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Prince Rasselas of Abyssinia and the Arabs

Posted by addisethiopia on March 3, 2013

SaudiInT (2)

In response to the widely read and fascinating tale, “THE HISTORY OF RASSELAS, PRINCE OF ABYSSINIA by the influential SAMUEL JOHNSON (1709 – 1784)

Saudi intellectuals express the usual sentiments of denial and victimhood which the modern world is cosciously acquainted with. It is bewildering to many how these people are capable of living in permanent denial, deception, spewing hatred for others, and causing so much trouble across the globe. Does it make any sense to hate and blame others for problems of your own group or society in general? It doesn’t! It could only be the stupid man’s method of avoiding personal responsibility.

In his portrayal of Arabs of the 18th century Samuel Johnson presented in his book the exact same images of Arabs and Islamic societies that we see, now in the 21st century.

According to Johnson, the Arabs are “sons of Ishmael”: they are infidels, murderous, and terrorists, waging war against the civilized nations Well, there are enough examples for the wider world to prove that.

Let’s read some well-known unpleasant facts about Saudi Arabia:

  • Some 5,000 princes control all power and resources of Saudi Arabia
  • Saudi Arabia holds the Koran as its constitution
  • Saudi law does not provide for the protection of many basic rights
  • No religion other than Islam is allowed
  • Disappearances, imprisonments, torture, physical abuse and executions take place with regularity
  • Violence against women, violations of the rights of children, and discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, sect, and ethnicity are common
  • The Saudi government regularly burns and desecrates the Christian bibles and its so-called religious police confiscates after raids on Ethiopian expatriates worshiping privately or at border crossings.
  • Even the Saudi Grand Mufti called for churches across the Arabian peninsula to be destroyed. Imagine the level of outrage and madness if an Ethiopian Patriarch made a call for the destruction of mosques in Ethiopia.
  • 2011 Dec 15, in Saudi Arabia 35 Ethiopian Christians, 29 of them women, were arrested after police raided a private prayer gathering. After some international attention, and their refusal to convert to Islam, they were later deported to Ethiopia.
  • International Christian Concern wrote on its website that “Saudi security officials assaulted, harassed and pressured the Christians to convert to Islam during their incarceration.” One of the Ethiopian workers told ICC, “We have arrived home safe. We believe that we are released as the result of the pressure exerted by ICC and others,” and added: “The Saudi officials don’t tolerate any other religions other than Islam. They consider non-Muslims as unbelievers. They are full of hatred towards non-Muslims.
  • 2013 Feb 14, Saudi police arrests 53 Ethiopian Christians 46 of women, at private worship meeting. True religion requires that the rights of the disbeliever be equally acknowledged with those of the believer
  • Migrant workers in Saudi Arabia make up almost a third of the nation’s population. Many of these men and women face horrible working conditions including 16-hour work days, unpaid wages, and exposure to physical and sexual abuse
  • (updated) 2013 March 05,  Last minute reprieve for Saudi due to be crucified Sarhan al-Mashayekh was one of seven men whose death sentences were confirmed by King Abdullah on Saturday. The other six were due be shot by firing squad on Tuesday. Mashayekh would have been executed at the same time and then, to fulfil his additional sentence, his body displayed to the public in a cruciform position for three days

So, is it not ridiculously embarrassing for the ‘Western-educated’ Saudi professor to dismiss Rasselas’ objective view of Arabs and Muslims?

There’s none so blind as those who will not see!

Prince Rasselas’ setting

Rasselas-Prince-of-Abyssinia2

Rasselas opens with a description of the customs of Abyssinia emperors who confine their sons and daughters in the Happy Valley. This valley is surrounded by mountains where is only one passage that it could be entered, an cavern which passed under rock: “The outlet of the cavern was concealed by a thick wood, and the mouth which opened into the valley was closed with gates of iron, forged by the artificers of ancient days, so massy that no man could without the help of engines, open or shut them” (Rasselas, 39). In this seemingly earthly paradise, “All the diversities of the world were brought together, the blessings of nature were collected, and its evils extracted and excluded” (40). All the inhabitants of this valley are satisfied except Rasselas.

Prince Rasselas’ philosophy:

Rasselas, the Abyssinia prince, meditates on man and the rest of the creatures in the universe: “What makes the difference between man and the rest of the animal creation?” At the beginning, he sees his life in this Valley: “I am like him”, but later he realizes that man has “some desires distinct from sense which must be satisfied before he can be happy” (Rasselas, 42, 43). Rasselas admires his intellectual powers by telling his old instructor: “I have already enjoyed two much; give one something to desire.” The old instructor says, “If you had seen the miseries of the world, you would know how to value your present state.” The prince answers, “You have given me something to desire; I shall long to see the miseries of the world, since the sight of them is necessary to happiness” (45).

Prince Rasselas’ view of Muslims and Arabs

During their entrance to Cairo, Rasselas and Nekayah are able to come into closer contact with nations. Rasselas is led at first to believe that all are happy. Imlac explains that in reality unhappiness is universal; people appear to be happy in order to be sociable: “We are long before we are convinced that happiness is never to be found and each believes it possessed by others” (Rasselas 77). In examining the life of those who are in a position of power, Rasselas discovers that even the position of Bassa of Egypt is not quite secure. In his observation over the political system, Rasselas notes that “at the Court of Bassa,” the governor of Egyptian Province of the Turkish empire “has the power to extend his edicts to a whole kingdom” (90). Rasselas’ first impression is that he is pleased to find “the joy of thousands, all made happy by wise administration.” Later he finds out that all members of the government hate each other and live in “a continual succession of plots and defectors, stratagems and escapes, faction and treachery.” A large number of those people, discovers Rasselas, are spies sent by the Turkish Sultan to surround the Bassa and “to watch and report” the Bassa’s conduct (90).

Eventually, when the letters arrive at the Sultan’s palace, “the Bassa was carried in chains to Constantinople and his name was mentioned no more” (91). Rasselas describes the political situation whether in the Arab provinces or in the Turkish capital of Constantinople as unstable, staggering and uncertain. Moreover, the Arab and the Muslim rulers, both the Sultan and the Bassa, are cruel and despotic. The result is:

Arabs and Muslims, according to Johnson, practice oppression: “Oppression is, in the Abyssinia dominions, neither frequent nor tolerated” (92)

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2 Responses to “Prince Rasselas of Abyssinia and the Arabs”

  1. Melaine said

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  2. […] behavior of Arab and arabized people since Samuel Johnson characterized them in his book, ‘Rasselas‘ back in the year 1759? […]

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