Terrorists and Assassins

Contemporary Muslim terrorists have a striking resemblance to the Assassins, ruthless terrorists who killed their enemies in the area from Iran to Syria. They gave the word "assassin" to the English language.  The word comes from hashish, which they were alleged  to use, although some scholars doubt it.  They belonged to the Nizari branch of the Ismailis.  They used murder as a weapon in their struggle against the majority Sunnites,  They committed spectacular political assassinations.  We know little about the background of the`present terrorists. What kind of Muslims are they? Nozari?  Do they use hashish, a powerful form of marijuana which induces a sense of persecution and megalomania?  It is striking and unfortunate that we know so little about these modern assassins.

A posting wondered if the Iraq terrorists are related to the old Assassins.  Ed jajko comments:  "Assassin" is an interesting example of how Arabic and Persian words migrated into European languages.  The substance is "hashish;" one who uses it is "hashshash."  The plural of "hashshash" is "hashshashun" in the nominative case and "hashshashin" in the oblique cases.  "Hashshashin" is the form that is used in the various Arabic colloquials and in everyday speech, regardless of case.  When the word went into Italian, the initial breathy 'h' was dropped and the "sh" sounds became "s" while the plural Arabic word was treated as a singular, hence "assassino, assassini."  A standard work on the Assassins is the book by Bernard Lewis, first published in 1967, The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam.  For an interesting, if old, read on the Assassins, see a chapter by Philip Hitti, an earlier historian, at http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/hemp/assassin.htm or http://www.alamut.com/subj/ideologies/alamut/hitti_Ass.html.

Hitti quotes Marco Polo, who provided the first notice of the Assassins to the West.  The Assassins still exist, although they have long been the peaceful and prosperous Ismailis.  The Aga Khan that Hitti refers to was the grandfather of the current Karim Aga Khan, son of the famed playboy Ali Khan who married Rita Hayworth  The pathological criminal murderers in Iraq are not Nizaris, or "Assassins," or Ismailis.  They are Sunnis, and a disgrace to religion and humanity.

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Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: September 27, 2004