Kingdom of Heaven is a new movie about the Crusades. So far as historical movies go, it’s fairly accurate. However, that in itself is a cause for concern.
To most Westerners, the Crusades are ancient history. For Americans, it’s ancient history about something that occurred thousands of miles away, totally irrelevant to anything going on today.
Not so in the Middle East, where the Crusades are remembered as a fairly recent event and where the word crusade (Arabic: al-Salibiyyah ) is highly emotive. Soon after Sept. 11, President Bush called for a “crusade” against Islamic fundamentalism. He has never used the word again!
The concern about the movie is that the Muslims end up looking better than the so-called Christians. “So-called” because the Crusader version of Christianity was not, to put it mildly, biblically based. When the Crusaders took Jerusalem, they slaughtered all the Muslims and Jews. By contrast, when the Islamic forces recaptured Jerusalem, they let the captives go.
The fear is that this movie could stir up anti-Western passions throughout the Islamic world.
That’s happened anyway. Thanks to Newsweek magazine, which ran a story in its May 9 issue claiming that American forces desecrated the Koran, anti-American riots took place in a number of countries, leaving more than a dozen people dead.
Although Newsweek retracted the story, their columnist Eleanor Clift pointed out on NPR’s Diane Rehm Show (May 20) that this does not mean the story is false. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice apologized to Muslims on behalf of the United States and assured them that the American government has great respect for Islam and the Koran.
Interestingly, nobody in the mainstream media realized the full implications of these developments. The cold reality is that Islam in general and the Koran in particular cannot be criticized. This goes to the very core of free speech issues upon which our modern Western civilization has been built.
Remember Theo van Gogh? Mr. Van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker, was ritually slaughtered on the streets of Amsterdam last November for producing a 10-minute film called Submission. The film’s title was a play on words—Islam means “submission.” The short documentary exposed the cruel way in which many Muslim women are treated by their husbands, to whom they must be submissive. A prominent Islamic female Dutch politician had helped with the making of the film. In a country that prides itself on a long history of freedom of speech, she had to go into hiding.
A couple of days after the riots, my local newspaper carried an article by Ellen Goodman attacking “Intelligent Design.” The article was titled “Creationism, by Another Name,” and was nothing more than an attack on the biblical account of creation ( Lansing State Journal, May 16, 2005).
No apology to Christians has been heard from anybody in the Bush administration following this article! None is expected. But then, Christians were not out on the streets rioting. Why would they? Prominent intellectuals have been attacking the Bible for two centuries.
These attacks may actually increase now that it’s clear that criticism of the Koran will not be tolerated. Christian fundamentalists are set to be targeted in a way that Islamic fundamentalists cannot be! Many Europeans already see President Bush as a more dangerous “religious fanatic” than Osama bin Laden. Appeasement didn’t end with pre-World War II British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain!
None of this should be surprising. The increasing secularization of the West was a constant throughout the 20th century. In the ’60s “God is dead” was a popular expression, meaning that religion had become irrelevant. Two generations have since grown up with little or no knowledge of the Bible. Morality came under assault in the same decade, with few now having any qualms about committing adultery or fornication.
In the same decade many former colonies got their independence from European powers. Those same European powers are filled with guilt about their colonial past, though their record was, on balance, often better than what has followed.
Put these two factors together—religious ignorance and postcolonial guilt—and we can only expect the appeasement of Islam to continue! But as with Neville Chamberlain on the eve of World War II, there will come a point when even the liberal appeasers will not be able to deny the threat facing Western civilization.
Will Israel reach 100?
Religious ignorance and postcolonial guilt affect European thinking on Israel. The only nation in the Middle East that embraces Western values, including the democratic political system, Israel is seen by many as a latter-day colonial power, imposing an alien way of life on an area previously dominated by Muslims. Israel, somehow, is equated with European colonialism.
And the Crusaders. Just as the Catholic Crusaders went into the Holy Land and imposed their religion and way of life on the area, so Israel is seen as doing the same. The Jewish state is simply viewed as one more Crusader castle planted in the Islamic realm by a guilt-ridden post-World War II Western world.
Many even feel that just as the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem lasted less than a century, so will Israel. Even Israelis are concerned about this.
An article by Benjamin Schwarz in the May 2005 issue of The Atlantic Monthly asked the question: “Will Israel Live to 100?” The article highlights Israel’s demographic dilemma, that its very low birthrate contrasts sharply with that of the Palestinians and neighboring Arab states. This threatens Israel’s future security. Demographic trends show that if the situation doesn’t change, the country will not be able to sustain itself long-term.
“Israel’s long-term prospects are bleak. The Zionist enterprise has never been able to transcend the demographic realities that have haunted it from its inception,” writes Mr. Schwarz.
