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The Old Man of the Mountain

February 3, 2017

President Trump calls news reporters his enemies. Wait till he gets to historians. (He should live so long.) Historians don’t care what he said five minutes ago. Historians can wait.

Robert Kahn

By Robert Kahn

Deputy editor emeritus, Courthouse News

President Trump calls news reporters his enemies. Wait till he gets to historians. (He should live so long.) Historians don’t care what he said five minutes ago. Historians can wait.

Here is the first sentence from a great work of world history. Perhaps Chester the Molester could retweet it to instruct us how to strike the proper tone under his already crumbling administration.

In the year 1252 Fate was kind to me and Fortune smiled, and there befell me the honor of kissing the threshold of the Court of the World Emperor, the Commander of the Earth and the Age, the source of the blessings of peace and security, the Khan of all Khans, Genghis Khan — may victory and triumph over the foes of state and faith be fastened to his banner and may his august shadow extend over all mankind!

Ala-ad-Din ‘Ata Malik Juvaini (1226?-1283?) wrote “Genghis Khan — The History of the World Conqueror” about 750 years ago. It’s worth reading. The style is what Trump would call fair and balanced: Medieval people report — you decide.

Juvaini’s history has lessons for us as we enter a period of neo-Medievalism, not just in the Middle East, but in the United States.

I realize that many of you turn to this column for tawdry jests, but I am not jesting — this is the straight dope.

Juvaini is a primary source for the origins of the Isma’ili sect of Shi’a Islam, and still, after 750 years, the best history of the sect of Assassins. Here is a recent translation from Persian into English. (Be patient; it’s an 826-page download: Thanks to the United Nations.)

The Assassins lived in an impenetrable fortress atop sheer cliffs in Alamut, in today’s northwestern Iran. They were a sect of a sect of a sect: the Nizari sect of the Isma’ili sect of the Shi’a sect of Islam. Like I said, it’s a long book.

Founded, in a sense, by Hassan-i-Sabbah around 1080, succeeded by his son Rukn-ad-Din, the Old Men of the Mountain and their followers survived for almost 300 years by their inaccessibility — and by assassination.

These were years when Christian Crusaders swept Asia Minor from west to east, then Genghis Khan and his hordes swept back. The Assassins survived in their fortress until 1256, when Hulegu Khan — Genghis’ grandson — starved them out.

If you can believe Juvaini — and who else are you going to believe about Alamut in 1217? — the Assassins trained their young male murderers by making them insensible with hashish, then carrying them to an enclosed garden with fountains and wine and young women who would do anything they wanted. Then they knocked them out with hashish again and carried them back to the Old Man, who said he had just sent them to Heaven, and could do it again if they followed orders.

And who, in 1217, could refuse to follow orders?

The Assassins did not always kill their enemies. One time the Old Man paid an enormous bribe to have an enemy’s bodyguard stick a dagger into the ground by his master’s bed at night. No more than that. Then the Old Man sent his enemy a private message: He could have had that dagger stuck into his heart.

So the enemies left the Isma’ilis alone for quite a while: Christians and Huns and Sunnis and other Shi’as — because the Old Man of the Mountain backed up what he said. And what he said was: Leave us alone or I’ll kill you.

But dig this, my modern friends in the United States, in Europe, Russia, China, South America, Australia, and so on.

The Old Man of the Mountain had no policy on trade deals, or science, or when or how a woman could abort a child. What The Old Man said was: Leave me alone or I’ll kill you. His sect survived, for a while — about as long as the United States has survived — because there was only one trail in or out of the fortress, high on a rock in an immense desert.

That was then, this is now. Now there are trails all over. Things are more complicated today.

So here is my message to little Donnie: When people have other sources of hashish, and can recognize reality, they don’t have to swallow your fantasies.

And it’ll take more than your thumbs on a keypad to make them do it, old man.

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