Reviews

The author of this short study, the main international authority in contemporary Ismaili studies, skims over the derogatory discourses on the Ismailis that have been coined since the fourth/tenth century by hostile Sunni sources and fictitious Occidental accounts of the Crusaders. Noticing the impact of these discourses on the “History of the Assassins out of Oriental Sources [Geschichte der Assassins aus Morgenländischen Quellen]” published in 1818 by Austrian specialist of Oriental studies Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall (1774-1856), F. Daftary asks why the latter went further than earlier sources, and than all his European contemporaries (among whom Sylvestre de Sacy and Quatremère), in his condemnation and refutation of Nizari Ismailis, who are introduced in his work as mere extremists, authors of countless atrocities. The answer is that writing no long after the French Revolution, archconservative von Hammer used his knowledge of Oriental sources to produce a tract warning his contemporaries on “the pernicious influence of secret societies” in allegedly weak governments. Demonising the Ismailis allowed him to draw a close analogy between the “Order of the Assassins” and European secret orders and societies of his time, which he hold in abhorrence, especially the Illuminati and the Freemasons. Regrettably, the author does not develop on more recent metaphorical uses of the Assassins by Western authors, which still rely sometimes on von Hammer’s highly questionable but apparently productive assessment.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific research, Paris
CER: II-1.2.A-21