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INSIGHT

"Kingdom of Heaven"

Aired May 9, 2005 - 23:00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Peace instead of war, love instead of hate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONATHAN MANN, CNN HOST: Hollywood's Holy War. A new epic film treads on sacred and sensitive ground, retelling the story of the Crusades. How do you turn two centuries of massacres into a Saturday matinee?

Hello and welcome.

If you're the kind of person who checks their watch a lot or looks at the calendar, consider the possibility that one of the most important things going on right now began nearly a thousand years ago. The Crusades were fought on and off from the 11th to the 13th century. In a traditionally Christian nation, they are largely forgotten. In just about any Muslim nation you can name, just the opposite. They fester.

But historians can see their profound influence haunting the Middle East and fueling extremist terror. Now we're all about to get a whole new vision of that violent time. A movie called "The Kingdom of Heaven," coming soon to a theater near you.

On our program today, Christian soldiers. We begin with our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): It's expected to be the blockbuster of the summer, "Kingdom of Heaven." For the past three-and-a-half years, director Ridley Scott, the man who gave us "Gladiator" and "Black Hawk Down," has been painstakingly recreating one of the most important events of the Middle Ages, the Crusades.

It's a moment in history with some very contemporary overtones.

(on camera): What is it that inspired you to take on the Crusades?

RIDLEY SCOTT, DIRECTOR: I was obsessed with the notion of chivalry. Chivalry is basically about good behavior and making the right choices and the right decisions, usually associated probably with religious ideals.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): The film stars Liam Neeson --

LIAM NEESON, ACTOR: I am Godfrey, the (INAUDIBLE)

AMANPOUR: -- Orlando Bloom and Jeremy Irons. They are Crusader Knight who rule the Holly Land in the 12th century and they're based on real people. But to tell their story, Scott has taken some historical liberties.

SCOTT (voice-over): I would love to do a 17-our God damned movie on this thing, but I had to cheat on time constraints and a couple of the characters.

AMANPOUR: Recreating the battle scenes was one challenge, but a bigger challenge was how to represent a 200 year war between Christians and Muslims.

(on camera): Some Muslims have complained that any time you show scenes showing Christians and Muslims battling for the world's holiest site, that in itself is inflammatory.

SCOTT (on camera): Or it's history. And if you can put it into perspective, will it help the discussion.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): This bitter and bloody conflict began in 1095 and it centers, where else, on the city of Jerusalem.

JONATHAN PHILIPS (ph), HISTORIAN: The basic root cause of crusading is possession of the city of Jerusalem.

AMANPOUR: Jonathan Philips (ph) lectures history at the University of London.

PHILIPS (ph): In the Middle Ages, the papacy, the Christian Church, decided you should purge the Muslims, the infidel, the unbeliever, from those places.

The first Crusade took three years to reach the Holy Land. They got into the city of Jerusalem and there they slaughtered everybody.

AMANPOUR: It's from here, in Damascus, Syria, that Muslim armies were rallied to try and reconquer what they had lost. Medieval historian Tayip al-Azari (ph) showed us the very same mosque where the Muslim faithful were called to Holy War.

(on camera): We always see the Crusades from our Western point of view, but here we are, right in the heart of where the anti-Crusade started.

TAYIP AL-AZARI (ph), MEDIEVAL HISTORIAN: This is where all of the public reaction started, after the capture of Jerusalem in the summer of 1099. They heard about horrible massacre, so the intellectuals, the scholars, the public, gathered here and really, roaring for revenge against the Crusaders.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): To this day, the very term "crusade" continues to strike fear and anger in Islamic hearts, which is why when President George Bush used the term crusade after the events of 9/11 --

GEORGE BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while.

AMANPOUR: -- the White House quickly issued a clarification.

ARI FLEISCHER, FMR. WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: I think what the president was saying had no intended consequences for anybody, Muslim or otherwise.

AMANPOUR (on camera): You have said that Muslims, Arabs, are allergic to the very word. What do you mean by that?

AL-AZARI (ph): Well, they are allergic because they have in their memory the massacres and two centuries of occupation. They see it really as a clash of civilization, Christianity against Islam.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Ridley Scott's film begins in 1185. The Crusader Knights are still holding onto Jerusalem, but Muslim warriors are threatening to take it back.

SCOTT: There is a truce, but an uneasy truce, uneasy peace, in the Holy Land at this particular point.

AMANPOUR: But religious fundamentalists on both sides, especially Christian extremists, are clamoring for war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God wills it. God wills it.

(SCREAMING)

AMANPOUR (on camera): Some might say that the Crusaders, the Christians in your film, are portrayed as the bad guys.

SCOTT: Yes. Then Muslims very much regarded the Northern Europeans as fundamentalists.

AMANPOUR: So back then it was the East that thought the West were fundamentalists.