These demographic pressures are a primary reason Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is agreeing to Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and why he is anxious for a peace agreement with the Palestinians. However, this may make things worse, since the Palestinians demand the right to return to their ancestral homelands within Israel’s borders. It is doubtful that many would actually return, but if they should, this alone would result in a Palestinian majority in Israel, giving the Palestinians a majority in a future Israeli election.
Adding to pressure on Mr. Sharon is the fact that the extremist organization Hamas is gaining support among the Palestinians. This seems to be a trend across the Middle East. Extremists in neighboring Egypt and Syria would likely win any free election, making it problematic for the United States to push too much for democratic reform in the region.
Lessons from the Crusades
There are remarkable similarities between the time of the Crusades and now. During the 11th century, shortly after the end of the first millennium and the beginning of the second, there was a widespread belief in Europe that the end of the world was imminent. There was also a widespread peace movement, as there is now.
The Crusades followed centuries of Islamic encroachment on Europe and European interests. After Muhammad’s death in A.D. 632, his followers rapidly conquered North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula. Exactly a century after the death of the prophet, they reached the gates of Paris, where they were defeated by the forces of Charles Martel, grandfather of Charlemagne, crowned Holy Roman emperor by the pope.
In the east, they kept eating away at the territory of the Byzantine Empire, the eastern half of the Roman Empire. Eventually, it became impossible for Christians to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and other cities in the Holy Land.
With Islamic forces close to the Byzantine capital, Constantinople, the Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comnenus appealed to the West for help. His appeal came only four decades after a major schism between East and West, separating the two branches of European Christianity. Pope Urban II likely saw an opportunity here to heal the breach and restore Christian unity by helping out in the Middle East. In 1095 at the Council of Clermont in southern France, the pope called for a Crusade to defend the Holy Land from Islam.
After a long period of being pushed around by the forces of Islam, it was the pope who rallied Europeans to fight back. Could the same happen again?
A coming clash of civilizations
Bible prophecy shows us that “at the time of the end” there will be a clash between two powerful forces, the kings of the North and of the South. You can read about this in Daniel 11, beginning at verse 40.
Formerly, the kings of the North and South were the Seleucid and Ptolemaic dynasties that dominated the Middle East from after the time of Alexander the Great until the Roman Empire conquered both kingdoms. They greatly impacted the Jewish people, who were often caught in the middle as these two powers, one to the north of Jerusalem and one to the south, fought each other.
There is a major leap in the prophecy from the ancient world to modern times, a period during which there was no Jewish nation in the Holy Land. The Jewish nation of Israel was reestablished in 1948, just 57 years ago. Only in these 57 years has it been possible for the last few verses of this chapter to be fulfilled. Again, two powers, one to the north of Jerusalem and the other to the south, are going to play a major role in the world.
“At the time of the end the king of the South shall attack him” (Daniel 11:40 Daniel 11:40And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over.
American King James Version×). The King James translation uses the expression “push at him.” It does not have to be a direct attack. “And the king of the North shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter the countries, overwhelm them, and pass through.”
Continuing, in verse 41: “He shall also enter the Glorious Land,” the Holy Land given to the tribes of Israel thousands of years ago.
Many Muslims have long wanted to unite those who share the same faith. Arab peoples, mostly Muslim, have wanted similar unity for their peoples, presently divided into 22 different countries.
In the 1950s and ’60s hopes were raised that revolutionary leader President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt would bring about Arab unity, but the dream was never realized. Today, Islamic fundamentalists share the same zeal. Their following grows across the Middle East, fueled by fears of American domination following the Iraqi invasion of 2003, often considered another Crusade.
At the same time, Europeans dream of uniting their continent, just as Pope Urban II did almost 1,000 years ago. The same book of Daniel that prophesied the future kings of the North and South, mostly fulfilled in ancient times, also predicted the coming of the Roman Empire. A final revival of that empire is still to take place, when “ten kings… receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast” (Revelation 17:12 Revelation 17:12And the ten horns which you saw are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast.
American King James Version×). “One hour” is symbolic, meaning that their union will not last long. This union of nations will exist immediately prior to Christ’s return as they “will make war with the Lamb” (verse 14). Once again, the Catholic Church is involved in this drive toward European unity.
These two forces are set to clash again, just as they did in the 11th century. The buildup to this clash of civilizations is taking place even now. As massive immigration into the West from Islamic countries leads to greater pressure on the West to accommodate the Islamic religion, so the prospect of a backlash increases. Additionally, there is the economic threat from a region that controls most of the world’s oil. Added to both is the constant threat of Islamic terrorism.
Eventually, the European nations will have to act or face extinction. Once again, it could be a pope who calls the various countries of Europe together to defend their interests against the forces of Islam. WNP