“Alamut”: Us, the Other…

By Mohammad Aburumman

تم نشره في Thu 9 February / Feb 2017. 01:00 AM
  • Mohammad Aburumman

The novel, “Alamut”, by Slovenian author Vladimir Bartol, revolves about a castle which carries the name, south of the Caspian Sea, in Iran, amid the mounts of Daylam, almost 100 kilometres from the Capital, Tehran.

The novel deals with the story of Castle Alamut, meaning “Eagle’s Nest”, in the retrospect of its historic and cultural heritage, where “Hassan al Sabbah” (1037-1121 BCE) lived; the founder of the “new creed”, among the Ismailis, and the group later known throughout history as the “Assassins”, or “Hashshashin”.

Despite the fact that the novel was written in 1938, it look a long time for it find its way into the light, even though Bartol spent five years writing it, in the midst of the surge of Fascism and Nazism, which prefaced WWII and the rise of “totalitarian” states.

I just finished the novel a few days back, and it was truly captivating on many levels.

First, it is interesting how Bartol shed a different light on the persona of Sabbah and his Hashashin, which varies from the common misconception among Sunni Arabs, as well as propaganda, who paint the creed in an ideological sectarian light.

That said, I was careful not to consume it with the same presumptions in mind.

Attractively, the novelist exceptionally constructed a dense historical-philosophical rhetoric and imbedded it into the storyline of his novel so smoothly.

Of course, the novel is an embodiment of the author’s own views on Ismailism, the Assassins’ Creed, and the historical events which surrounded them, which or may not be accurate.

Furthermore, another notable aspect of the novel, to me, is the comparison the novel holds between the first Assassins, also known as the first “Fedayeen”, which translates roughly to “those to who sacrifice their lives”, and the modern fundamentalist and extremist lot of Islamist currents and movements, Daesh for instance, who instrument suicide attacks as a main tactic, which has immensly aided these terrorist group’s expansion.

Notably, the Hashashin,  are also said to be the first to found the contract killing business as an institution in Islamic history, as a closed cult, in relation to the Caliphate, which brings together religion and politics, just like many Islamist movements today.

Make no mistake, the historical and cultural context, as well as the psyche, differs intensely; the eras are different. That of the Assassins is not that of ISIS, aka Daesh.

Likewise is the context of the struggle; back then the fight was against the Seljuk Empire. Nowadays, the struggle is against Arab regimes, the Iranian influence, and the west.

That said, there remains an abundance of commonalities; including the suicidal psyche.

Mentionable is the book “Suicide Bombers: Allah's New Martyrs”, by prominent Iranian researcher, Farhad Khosrokhavar, who addresses the psychology of suicide bombers and traces the evolution of the phenomenal culture historically and religiously, particularly among Shiites, all the way to the Sunni midst, according to him.

Back to the topic; one of our most challenging issues, today, in Arab culture, is limited access to objective, independent knowledge, and the ready made history served on a platter of ideology, topped only by our ignorance of ourselves.

Eventually, these storylines, depictions of history and ideas, they form into their own blocs of ready sects, thoughts, and cultures.

As a result, we no longer have a clear picture on how we, today, have come to be; the other we are so scared of, be it Kurds, Shiites, or else, is but an instrumental components of our shared history and the very dynamic of our evolution.

Throughout the eras, the domination of political Sunnism, either in its Suffist-Ashaari rhetoric or Salafism, was always advanced by the cumulative cancelation of other cultures, cults, and ideas, or at best their reproduction in conformity to the mainstream, without even trying to explore its own subjective and historic aspects and constructs.

As sectarian conflict and identities crises sweep through the Arab region, particularly the Sunni identity crisis, it would be beneficial for us to revisit our past and explore our coming forth in a different light, and novels may be instrumental to this endeavour!

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic version, published by AlGhad.

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