SCOTT: Absolutely --

AMANPOUR: And now, of course, it is the other way.

SCOTT: -- who are these lunatics.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Scott's heroes are the Christian and Muslim leaders who try to revolve their differences through dialogue and negotiation.

And the most famous Muslim leader was Saladin.

PHILIPS (ph): Saladin was a very attractive figure to medieval writers. When Western Crusaders see him, they are impressed with him as a man, and it is an interesting point that within about 50 years of his death, in the West, they write the handbook of chivalry, the guide to being a good Christian knight. Guess who the main character is. It's Saladin.

GHASSAN MASSOUD, ACTOR: I dream of Saladin all of my life.

AMANPOUR: Ghassan Massoud is the Syrian actor who plays Saladin.

(voice-over): What is it about Saladin that made you dream about him for so long?

MASSOUD: I feel that we need a leader like him, because he believed in dialogue, especially with the enemy. It is a very important point now in our period, because you can see what is happening now around the world, especially between East and West.

AMANPOUR: Between the Christian world and the Islamic world?

MASSOUD: Yes.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): And Islam and Christianity still overlap in Jerusalem just as they did during the time of the Crusades. No place on earth draws so many religious pilgrims from such a variety of faiths, and to this day their processions literally cross paths.

(on camera): This is Christianity's holiest shrine. It is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built on the very spot where Jesus was believed to have been crucified, and it is this church that the Crusaders fought so hard to bring under the pope's control.

(voice-over): It is walking distance from the holiest site in Judaism, the Wailing Wall, the only known remnant of the ancient Jewish temple, which is located just below the Dome of the Rock, built around the very spot from which Muslims believe the prophet Mohammed ascended to talk to God.

(on camera): When the Crusaders came, they turned it into a church, but 80 years later, when Saladin reconquered Jerusalem, his first task was to turn it back into what it remains today, Islam's third holiest site.

DAN BAHAT (ph), ISRAELI ARCHEOLOGIST: We are walking now on a 1212 A.D. street.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Israeli archeologist Dan Bahat (ph) has spent a lifetime working in the shadow of the three faiths.

(on camera): So on this one corner, essentially, you have the al Aqsa Mosque, you have the Temple Mount and you have Crusader ruins.

BAHAT (ph): Yes. That is the beautiful thing about Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a golden triangle. You cannot miss one part of it. Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): A proximity that resonates in the film's climatic battle for Jerusalem. On the brink of defeat, Scott's Christian hero, Balian, calls out for tolerance.

ORLANDO BLOOM, ACTOR: What is Jerusalem? Which is more holy? The wall? The mosque? The Sepulcher? Who has claim? No one has claim. All have claim.

AMANPOUR: But the Crusaders kingdom of Jerusalem collapses when Saladin's siege towers approached.

(on camera): How did people breach walls this high?

BAHAT (ph): Mostly they fought, they went up the tower and tried to get on the wall through the towers. The tower was rolled close to the wall. When they get there, they open a kind of a bridge on which they will go in. This was the system.

AMANPOUR: And so if there was a huge tower that came up here with the enemy soldiers, what would they do? They would throw vats of oil on them?

BAHAT (ph): Yes, oil, and shoot.

AMANPOUR: How physically challenging was it to recreate history?

SCOTT: Oh, enormous. That set of Jerusalem, the wall is 56 feet high by 1,000 feet long. And the catapults were real.

I built two real catapults that would sling a 200-pound ball of granite and do it about 300 or 400 yards. Yes. They were really clever and very accurate.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): When Saladin's forces finally breached the walls of Jerusalem, the Christian Knight Balian expects that he and all his people will be slaughtered.

BLOOM: The Christians butchered every Muslim within the walls when they took this city.

MASSOUD: I am not those men. I am Saladin.

AMANPOUR: Saladin let them all go for a ransom.

(on camera): So right there, Jaffa Gate (ph), is where Balian brought out all the Christians after negotiating with Saladin.

BAHAT (ph): Yes. Some of the poor who could not pay the ransom, they were taken into slavery. But Saladin was somehow more gracious and to let others (INAUDIBLE) they say now that they can let them go, and they all went. You can see -- imagine this convoy of people going all the way down here to the Christian lands.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Through this story, Ridley Scott is trying to convey the message that respect and chivalry can again bridge opposing cultures.

(on camera): What do you say to historians who will say, well, you know, these are composite characters and you've mixed all the different Crusades, and this isn't history?

SCOTT: Historians aren't allowed to speculate. I'm a filmmaker. I'm not a documentarian. I'm allowed to speculate.

AMANPOUR: What lessons do you think Saladin and Balian can have for today?

SCOTT: You know, there is a word missing in today's dialogue. It's a wonderful word called grace --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is Jerusalem worth?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing.

