Theme From Lawrence of Arabia

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Something for the weekend.  In the middle of winter it is no accident, as the Marxists used to say, that I have chosen for our musical selection the theme song from Lawrence of Arabia (1962).  One of the last great historical epics, the film tells the tale of Colonel T.E. Lawrence’s involvement in the Arab uprising.  It is largely historically inaccurate, although a magnificent story.  One reason for the historical inaccuracy, other than the usual transmogrification of history in the hands of filmmakers, is that it relied too heavily on Lawrence’s war memoir Seven Pillars of Wisdom.  Lawrence was a brilliant writer and a talented leader of guerrilla forces, but he never let a little thing like truth stand in the way of a good yarn. 

The acting is superb throughout, as one would expect from a film featuring Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Claude Rains, Anthony Quayle and Omar Shariff.  The screenplay is by Robert Bolt who would go on to write A Man For All Seasons.

My three favorite scenes from the film:

“Time to be great again, my Lord.”

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“Thy mother mated with a scorpion.”

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“On the whole, I wish I’d stayed in Tunbridge Wells.”

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Anyone who has never seen this classic should remedy that lack as soon as possible.  I highly recommend the recent blu-ray release.

 

18 Responses to Theme From Lawrence of Arabia

  • Colonel T. E. Lawrence died in a car crash when his brakes failed two years after his return to England.

  • He died in 1935 when he was riding a motorcyle and swerved to avoid two boys riding bicycles. He lost control, crashed and died six days later from his injuries.

  • When (May 1935) he died, he was serving, under an assumed name (T. E. Shaw), as an aircraftman (enlisted man) in the RAF.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/1935/may/19/fromthearchive

  • He had actually left the RAF two months prior to his death.

  • Ah, the Arab Revolt and the subsequent screw-job. But no, all Arabs/Muslims hate the West because they hate freedom.

  • Meh, that was off-topic and deliberately provocative (not necessarily “compelling” but liable to provoke something). Delete it if you’d like.

  • Arab nationalism, such as it is, has never had much to do with Democracy. The dynasty founded by Faisal ended with his grandson Faisal II being murdered in the July 14, 1958 rebellion in Iraq. The House of Saud of course ousted the Hashemites from what became known as Saudi Arabia. The Hashemites, miraculously, still rule in Jordan. The brief period of Western rule that some parts of the Arab world experienced, after centuries of domination by the Turks, is routinely used in the Arab world as an excuse for Arab cultural pathologies and the inability of the Arabs to produce stable democratic regimes. It has as much historical validity as Hitler blaming the problems of Germany on the Jews.

  • Donald,

    I think Arabs/Muslims are wary of democracy as it is articulated in the modern West because it has become, unfortunately, conflated with liberalism of the Enlightenment variety. Muslims, much like the Church, are skeptical of modernity, and I think they have good reason to be. Rejecting democracy is (mistakenly) perceived as necessary in the rejection of liberalism and modernity, forces that will invariably lead to the destruction of traditional values and cultural norms, as they most certainly have in our country and in the West (world?) at large. The Arab would is hampered by the belief that accepting democracy means becoming like America– but indeed, they can hardly be blamed. The conflation of these terms is pretty pervasive. I think the world would be wise to remember that the originators of democracy were anything but liberals and anything but modern.

    I don’t necessarily think Sykes-Picot, the TPAJAX Project, and ongoing Western economic and cultural penetration are necessarily legitimate reasons as to why democracy hasn’t worked in the Middle East, but they are certainly are a basis for understanding why many in the Arab world have much resentment for the West. It’s obvious that Qutb was an extremist and a radical, and his prescriptions are certainly detestable, but it’s also clear that his critique of American culture was in many ways legitimate, as was his fear of the exportation of such values.

  • and I realize Iran=/=Arab. Arabs still frequently cite the Mossadeq coup as an example of Western meddling in the Middle East.

  • “I think Arabs/Muslims are wary of democracy as it is articulated in the modern West because it has become, unfortunately, conflated with liberalism of the Enlightenment variety.”

    I doubt if that argument has any currency outside of a small group of Arab intellectuals, considering the popularity of variants of fascism, communism, socialism and other authoritarian isms throughout the Arab world. Arab nationalism itself is a hot house import from the Enlightenment. I rather suspect that Arab antipathy to democracy has far more to do with the Arab world having almost no experience with the concept of a loyal opposition. As was said about the Tsars could be said about most Arab polities throughout history: despotism tempered by assassination. As for resentment of the West, it is as I indicated a handy excuse, and we are of course infidels in their eyes. The Arabs have dealt poorly with modernity, and seem to specialize in copying our vices and ignoring our virtues. Crashing demographics throughout the Arab world will give the Arabs yet another challenge they are ill-adapted to deal with.

  • Hi Donald,

    “As for resentment of the West, it is as I indicated a handy excuse, and we are of course infidels in their eyes.”

    I am not sure what you’re saying here. Are you literally saying that Western engagements in the ME, be they economic, military, cultural, or political, and the negative consequences they have induced have played NO role in the radicalization of Islam over the past century, and are simply “excuses?”

