Recently, I participated in a "faith sharing" event organized by Muslim and Christian student groups at my university, around the film The Kingdom of Heaven . It proved to be an enjoyable and educational evening.
The program was presented in four parts. The film was first screened by all, movie theatre style, accompanied by popcorn and soft drinks; then the guest speakers — two professors representing Christian and Muslim viewpoints — each made short comments; next, students moved into discussion groups that included members of both faiths; finally, each student group had an opportunity to ask questions of the guest speakers.
About 60 students attended, of whom one-third were Muslim. I asked all of them if they felt The Kingdom of Heaven rated 7 or more out of 10 and most agreed that it did.
The Kingdom of Heaven is a fact-based film that is a must-see –” especially by high school, college and university students of all faiths.
One of the key questions raised by the students was: Did the film offer valid history lessons to be learned in relation to current events?
I tried to answer this question, using the following points of reference:
- 1. All world conflicts are political, but religions are often exploited to advance certain political agendas.
- 2. A starting point to study and to resolve any conflict is to identify the aggressor(s) and the victim(s) — and you do not need a Ph.D. in political science to do that!
- 3. For any conflict resolution to be successful, it must be based on achieving justice. Peace can only be achieved through justice — the mere absence of open conflict is not peace.
- 4. The first step to achieving peace through justice is for the aggressor (s) to stop the aggression.
- 5. Once the aggression is stopped, a period of healing and reconciliation can begin; this may take a long time, but there is no other lasting way.
- 6. Peace-loving people of all faiths, or even of no faith, must work with the aggressor(s) to stop the aggression, as well as with the victim(s) to correct the wrongs resulting from aggression.
I also gave examples of past and present conflicts. The Crusaders of the Middle Ages, the white supremacist Apartheid regime of South Africa, the Israeli-Zionist government in Palestine, and the Americans in Iraq were, or are, all aggressors. The Crusades and Apartheid finally ended, after too much bloodshed; the second two examples are unfortunately still ongoing.
It took some 200 years for the Crusaders to stop their aggression and this was achieved mainly on the battlefield. A Muslim army led by Saladin (Salah-ul-Din) managed to end eight waves of Crusader aggression that had spanned more than two centuries (1096 to 1300 AD).
How many years it will take to end the Israeli-Zionist aggression in Palestine, or the American invasion of Iraq? How much destruction, loss of life and desperate human misery will it take before these two conflicts end? At present (March 2006) there seems to be no end in sight.
In each of the four conflicts mentioned above the aggressors used, or are using, religion to justify their actions.
The first Crusade (the term means "to bear the cross") was launched by Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont in 1095 AD, as a holy war against Islam. "God wills it!" exclaimed the Pope, who told clergy, knights and peasants alike that their mission was to liberate Jerusalem from "godless infidels" — i.e. Muslims.
Once Jerusalem was occupied, the Crusaders slaughtered all 70,000 of its inhabitants, men, women and children. Most were Muslims, but Jerusalem’s minority Christian and Jewish communities did not escape the bloodbath. Proportional to today’s world population of 6.5 billion, those 70,000 victims during the 11th century would equal some 7 million today.
As The Kingdom of Heaven rightly emphasized, the Crusaders’ slaughter of Jerusalemites happened in stark contrast to the actions of Saladin who, when he liberated Jerusalem, offered Crusaders free and secure passage out of the city and back to Europe. In the film, when asked why he behaved so humanely, he replied simply, "because I am Saladin."
When waves of Zionist Jews came to Palestine from Europe they also used religion, and still do, to advance their aggressive agenda of displacing indigenous Palestinians. Their continual claim is that God in the Torah gave Palestine forever to the Jews; thus the native Palestinians have no right to live there. Today, Zionist Christians join Zionist Jews in using religion to justify their agenda of continued aggression.
President George W. Bush used the word "crusade" when he first invaded Iraq, but quickly corrected himself. The Apartheid South African regime claimed the Bible teaches that blacks are inferior to whites.
But the true motive of any aggression was, and still is, greed. The aggressors are after power, control, land, and resources. The sooner their evil intentions are exposed, the sooner their aggression can be stopped. This form of evil — not the teachings of any religion — is what lies just under the surface of the entire killing, destruction and misery.
It is a great credit to Ridley Scott that he successfully packed some 200 years of turbulent and complex history into just over two hours of film.
Scott wove many human stories into The Kingdom of Heaven, and not all of them were taken from history’s battlefields. Even the film’s first scene shows the depravity that once was the norm in Europe; at the burial of a lovely young woman who has committed suicide, the priest who performed the ceremony steals the crucifix from her neck.
A full-length version of the film will be released this summer. I can hardly wait to see it.