In 1187, Saladin reconquered the holy city of Jerusalem from the Crusaders at a time and in a place accustomed to war. But after his victory, Saladin did something unusual – in his times as much as today – he rejected the idea of revenge. He allowed the Christian leaders to leave Jerusalem and opened the city to the three religions for whom it was a holy city. Saladin thus ended the war with reconciliation, not with arms.
It is this story, and not the many battles that Saladin fought, that has inspired the International Saladin Days at the House of Literature. Behind the history of the Crusades, the “clash of civilisations” and “eternal war” we find a story worth telling again, eight hundred years later. It is one that asks us to reconsider the idea of eternal conflict between Christians and Muslims, “us” and “them”, and gives us the opportunity – and inspiration – to discuss contemporary issues in a new light.
The International Saladin days were instituted by the House of Literature in 2009, after an initiative from the Norwegian author Thorvald Steen and the British-Pakistani historian and author Tariq Ali. Every year, authors, artists, activists, academics and intellectuals gather in Oslo to discuss the possibility of coexistence and tolerance, instead of conflict and prejudice, in the meeting between people and countries from the so called Islamic, Christian and Jewish cultures.
In 2009, the House of Literature commisioned a stage play from Thorvald Steen and Tariq Ali, which was given the title Desert Storms. The play premiered at the House of Literature in 2010 and received two Hedda Award nominations and one award for best supporting actor. Since then it has been translated to English, Turkish and Arabic and been performed several times.
In 2011, the Saladin Days focused on Palestinian and Israeli history writing, and particularly the crucial year of 1948. The opening lecture was held by Elias Khoury. Avi Shlaim, Ilan Pappe and Åsne Seierstad were amongst the guests. In the aftermath of the July 22, 2011 terrorist attacks in Oslo and Utøya, the Saladin days in 2012 focused on today's Crusader rhetoric. The opening lecture was held by Michael Sells and amongst the guests were Bruce Lawrence, miriam cooke, Lisa Bjurwald, Sener Aktürk and Shlomo Sand.
The Saladin days of 2013 were titled Arab Winter? and focused on the historical background and future prospects for the Arab spring uprisings, with a particular focus on Syria and Egypt. Eugene Rogan gave the opening lecture where also Samar Yazbek, Bassma Kodmani and Ibrahim el-Houdaiby were among the guests.
European Islam and the legacy of El-Andalus was the topic for the Saladin days in 2014. Anouar Majid gave the opening lecture and amongst the guests were Dominique Eddé, Karim Miské, Olivier Roy and Raquel Andueza.
In 2015, the Saladin Days focused on the more than 2000 year old Jewish history in the Islamic World, and how Jewish-Muslim relations has changed over the years. Mark R. Cohen held the opening lecture, while Orit Bashkin, Alain Gresh and Nadia Kamel were among the other guests.
You can read more about the previous Saladin Days, each year's focus, program and participants, in the previous program section.
Please contact the House of Literature if you would like to know more about
the Saladin Days, the play Desert Storms and future plans.
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