Assassins at Large. Hugo Dewar 1951
Towards the end of the eleventh century there arose in the Near East a peculiar politico-religious order, founded by one Hasan-ben-Sabah, a follower of the Prophet Mahomet, and having its headquarters in Syria, among the mountains of Lebanon, where the ruins of its strongholds may be seen to this day. Hasan-ben-Sabah and his fanatical disciples will be remembered for all time, not perhaps so much for the bloody deeds they committed as for the fact that they gave to language a new word – the terrible word assassin. Before the time of Hasan-ben-Sabah no ruler had openly proclaimed the murder of his opponents to be the keystone of his political method, no ruler had so deliberately and systematically sought to make use of this method to maintain and extend his power. From Hasan-ben-Sabah onwards the leaders of this order wielded over their followers an authority so absolute that their commands were tantamount to commands from Mahomet himself. The leader alone possessed a will, to which all others were not merely subordinate – they simply did not exist. For more than a century and a half the terror-inspiring reputation of the ‘Old Man of the Mountains’ was known throughout the Moslem and Christian world. It was a fanatical instrument of this Shayk-a’l-Jabal who murdered the Marquis of Monteferrat in 1192, Lewis of Bavaria in 1213, and the Khan of Tartary in 1254. Not until Hulagi the Tartar destroyed their Persian strongholds around 1256 did their power begin to wane, to be finally extinguished in Syria about 1272.
The word ‘assassin’ is derived from Hashshashin, signifying ‘the eaters of hashish’, for those sent out on their dreadful missions were said to be drugged beforehand with this weed. But the reputation of the ‘Old Man of the Mountains’ rests upon more than the skilful use of hashish in moulding the human tools used to remove all those who threatened his rule. For the drug itself was merely one element of a process of mental conditioning remarkable for the psychological knowledge it displayed in those who employed it. This process is described in some detail by Marco Polo in his Travels and is worth quoting at length:
In a beautiful valley enclosed between two lofty mountains, he had formed a luxurious garden, stored with every delicious fruit and fragrant shrub that could be procured. Palaces of various sizes and forms were erected in different parts of the grounds, ornamented with works in gold, with paintings, and with furniture of rich silks. By means of small conduits contrived in these buildings streams of wine, milk, honey, and some of pure water, were seen to flow in every direction. The inhabitants of these palaces were elegant and beautiful damsels, accomplished in the arts of singing, playing upon all sorts of musical instruments, dancing, and especially those of dalliance and amorous allurement... The object which the chief had in view in forming a garden of this fascinating kind, was this: that Mahomet having promised to those who should obey his will the enjoyment of Paradise, where every species of sensual gratification should be found, in the society of beautiful nymphs, he was desirous of its being understood by his followers that he also was a prophet and the compeer of Mahomet, and had the power of admitting to Paradise such as he should choose to favour... At his court, likewise, this chief entertained a number of youths, from the age of twelve to twenty years, selected from the inhabitants of the surrounding mountains, who showed a disposition for martial exercises, and appeared to possess the quality of daring courage. To them he was in the daily practice of discoursing on the subject of Paradise announced by the prophet, and of his own power of granting admission; at certain times he caused opium to be administered to ten or a dozen of the youths; and when half-dead with sleep he had them conveyed to the several apartments of the palaces in the garden. Upon awakening... each perceived himself surrounded by lovely damsels, singing, playing and attracting his regards by the most fascinating caresses, serving him delicate viands and exquisite wines; until... he believed himself assuredly in Paradise, and felt an unwillingness to relinquish its delights. (Travels of Marco Polo, Everyman Edition, pp 74-75)
The representative on earth of the Prophet Mahomet would promise the chosen that ‘he who defends his lord shall inherit Paradise’. ‘The consequence of this system was that when any of the neighbouring princes, or others, gave umbrage to this chief, they were put to death by these disciplined disciples’, relates Marco Polo.
The drug itself was therefore one element of a diabolically ingenious method of fashioning obedient and ruthlessly efficient instruments of murder, men who breathed and spoke, who had desires and appetites, men who looked like men, but who were in fact mere puppets animated by a will not theirs.
But all this belongs to a remote age. What has it to do with our world?
In March of 1938 a letter was received by the Secretary of the Juridical Section of the Secretariat of the League of Nations denouncing the existence of a ‘centralised Mafia of terrorists working on the territory of several states, other than their own’. The writer of this letter went on to say that he could, with the ‘help of documents, testimony of witnesses and irrefutable political considerations’, prove who was at the head of this band of assassins. No action was taken on this letter. A little over two years later its author himself was assassinated.
In the following pages the evidence in proof of this charge is set forth for the first time in full detail.
The assassins of the ‘Old Man of the Mountains’ have their modern counterpart in an organisation whose members are subjected to an equally effective, if somewhat different, process of mental conditioning; whose members are equally followers of a Faith owing blind allegiance to a Prophet on earth; but whose operations are on a larger scale, whose power and influence are vastly greater, whose effect upon the civilised world is infinitely more evil.