From the Daily Telegraph, a bit of anti-dhimmitude on the part of writer Christopher Howse. For once, it’s the Brit’s turn to make fun of Hollywood’s dhimmitude. Good show!..pip, pip and all that.
On February 11, 1847, the Scala opera house in Milan, its stage fitted out with fantastic arabesque ogees, onion domes and filagree fretting (representing the harem at Antioch), echoed to wild applause at the premiere of Verdi’s I Lombardi alla prima crociata (The Lombards on the First Crusade).
It was not so much the music that wowed the opera-goers, but the identification of Jerusalem, occupied by the cruel Saracens, with Milan, occupied by the cruel Austrians. Lombard nationalists saw themselves as Crusaders.
That was, obviously, an absurd projection of modern values on to a creaky historical framework. But it was no more absurd than Sir Ridley Scott’s new film set in 1186, just before the Third Crusade. Kingdom of Heaven follows the fortunes of Orlando Bloom (Legolas in The Lord of the Rings) as a blacksmith’s son handy with a sword in defence of Jerusalem.
Teen audiences who cheered on Legolas as he slaughtered hundreds by the bow in the vast battles of Middle Earth, are invited in Kingdom of Heaven to conclude that nothing is worth fighting for. Bloom’s character, Balian, surveying a massacre in the Holy Land, declares: “If this is the kingdom of heaven, then God can keep it.”
Sir Ridley explains: “Balian is an agnostic, just like me.” Yet there were no agnostics in the 12th century. That might sound ridiculous, but the word “agnostic” is a 19th-century invention (1869), just like the word “homosexual” (1892). There were sex acts between men in the Middle Ages, just as men and women doubted their faith, but neither fact defined a personal ideology.
Sir Ridley’s problem is that he links agnosticism and tolerance as joint forces of good in his film, and he makes true believers – either Muslim or Christian – baddies. That is an impossible historical pill to swallow. And – groan – the Knights Templar (with their baggage from The Da Vinci Code and The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail) become the “Right-wing or Christian fundamentalists of their day”, in Sir Ridley’s words.
“If we could just take God out of the equation,” says Sir Ridley, like John Lennon in Imagine, “there’d be no f—ing problem.” A more realistic view of history requires less retrospective fantasy and more brain work. It means forcing our heads round to see what motivated men and women centuries ago. Try thinking the unthinkable – that the Crusaders were right, and that we should be grateful to them.
The First Crusade won back Jerusalem (pro sola devotione, “for the sake of devotion alone”, in the idealistic terms in which it was launched) from Muslim control in 1099, not as an isolated incident but as part of a centuries-long effort to roll back the map of territory overrun by warlike Islamic expansionism since the seventh century.
The jihad of Mohammed’s followers first won the Arabian peninsula (killing or subjugating Jewish and Christian rulers and tribes) and its programme had no end but the conquest of the whole world under unified Islamic rule. There was no tolerant agnosticism there…
Read it all.