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  • Writer's pictureAdrian J. Boas

On Cordial Relationships

In late 1964 a television show imported from Japan became a cult among children in Australia. The Samurai (which I have mentioned in an earlier post) was a huge hit. It did not matter at all that the trick photography that enabled ninjas to effortlessly jump onto the roofs of buildings was so obvious, that the sets looked flimsy, or that the dubbing into English was, if one bothered to pay much attention to it, hilarious. The hero of the series was Akikusa Shintaro, a slightly overweight, somewhat bored samurai with long black hair, who befriended a ninja named Tombei and a small orphan boy and spent most of his time fighting off endless numbers of other ninjas with bad intentions. The reaction of most adults to the show and to the fact that samurais and ninjas were replacing cowboys and Indians in the playgrounds, and sometimes dangerous home-made star knives cut from the lids of tins were replacing harmless cap-guns and suction-tipped arrows, caused some concern. A newspaper headline "Head Canes the Samurai" recorded a case where a Sydney headmaster attempted to put a stop to these games in his school. He was quoted as saying: "I question the mental health of a nation which permits its schoolchildren to be exposed to the current cult of Japanese sadism." However, his attitude, supported by some adults who remembered the not so distant aggression of the Japanese army in the Second World War, was not uniform, and many parents became themselves avid watchers of the show.

In fact, the popularity of The Samurai reflects a slow but important change in the attitudes of Australians towards their Asian neighbours to the north. It knocked a small but significant dent in the moral code of a country that at that time still maintained a crumbling racist policy known as the White Australia Policy, remnants of which would survive until the 1970s. This policy, aimed at curtailing immigration of non-Europeans to Australia, particularly those of Asian ethnic origin, had been a reaction to the mass arrival in the 1850s of Chinese gold seekers. By the 1960s Australia was secure enough in its national identity to beginning to open up to Eastern cultures.

A process of gradually coming to terms with their very different neighbours was experienced by Franks in the Latin East. The Frankish settlers, living in what amounted to small enclaves within the Muslim world, faced a far greater animosity than did Anglo-Saxon settlers from the Asian arrivals to nineteenth century Australia. The latter were generally not aggressive, and the fears were of infiltration and inundation by a foreign culture, and not, as the Franks faced, conquest and the dispatching by the Muslims of as many Christian lives as possible. This is what makes the abundant evidence for interaction, cooperation and even friendship between Christians and Muslims in the crusader period so remarkable and perhaps explains why it is frequently overlooked or ignored. There were on occasion, cordial relations between Crusader and Muslim leaders and even alliances, such as that formed between the kingdom of Jerusalem and Damascus against a common enemy, the Amir of Mosul and Aleppo in 1140, and the alliance between Raymond III of Tripoli and Saladin during Raymond's dispute with the king, Guy of Lusignan prior to the Battle of Hattin. Christian pilgrims on occasion travelled beyond the borders into Muslim lands and Muslim travellers, like the Andalusian geographer, Muhammad Ibn Jubayr appear to have little concern when passing through Christian territory or visiting Christian towns. An area in which amiable interaction was particularly intense was that of local and international commerce. Franks and Muslims consistently traded with one another in the markets of Frankish towns and Italian merchants residing in the communes of Acre and Tyre travelled in relative security into Egypt and Syria to carry out their commercial activities.

On a social level, despite of the segregation of Christian and Muslim communities in separate villages and urban quarters, relations could be quite intimate. We get a sense of this from some Muslim writers. Ibn Jubayr noted with some discomfort that the Frankish land owners were far more fair in their dealings with their Muslim tenants than were Muslim landowners of the neighbouring countries: "The Muslim community bewails the injustice of a landlord of its own faith, and applauds the conduct of its opponent and enemy, the Frankish landlord, and is accustomed to justice from him."* The Syrian writer, Usama Ibn Munqidh recorded several accounts of interaction between Muslims and Franks, sometimes in intimate situations, such as the meeting of Franks and Muslims in a bathhouse or the visit of a Muslim to the house of a friend who was an elderly Frankish knight. He wrote: "Among the Franks there are some who have become acclimatized and frequent the company of Muslims."** He himself befriended Templars and described how when he visited the al-Aqsa Mosque, then in Templar hands, the brothers cleared out a little adjacent mosque for him to pray in and prevented other newly arrived and less friendly Christians from disturbing his prayer.

*Roland Broadhurst, trans., The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, London, 1952, p. 317.

**Paul M. Cobb, trans., Usama Ibn Munqidh, The Book of Contemplation. Islam and the Crusades, London, 2008, p. 153.

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