Jul 21, 2005

In search of a lost paradise

Tim McGirk goes to Iran to see the home of the Assassins, a medieval cult.
The promise of paradise has long been to drive men into battle. But what has brought me to Alamut is the legend, chronicled by Muslim and Crusader historians, that Hasan-i Sabbah, leader of the 12th century Middle Eastern terror cult known as the Assassins, had built a simulacrum here of the sensual delights of Paradise to quicken his men's taste for martyrdom. The Assassins — a kind of al Qaeda of its time — operated by stealth, and armed only with daggers, they killed hundreds of princes, viziers, generals, and rival clergymen. According to legend, before being dispatched on a mission, an operative would be drugged into a deep sleep. He would wake in a lush garden filled with fountains, music and beautiful maidens. After cavorting briefly, he would be drugged back to sleep, and upon waking again would be told that he had tasted the paradise that awaited on the successful completion of his suicide mission.

Via Dr. Zin.

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