Friday, January 26, 2007


I just finished the second book of Tariq Ali's Islamic Quintet. The first book was called Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree, and was set in Spain immediately after the Reconquista, and is written from a Muslim perspective. It is revisionist history, calling into question the history we learn in school that once the Muslims were driven out of Spain the civilization of the peninsula could be developed. It is a very interesting story, and pretty well-crafted.

The second book is the Book of Saladin: A Novel. It is the story of Salah al-Din (aka Saladin) and the ejection of the Crusaders from Jerusalem in 1187. Again, it is revisionist history, but the perspective is interesting. Rather than the history many of us learned, in which the Crusades were (generally) morally sound, and where the Crusaders fought a good, noble fight, in this book the "Franj" are savages who slaughter women and children.

One of the criticisms I have seen of these books is that they are anti-Western. And so they are. There is no doubt that the Muslim perspective on the West in these books is one of a superior culture looking down on a crude culture. If reading a book from that perspective is beyond you, avoid these books (and return to your job in the President's cabinet). Otherwise, the books are interesting, and provide a different perspective.

By the way, I have started the third book, The Stone Woman, which is set in the Ottoman Empire in the period of about 1870 to 1910 (or so). I just started it this morning, so I don't know if it is as good as the other two.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

When you say that the books are "revisionist history", what exactly do you mean? Is it that the books are written from a different point of view or that the author is spinning what actually occurred?

9:37 AM  
Blogger David said...

The revisionism has to do with viewing many of these issues through rose-colored glasses. For instance, the depiction of al-Andalus in the first book is (a) the story from a Muslim perspective (rather than a triumphalist Christian perspective), but (b) also not critical (at all) of Muslim rule in Spain. This, to me, is revisionism.

I guess that means that the short answer to your question is "spinning what actually occurred." I still think the books are tremendously entertaining, but the history needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

1:33 PM  

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