Posted on May 3, 2005

Crusading Against History

Robert Spencer, FrontPage Magazine, May 3

“It’s not like a stupid Hollywood movie,” said French actress Eva Green about the English director Sir Ridley Scott’s Crusades flick, Kingdom of Heaven.

That’s true. It’s, like, a stupid English movie.

The Crusades are hot, and Ridley Scott (director of Alien) is about to make them hotter. “Muslims,” gushed the New York Times after an advance showing of the new blockbuster, “are portrayed as bent on coexistence until Christian extremists ruin everything. And even when the Christians are defeated, the Muslims give them safe conduct to return to Europe.” Sir Ridley, according to the Times, “said he hoped to demonstrate that Christians, Muslims and Jews could live together in harmony — if only fanaticism were kept at bay.” Or, as Green put it, the movie is intended to move people “to be more tolerant, more open towards the Arab people.”

Bent on coexistence, eh? That’s right: the Kingdom of Heaven script invents a group called the “Brotherhood of Muslims, Jews and Christians.” A publicist for the film elaborated: “They were working together. It was a strong bond until the Knights Templar cause friction between them.” Ah yes, everything was all right until those “Christian extremists” spoiled everything.

Kingdom of Heaven is designed to be a dream movie for those guilt-ridden creatures who believe that all the trouble between the Islamic world and the West has been caused by Western imperialism, racism, and colonialism, and that the glorious paradigm of Islamic tolerance, which was once a beacon to the world, could be reestablished if only the nasty white men of America and Europe would back off. A dream movie for the PC establishment, except for one little detail: it isn’t true.

Professor Jonathan Riley-Smith, author of A Short History of the Crusades and one of the world’s leading historians of the period, called the movie “rubbish,” explaining that “it’s not historically accurate at all” as it “depicts the Muslims as sophisticated and civilised, and the Crusaders are all brutes and barbarians. It has nothing to do with reality.” Oh, and “there was never a confraternity of Muslims, Jews and Christians. That is utter nonsense.”

Professor Jonathan Philips, author of The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople, also dismissed the film as history and took issue with its portrayal of the Crusader Knights Templars as villains: “The Templars as ‘baddies’ is only sustainable from the Muslim perspective, and ‘baddies’ is the wrong way to show it anyway. They are the biggest threat to the Muslims and many end up being killed because their sworn vocation is to defend the Holy Land.”

Nor does Kingdom of Heaven take any notice of the historical realities of Christians and Jews who lived under Muslim rule. They were never treated as equals or accorded full rights as citizens, and always suffered under various forms of institutionalized discrimination and harassment.

The Muslim warrior Saladin, who captured Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187, is, according to a film publicist, a “hero of the piece.” He is one of the most legendary figures of the Crusades and in our age he has become PC as well: Saladin has become the prototype of the tolerant, magnanimous Muslim warrior, historical proof of the nobility of Islam and even of its superiority to wicked, Western, colonialist Christianity. In The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, Amin Maalouf portrays the Crusaders as little more than savages, even gorging themselves on the flesh of those they have murdered. But Saladin! “He was always affable with visitors, insisting that they stay to eat, treating them with full honours, even if they were infidels, and satisfying all their requests. He could not bear to let someone who had come to him depart disappointed, and there were those who did not hesitate to take advantage of this quality. One day, during a truce with the Franj [Franks], the ‘Brins,’ lord of Antioch, arrived unexpectedly at Saladin’s tent and asked him to return a district that the sultan had taken four years earlier. And he agreed!” The lovable lug! If asked, he might have given away the entire Holy Land!

However, as I explain in my forthcoming book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades (Regnery), the real Saladin was not the proto-multiculturalist and early version of Nelson Mandela that he is made out to be by modern-day PC myth. Much is made of the fact that when Saladin recaptured Jerusalem for the Muslims in October 1187, he treated the Christians with magnanimity — in sharp contrast to the behavior of the Crusaders in 1099. But Saladin was no stranger to massacre: when his forces decisively defeated the Crusaders at Hattin on July 3, 1187, he ordered the mass execution of his Christian opponents. According to his secretary, Imad ed-Din, Saladin “ordered that they should be beheaded, choosing to have them dead rather than in prison. With him was a whole band of scholars and Sufis and a certain number of devout men and ascetics; each begged to be allowed to kill one of them, and drew his sword and rolled back his sleeve. Saladin, his face joyful, was sitting on his dais; the unbelievers showed black despair.”

Also, when Saladin and his men entered Jerusalem later that year, their magnanimity was actually pragmatism. He had initially planned to put to death all the Christians in the city. However, when the Christian commander inside Jerusalem, Balian of Ibelin, threatened in turn to destroy the city and kill all the Muslims there before Saladin could get inside, Saladin relented — although once inside the city he did enslave many of the Christians who could not afford to buy their way out of town.

Yet despite Kingdom of Heaven’s numerous whitewashes of history and strenuous efforts to portray the Muslims of the Crusader era in a favorable light, Islamic apologist Khaled Abou El Fadl, a professor of Islamic law at the University of California, is in a froth about the film: “In my view,” he raged, “it is inevitable — I’m willing to risk my reputation on this — that after this movie is released there will be hate crimes committed directly because of it. People will go see it on a weekend and decide to teach some turbanhead a lesson.” Of course, this is less an indictment of the film than of the American people. I think it very likely that there will be no hate crimes against Muslims committed because of this film — and I hope that in that event Dr. Abou El Fadl’s reputation will be accorded the treatment it deserves.

In any event, Kingdom of Heaven cost over $150 million to make, features an all-star cast, and is being touted as “a fascinating history lesson.” Fascinating, maybe — but only as evidence of the lengths to which modern Westerners are willing to go to delude themselves.