The Assassins’ Creed: “Nothing is True – Everything is Permitted”

An artist’s impression of Alamut for the movie “Prince of Persia, Sands of time” (credit: François Baranger)

When I started this blog, I didn’t mean to write exclusively about God, Nietzsche and the relationship between religion and reason. However, somehow this topic is coming again and again to me even when I don’t mean to approach it. Currently I’m reading the most popular work of modern Slovenian literature (according to Wikipedia): Vladimir Bartol’s novel Alamut. The novel is based on the orientalist legend of the Assassins; a radical Muslim sect that terrorized with their assassinations the Crusaders and local Muslim rulers in many parts of the Middle East throughout the 12th and 13th centuries.

The Assassins is the name given by Crusaders and some European travelers to the Nizari Ismaili sect, whose followers controlled a network of strongly fortified citadels and fortresses in Syria and Iran. They did not have an army in the proper sense of the word due to their small numbers and dispersion, but they trained special units of assassins, who could assassinate any king, prince, or military commander that dared to attack them or challenge their power. You may now intuitively think it’s no wonder they acquired the name Assassins; it is simply because they assassinated many people. The truth, however, is the other way around: The word assassinate in English and its etymological equivalents in other European languages are actually derived from their name, which is in turn derived from the Arabic word hashashin (“hashish users”). Their Muslim neighbors probably used the name only abusively meaning something like “bandits” or “pariahs” without accusing them seriously of adopting the practice of taking hashish. However, with the orientalist fantasies of European travelers the term became the source of an infamous legend of sexual lust, religious murder, and deception.

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