Thursday, November 12, 2009

Leo Africanus: The End Part

The last part of Leo Africanus illustrates the tensions between the Islamic world and the European world; even further, it sketches and examines the tensions among parts of the Islamic world and among parts of the European world at the micro level. On page 269 for example, Hasan tellus about the defeat of Mamluke Cairo at the hands of the Ottomans (Turks). We also get a lucid picture of the cloudy politics that go on during Hasan's time; that is, the political maneuvering, allegiance making and breaking, and war mongering between Islamic political leaders.

When Hasan goes (i.e. is taken) to Europe, he experiences much of the same politics in Rome that he experienced in the cities of North Africa and Constantinople. The Papal States (and Rome especially) feel threatened by the successful conquests of the Ottomans, as well as fellow European states like parts of the Holy Roman Empire. The climax of the end chapters is the advance of the wacko, eclectic, and mutinous armies of Charles V. Casting a shadow over these events is the Protestant Reformation, which acts as if it were a ghost in the machine of European, and, as we have learned from Hasan, world history.

In these last chapters I enjoyed Maalouf's implementation and use of real historical figures in Hasan's narrative. While casually browsing Wikipedia to get background knowledge on the events portrayed in Leo Africanus, I was surprised and very pleased at the amount of historical figures and accuracies, as well as the close relationship between historical fact and artistic license that Maalouf exhibits in his book.

Historically, I think it is a mistake to assume that relitgion is to blame for the many conflicts that plagued the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. I think Maalouf's (Hasan's) account of history tells us that the tumultuous period of history that Hasan lived through did not revolve around a single black-and-white issue. Instead, Maalouf creates a character who is religious, and who was expelled from the place of his birth, whose family experiences the everyday politics of a city like Fez, who grows up to be a merchant and diplomat, who is captured by the Pope for diplomatic reasons... Such details show us that Hasan's time was multi-dimensional.

Looking at the global picture with a historical lens today, as well as the smaller micro-conflicts and problems in/between/amongst societies, I think Maalouf's lesson is still prevalent. No conflict is one-dimensional; everywhere conflicts have dimensions of race, trade, religion, power, as well as rich amounts of history. To end with a question: what issues of history are related to globalization?

-Stefan Larson

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