by John MacBeath Watkins

The arrest of Faisal Shahzad has reminded me of an excellent book for those trying to understand the middle east. The Crusades Through Arab Eyes gives you a view of the middle east not caught up in the daily news.

At first, the crusaders were quite successful against the Arabs, in large part because whenever an Arab general seemed poised to defeat them, he lost the support of other Arab leaders. Defeating the invaders would have made the winning general more powerful, costing his allies their own power. Saladin united the Arabs before attacking the crusader state instead of putting together a temporary alliance. To do this, one form of Islam had to become the dominant one, and under Saladin it was the Sunni variety. Today, we see some of the same divisions in Iraq, still struggling for dominance. The cult of the Assassins, an early terrorist group, got its start in the time of the crusades.

I came away from the book feeling that the Arabs, looking back on this history, must feel that however long it takes and however many times they fail, they will in the end triumph over those they see as interlopers in their land. The crusades went on for a couple hundred years. The Kingdom of Jerusalem, a crusader state, lasted from 1099 to 1291. Eight generations of Arabs never accepted the crusaders' rule of Jerusalem. I suppose this does not portend well for them accepting Zionist rule of Jerusalem, either, or American occupation of any Muslim country. The book contributes to our understanding of the middle east, but doesn't set your mind at rest.