LONDON — Senior British academics criticize Ridley Scott’s potrayal of the Crusades in the $135 million film that is set in the time of King Baldwin IV, covering the battle which won Jerusalem for Muslims. They say the film “distorts” the history of the Crusades by portraying Arabs in a favorable light.
While makers of the film describe it to be “historically accurate”, leading authority on the Crusades, Jonathan Riley-Smith, found the aspects of the plot to be “complete fiction” and “dangerous to Arab relations” even.
Critics reject the negative portrayal of the Crusaders and the constructing of Muslims as heroes. In the film, Guy de Lusignan who succeeded King Baldwin was the “archvillain” while Muslim leader Saladin was the hero. Also, in the film existed "the Brotherhood of Muslims, Jews and Christians", which gave the impression of a cross-faith kinship.
Scott's spokesman said, "At the end of our picture, our heroes defend the Muslims, which was historically correct."
Riley-Smith, professor of Ecclesiastical History at Cambridge University argues, "Guy of Lusignan lost the Battle of Hattin against Saladin, yes, but he wasn't any badder or better than anyone else. There was never a confraternity of Muslims, Jews and Christians. That is utter nonsense."
According to Smith, the plot was “complete and utter nonsense” since it relied on the romanticized view of the Crusades as written by Sir Walter Scott in his book, The Talisman, published 1825. The book is now academically discredited
"It's rubbish. It's not historically accurate at all. They refer to 'The Talisman,' which depicts the Muslims as sophisticated and civilized, and the Crusaders are all brutes and barbarians. It has nothing to do with reality,” said Smith.
Jonathan Philips, a lecturer in history at London University and author of The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople, said former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and the late Syrian President Hafez Assad used Saladin to promote Arab Muslim pride even though Saladin was ignored in Arab history. that by venerating Saladin, who was largely ignored by Arab history until he was reinvented by romantic historians in the 19th century, Mr. Scott was following both former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and the late Syrian President Hafez Assad. Both leaders commissioned huge portraits and statues of Saladin, who was actually a Kurd, to bolster Arab Muslim pride.
While Smith said the film “will fuel the Islamic fundamentalists”, Scott’s spokesman disagrees and said, "It's trying to be fair, and we hope that the Muslim world sees the rectification of history."
Amin Maalouf, the French historian and author of The Crusades Through Arab Eyes said, "It does not do any good to distort history, even if you believe you are distorting it in a good way. Cruelty was not on one side, but on all."