The Assassins

 by BERNARD LEWIS

I have the 2003 Folio Society edition which has an interesting Preface. In it Lewis corrects various contentions that the Assassin sect were the first ‘terrorists’ – they were not. Nevertheless he notes the similarities between them and the modern terrorists – the Syrian/Iranian connection, the calculated use of terror and the willingness of the assassin himself to die in carrying out his task. There are indeed some distinct differences with the past. The followers of the Old Man only struck at the rich and powerful – never the common man – and they invariably used a dagger. Lewis concludes by pointing out the prime lesson to be learnt from this medieval sect (a lesson that modern terrorists should well note) “is their final and total failure.”
Lewis explains in clear and lucid language how the Assassins in one respect were without precedent – “in their planned, systematic and long-term use of terror as a political weapon.” This they achieved through cool planning and religious zeal. He demonstrates they were not murderers for hire. The book is a valuable source in efforts to understand some of the actions of this region even today where at times it seems there may be vestiges of the past fuelling discontent.