Sounds as if the upcoming movie on the Crusades may actually be accurate. Whether it is or it isn’t, I will be setting the record straight soon thereafter in my forthcoming book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades (Regnery).
However, Khaled Abou El Fadl, whose highly questionable reconstructions of Islamic theology and history I discuss in Onward Muslim Soldiers, is in a froth. In fact, he is willing to stake his reputation on the proposition that this movie will inspire hate crimes: “In my view, 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.”
I haven’t seen the movie or the script, but this is less an indictment of them than of the American people. I saw the predictions of pogroms after Gibson’s Passion come to nothing, and I think it likely that there will be no hate crimes (other than a few concocted ones, probably) after this film. And I hope that in that event Dr. Abou El Fadl’s reputation will be accorded the treatment it deserves.
From The Herald, with thanks to EPG:
SEVERAL months have passed since Dr Khaled Abou El Fadl first read the shooting script for Sir Ridley Scott’s forth-coming epic about the Crusades, Kingdom of Heaven, but he speaks as though his anger is fresh.
“There’s no doubt in my mind people are going to come out of this movie disliking Muslims and Arabs more than they already dislike them,” says the professor of Islamic law at the University of California.
“In my view, 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.”
Scott has said he intended to make a film about a noble knight and settled on Balian of Ibelin, portrayed by Orlando Bloom. In 1187, Balian defended Jerusalem against the Muslim leader, Saladin, played by Ghassan Massoud, and lost. However, the religious context of Balian’s story dominated discussion of the production and, as soon as the script for the Â£75m production became available, the New York Times passed copies to five experts on the Crusades, one of them Abou El Fadl.
One expert has defended the script, saying it contains nothing that should upset Christians or Muslims, but criticisms from others range from historical inaccuracies to character and cultural misrepresentations and claims of insensitivity to current perceptions of Islam in the western world. The criticisms were echoed when British experts attended a Kingdom of Heaven junket, during which Scott talked about the plot and its purported historical accuracy. Questions from the audience were not permitted, but Dr Jonathan Phillips, a member of the audience and a lecturer in history at Royal Holloway, University of London, knows what he would have asked.
“The main problem is he’s got this idea that the noble knight and Saladin could have made peace, but a few people wrecked that for secular motives such as greed,” says Phillips, author of The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople. “He’s got a religious subject and I think he’s secularised it in part. He wanted to make a film about a knight as an icon. He’s done that, but in a context where religion is saturating the concept of a knight in a Crusader context.
“The question is whether it’s an appropriate subject right now and whether he has done it in a way that is appropriate.”
Oh, I see. So the problem is not whether or not the thing is historically accurate. It is whether or not it is politically correct:
While academics acknowledge that a degree of artistic licence is to be expected with any big-budget Hollywood movie, many agree that the religious context of the Crusades warrants a careful depiction, given the current religious and political climate.
Phillips believes that although Scott initially defended the accuracy of the film, he has begun to climb down as more and more criticisms emerge.
Some of these are of little consequence; for example, Balian is portrayed as a blacksmith who becomes a knight. He was, in fact, according to Phillips, “born to the top table”. The leper king, Baldwin, makes an appearance, in spite of having died two years earlier. However, others are seen to propagate stereotypes of Muslims that could have dangerous consequences, as Abou El Fadl predicts.
“There’s a single (Muslim) character who is human-like — Saladin, he has consciousness and awareness,” he says. “There’s another character who is a mad, ranting, raving, blood-thirsty lunatic, screaming ‘jihad, jihad, jihad’. The rest of the Muslim characters are willing to die without any emotion.”
Yeah, that couldn’t possibly be accurate. Never mind that those who consider themselves the spiritual descendants of those who fought the Crusaders say things like “the Americans love Pepsi-Cola, we love death” and “America must fear the nation that does not fear death.”
Abou El Fadl says he anticipated this pattern of characterisation; that in any western film involving Muslims he has come to expect only one complex character surrounded by many simplistic others. He also predicted that Saladin would be portrayed as being conflicted about his Islamic identity, though not to the extent that the script suggested.
“This movie actually went a step further, which I found deeply, deeply offensive,” says Abou El Fadl. “Despite the savagery of the Crusaders and despite their ability to commit massacres and pillage and rape [of which he acknowledges the Muslims were also capable], Saladin identifies with them and is nearly sympathetic towards them. In one of the most unbelievable scenes, though I don’t know if it stayed in the movie, Saladin thanks the Crusaders for teaching Muslims chivalry.”…
Abou El Fadl here displays his own prejudices: by no historical account were the Crusaders always and everywhere committing massacres and pillage and rape; in other words, they weren’t raving maniacs with no admirable qualities that Saladin might have noticed. This is particularly true in the aspect of chivalry, which was indeed a Western concept that the Crusaders brought East.
Anyway, Abou El Fadl looks even sillier in light of the fact that others take issue with the film’s too-positive portrayal of Saladin:
Phillips believes this “soft-focus” portrayal diverts attention from Saladin’s motivation. “There’s a layer in this movie that doesn’t take on board that, although Saladin was an honourable man, his career was based on throwing the Christians out,” he says. “His rise to power revolves around jihad, the holy war, so, while he can be treated as an individual, Christians were the enemies of his faith. He’s rather more hard underneath than Scott’s.”
Abou El Fadl believes that, beyond individual characters, Muslim culture is overlooked and notes that, while the film includes sequences of Muslims jumping on crucifixes, little is communicated about the comparative sophistication of Islamic society at the time.
“The historical record is established in that the Europeans find a superior culture invading it and learn to indulge in the luxuries the Muslims had become very good at enjoying,” he says. “You don’t even get a hint that there’s an Islamic law that regulates warfare; that the slaughter of innocents is strictly prohibited in the Koran.”
Maybe this is because the definition of “innocents” in some schools of Islamic law does not include non-combatants who are perceived as aiding the war effort (cf. al-Mawardi, al-Akham as-Sultaniyyah, 4.2; ‘Umdat al-Salik o9.10) — a distinction that allows for pretty much anything (including, in our own day, the idea that “there are no civilians in Israel“).
Abou El Fadl believes an opportunity to encourage understanding between Christians and Muslims has been missed, though he won’t commit to saying whether he believes it is intentional. “I’m not a conspiracy-theory type, but the timing of this movie is most suspect,” he says. “The film falls in the category of ‘it’s okay to invade these people, something good will come out of it’. Not only that, but the fanatics are better off dead because they want to go to heaven.
Horror of horrors. The “fanatics” are depicted as “better off dead because they want to go to heaven”? This couldn’t have anything to do with them saying things like “we will get you [with] mujahideen who love to be martyrs,” could it?
“This at a critical time when the logic of the white-man’s burden is coming back through the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq and a lot of people are wondering if there is a civilisational showdown between Islamic and Christian culture.”
This is Abou El Fadl’s most egregious statement of all. The “white man’s burden” is an idea from British colonialism: that the Christian West had a responsibility to civilize the rest of the world. The Crusaders had no such notion. They went to the Middle East to defend Christian pilgrims from attack by Muslim raiders, and to secure the Holy Land for those pilgrims. They made no organized or large-scale attempt to convert Muslims to Christianity, and certainly offered them nothing like the Hobson’s Choice of the dhimma.
Make no mistake about it: all this distorted history coming from Abou El Fadl and his ilk is politically motivated. It is driven by a political agenda that is not at all interested in yesterday, but in today and tomorrow. And that’s why it’s so dangerous.