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The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam (English Edition)
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The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam (English Edition) [Format Kindle]

Bernard Lewis
5.0 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (1 commentaire client)

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The word 'Assassin' was brought back from Syria by the Crusaders, and in time acquired the meaning of murderer. Originally it was applied to the members of a Muslim religious sect - a branch of the Ismailis, and the followers of a leader known as the Old Man of the Mountain. Their beliefs and their methods made them a by-word for both fanaticism and terrorism in Syria and Persia in the 11th and 12th centuries, and the subject of a luxuriant growth of myth and legend. In this book, Bernard Lewis begins by tracing the development of these legends in medieval and modern Europe and the gradual percolation of accurate knowledge concerning the Ismailis. He then examines the origins and activities of the sect, on the basis of contemporary Persian and Arabic sources, and against the background of Middle Eastern and Islamic history. In a final chapter he discusses some of the political, social and economic implications of the Ismailis, and examines the significance of the Assassins in the history of revolutionary and terrorist movements.

The Economist

"Learned, lucid and elegant...with great skill [Lewis] disentangles truth from legend."

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5.0 étoiles sur 5 The Assassins 6 février 2012
Par Boyd Hone
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
While reading two books on Richard Lionheart, Frank McLynn's RICHARD AND JOHN and James Reston's WARRIORS OF GOD, I came across the story of Sinan, the head of a hashish cult called the Assassins, an organization capable of doing, in real life, what the godfather had done in film fiction with the horse's head. Both Richard and Saladin were so terrified of him that they did everything in their power to placate the old man. (One of many Sultans, upon awakening, found a dagger on his pillow; so warned, the Sultan awarded Sinan a yearly pension of 3,000 dinars.) Boys were accepted into the cult very young, and when the moment came for them to be used as killers, they were drugged and then admitted into a garden where they found, upon awaking, fountains, wonderful food and all the girls their young bodies could accommodate. They were told that this was Paradise, and that if they were lucky enough to be killed during their mission, this is what awaited them in recompense. So I ordered Bernard Lewis' book THE ASSASSINS. Lewis tells the story from the very beginning, with the founding of Islam, a story as dense as algebra and as convoluted as calculus. There are Imamates, Imams, viziers, Sultans, Caliphs, Caliphates, emirs, muftis, Shi'a, Sunni, Mongols, Ismailis, this sect and that sect, and murder galore. Here are some of the words I made note of concerning the interactions of these groups, words extracted from just 2 of the book's 134 pages: cunning, skin stuffed with straw, torture, flayed alive, beheaded, massacre, killing, conquest, death, assault, burned him. There are also some astonishing photos of the Assassins' mountain strongholds. Immensely complicated, extremely erudite, it is a 5-star effort, although stories of the assassination attempts should have been far more developed, because as it is, the book is often as dry as hay.
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85 internautes sur 98 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 The First Islamic Terrorists 28 novembre 2002
Par jeffergray - Publié sur
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
It's probably a fair guess that sales of Bernard Lewis's "The Assassins" were a lot slower before 9/11 than they are today. Many who purchased this book over the past year probably did so hoping that it would help provide some insight into Osama bin Laden and the terrorist network he heads. This book doesn't really do that, although that's no reflection on what Lewis has actually accomplished here. He wrote "The Assassins" more than a third of a century ago, and there are very significant differences between the Nizari Ismaili Order and the hate-filled fanatics of Al-Qaeda. But although this book won't help you understand what makes Osama bin Laden and his acolytes tick, it will introduce you to an important and little-known chunk of medieval Islamic history in which a lot of intriguing historical personalities play starring or supporting roles. This should be more than reward enough.
The group we call the Assassins are more accurately known as the Nizari Ismailis, an offshoot sect of Shi'i Islam. Their sect still survives today in the followers of the Aga Khan, whose communities from India to southern California reflect a progressive and humane face of Islam. From the late eleventh to thirteenth centuries, however, the Nizaris' struggle for survival in the midst of their more numerous and militarily powerful Sunni enemies led them to develop a form of defensive terrorism that proved remarkably effective in ensuring their security for almost two hundred years. In the end, however, the sect's lurid reputation proved its undoing -- for the Mongol khans ultimately concluded that their own safety could only be secured by the Assassins' extermination.

