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By Farooq Sulehria

The right is absolutely wrong when it finds Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven as "anti-Christian." Widely quoted in the press, Jonathan Riley-Smith lacks accuracy when he dismisses the Hollywood blockbuster as "bin Laden's version of history." Cambridge academic Riley Smith pronounces: "It depicts the Muslims as sophisticated and civilised, and the Crusaders are all brutes and barbarians. It has nothing to do with reality."

Fortunately, it has a lot to do with reality. Unfortunately, it's George W. Bush's "version of history" that has nothing to do with reality. The reality is: when Saladin took over Jerusalem in 1187, he proclaimed the freedom of the city for worshippers of all faiths. Jews were granted subsidies to rebuild their synagogues destroyed by the Crusaders. Churches were left untouched. No revenge killings took place.

Saladin contradicts Osama's puritan version of history. Saladin represents the rise of the Muslim world. Osama symbolises its decline. Chivalrous Saladin would show generosity to defeated enemies and mercy to innocent civilians. Osama considers the victims of September 11 as "collateral damage."

The "collateral damage" in the year 1099, however, was high when Crusaders took Jerusalem on July 15. The orgy of slaughter left forty thousand dead. The Jews, having fought hand in hand with Muslims, had huddled in a synagogue. The synagogue was burned down and Crusaders were singing Te Deum as Jews were burning inside. The Tomb of Abraham was destroyed. The Mosque of Omar was sacked. Thus wrote First Crusade historian Guibert of Nogent: "The Franks did no other harm to the woman whom they found in the enemy camp, save that they ran their lances through their bellies." No Jew could live inside the city walls any more.

Saladin paid a heavy price for his generosity. Pope Urban dispatched Richard the Lion-heart to reclaim Jerusalem. That Richard was gay did not bother the anti-gay Vatican. Richard was granted redemption for his sexual orientation. Reclaiming Jerusalem from "infidels" was most important for the Vatican.

The madness called the Crusades initiated by Pope Urban II were a measure to redirect the energies of warring European barons from their local disputes into a noble quest to retrieve the Holy Land from "infidels." Like any war, the spoils of war drove many knights to reach the Holy Land.

Once unleashed, the Crusades, spanning over a period of two hundred years, with five major battles, ended with an unimaginable death toll on both sides. The Crusaders could not retake the city once taken by Saladin's army in 1187. For the next seven hundred years, it remained under Muslim control, except for a brief crusader occupation. During this period, no blood was spilt.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Jerusalem's peace was haunted by a new monster: Zionism. The British-backed Zionist struggle to create a Jewish-only state destabilised the Jerusalem peace yet again.

Zionism initially was a secular movement started by atheist Jews. Its founding father, Theodor Herzel (1860-1904), was open minded as to where the new state should be sited. He was ready to consider Argentina, Mauritius or Uganda. The Zionist Bushs and Ladens were, however, adamant that a Jewish state could only exist in the Zion of the Old Testament. The biblical Zion consisted of Palestine. Ironically, it was the Ottoman caliph who allowed Franco-Jewish Baron Edmund de Rothschild to fund a Jewish settlement in Palestine. Jews expelled from Portugal and Spain were granted refuge by the Ottomans.

The Balfour Declaration of 1917 pledged the British Empire to view with favour the establishment of a Jewish national home. It was a pretext for Britain to annex Palestine. The Arabs heroically fought to defend re-colonisation of Jerusalem. The British, also aided by Zionist volunteers, had to commit 25,000 troops to crush the 1936-39 Intifadah against the colonisation. Winston Churchill shamelessly defended the colonisation: "I do not agree that the dog in the manger has the final right to the manger, even though he may have lain there for a very long time."

After the end of the Second World War, on US-Soviet instructions, the UN agreed to the partition of Palestine. A joint Arab army invaded Israel to resist the partition. But armed by the Czech government on Moscow's instructions, the Israeli army defeated the Arab army. Israeli leader David Ben Gurion bought off Jordan's King Abdullah by offering him money and half the Palestinian territory. Thus, the Palestinians lost Jerusalem.

For Arabs, with a deep sense of history, ancient memories remain central to their sensibility and ideology of liberation. Arabs remember how a Muslim world divided between Shia Egypt and Sunni Syria led to the fall of Jerusalem in 1099. Saladin united Syria and Egypt and through unity liberated Jerusalem. Saladin is awaited in today's Arab world to unite Arabs and liberate Jerusalem.

Gamal Abdul Nasser, Hafiz Assad, Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat, all have attempted to play Saladin; but Jerusalem remains elusive.

Ironically, it is a Jew who offers sane advice to Arabs to build up unity and get back Jerusalem. Despite the loss of his entire family in Nazi terror, Jewish Marxist historian Issac Deutscher remained committed to the Arab cause. Deutscher thinks only ideas of internationalism and socialism, instead of charismatic leaders like Nasser, can unite the Arabs.

In an interview after the Arab-Israel war in 1967, months before his death, Deutscher told the Arabs: "Economic growth, industrialisation, education, more efficient organisation and more sober policies are bound to give the Arabs what sheer numbers and anti-Israeli fury have not been able to give them, namely an actual preponderance which should almost automatically reduce Israel to its modest proportions and its proper role in the Middle East."

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