Jerry Wayne Odom Jr.

The Crusades Through Arab Eyes

Book Review

I was given The Crusades Through Arab Eyes written by Amin Maalouf and quickly sat down to read it. The subject of the crusades has been of interest to me because of a recent movie called Kingdom of Heaven which features the time when Saladin retakes Jerusalem from the Franj. I wanted more information on what went on during the time of the crusades and fortunately a friend gave me a journalistic book on the subject from a perspective I hadn't yet considered.

As the title says this book is from the point of view of the invaded Islamic Arabs living in the region during the time of the crusades. The first thing to catch my attention was the relatively barbaric nature of the Crusaders. The impression made on me through my traditional education was that the Crusaders were a somewhat organized army. Ala knights in armor in an organized march with a structured approach to re-conquest of the holy land. This book gives the impression that they were more like an armed pilgrimage towards the holy land with not so clear an agenda.

Cultural Isolation of Europeans and Arabs

I also noticed that the Arabs and Crusaders were very unfamiliar with the crusading Europeans when they started moving into their territory. First and foremost was that the Arabs seemed to have almost no experience in the combat tactics of the heavily armed Crusaders. Fortunately for the Arabs they were able to push back the Crusaders due to their unorganized nature. The Crusaders in turn seemed to have no knowledge of how to survive in the environment and had not made proper preparations so they often ran short of food and water. Fortunately for the Crusaders the Arabics were weakened by a lack of unity.

Internal Arabic Turmoil

One of the best things about this book is that we get the general internal political happenings of the Arabs during the time of the crusades and we get to know how they effected history. For example early in the crusades the Arabic scheming against other Arabs helped lead to the fall of other Arab city states at the hands of the invaders. Internal affairs among the Arabs continued to help out the invaders for over a century until the Arabs were forced into a more unified position against the push of the Crusaders.

Rise of Saladin

I was particularly interested in Saladin who is a primary character in the history of the crusades from both camps. He was also portrayed in the Kingdom of Heaven movie and I really looked forward to reading about how he came to leadership. I was suprised to read that his position was primary the result of good fortune in first his appointment as vizier in Egypt and then his succession or Nur al-Din.

Doesn't overly demonize the Crusaders

saladin I found that the author didn't go out of his way to make the Crusaders into the bad guys like I thought he would. He of course points out how the Franj were viewed from the Islamics. Their barbaric nature, their love for alcohol and of course the cannibalism episode but doesn't over embellish. Whenever stating some account of the time he points out that many Arabs of the time liked to "over do it" for the sake propaganda.

When I read more about Amin Maalouf I found out that he was a Christian Arab which gives him a different perspective.(I had assumed he was Islamic) In the past when I'd read books written by Islamics I found them to be very pro-Islam and very much against everything else. I expected much of that to happen in this book due to lack of knowledge on the author and was pleasantly suprised. After reading the circumstances of his life I think he was perfect to write a book on such a subject.

Events sound very similar to the movie

Reading about the events that transpired where Saladin retook Jerusalem they were very similar to the Kingdom of Heaven movie. If you liked the movie you should at least read the pages that cover that era.

Worth the Read

This book isn't really a history book so its much easier to read than history books. It reads to me like a long newspaper article actually and is quite good. I think anyone who wants to know more about the era of the Crusades should pick it up. It's worth your time.

Jerry Wayne Odom Jr. April 25, 2006