The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Kingdom of Chaos

So I'm reading the summary of Kingdom of Heaven (called a "synopsis", mistakenly). I heard that CAIR is for it, and that extremer-than-CAIR Muslims are against it. Director Ridley Scott was apparently under some pressure while designing this thing. As your ever-loyal blog host, I figured I'd compare that summary with other material available on the WWW.

The film is set in 1186, on the eve of the Third Crusade. But that Crusade hadn't started yet. When I talk about "the Crusade" below, I'm referring to the remnants of the Second Crusade.

Here is such background as I have found - should I decide to watch the movie:

Ridley Scott retains the leper king Baldwin IV on the throne of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, a year after his real-world death in March 1185. His son Baldwin V managed to hang on 'til August 1186 but then he died too. Baldwin IV's sister Sibylla then became Queen of Jerusalem - and so her husband, Guy of Lusignan (half of the dual villains of KoH), became king. Ridley's protagonist should have been the Baldwins' regent, Raymond of Tripoli; but that sounds too much like his enemy's name "Reynald", it makes people think of Muammar Qaddafi, and Baldwin IV makes for more pathetic cinema. Pushing Baldwin IV's 1174-85 reign to 1186 is the most egregious change to the plot. Maybe a forgivable one though.

KoH's nemesis, if not exactly villain, is the Sunni commander Saladin. Saladin was at first by no means a hero to all Islam. He acted as villain even to some Muslims - Ismaili Shi'a - for his role in knocking off their caliphate from its perch in Egypt, 1171 in our Era. But the Kingdom of Jerusalem, then under Amalric, and the Byzantine Empire had been running a side-Crusade against Fatimid Egypt over the previous two decades. Admittedly the Fatimids had started the whole mess under the Caliph Hakîm; but by the late 1100s only the Druze still bothered defending that man, and the Druze were well on the way to becoming the heresy they remain to this day. So Amalric's Egyptian adventure was pointless and only served to unite Islam against the Crusade. Hell, it united Egyptian Christians against the Crusade. So Saladin became an Egyptian and pan-Islamic hero by default. At any rate by 1186 Saladin had become the undisputed amir of the believers (whatever that 'Abbasid puppet in Baghdad might have claimed). He was just as brutal to the captured Crusaders in 1187 as he was to the Ismailis in the 1170s. I would watch a movie about Saladin's character arc from Kurdish thug to magnanimous amir, and such an arc might still have been possible in this movie's timeframe; but this movie insisted on making Saladin a saint from start to finish.

KoH's second villain, Reynald de Châtillon, was a Muslim-hater in history just as in the movie. He'd been ambushed back in '60, and held in a rotten Aleppo prison for fourteen years after that. But meanwhile the regent atabeg of Aleppo, the eunuch Sa'd al-Din Gumushtigin, had remained loyal to the Ismailis and so faced trouble from Saladin. In response he called upon both the Assassins and the Crusade. In 1175, Saladin survived the former but retreated before the latter. Gumushtigin then released Reynald. Perhaps he thought that this would strengthen his allies. But what it did instead was provide the anti-Raymond, anti-Islamic faction with a living martyr and standard-bearer. Reynald then married into land which included the castle Kerak. Reynald spent a lot of time in the '80s raiding Muslims in violation of Jerusalem's treaties. No character arc here; and in his case there shouldn't be.

Moving on to the vaunted toleration of the Kingdom of Jerusalem: I see none of that prior to 1174. Faced with a strong majoritarian Islam under Saladin on one side, and a precarious heterodox caliphate on the other which also hosted a near-majority of Christians, the tolerant (and smart) move would be to side with the Ismailis and Christians. But Amalric instead attacked the Ismailis and massacred the Christians. The Kingdom of Jerusalem was no multicultural Paradise as of 1174 CE.

The Knights Hospitaller had indeed been founded to uphold the ideals of healing as described in KoH. But they too were deep into the attack against Egypt. It took a decree from Pope Alexander III (d. 1181) to pull them back into running hospitals. So they weren't exactly champions of diversity either prior to 1174.

After 1174, the reformed Hospitallers helped install Raymond, and not Guy or Reynald, as regent for the young Baldwin IV. At this point the stage for KoH is set - nominal rulers trying to hold a peace against factions within and without.

I can't speak for Jerusalem's policies at home but the kingdom certainly improved its diplomacy abroad. However, the kingdom was so riven by faction that this meant little to its unhappy citizens. Baldwin IV and Raymond did manage to support certain Ismailis in 1175 (too late, and the wrong Ismailis); and they did sign that treaty with Saladin in 1180. On the other hand Reynald broke this treaty multiple times. And when it came down to it, Baldwin / Raymond supported Reynald against Saladin.

And here follows a silly decision on Ridley's part: imagining that King Baldwin - IV or V - had the power and will to remove Guy (and Reynald). According to this review, in the movie Orlando Bloom steps up to stay Baldwin's hand. In history, of course, neither Baldwin was in any position to blow his nose without his Regent's approval, and said Regent was in too much of a bind to grant said permission. Also, it's not like Orlando would have been able to make a difference; and as the reviewer points out it was a dumb move on Orlando's part in the movie's context. By breaking the treaty Reynald at least had merited a swift beheading for treason, code of chivalry or no; and without Reynald and his mighty fortress, Guy wouldn't have lasted long.

This other review points out that the movie doesn't think much of workaday believers nor of the orthodox Church hierarchy. When it comes down to it, I suppose I don't either; but in a movie about the frickin' Crusades I don't expect to see quite so much self-flagellation on this score. Beautiful Atrocities documents how corresponding anti-Cross acts by the mediaeval Muslims (who had a well documented hatred for the symbol, btw) got excised by the PC police.

In 4 July 1187, the Crusaders under both Raymond and Reynald met Saladin at Hattin. The rest of the story is more straightforward: Saladin kills both leaders (and a bunch of captives, as mentioned, which Ridley ignores), Saladin mops up the Crusade except at Tyre, Saladin invests Jerusalem. I tend to agree with Ridley that both sides learnt chivalry at that point; Saladin could afford it, and Jerusalem's knights could only hope for a noble end.

As for the Third Crusade itself, with all that Richard the Lion Heart etc stuff - Pope Gregory VIII declared it after the previous Crusade had already lost almost everything.

So from a cursory analysis, Ridley seems to have applied rather a lot of "spin", to the extent of distortion.

As Joshua Clayborn pointed out, the fundamental problem with the movie isn't its (slight) changes to history, but its message to us. To Ridley, Jerusalem isn't worth holding by Christians; nor, by extension, by Jews. If we give up the Holy Land to the PLO and Hamas, and the rest of the Near East to Osama bin Laden - well, it will at least live on in our hearts, and maybe then the Jihad will let us alone (if we ask really nicely).

This is a one-sided movie about a serious time. The best we can hope for is that it might spark interest in the Crusades among Americans - and not only in CAIR's side of it. Certainly I didn't know nearly as much until today...

(Aside to ignorant or corrupt reviewers, as to their tommyrot that the Christians picked the first fight - tell that to the Egyptian Copts; tell that to Bishop Sophronius; tell that to the Lebanese.)

posted by Zimri on 19:00 | link | 0 comments

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