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THE MIDDLE EAST: The power of history

While we propose that the international history textbook project begin with the three NAFTA countries, the Middle East should be a major area of study, since that is where a large-scale war may start. The historical factor is also deeper, as James Reston, Jr. shows in his book Warriors of God. It deals with the confrontation between Richard the Lionhearted and Saladin. Walter Scott popularized a romantic picture of Richard, who in reality neglected England and spent his life in futile wars, notably the Third Crusade, in which he suffered defeat at the hands of Saladin, the great hero of Arab history. Both the Christian and the Muslim side are well-documented. Saladin is reported to have told Richard "Jerusalem is important to Christians, but it is much more important to Muslims. We will never give it up, even if it takes a thousand years".

The parallel with the present situation is striking. The Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem, at its height about the size of Israel, was reduced to a narrow strip along the sea. Arafat was hailed as the new Saladin, though others presumably now lay claim to that title. Saladin made Egypt his base, and it still is viewed as the leader of the Arab world. History grinds on.

Ronald Hilton - 8/27/01