The series of wars in which European Christians sought to take, by any means, the holy places under Muslim control between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries AD, came to be known as The Crusades. Various compositions have been written about these wars, but The Crusades Through Arab Eyes by francophone writer Amin Maalouf seeks to tell the story of the Crusades as they were seen, lived, and recorded on the ‘other side’ – in other words, in the Arab camp.
An overall summary of the work will be drawn as well as an analysis provided in regards to how the Crusaders, or the Franj as Maalouf refers to them, were successful in defeating the Muslim people. Upon investigating how the Franj had become victorious, such factors as their military tactics accompanied with psychological warfare, the apparent disunity among the Muslim people, as well as the inability of the Muslim people to build stable institutions all come into play.
Around the second half of the eleventh century, the Turks, who had previously converted to Islam, occupied the land of Nicaea, near Constantinople, as well as regions of the Middle East, including Jerusalem. Concerned that this Muslim advance would be a threat to Christianity, the Byzantine Emperor, basileus Alexius Comnenus, called on Pope Urban II for support in repelling the invaders. Accompanied with a promise of saving their souls, the Pope appealed to thousands of followers to retake the Holy Land from the Muslims, thus in 1096 the Crusades began.
Taking advantage of the numerous divisions among the Muslim people, the Crusaders, referred to as the Franj, moved on to besiege the city of Antioch within Syria, en route to the Holy Land. Disgruntled about receiving a heavy fine for being accused of black-market trading, the sentinel in charge of defending the towers protecting the city, sought revenge on the Muslim ruler of the city, Yaghi Siyan, and contacted the attackers. Firuz, this revengeful guard, allowed the Franj to enter, opening windows so that they could climb in with ropes. Following the siege of Antioch, the Franj moved on to lay siege to the Syrian city of Ma’arra. After weeks of resistance from the city, Frankish commanders promised to spare the lives of the inhabitants if they would stop fighting and withdraw from certain buildings.
However, once inside, the Franj massacred families and committed terrible acts of cannibalism; “In Ma’arra our troops boiled pagan adults in cooking-pots; they impaled children on spits and devoured them grilled.” Following the siege of Ma’arra, a similar result was to occur in the city of Jerusalem. General Iftikhar al-Dawla, who was commander of the Egyptian garrison defending Jerusalem, realized that his men would not be able to hold off the incoming attackers for very long and considered a proposal from the Franj that his troops would be allowed to leave unharmed if they forfeited the tower from which they were defending. The general unwillingly accepted the offer, which lead to the Franj committing heinous acts of genocide against the Muslims residing in the city, as well as setting a temple ablaze where many Jews had gathered to hide from their attackers.
For the decades to follow, many new Crusades reached the area, while others returned to Europe. Counter-offensives were attempted but were ultimately futile in altering the relationship of forces. This had lasted until the introduction of such figures as; Zangi, ruler of Aleppo and Mosul; Nur al-Din, the son of Zangi who was able to weld his virtues into a formidable political weapon ; and subsequently Saladin, also known as Yusuf ibn Ayyub, all important Muslim leaders who played vital roles in the recovery of the territories occupied by the Franj.
Of these leaders, Saladin was the one able to take Jerusalem back from the Franj in the year 1187 with the help of his emirs and soldiers. To avoid as much bloodshed as possible, Saladin ordered that no Christian, whether Frankish or Oriental, was to be touched. And indeed, there was no massacre nor plunder. Instead, Saladin allowed ransom to be paid by the newly conquered inhabitants, stipulating that the poor were free from such payment, with Saladin deciding to distribute the seized goods to Franj widows and orphans before they were to leave the holy city.
As previously mentioned, Muslim disunity had hindered any advancement within Muslim societies in the time period and this unfortunate circumstance ultimately lead to Saladin’s downfall as well; Saladin had the same immediate successor as all the great Muslim leaders of his time: civil war. Shortly after his death, the rise of the Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan began. ‘All cities must be razed’, Genghis Khan used to say, ‘so that the world may once again become a great steppe in which Mongol mothers will suckle free and happy children’. The Mamluks, who were in power of Egypt at the time, saw the last of the Franj soldiers leave before the end of May, and were now focused on the danger from the descendants of Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire. The two armies met near the village of ‘Ayn Jalut on September 3, 1260, with the Mamluks securing the victory and riding jubilantly into Damascus, where they were greeted as liberators.