|I will lead mankind into a new world!|
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c. 75000 BCE (legendary)
47 BCE(de jure)
The Assassin Brotherhood, also known as the Assassin Order, the Hidden Ones during its early years and the Hashashin during the Crusades, is an organized order of assassins and sworn enemies of the Templar Order, against whom they fought a continuous, recondite war throughout the entirety of recorded human history.
Whereas the Templars seek to save humanity from itself by controlling free will, the Assassin Brotherhood fight to ensure the survival of freedom, as it allows for the progression of new ideas and the growth of individuality. The Assassins have also recently become enemies of the Instruments of the First Will, a cult dedicated to re-establishing the Isus' absolute rule over humanity.
The Assassins, if not the Order itself, have existed since at least 456 BCE, throughout the Roman Empire, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution and into the Modern era. The first organized order of Assassins, called the Hidden Ones, was founded in Egypt in 47 BCE.
- Main article: History of the Assassins
- "Laa shay'a waqi'un mutlaq bale kouloun moumkin.
("Nothing is true, everything is permitted" in Arabic.)"
- ―The Assassins' Creed.[src]
- "Stay your blade from the flesh of an innocent."
- "Hide in plain sight, be one with the crowd."
- "Never compromise the Brotherhood."
These tenets permeated every aspect of the Assassins' daily life, as well as their fight for "peace in all things". The Assassins carry out their duties through political, strategic assassination, in the hope that killing one individual will lead to the salvation of thousands. They also believe that they fight on the behalf of those who do not possess the abilities, resources, or knowledge to speak out against those who abuse their power.
Ideals and goals
SkepticismThroughout its long existence, the Assassin Order has opposed tyrants and oppressors alike, priding itself as a "champion of the poor" and downtrodden, while assuming ideals such as equality and freedom and other principles associated with human rights. Though these principles may encourage the view that the Assassins are, like their sworn enemies the Templars, founded on a distinct set of ideals, at its roots, the Assassins' philosophy is grounded not in idealism, but in rationalism and epistemology, with the unique viewpoint that before one devises a specific code of ethics or belief system, one must first approach the world from a chiefly scientific standpoint, un-tempered by biases or such subjective products as morality or faith. To an Assassin, knowledge should be obtained first and foremost through strict objective reasoning, but this method is disrupted by each individual's fundamental dependency on his or her own senses to acquire information. These senses can be deceived in some measure, or otherwise will never convey the precise intrinsic quality of an object. Consequently, they are rendered unreliable, with the end result being that "true" or "full" objectivity is, as Altaïr argued, unreachable. The driving theory behind the Assassin's creed is thus that "one can only know that one knows nothing," a handicap corroborated by the IsuJuno, who cited this as a defect of humans.
From this skepticism arises the Assassins' maxim that "nothing is true, everything is permitted," a relativistic assertion designed to provide an answer to the vastly disparate convictions over the perfect solution for humanity's ills: that there is no Truth and any attempted application of a singular ideal on a universal scale is first and foremost unrealistic. Moderation is therefore an inherent principle of the Assassins, who shun extremism as destructive to society. To treat one belief as absolute is to not only submit oneself to the irrationality of blind faith, but also to cloud oneself from the perspectives of inevitable dissenters. These perspectives must always be taken into account, not only in one's outlook of society and life, but also in aspects of one's work, which manifests in the Assassins' emphasis on precision and stealth, and has been referred to by Assassins such as Altaïr and Pierre Bellec as "variables."
The second component of the creed, "everything is permitted" is an extension of this principle of uncertainty. Because the quantity of variables is infinite, it follows that theoretically, anything within nature is possible, for as long as there is no absolute answer to any query, no impossibility can be ascertained. Therefore, one must remain vigilantly open-minded to the unexpected and unknown, drawing to a conclusion while being ever mindful of that conclusion's plausibility of error. Beyond being a further vessel for pluralism, Assassins are taught to be watchful of pretensions and their own capability to achieve either great dreams or great destruction. In essence, this corollary commands one to take responsibility for one's actions towards oneself and society at large.