    Most Muslims consider us infidels in the same way that Catholics consider Protestants to be heretics–with indifference.

    “The Arabs have dealt poorly with modernity,”

    As certainly have we, but in a different way and, perhaps, to a worse extent. Let’s not forget what country murders 1.2 of its most innocent civilians a year, is on the brink of eliminating religion from the public square, and is the pornography capital of the world.

  • “I am not sure what you’re saying here. Are you literally saying that Western engagements in the ME, be they economic, military, cultural, or political, and the negative consequences they have induced have played NO role in the radicalization of Islam over the past century, and are simply “excuses?””

    The Arabs have hated the West since the time of Mohammed. They would hate the West if there had been no involvement by the West in the Middle East. A good example of what I am talking about is the Crusades, something that now bulks large in the Arab grievance list, but was largely forgotten in the Arab world until it became a handy stick to raise against Westerners. Bernard Lewis in his many tomes is quite convincing on the use by Arab leaders of the West as a convenient scapegoat for failures of the states they run. The Arabs only need to look in the mirror to find the cause of most of their problems, but such an examination is far harder than blaming the West and the Jews.

    “Most Muslims consider us infidels in the same way that Catholics consider Protestants to be heretics–with indifference.”

    If that were only true, or perhaps I have missed Catholic mobs howling for the blood of Protestants?

    “As certainly have we, but in a different way and, perhaps, to a worse extent. Let’s not forget what country murders 1.2 of its most innocent civilians a year, is on the brink of eliminating religion from the public square, and is the pornography capital of the world.”

    One will never confuse the West with Utopia, although we possess the freedom to critique our societies and to take political action to correct evils. Would that one could say the same about the despotisms that largely make up the Arab world. In regard to modernity one has only to examine the grinding poverty of most Arab states, along with their backwardness in regard to science and industry, not to mention their appalling records on human rights, and the fact that they almost always have hostile relations with any non-Arab states luckless enough to share a border with them, to see that the Arab world and modernity are not even on speaking terms.

  • “The Arabs have hated the West since the time of Mohammed. They would hate the West if there had been no involvement by the West in the Middle East.”

    You are either ignoring my question or I did not ask it properly. Hating someone in a detached and abstract way is one thing, but devoting your life to killing someone you hate is something entirely different. Do you deny that Western meddling in the Middle East has played a more than insignificant role in the radicalization and mobilization of Islamic terrorists? If you do, then how do you explain the fact that these types of groups (completely and utterly distinct from imperialistic or militaristic ventures) were practically non-existent prior to the past century?

    “If that were only true, or perhaps I have missed Catholic mobs howling for the blood of Protestants?”

    Oh, we’ve certainly had our fair share of that over the years. If anything, the fact that we don’t in a world of fallen men is perhaps a testament to the fact that religion isn’t taken seriously in most Western countries. Certainly not something worth fighting over.

    And by saying “if that were only true,” are you actually challenging my assertion that most Muslims don’t hate the West in a way that manifests itself meaningfully? How many Muslims do you know, Donald? How many Muslim countries have you been to?

    “One will never confuse the West with Utopia, although we possess the freedom to critique our societies and to take political action to correct evils. Would that one could say the same about the despotisms that largely make up the Arab world. In regard to modernity one has only to examine the grinding poverty of most Arab states, along with their backwardness in regard to science and industry, not to mention their appalling records on human rights, and the fact that they almost always have hostile relations with any non-Arab states luckless enough to share a border with them, to see that the Arab world and modernity are not even on speaking terms.”

    I do not condone any number of Muslim customs and practices that I find oppressive and unjust. However, there’s something to be said for resisting the temptations of pleasure and wealth that modernity offers for the sake of preserving the integrity of tradition and religious observance. If only the West had had a similar approach to modernity.

  • Donald McClarey: I read or saw what I posted. After seeing Lawrence of Arabia a half century ago, I have carried this with me and am glad to be relieved of my misinformation. T. E. Lawrence was truly a greater man than I believed him to be, in avoiding the injury to other human beings.

  • “Do you deny that Western meddling in the Middle East has played a more than insignificant role in the radicalization and mobilization of Islamic terrorists? If you do, then how do you explain the fact that these types of groups (completely and utterly distinct from imperialistic or militaristic ventures) were practically non-existent prior to the past century?”

    Yes I do think Western involvement in the Middle East is fairly insignificant in regard to Arab hatred of Westerners. In the nineteenth century the Arabs were a subject people ruled mostly by the Turks, except for the Brits in Egypt. Scapegoating of the West, and the manipulation of traditional Arab hatred of the West, became useful to Arab elites once they were jockeying for political power. The Arab elites did learn from the West the utility of grievance politics, and they have become masters of it, not only with their populations but with gullible Westerners.

    “Oh, we’ve certainly had our fair share of that over the years.”

    Please try not to be deliberately obtuse. There is nothing in Catholic and Protestant relations today to come within shouting distance of the visceral hatred of Christians and Jews that is so easily mobilized throughout the Arab world.

    “are you actually challenging my assertion that most Muslims don’t hate the West in a way that manifests itself meaningfully?”
    Public opinion polls in those nations normally reveal a fairly broad animosity to the West. Political groups manifesting a hostility to the West normally do quite well in what passes for elections in that part of the world.

