An ambitious four-part documentary produced by Al Jazeera, The Crusades: An Arab Perspective features handsome production values, convincing historical reenactments and a wealth of revealing information on this much dissected period of world history.
The first episode sets the groundwork for one of history's most infamous and lengthy conflicts.The filmmakers illustrate a stark contrast between the Western European Christians, who struggled greatly through poverty and injustice, and the Muslims who resided in a Holy Land rife with political unrest and religious tensions. We witness how an empowering speech given by Pope Urban II in November of 1095 set the stage for military conflict, and soon led to the conquest of Jerusalem four years later.
Muslim rulers had reigned supreme in the region for over four centuries prior to this shattering loss. Episode two traces their rise from the ashes of defeat. Galvanized into action, the Muslim people embarked on a jihad against the Crusaders, regained territories with great determination and efficiency, and claimed a well-fought victory by the end of the Second Crusade in 1149.
Episode three begins with another major Muslim victory, the Battle of Hattin, which led to the recapture of Jerusalem and represented a significant weakening of Crusader forces. Two years later, the Third Crusade was born. This three-year conflict ended with the signing of a peace treaty granting Muslims control of the holy city while maintaining Christian visitation rights.
The Crusades may have come to an end, but the fight against Western occupation did not. The final episode considers the lasting remnants of these conflicts as it relates to events in their immediate aftermath all the way to 20th century, including the formation of the state of Israel in 1948.
Sprinkled throughout the film are enlightening interviews with a panel of noted historians and academics. Collectively, their insights serve as a terrific compliment to the impressive reenactment footage as they work to interpret the motivations of all involved and to separate fact from folklore.
The Crusades: An Arab Perspective is an impressive achievement that manages to play more like a riveting sword and sandals saga than a dry and studious documentary.