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Introduction

Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb (Arabic: صلاح الدين يوسف بن أيوب‎; Kurdish: سه‌لاحه‌دین ئه‌یوبی , Selahedînê Eyûbî) (1137/1138 – March 4, 1193), better known in the Western world as Saladin was a Muslim Sultan who liberated most of Palestine from the rule of the Knights Templar and the Christian crusaders, and did it with as little bloodshed as possible, and while showing respect, chivalry and mercy towards his opponents (who started out as murderous and mentally ill people). Now, his wikipedia page is too detailed and one can easily lose the forest for the trees, so this irresponsible essay aims to highlight the main points.

How to Run a War

Until Saladin and even afterwards, it was generally believed that one should outsmart one's enemy and use many tricks. “For in tricks, you should do your war” (כי בתחבולות תעשה לך מלחמה). Saladin took the opposite approach: he conquered Palestine one fortress after another, and people knew exactly where he was at all times. His soldiers were highly trained, loved fighting and subduing the enemies, and yet Saladin often handled the fights against the commanders in person, to indicate his respect and mutual admiration.

Forgiving

The film Kingdom of Heaven is a Hollywood film starring Orlando Bloom that tells a highly fictionalised , but probably faithful, account of the story of Balian of Ibelin who:

  1. Fought Saladin once.
  2. Saladin won and swore him to not fight him again.
  3. He returned to his religious leader, who told him he must not respect oaths from indfidels, and that he should go and fight Saladin again.
  4. Saladin said he's OK with the oath being broken again, given the circumstances.
  5. Saladin and he fought again and Saladin won again (as expected).
  6. Balian said "Fuck it!", decided to avoid fighting Saladin in the future, and ended up raising a family.

So Saladin was able to thus convert his enemies into people who were mostly sane, perfectly noble and benevolent, and were completely unwilling to fight him even by orders of their highest religious leaders.

What is Justice? From "An eye for an eye" to "Let bygones be bygones"

Saladin did not believe in punishing the Knights Templar. Instead he let them go on their way, as happy, sane, and benevolent people. It wasn't quite “Turn the other cheek”, because he certainly did not stand defenceless against them, just knew that they were no longer willing to fight him.

One should note that the Semitic concept of "an eye for an eye" came to mean that the amount of punishment in a courts system should be proportional to the amount of damage. E.g: that a man or a woman who downloaded a song from YouTube which can otherwise be acquired from an online store for about a dollar, does not deserve the same amount of punishment as people who stole thousands of millions of dollars, in either electronic money, precious metals, or priceless works of art or archaeological artefacts. ‎This may be a sound principle, but to quote Mahatma Gandhi «An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.»

Chivalry: Fighting Against Richard I ("Richard the Lion King")

Saladin decided to fight Richard the Lion Heart in a chivalrous mode. When Richard’s horse died, Saladin sent him two horses. When Richard got sick, Saladin offered him the care of his personal physician, and it is known that during the middle ages, the Muslim medicine was the finest in the world. Richard was an adventurous, and glory-seeking fellow (and a relatively schlemiel ruler, who kept getting into trouble), but Saladin respected him enough to fight him times and again and Saladin knew that Richard was not going to kill him.

Trust and Respect

Saladin entrusted the Knights, and the other Christians, Muslims, and Jews, with power and as a result, they eventually decided to not violate his trust. On the other hand, people who are keep being watched, monitored, and distrusted tend to grow suspicious and eventually violate the trust (or lack of it). Also see the Pygmalion effect and the opposite Golem effect for some self-fulfilling prophecies.

The fact that people should be entrusted with power and trust regardless of how young, old, immature, weak, malevolent, insane, inexperienced etc. etc. they are or appear to be is the main theme of the film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014 film), which I found highly enjoyable and can recommend. (Also see my review of it on Reddit).