Thursday, December 30, 2004


The Kingdom Of Heaven, A.K.A. Why Jeffrey Wells Needs To Keep Quiet.

Movie critic Jeffrey Wells writes today about the upcoming Ridley Scott picture on the Crusades, entitled Kingdom of Heaven.

You can see the trailer for yourself here. As Wells has said before, it looks like a class act.

Aside from whether it's a good movie, of course Wells has to search for parallels that confirm his worldview. Here are the key graphs:

Balian of Ibelin was a Crusader knight who led the defense of Jerusalem in 1187. His formidable opponent was a Muslim leader named Saladin, who defeated him.

With this element Kingdom sounds a bit like a 12th Century Black Hawk Down, about white guys in armor and shields getting their butts kicked by the Muslims in their tunics and turbans and curved swords.

I'm not a scholar on the Crusades and I haven't read William Monahan's Kingdom of Heaven script, but c' can anyone not see cultural parallels between Scott's tale and the fighting going on now between U.S. forces and native guerrillas in Iraq? You'd have to be suffering from enzyme blockage to say they aren't there.

The Christian Crusaders were arrogant in presuming to claim and run the Holy Land in the first place, and the Saracens were in a more spiritually justified place in their battle against these Bible-reading, pale-faced invaders.

Can anyone think of another occupying Anglo force that went into a Middle Eastern country for bogus reasons and is probably fated to leave with its tail between its legs?

Sure, of course there are parallels, or at least the filmmakers *hope* to make parallels. But man, has Wells grown insufferable.

Now, I'm no scholar of the Crusades either, but I'm willing to bet the blog that I've got a wee bit more knowledge about the history of the Crusades than Jeffrey Wells. And just from my basic knowledge, I can tell that Wells is dealing with revisionist historical boilerplate.

I will not defend the Crusades as a moral, or even religious enterprise, as it's pretty clear that a lot of the motivation behind it was based on outright greed. However, the popular claim that the Crusades represented some sort of malevolent offensive against the poor innocent Muslims is historical hogwash, and a crutch for the poorly-read.

Sorry to break it to Mr. Wells, but strategically the Crusades were a defensive war.

Today we enjoy the benefit of hindsight in predicting the inevitable victory of Western European political culture. In the 11th Century-- nearly a thousand years before Hollywood, let alone the internet came on the scene-- Islam was on the march across Eurasia. And not just the Holy Land, either-- Muslims had conquered parts of Spain, Sicily, and elsewhere. In fact, one of the primary motivations for the war was a request for help from the Orthodox Byzantine Empire, which had suffered repeated defeats at the hands of Muslim invaders.

While with our modern sensibilities it may be difficult to justify that the Christians had a right to reclaim Jerusalem and the Holy Land after several hundred years of Islamic occupation-- eventually, bygones have to be bygones-- the Christians certainly had as great a moral claim on the Holy Land as the Muslims, if not more so. They were there first, after all (like the Jews, who also have had to fight for their place in the Holy Land).

But nope, dime-store historians have clouded the perceptions of folks like Jeffrey Wells to the point that he can draw analogies where there are none, all in an attempt to judge the current war in Iraq. Wells is arguing the Crusades were wrong, and that Iraq is like the Crusades, and thus Iraq is wrong.

Geez. First with the Vietnam comparisons, and now this? Just how far back are we going to search for analogies that prove how wrong America is to be fighting the War in Iraq? Iraq is like the Garden of Eden, and we're the Snake?

If the War in Iraq is wrong, then it's wrong for its own reasons, and not the reasons of a war that took place a generation ago, let alone thirty generations ago. This "argument through analogy" does little to inform us of the real issues we're facing. It's so easy, it's actually lazy. People can have valid opinions about the issues without bringing in facts they don't understand. So why do so many people insist on sounding smarter than they are? (Full disclosure: I'll claim to be the first victim of this tendency, but at least I recognize my flaws).

If anything, I'd recommend that Mr. Wells skip the history of the Crusades, and pick up a few books by Bernard Lewis. He'd certainly learn a lot more than he knows right now, in the Hollywood vapidity tank.

He also makes a factual error in referring to the native Iraqi guerrillas. Much of the Iraqi resistance is not Iraqi. Al-Zarqawi sure as hell isn't.
True. But I didn't feel like complaining about his issues with Iraq. I felt it was more than enough just to point out where he's wrong about the Crusades.

I mean, it's not like there hasn't been, oh, a millenium's worth of history to read up on or anything.

Man, it's gonna take decades to wipe the pernicious influence of Noam Chomsky away. . .
You know, you could turn this around pretty easily on Jeff Wells.

Local government calls on co-believers to help repel outside infidel invaders.

Foreign zealous fighters indiscriminate in their application of violence against the infidel invaders, slaughtering many locals ininvolved in the fighting.

Foreign zealots are worn down and suffering lack of reinforcements, forced into retreat.

Course, something Jeff Wells seems to overlook is that it took a damned long time to oust the Crusaders from the Holy Land. Fact is, that the historical Crusaders were regularly stomping the crap out out of the Muslim armies despite being outnumbered, sometimes ridiculously so. Heavy cavalry trained from birth to do little more than fight, hunt and procreate backed by infantry and missile troops beat light cavalry backed by infantry and missile troops.

This is why movie critics ought to stick to talking about camera angles and lighting.

I'm not a full-fledged black belt historian, but I am currently majoring in history (along with Economics because, well, I want a job when I graduate) and while it isn't my focus I had a passing interest in the Templars so read up on the Crusades.

Probably a majority of the Crusaders were religiously motivated, because in all honesty, Crusading was a great way to get poor. A few Crusaders got rich, a handful of nobility were elevated to kings of the Crusader States and knights were given fiefs, but most did not. However, what the Crusades did do was put the West in contact with many of the lost arts of the Classical World, which was preserved in the more heavily and deeply civilized East.

Thanks for the post. A bit earlier tonight, after I got motivated in the shower (where I'm convinced I can solve the problems of world peace, if given enough hot water), I wrote Wells an email making some of the same points you did, along with what I wrote earlier.

He's read my rants before, and he's even graciously replied a few times on his site, so I'll wait and see if he offers a rebuttal in his next column.

Just like the Comic Book Guys says: I can go on the internet and immediately express my displeasure.
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