SCOTT: -- and I think we've forgotten what that means.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MANN: CNN's Christiane Amanpour.

We take a break. When we come back, a Muslim perspective on the movie.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MANN (voice-over): To Islamic extremists, the Crusades never really ended.

OSAMA BIN LADEN, TERRORIST (through translator): We are following very carefully the preparation of the crusaders to invade the Iraqi land and taking the wealth of the Muslims.

MANN: They see the state of Israel as a Western outpost and the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq as more attempts by Christian powers to subdue the Muslim world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Welcome back.

Some historians say "Kingdom of Heaven" only adds to the problem.

Jonathan Riley Smith of Cambridge University, for example, considered one of Britain's leading experts on the Crusades, he calls the movie Osama bin Laden's version of history, saying it will fuel the Islamic fundamentalists.

Joining us now to talk about "Kingdom of Heaven" is Akbar Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies and professor at international relations at American University in Washington.

Thanks so much for being with us. You've seen the movie. What did you think of it?

AKBAR AHMED, AMERICAN UNIV.: I'm a great admirer, a great fan of Ridley Scott's work, "Bladerunner," "Gladiator" and so on, the great films, and I enjoyed the film. Lots of visual, lots of great battle scenes.

I felt that there was little tension in the storyline though. They're not really bad and good characters. You expect a villain and a hero. We have Saladin, but the Bloom character is also a hero, so in a sense there are two good guys, and the bad guys are really marginalized in the film.

It didn't do much for me in terms of the storyline. In a historical context, in the context of U.S. relations with the Muslim world, it was very significant.

MANN: Well, let me ask you about the historical context. Was it reasonably accurate given, after all, that it was a movie?

AHMED: A movie, and I made a movie on Mr. Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. You've got to do a mishmash. You've got to compress historical events and this gets historians very worked up. But what Ridley Scott did was to depict fairly accurately the events that took place around the fall of Jerusalem and the character of the main figure, the historical figure of Saladin, that was important. And he does respect that, and Saladin emerges as a kind of super hero almost, representing the main power in the land at that time.

MANN: Well, let me ask you about that, because some of the historians who have been critical said, in fact, that the portrayal of Saladin made him out to be some kind of gentleman when in fact he was really a warrior, that he had ordered in some circumstances the mass execution of his prisoners, and though he did not do it in Jerusalem, he was close to doing it in Jerusalem before the deal to ransom their freedom was worked out, that he was a much more brutal character, that they were all much more brutal characters than they come across in the film.

AHMED: Yes. We need to remember that he was a warrior. He was leading armies. And men, commanders, generals who lead armies, have to make these decisions which someone like me, a pacifist on campus, would find revolting.

But at the same time, remember that this man lived in a context of the Crusades and was capable of extraordinary acts of generosity, of compassion, of reaching out. His reaching out to King Richard, who comes after the movie -- really he is right at the end of the movie, he is on his way the Jerusalem. We know that Saladin reached out, was very generous to him, was very courteous. And in fact that had the Crusaders came back, the whole notion of chivalry, the notion of this noble chivalric character really originates from the notion of a man like Saladin, a warrior, but a man who could also be chivalric.

He does have a complex character and this emerges, this aspects of him as a gentle person, a man who is somewhat withdrawn, a man who spends a lot of his time with scholars, in mosques reading, praying, spends his money for educational works, educational institutions, and leaves behind nothing. He really leaves behind no great estate because he has given it all away to charity. He leaves behind a little bit of money, a Koran which he read often and a sword. That's about all he left behind.

MANN: What about the Crusaders, because the film doesn't concentrate on the first Crusade, but the first Crusade was a landmark, to say the least, and it was a landmark of a kind of brutality that the region hadn't seen. The fall of Jerusalem, the first 48 hours after the Crusaders took possession of the city, it is said in published accounts that tens of thousands of people -- I've seen 40,000 -- 40,000 or 30,000 or 20,000 civilians murdered in the space of two days. Does he talk about the terrible barbarity towards Muslims, but also towards Christians and towards Jews?

AHMED: Exactly. You are absolutely right. It is that first Crusade, the fall of Jerusalem, the capture of Jerusalem, which leaves an indelible mark on that whole episode. So the Crusades are always seen through the eyes of that terrible capture of Jerusalem in 1099.

40,000 people killed. Muslims, primarily, but also, as you point out, Jews and Christians. And what that did was set a standard that here are these barbarians, coming from the West, the Europeans, who don't have any civilization. All they have is this terrorism, the terrorist acts of violence, and in a very interesting way you are seeing the reversal of history today, that you have the impression here in the West that Muslims have nothing but terrorism and violence to give. It was exactly reversed in the 10th and 11th centuries.

