Monday, May 09, 2005

Cole on Kingdom of Heaven

When I was at Kalamazoo a couple of years ago, a group of medievalists were making fun of how picky people in the field could be about medieval movies with the mock complaint, "The armor's wrong!" In his post about Kingdom of Heaven, which I haven't seen yet, MESA President-Elect Juan Cole is apparently reaching out to medievalists by proclaiming, "The weapons are wrong!"

OK, so he admits that's quibbling. He does, however make the point that Saladin was definitely concerned with creating an Ayyubid state and not just defeating the Crusaders. However, his ideological program could perhaps best be seen as the promotion of an ideal Sunni state, one without the disputes caused by petty independent principalities and with a government which promoted Sunni institutions of learning and worship as well as fighting against the Crusaders who had occupied Muslim territory. For a good modern biography of Saladin, I recommend Saladin: The Politics of Holy War by Malcolm Cameron Lyons and D.E.P. Jackson, which I just added to the sidebar.

A final perspective, and one that would dovetail nicely with Cole's lamenting the lack of character change. About six years before he died, Saladin went through a near-fatal period of illness. He began to focus his attention on the Crusaders after that, and I think it was R. Stephen Humphreys who first suggested that it was the illness which on a personal level refocused the sultan from personal and dynastic ambition onto his religious duties. Motivations of people in the Middle Ages are, of course, relatively inaccessible to modern scholars, but it's definitely a thought.

UPDATE: The film definitely made Angry Arab angry.


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