There are some similarities between the Assassins' modus operandi and that of today's Al-Qaeda terrorists. In each case, terrorists assigned to carry out missions for the group did not concern themselves with escape and expected to die whether their mission succeeded or not - a fact that added greatly to the apprehension of their enemies and their own mystique. Each group treated acts of terrorist violence as having a sacramental component - the Assassins always killed their victims up close and personal, choosing to use knives rather than poison or arrows, much as Mohammed Atta and his confederates observed certain rituals of personal hygiene and dress before carrying out their terrorist acts. The young men selected to carry out the actual terrorist operations in each case believed that their sacrifice for the sake of the cause would open the gates of paradise. And each group answered to the commands of s single leader, who styled himself as both a religious teacher and a political and military strategist.

But there the similarities end. Indeed, after reading Lewis's account, the most striking thing about the medieval Assassins is how much more civilized they seem to have been than the terrorists of Al-Qaeda. Their use of political assassination as a weapon was both highly focused and thoroughly pragmatic. Because they lacked the military strength to defeat their powerful enemies (primarily the Great Seljuks) in open combat, it made sense instead to strike at their opponents' command structure. Mass slaughter of faraway civilians for its own sake would have been incomprehensible to them. The Nizaris could plausibly have viewed their use of political assassination as both just and humane. They had legitimate grievances, for their community frequently suffered pogroms at the hands of their Sunni enemies that echoed the atrocities inflicted on the Jews of western Europe during this same period. By striking directly at the political, religious or military figures who had attacked their own communities, the Assassins could punish a current enemy, deter Sunni political and religious leaders from future attacks, and win the security they sought without the necessity of killing masses of their enemy's rank-and-file soldiery or risking the lives of more than a handful of their own members.

As Lewis points out, the Assassins were also masters of psychological warfare. They sometimes planted "sleeper" agents in the households of prospective enemies just in the event they might ultimately be needed. These agents did not always have to actually strike in order to achieve deterrence - a knife or a note left by an enemy's bedside while he was sleeping served to emphasize his vulnerability and was often sufficient to achieve the Assassins' political ends. (Sometimes, in fact, the Assassins did not even need to plant sleeper agents to accomplish their objectives - they might simply bribe an otherwise loyal member of their enemy's household to leave the note or the knife, thereby accomplishing the same effect without the need of even committing one of their own personnel.)

Lewis tackles and persuasively debunks most of the popular legends about the Assassins, such as the claim that their Grand Master secured the fanatical loyalty of his young followers by drugging them with narcotics and then conveying them for short periods to an artificial "paradise" of his own creation that was staffed by sensuous and accommodating young women. Lewis instead finds that a more straightforward (and plausible) explanation for the willingness of the Assassins' fida'is to offer themselves up for suicidal missions: religious passion and commitment to the Nizari community.