Now that set the tone, an uneasy tone, for the rest of the Crusades, which went on for the next two or three centuries, but left a mark, in the Middle East particularly. The Muslim world, generally, in the Middle East particularly, about Europeans as aggressive, as violent, as inclined to terrorism.

MANN: Akbar Ahmed, of American University, thank you so much for talking with us.

AHMED: Thank you.

MANN: We have to take a break. When we come back, Hollywood writes and rewrites history.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The spoils of war.

BRAD PITT, ACTOR: No argument with you, brothers, but if you don't release her, you will never see home again.

MANN: Brad Pitt as a handsome Greek hero fighting a war over a woman.

The movie, "Troy."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you want, you could run the company for me.

MANN: Liam Neeson as a handsome Polish businessman whose factory keeps Jews from the Nazi death camps.

NEESON: I see that it had a certain panache. That's what I'm good at. Not the work. Not the work. Presentation.

MANN: The movie, "Schindler's List."

GEORGE CLOONEY, ACTOR: We're talking about millions in Kuwaiti bullion.

MANN: George Clooney as a handsome America soldier who hunts for treasure and his conscience after the first U.S. war in Iraq.

The movie, "Three Kings."

Was everyone in history a handsome guy in a war zone?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Welcome back.

Hollywood sells tough men, beautiful women, simple storylines and violence. It can tell a certain view of history, too, and get it onto movie screens and TV screens and into the popular culture worldwide. But does that incredibly powerful way of imagining the past do us any good in knowing the real history, what actually happened?

Joining us now is Paul Halsall, who teaches about film and history at the University of North Florida.

Thanks so much for being with us.

What do you think? Does Hollywood do a good job of teaching us history?

PAUL HALSALL, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA: I don't think it is meant to produce history. I think it is meant to produce art. I think it is like photography, poetry, music. It uses the past for its own purposes. I don't think accuracy is really the issue.

MANN: Well it may not be the issue to Hollywood, but let me ask you, as someone who sees a lot of young people, who is trying to teach them about things that have actually happened in the past, are all of us getting bad information? I mean, more people will see the average Hollywood movie than read a history book.

HALSALL: I think there is just as much bad information, for instance, in Christiane's report or in your previous segment, than is in the film.

For instance, the idea that the Muslim world has this memory of the Crusades is very largely incorrect. It is a recovered memory. The idea that Jerusalem is Islam's third holiest place, Islam has many third holiest places. The idea that the capture of Jerusalem in 1099 was particularly horrific. All of these things are truisms repeated repeatedly on television, but they are not in fact correct.

So I would say Ridley Scott probably is more correct than what we get in history or Hollywood-type approaches.

MANN: You're making a very intriguing point. Is it that none of us have an accurate sense of history, or just that we've been reading the wrong books, or not enough of them?

HALSALL: Well, I think some people have been reading the wrong books. I think some people have been reading articles in political magazines, which aren't very correct.

But I don't think film is there to be a history textbook. Film is meant to be a meditation on history. And, actually, I agree with Ridley Scott in what he is trying to do, in trying to use history to discuss current events. Even if he says he's not doing that, I believe that is what he is trying to do.

I think it is kind of interesting that you have a Western director, perhaps the prime Western director of historical movies, really criticizing his own society, whereas the previous great movie on the Crusades was one called (INAUDIBLE) by Yusef Jahin (ph), an Egyptian Christian director in the 1960s, and Jahin (ph) basically used his film, "Saladin," as a way of supporting Arab nationalism, whereas Ridley Scott is really very opposed to that.

I think it is an interesting aspect of the two societies that Ridley Scott in critical whereas I don't think you get a critical view of Arab Jihadism in the Muslim cinema.

MANN: Well, you're making interesting points, and one of them that emerges is that you are treating Ridley Scott essentially as a historian if not a historian who writes books.

HALSALL: No. He's an artist. Ridley Scott is an artist. He's an artist, like Sir Walter Scott or like poets such as Tennyson, who wrote about the Crusaders coming home. And as an artist, he has a right to say what he wants about the past. He's not obliged to write, to create the past to conform to a textbook.

What he does for me, as a historian, and what he does for my students, is arouses the imagination, because a filmmaker has to do lots of things that a historian doesn't have to do. We don't have to say what or describe what we don't know, but a filmmaker has to imagine what clothes people were wearing, how they spoke, where they were moving around, how they moved around. There is a lot to do that a filmmaker does that historians don't have to do. And historians can't criticize filmmakers for having to make the decisions they have to make. And I think Ridley Scott is a great filmmaker, a great artist, but he's not writing a history textbook.

MANN: On that note, Paul Halsall, of the University of North Florida, thank you so much for being with us.

HALSALL: Thank you.

MANN: That's INSIGHT for today. I'm Jonathan Mann. The news continues.

END

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