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Mental Image of the Different Other in Biographies

Mental Image of the Different Other in Biographies

Friday, 3 June, 2022 - 08:45
Biographies, the other.

To leave oneself and confuse the reality with a perspective far from the truth, mental, cultural, and ideological, and maybe political, economic, and social projections shall be added. The image of the other mutates through these projections, and as a result, this other turns into a demon and an enemy, and disdain, hatred, and schadenfreude dominate anytime this other is mentioned.


‘Respect’ (Kitab Al-I'Tibar), a book by Prince Ousama Ibn Munqidh, is a biography that features these characteristics. He lived the era of the crusades and started jihad when he was 15. This period was sufficient for the prince to judge this other coming from behind the seas, to draw a mental picture of him, and transmit it to his generation.


The importance of this biography comes from the many events that occurred over 70 years, in addition to the names of political, religious, and heroic figures, who led victories like King Kamel, King Adel, Prince Imad al-Din Zengi, and of course the greatest and most popular among them, Saladin.


Writing a biography didn’t have clear characteristics or rules at the time, because it wasn’t defined as an art yet. Instead, historians and reporters used a chronological style starting with birth, growth, role models, and finally, achievements and works.


But Oussama didn’t write in the same way his contemporaries did. He started his biography with a bloody battle in which he participated, killed 3,000 knights of the enemy troops, and triumphed. These accidents happened later in his life, which means it was deep rooted in his memory. He didn’t start writing his biography until his 90s.


‘Respect’ (Kitab Al-I'Tibar) is an important document and a witness to a whole era marked with a long, bloody conflict against invaders who occupied Jerusalem, which was liberated later in the Battle of Hattin. The prince narrated incidents and scenes from that battle objectively, with no bias against the invader. He even mentioned his enemy’s pros and cons, drawing a mental image of him that he left to the next generations, similar to what happened with the three-volume biography of Taha Hussein, ‘The Days’.


Taha Hussein’s biography is a witness to a turbulent phase with myriads of events and problems, not only in Egypt, but also in the Arab region and the world. Hussein witnessed a world war, in which Arabs were defeated, and the western, Christian domination of Palestine persisted. The ‘Respect’ and ‘The Days’ biographies intersect in this point, drawing the picture of the other in the time of war.


The mental images of the other in “The Days” are honest, unbiased, and not aggressive. Taha Hussein benefitted from his enemy’s knowledge, and spatially connected with him by studying on his territories, and loving and marrying a French woman. The importance of this biography comes from the different view about this other, in which the writer doesn’t perceive him as an enemy that should be fought and eliminated.


The difference between the two biographies is that ‘Respect’ was written in the form of memories and journals without a clear chronology, featuring many secondary incidents that catch the reader’s interest until the end. However, ‘The Days’ was written in a completely different style, based on the rules of biography, applying a clear chronological order that started with childhood and ended with university studies and marriage.


However, although the two biographies are written in two different styles, they both approach the same topic: the mental image of the other in the time of war. Despite the enmity and hatred that could control the reader’s mind, and the many insults he could think of against the other, ‘his expectations’ will eventually be hit by the credibility and neutrality of the writers, who mentioned both the pros and cons of their enemy.


The mental image drawn of the other is not limited to hatred and enmity, but triggers other feelings closer to love and kindness, which indicates a change of view towards him, especially in the case of Taha Hussein, who realized that integrating in a civilization requires accepting the other and admitting his superiority so we can learn from him.


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