A Sultan in Palermo – Islam Quintet IV

Published by Verso, 2005

The fourth and penultimate novel in Tariq Ali’s celebrated Islam Quintet

A Sultan in Palermo is set in medieval Palermo, a Muslim city rivaling Baghdad and Cordoba in size and splendor. The year is 1153. The Normans are ruling Siqqiliya, but Arab culture and language dominate the island and the court. Sultan Rujari (King Roger) surrounds himself with Muslim intellectuals, several concubines, and an administration presided over by gifted eunuchs. The bishops, expecting to be at the pinnacle of power, are angered by the decadence of the court. In this captivating novel, Tariq Ali charts the life and loves of the medieval cartographer Muhammed al-Idrisi. Torn between his close friendship with the sultan and his friends who are leaving the island or plotting a resistance to Norman rule, Idrisi finds temporary solace in the harem; but, confronted by the common people of Noto and Catania, his conscience is troubled. A Sultan in Palermo is a mythic novel in which pride, greed, and lust intermingle with resistance and greatness. Though set in the past, it has haunting resonance today.

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Reviews: The Guardian, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

From the archive

  • V40 Philosophy at the Tate Modern: Tariq Ali In Defense of Philosophy

    October 29, 2010

    Following a screening of Derek Jarman’s Wittgenstein at the Tate Modern on Friday 22 October, Tariq Ali discussed the work of Jarman and Ludwig Wittgenstein, and the writing and making of Ali’s series of filmic philosophers’ lives with Jonathan Derbyshire, culture editor of the New Statesman. This event, celebrating Verso’s 40th year of publishing, was the first in the In Defense of Philosophy Series hosted by the Tate Modern.

    In Defense of Philosophy Part 2 will take place in February 2011 with a screening of Tariq Ali’s Spinoza: The Apostle of Reason with a very special surprise guest …

  • ‘Who will reshape the Arab world: its people, or the US?’

    April 30, 2011

    ‘Who will reshape the Arab world: its people, or the US?’ by Tariq Ali for the Guardian, April 29 2011

    The patchwork political landscape of the Arab world – the client monarchies, degenerated nationalist dictatorships and the imperial petrol stations known as the Gulf states – was the outcome of an intensive experience of Anglo-French colonialism. This was followed after the second world war by a complex process of imperial transition to the United States. The result was a radical anticolonial Arab nationalism and Zionist expansionism within the wider framework of the cold war.

    When the cold war ended Washington took charge of the region, initially through local potentates then through military bases and direct occupation. Democracy never entered the frame, enabling the Israelis to boast that they alone were an oasis of light in the heart of Arab darkness. How  …

  • ‘A protracted colonial war’

    July 20, 2006

    ‘A protracted colonial war’ by Tariq Ali for The Guardian, July 20, 2006

    With US support, Israel is hoping to isolate and topple Syria by holding sway over Lebanon

    In his last interview—after the 1967 six-day war—the historian Isaac Deutscher, whose next-of-kin had died in the Nazi camps and whose surviving relations lived in Israel, said: “To justify or condone Israel’s wars against the Arabs is to render Israel a very bad service indeed and harm its own long-term interest.” Comparing Israel to Prussia, he issued a sombre warning: “The Germans have summed up their own experience in the bitter phrase ‘Man kann sich totseigen!’ ‘You can triumph yourself to death’.”

    In Israel’s actions today we can detect many of the elements of hubris: an imperial arrogance, a distortion of reality, an awareness of its military superiority, the  …