Though the maxim as a whole is actually descriptive, not normative, it nevertheless serves as the threshold into Assassin ethos, wherein reason, not divinity or society, is the source for guidance; dogmatism is discouraged for its potential to brew prejudice and violence, and diversity of thought is respected as the closest conduit to reaching truth.
According to Haytham Kenway, the Templar Order was "born of a realization" that humanity is fundamentally corrupt, necessitating strenuous control for it to be guided to peace. From the Assassin perspective, their brotherhood was born of the "realization" that to be wise, one must first liberate one's mind from the assumption of having acquired true knowledge.
- "Twenty-two years ago, I stood where I stand now – and watched my loved ones die, betrayed by those I had called friends. Vengeance clouded my mind. It would have consumed me, were it not for the wisdom of a few strangers, who taught me to look past my instincts. They never preached answers, but guided me to learn from myself. We don't need anyone to tell us what to do; not Savonarola, not the Medici. We are free to follow our own path. There are those who will take that freedom from us, and too many of you gladly give it. But it is our ability to choose – whatever you think is true – that makes us human... There is no book or teacher to give you the answers, to show you the path. Choose your own way! Do not follow me, or anyone else"
- ―Ezio Auditore da Firenze[src]-[m]
The Assassins' justify perspectivism with the view that it is logical and realistic, but it is further reinforced ethically by their ardent belief in the "sanctity of life" and each individual's humanity. This, in conjunction with moral relativism, are the guiding motives behind their support for cultural diversity and free will. Assassins perceive societal norms and conventions as artificial structures that can hinder one's partiality and lead to prejudices. These false boundaries include but are not limited to national borders, gender, ethnicity, social class, and race. As a result, Assassins oppose discrimination of virtually every kind, with physical abuse and slavery being especially abhorrent.
Goals and motivations
- "What can be done to stop this? To encourage tolerance and equality? Some days we speak of education, believing that knowledge will free us from immorality. But as I walk the streets and see slaves sent off to auction – my heart grows cold. When I see the husband hurl abuses and stones at his wife, insisting she exists only to serve him – my fists clench. And when I see children torn from their parents so that another man might profit – sent off to suffer beneath the desert sun and die...
...On these days, I do not think that dialogue will make a difference. On these days, I can think only of how the perpetrators need to die"
- ―Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad[src]
Unlike the Templars, who condemn humanity as irredeemably weak-minded and corrupt, the Assassins uphold faith, even love, in humanity as one of their core ideals. Their fundamentally skeptic Creed neither justifies the defeatism that is the hallmark of Templar ideology, nor endorses the notion that a single group can be wise enough to impose a correct way of life or belief on the people at large. Consequently, they scorn the notion that a short-cut to universal peace, especially in the form of global enslavement or elitist control, could be a suitable solution to society's ills. Instead, they argue that humanity must be permitted to undergo the slow and arduous journey of developing tolerance for their myriad differences, a process derided as unrealistic and impossible by the Templars.
In the Assassin view, peace is a product of education, not force, and this is only possible without the stringent control over information and society that authoritarians advocate. For this reason, and due to Altaïr's reformation of the Order and focus on free will, the Assassins have increasingly identified with the ideals of liberty over the centuries. This fixation on freedom and compassion led many Templars by the American Revolution, notably Grand Master Haytham Kenway, to believe that the Assassins had abandoned their goal of peace in favor of freedom as an end, even accusing them of anarchism. This has shown not to be the case as Assassins support democracy, or governments that emphasizes individual liberty and choice as main principles, not the abolition of order and government in its entirety.
