Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven, which depicts a 12th century battle for Jerusalem between Muslims and Crusaders, is also a welcome message of support for those who back moderation over extremism in managing ties between Islam and the West.
“The film goes against religious fanaticism very clearly. All that goes against hatred, fanaticism and systematic opposition between those two worlds is welcome,” Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf, author of The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, said.
“The aim of the film is to heal wounds, not reopen them,” Egyptian film critic Tariq al-Shinnawy said.
Muslim groups have praised the film by the director of Gladiator for its portrayal of Saladin, the Kurdish leader of the Muslim army which in 1187 recaptured Jerusalem from the Crusaders.
Cinemagoers in the Arab world say the film may help repair some of the damage done to Islam’s reputation by Hollywood films that have set Muslim fighters against American heroes, and what many see as unfair Western news coverage of the region.
Arabs and Muslims say Hollywood
“Arabs and Muslims usually appear as bloodthirsty savages in Hollywood productions. Kingdom of Heaven is fairer – the Arabs and Muslims come out much better,” Deana Elimam, an Egyptian-American living in Cairo, said.
Al-Shinnawy said Saladin, played by Syrian actor Ghassan Massud, would have made a greater impact if Scott had given him a more visible role. “You see glimpses of his heroism,” he said.
“It doesn’t realise all aspirations, but we cannot ask Ridley Scott to present everything. It is enough that he presents an image in which there is some balance,” he said.
But Scott’s efforts have not won universal praise among Middle Eastern viewers.
US-based Lebanese academic Asad Abu Khalil objected to a scene where the lead character, a Crusader called Balian and played by Orlando Bloom, appeared to show Arab peasants how to dig wells to irrigate farm land.
“I was … most unhappy, when the hero of the movie … took over his estate, and with typical Western ‘genius’ taught those inferior Arabs how to dig for water, as if they had not been doing that for centuries,” Abu Khalil said on his website.
“This is akin to the Western myth of Zionist immigration causing the “desert to bloom” in Palestine.”