Lewis's short (140 pages) and elegant account will thus introduce you to an intriguing period of medieval Islamic history, one populated by a collection of memorable figures - the brilliant and ascetic Assassin leader Hassan i-Sabah, the real founder of the Order; the "Old Man of the Mountain," Sinan, who commanded the Order's Syrian branch during the most critical years of the Crusades; Saladin, who was at different times both a target and an ally of the Assassins; Hulegu, the grandson of Genghis Khan, who finally succeeded where the Seljuks had failed, rooting out the Order from its mountaintop fortresses and then ordering mass exterminations of its communicants; and last but not least, Marco Polo, to whose vivid tales can be ascribed much of the lingering fascination that continues to surround the Assassins.
23 internautes sur 25 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A thoroughly enjoyable book on a fascinating topic 23 mai 2000
Par Aaron A. Ranck - Publié sur
This well-written book is obviously the work of an erudite writer. Lewis provides a thorough examination of what became known to the Europeans as the Assassins. From explaining likely explanations of where the word "Assassin" came from to describing the shadowy ruler of the group, known as "The Old Man of the Mountain," Lewis keeps the reader interested by making insightful comments and offerring thoughtful analysis. Lewis writes about the origins of the Assassin movement, the affects of the Assassins on European Crusaders, Sunni rulers and others. He explains probably causes for their existence with a thorough examination of primary source material. The Assassins are a fascinating study for not only those interested in the history of Islam or the Near East, but is also perfect for those who are interested in fundamentalism, comparative religion, radicalism or someone who wants to learn more about different peoples in a different time period (sometimes the similarities between the Assassin movement and modern fundamentalist and/or radical religious movements are striking). Another fascinating aspect of this book is its sociological explanations of why the Assassins lived primarily in the mountains compared to the Sunni who lived in the fertile river vallies. I especially recommend this book to professors of Religion/History classes who are looking for a very well-written book that provides valuable information while keeping the student interested.
24 internautes sur 28 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Scholarly and thought provoking 17 janvier 2003
Par Scott Chamberlain - Publié sur
This new edition has come out in the wake of the Sept 11 bombings and and upsurge in interest in Bernard Lewis's works. Those expecting a "glossy," ripped-from-the-headlines history might be put off by this book... it is a slightly updated reprinting of his classic history written a half-century ago. While it may not be a popular coffee table book, it is a throrough, highly informed work on the group that gave its name to political murder. To be honest, I got much more out of it the second time I read through it... some of the names, medieval politics, and Islamic debates left me feeling lost. The second time through, more things fell into place and I appreciated the details a great deal more. Also, I greatly appreciated his incredible knowlege of the subject and the region as a whole, as well as his keen insights into Islamic thinking. Clearly, Lewis is one of the most important Middle East scholars in a long time. Those looking for a scholarly, de-mystifying, and on its own terms readable work on the Assassins will like this book. If you're simply curious about this mysterious group, you may get more out of this volume if you first read one of Lewis's broader introductions to Islam... click on the authors name and several good choices will show up.
13 internautes sur 16 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 A missed oportunity 21 octobre 2007
Par Gogol - Publié sur
As a previous reviewer pointed out, post 9/11 the sales of this book have probably gone through the roof not least because Lewis has been (not so subltely) making comparisons between the Assassins and Al-Qaeda but also because every Al-Qaeda opponent on the planet has been jumping on the bandwagon.

Sadly, this book aside from the obvious that it was first published years before the events of 9/11 is a missed opportunity to study a little known Islamic group and instead, relies upon shock and scandal and instead of reading like a scholarly study of a subject reads more like something you would find in a tabloid.

The book begins with some history of the word Assassin and how it came into the English language then onto some early books that have been published on the subject in the West. The book then moves onto some brief studies of the subject by British scholars in India and the briefest of analysis of the current descendants of the Assassins who reside in that country. The book then covers nothing more than the sensationalist stories of "The old man of the mountains" Who dispatched deadly assassins to murder political opponents and scholars alike. Whose movement struck fear into its enemies and was finally defeated by a similarly ruthless movement, the Mongols of Genghis and Hulagu Khans.

The book just fails miserably in studying just who exactly the Assassins were. There is simply not enough on the background of the movement. The Assassins where the spiritual descendants of the Egyptian Fatimid (who later better known as the Ismaili) movement who followed and esoteric version of Islam which did indeed produce some great scholars in medicine and science. They were part of a wider movement in Islam (Such as the Ikhwan as-Safa) who while small in number, had a wide influence on Islam both Shia and Sunni from all aspects from science to Sufism.