Ironically, in spite of the Assassins' optimistic view of humanity as a whole, they do not always retain the same faith for adversaries of human rights; this is the guiding force behind their operations, of which assassinations take primacy. Altaïr could not help but doubt the efficacy of persuasion, lamenting that many abusers were far too cemented in their ways to be redeemed through dialogue. Echoing Altaïr's sentiment, Rebecca Crane once explained to Desmond Miles that sometimes, "there's no other way." To protect the lives of innocents, the Assassins believe that realistically an ideal, noble resolution is not always possible, thus one may have to kill a perpetrator to save an innocent. For many members, compassion has acted as a key motivation, which has paradoxically translated into objectives very often revolving around murder. Social justice is a powerful unifying theme among Assassins, and in this capacity they serve as a reactionary force against perceived oppression, tyranny, and abuses against humanity, becoming the mortal enemies of the Templars.
Paradoxes and misconceptions
- "What follows are the three great ironies of the Assassin Order: (1) Here we seek to promote peace, but murder is our means. (2) Here we seek to open the minds of men, but require obedience to a master and set of rules. (3) Here we seek to reveal the danger of blind faith, yet we are practitioners ourselves"
- ―Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad[src]
As Altaïr reported in his codex, it was not an uncommon occurrence that people newly exposed to the creed be waylaid by immorality or driven mad by the disintegration of a sense of security. Experienced Assassins were often obliged to chide their pupils or outsiders for misinterpreting "everything is permitted" as a message to abolish all sense of moral restraint and discipline.
The Assassins' devotion to free will and their assertion of moral relativism can indeed invite questions of whether or not they and their creed are nihilistic or anarchic. Their liberal belief system, along with their support of cultural expression and life, would indicate otherwise. The creed itself, however, implies that all values are meaningless. A contradiction thus arises, which can be summarized as "why do Assassins adhere strictly to beliefs while asserting that none are true?" This can be taken even further into a charge of hypocrisy when one considers that Assassins preach freedom of beliefs and yet use violence to suppress those who reject their own beliefs (of free will), an accusation that the Templars Abu'l Nuqoud and Jubair al Hakim directed upon Altaïr with their dying words.
While Altaïr at the time noted that he had no "satisfactory answer" to these charges, even expressing fear that "none exist," Ezio Auditore and Edward Kenway both provided insight into how these paradoxes are resolved.
In addressing this paradox, Ezio explained that the creed itself is more akin to that of a scientific theory, rather than a doctrine in itself, and therefore it is neither meant to be followed nor obeyed, but merely understood. Edward Kenway, upon his induction into the Assassin Order, posed the same questions to the Mentor Ah Tabai. When Ah Tabai redirected them back to him, the former pirate answered that "it might be that this idea is only the beginning of wisdom, and not its final form." In other words, the creed would be a call to nihilism—and implicitly the Assassins hypocritical for not adhering wholly to it—if it were a dogma itself. It is not, however, the dogma of the Assassins, for it can be said to be the scientific introduction to a belief system, one that only formulates the framework of an ideology, but not the completed complex of ideals itself. As such, while "nothing is true," and all beliefs and moral values can not be validated from an objective standpoint, it does not follow that morals and beliefs should be perceived as false from an ethical standpoint. While "everything is permitted" from a naturalistic perspective, it does not follow that everything must necessarily be ethically permissible. Thus, the creed is descriptive, not normative; it does not reject the notion that there is an absolute truth, nor assert that it does exist. The Assassins regard the creed as an exposition to their concept of wisdom, in that they believe that one must first understand the subjective origins of all beliefs and values before devising his or her own ideology, so as to remain open-minded and unprejudiced, but the relativity of beliefs does not make beliefs insignificant.
While explaining why the creed is not meant to support nihilism or anarchism, it does not resolve the paradox that Assassins murder in the name of peace or kill those that disagree with their own ideals in the name of free will. Altaïr, in attempting to provide an answer, suggested that the creed incorporates an even deeper meaning: that paradoxes exist and are not impossible, or rather that it is because paradoxes exist and cannot be avoided, that "nothing is true.
- "Cultures and religions and languages keep folks divided. But there's something in the Assassin's Creed that crosses all boundaries. A fondness for life and liberty."
