word Crusades several times-- and up to this moment, he believes himself to be the new messiah." Because past hurts of the Crusades are felt afresh, the Muslim heroes of earlier
campaigns are powerful symbols in the Arab world. Nureddin, the son of a Turkish tribal leader,
united all of Syria in the 12th century and defeated the crusaders in Egypt. His successor, Saladin al-
Ayyubi, symbolizes resistance and pride in defending against Christian crusaders. The leader of
Egypt, Saladin wrested Muslim land from the crusaders and gained his place in history in the Battle
of Hattin in 1187, when he liberated Jerusalem with little bloodshed. This battle is the climax of the new
Ridley Scott movie "Kingdom of Heaven."


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