The world’s free peoples “risk losing all to Islamist thuggery,” the pseudonymous Islam scholar Ibn Warraq warns in his latest book, Sir Walter Scott’s Crusades and Other Fantasies, a collection of essays previously published online. Analyzing past Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations, the Muslim apostate Warraq insightfully separates historical fact from popular fiction before defending the freedom necessary to distinguish between the two.
The book’s first half analyzes the Crusades and their perception in light of Sir Walter Scott’s writing. Warraq’s first chapter examines the sympathetic treatment of Jews in Scott’s Ivanhoe, a novel set in Crusader-era England. Ivanhoe shows Scott’s “commitment to religious and racial tolerance, his Enlightenment abhorrence of superstition and fanaticism.”
The subsequent chapter, the book’s longest, compares the presentation of the Crusades in Scott’s novel The Talisman with various historical writings. Contrary to a “characteristically shallow, sneering aside” in Edward Said’s Orientalism, The Talisman’s “overall and overwhelming impression” is of “bickering…barbaric…course…fanatical” Crusaders in a “futile enterprise.” By contrast, the “Muslims were patient, forbearing, and tolerant of other religions, and simply defending their homelands” while Third Crusade Muslim leader Saladin appears “virtuous, calm, refined, and sagacious.” This Saladin is “much given to uttering what Scott must take to be pearls of Eastern wisdom but which read more like those pseudo-Confucian proverbs to be found in Chinese cookies.”
Note: Sir Walter Scott’s books are in the public domain and electronic copies are available free.