- ―Mary Read, on the Assassin's Creed and society.[src]
Precision and stealth
Throughout the long centuries of war between the Assassins and Templars, members of both factions often mused on the similarity of their goals and the contrast between their means. Even so, it was a frequent contention of Templars that the Assassins' methods were identical to their own in principle: "a minor evil, for a greater good." Indeed, the Assassins extensively hunted and murdered key individuals they perceived to be corrupt or a danger to humanity, and this became one of their defining attributes. A critical distinction, however, lied in the strict tenet that an Assassin must refrain from harming an innocent. As Altaïr reflected, the Templars were brutal and lacked precision in their methods: burning books wholesale, committing grand massacres, and in later histories, instigating nation-wide purges.
Accordingly, precision was a guiding principle behind the Assassins' technique and a factor behind their focus on stealth and discretion. By reducing collateral damage and the chance of open conflict, casualties would be minimized. Such a tactic aligned with their traditional respect for humanity and life, and in theory (though not always in practice), assassinations were to be carried out only in cases of utmost necessity. Once a target had been killed, agents were dissuaded from rejoicing in the death, and some even adopted the practice of paying last respects, no matter how vile they held them to be.
Although not every Assassin operated on the level of perfectionism exhibited by Francesco Vecellio, prodigious information was expected to be gathered before an assassination is attempted. Failure to do so could yield catastrophic errors, such as Arno Dorian's mistaken murder of the Templar ally Chrétien Lafrenière. For their investigations, Assassins referred to a variety of means including but not limited to: espionage, theft of documents, and mingling with locals.
In some ways, the reforms of Altaïr promoted a greater level of stealth than under the tenure of his predecessor, Rashid ad-din Sinan. Previously, it was common practice for the Levantine Assassins to perform high-risk, near suicidal, yet awe-inspiring assassinations in crowded, public areas. This tactic relied on shock to impress power—through fear—in the public imagination. Under Altaïr's direction, the Assassins retreated further into the shadows, and this approach was generally discouraged, if not outright abolished, and restrictions on formerly banned methods such as poison were lifted. While some members were impatient with the secrecy demanded by the brotherhood, feeling that it hampered progress and influence, Altaïr feared the great risks of exposure to public society. Ever mindful that Assassins could be branded as madmen and destroyed if they remained an open target, as evident in the Fall of Masyaf to the Mongol Empire, Altaïr withdrew the brotherhood further into secrecy. Thus, security was another reason for the Assassins' policy of stealth.
Despite this, it was not unknown for Assassins even after the High Middle Ages to resort to open conflict, and these uncommon tactics could range from the instigation of riots, employment of mercenaries, or even a direct militaristic assault on enemy bases.
In Altaïr's time, the Assassins were markedly apprehensive that public promotion of their ideals could yield societal reforms. As a result, at first much of their activities revolved only around the elimination or sabotage of those they believed threatened the rights of humanity. With their dream that humanity arrive at utopia through free will, their way of guidance was often indirect, with an emphasis on individuals learning through self-experience. For instance, their way of teaching Ezio against the path of vengeance involved allowing him to experience that journey personally.
Over time, the brotherhood's policies evolved and during the Italian Renaissance, the Assassins under the leadership of Ezio Auditore became more active at winning the hearts of the public. It was Ezio's conviction that the strength of the Assassins derived from the strength of the common people, a sentiment initially rebuffed by the cynical Mentor Niccolò Machiavelli. Accordingly, the Assassins' campaign in Rome was prolific in rehabilitating a city crumbling under the weight of Borgia corruption, such as funding renovations, sponsoring merchants, and rescuing civilians.
The order continued to adapt and reform gradually through the centuries, and by the 20th century, their activities began to shift over to non-violent social reforms rather than aggressive enforcement. The transition was tenuous: certain branches, such as the fledgling branch established in North America by Achilles Davenport and the Assassin-sponsored movement Narodnaya Volya engaged in operations smacking of terrorism. It was only after World War II that the Assassins definitively refocused their activities towards inspiring change through example. Assassinations became far rarer, and until the Great Purge of 2000, the shadow war with the Templars defused to one waged through covert tampering of political elections instead.
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