The Nizari Ismaili, as the Assassins were known religiously were followers of a strand of Islam Sunnis refer to as a 'ghulat' or 'extremist' sect. This should not be seen in the context of violently extreme but rather extreme in their distance from the beliefs of Sunni Islam (Much in the same way as Zaidi Shia are referred to by Sunnis as 'moderate Shia') Why has Lewis not examined this aspect? Why has Lewis not studied the strands of Islam, the origins of the Nizari and their religious and political development? When the Nizari strongholds were finally breached by the Mongols the Shia scholar Nasruddin Tusi remarked at the vast libraries found there (It is also mentioned that many of their books were subsequently burned) Lewis rather treats us to pictures of Nizari mountain castles and stories of mass drunken orgies in defiance of Islam.

Why was there no examination of Nizari influence on other Shia groups? The Alevis of Turkey share almost the exact same beliefs as the Nizaris, ethnically they are from the same geographical area, history notes that the Nizaris made converts amongst the Turkomans and that Turkoman tribes were brought in bondage and then freed in Anatolia by Timur Khan. Was this too sensitive a subject to examine for a man who propagates Turkey as the beacon of democracy in the Middle East?

Lewis may even look to ibn Al-Athir (all be it briefly) for historical information on the Nizaris but keep in mind, he was a Sunni civil servant and had no love for the Nizaris and also keep in mind that his history book ran into volumes. Just how much of it do you think was taken up by a group that for Sunnis formed but a blip in history?

And lets examine the Nizari practice of assassination. First of all they were not "The first Islamic terror group" as some have written. Secondly they did not "Invent the art of assassination" The Greeks and Persians practiced it. Jewish groups in the Jewish revolts practiced it. The Caliph Ali, Hassan and Hussain were assassinated. Was this the be all and end all of their beliefs or rather was this the reaction of a minority group against a large opponent (both Abbasid and Crusader) who would easily and happily crush them given the chance? Was it just random assassinations or rather just to silence opponents (Such as the threat against the Sunni scholar Fakr al-Din Razi)? This is in sharp contrast to Al-Qaidi whose methods are to "Liberate the Muslim world" etc....

An entirely missed opportunity with far more faults that could be brought out but frankly too numerous to mention.

Read the books of Schimmel, Nasr, Corbin and Chodkiewicz. All of whom have examined the beliefs and practices of the Ismaili Muslims. If you want a bit of shock, horror, first terrorists in......., lets get these wackos..... then this may be the book for you.
6 internautes sur 7 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Interesting overview of a misunderstood sect of Islam 24 septembre 2006
Par David W. Nicholas - Publié sur
The Assassins are part of the legend of the Crusades. The legend of their intoxicants, and the pleasures that initiates were allowed to sample before being sent on missions, are almost part of our historical lore, and of course the sect has lent its name to a word in the English language. This scholarly account by historian Bernard Lewis is detailed, and relentless at least in terms of sentimentality, brushing away legends and folklore and sticking to what's known of this splinter group of Islam and their culture, activities, motives, and fate.

It turns out that, as far as anyone knows, the Assassins are merely a splinter of the group called Ismailis (which still exists in Muslim countries, as a partially suppressed heresy). They existed for about three centuries, between the mid 11th century and the late 14th, in what is now northern Iran, and southern Syria. They never controlled a major city, and as a political entity, they appear to have survived largely through personal intimidation. While they were only so-so when it came to defeating armies, they were very effective at eliminating their leadership. In that era in which personal leadership, through monarchs and their surrogates, was the order of business for most governments in the area, this was particularly effective.

I enjoyed this book a great deal. If I do have a complaint, it's that the sum of knowledge about the Assassins, at least when Lewis wrote this, was rather thin, and so of course you don't get that much on them. The book itself runs to just about 150 pages in length, with an appendix which is another 50 pages tacked onto the end. The paucity of information isn't Lewis's fault, though, it's due to the secretiveness of the sect itself. Aside from that, the book is very well-done, interesting, and informative.
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