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
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."