To his admirers, Saladin on his death-bed at Damascus can be seen as the hero of Islam, the destroyer of the Latin Kingdom and the restorer of the shrines in Jerusalem. Eulogy, however, must accommodate itself to the fact that such a view was not accepted by numbers of his Muslim contemporaries. He can be pictured by his detractors as manipulating Islam to win power for himself and his family and only then launching on an adventure which still left a Frankish state poised to strike, if Europe were willing to support it, at an overburdened and impoverished Muslim empire...
Saladin himself subordinated money to men and, as al-Fadil reported, he used the wealth of Egypt for the conquest of Syria, that of Syria for the conquest of Jazira [northern Iraq] and that of the Jazira for the conquest of the Coast [east of the Mediterranean]. In such a process, however, as al-Fadil also noted, "hopes of expansion can never come to an end." The difficulties that arose when expansion was halted can be seen in reports of violent disturbances amongst the peasants around Damascus at the end of the Third Crusade, poverty in Jerusalem both in Saladin's lifetime and after his death and complaints after his death that "salaries in Egypt remain in name only and have no meaning."...
The Holy War propaganda and the continuous self-justification of his letters to Baghdad are examples of coloured rhetoric in which everything is shown in extremes and internal contradictions are glossed over or ignored. This too can be seen as a matter of convention. His claims were inflated and their justification dubious, but he should at least be acquitted of the charge of cynicism. It is, of course, true to say that Saladin blurred the distinctions of the Holy War by adding Muslims, such as the Almohades, to the list of possible enemies and, instead of being confined to the recovery of the Coast, the concept was thus almost infinitely extendable...
He cannot be thought of as an innovator, but as a man who was content to act on ideas supplied him. He was a good, but not a great, strategist and tactician, an open-handed but not far-sighted administrator and a man with his share of faults, mixed motives and weaknesses... He appears to have held instinctively to the middle ground. The conventional mind was matched by virtues that were no less attractive for being themselves conventional. He was not concerned to question the relevance of his ideals or even, apparently, to check how far he was guilty of distorting them. They were part of the heritage of Islam, to be accepted emotionally, not intellectually, and with such an attitude he could be presumed to ignore contradictions.
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