Reviving a Novel-Worthy Tale of War and Religion





For more than 40 years he was a world figure, his renown stretching from the American Midwest to Moscow to the Middle East. As he neared death in 1883, The New York Times wrote that he “deserves to be ranked among the foremost of the few great men of the century.”

Earlier, he had received accolades and awards from France, Britain, Russia, the Ottoman sultan, the papacy and President Abraham Lincoln, who sent him not a medal but, in quintessentially American fashion, a matched pair of fancy Colt pistols.

The man being honored was Abd el-Kader, a learned and fervent Muslim, who for 15 years had organized and led a jihad against a Western power.

After he ceased hostilities, his four-year detention, in violation of a promise of safe passage into exile, became an international cause célèbre. Released and feted, even by his captors, he came to live in Damascus.

There, in July 1860, el-Kader braved mobs and saved thousands of Christians from a murderous rampage through the city’s Christian quarter.

In this, the bicentennial of his birth, el-Kader’s name is known to only a tiny fraction of Americans. That fraction includes those knowledgeable about modern Algeria, where his resistance to French colonization places him among the founding figures of an independent nation....


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