    “How many Muslims do you know, Donald? How many Muslim countries have you been to?”

    Five personal acquaintances and zero countries traveled to, although I keep pretty close tabs on developments throughout the Arab world and I have read a great deal of the history of the groups that make up the Arab states today.

    “However, there’s something to be said for resisting the temptations of pleasure and wealth that modernity offers for the sake of preserving the integrity of tradition and religious observance.”

    If that was what was going on in the Arab world you might have a point. However, the Arab world for generations has been the home of a particularly virulent and degrading form of pornography, pederasty has traditionally been common throughout the Middle East, the Islamic prohibition against alcohol is routinely violated, and where the Arabs have money they seem to be eager to copy the vices of the West.

  • “Yes I do think Western involvement in the Middle East is fairly insignificant in regard to Arab hatred of Westerners.”

    Donald, that wasn’t the question, and now I am honestly beginning to believe that you are avoiding it on purpose. I am not asking about the source of “hate,” I am specifically limiting this discussion to the emergence of such groups as Al-Qaeda, such figures as Sayyid Qutb and Osama bin Laden, and such tactics as terrorism and suicide bombings. I repeat: Do you deny that Western meddling in the Middle East has played a more than insignificant role in the radicalization and mobilization of Islamic terrorists? If you do, then how do you explain the fact that these types of groups (completely and utterly distinct from imperialistic or militaristic ventures) were practically non-existent prior to the past century?”

    “The Arab elites did learn from the West the utility of grievance politics, and they have become masters of it, not only with their populations but with gullible Westerners.”

    What a truly bizarre conflation you make! How have you gone from terrorist groups to Arab elites, as if they’re the same thing? I’m not even sure how to address this…

    “Please try not to be deliberately obtuse. There is nothing in Catholic and Protestant relations today to come within shouting distance of the visceral hatred of Christians and Jews that is so easily mobilized throughout the Arab world.”

    I said over the years, Donald. That implies over the course of time. You know, centuries of religious wars, the Troubles, ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, etc.

    “Public opinion polls in those nations normally reveal a fairly broad animosity to the West. Political groups manifesting a hostility to the West normally do quite well in what passes for elections in that part of the world.”

    If you flipped those same questions and asked them of Americans about the Middle East you’d probably get similar percentages. I guess that means most Americans hate Middle Easterners. And last time I watched a GOP primary debate, mentioning your plans to drop bombs on any number of countries in that part of the world earned you a pretty raucous applause.

    Your last line was the best, considering several of the ME’s most ruthless dictators and suppressors of the political process were propped up unabashedly by the US, Mubarak in particular.

    “Five personal acquaintances and zero countries traveled to, although I keep pretty close tabs on developments throughout the Arab world and I have read a great deal of the history of the groups that make up the Arab states today.”

    I’m not holding it against you, but that’s a small sample size. Anecdotal evidence is somewhat overrated, but I will share mine. I have lived and traveled extensively in the Middle East. I never encountered any manifestation of hate, at least not the kind that would cause someone to lay down his life and blow me up (the most heated exchange occurred at a McDonalds when some Egyptian teens were egging me and my friends on as the US lost to Ghana in the 2010 World Cup). Aside from the tourist trap merchants that resort to all types of deception, my experience with Arabs was that they are a hospitable and kind bunch. In fact, the Syrians of Aleppo stuck out in my mind as particularly open and inviting.

    Donald, the fact is that people are people. I imagine that many Middle Easterners do talk hatefully of the West in their coffee shops and at their dinner tables, much as Americans do of the Muslim world and many of the comboxers of this site do about our president. However, I can also say that it is patently absurd to suggest that anything but a tiny fraction of these people are motivated by this animosity to do something like throw away their lives and crash a plane into a building.

    “If that was what was going on in the Arab world you might have a point. However, the Arab world for generations has been the home of a particularly virulent and degrading form of pornography, pederasty has traditionally been common throughout the Middle East, the Islamic prohibition against alcohol is routinely violated, and where the Arabs have money they seem to be eager to copy the vices of the West.”

    No, I think it accurately conveys exactly why the Middle East is doing its strange and sloppy two-step with modernity.

  • Much of the resentment of the Arabs as a civilisation is driven by their realisation that they cannot match the material achievements of the West. Other civilisations which encountered the West, the Indians, the Chinese do not harbour the same levels of resentment as they like the Japanese have been able to climb the ladder of material progress. It has little to do with the alledged spirituality of the East. Pacific Islanders do not care to challenge the West in the domain of material progress and may therefore lead a bucolic life, but for the Arab ideologues of the measure has always been military strength which requires a technical base, in which they’ve had no success for hundreds of years now. The Arabs should spend some time to reflect that had it not been for the advances in health and agriculture pioneered in the West and brought to them by the same empire buiilders and adventurers, with the best of intentions, perhaps half of us alive today would not be around. Having said this I have to say that Arabs I knew were invariably hospitable and courteous.

    Just like the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Travels in Arabia Deserta by Charles Doughty is a rousing read and is supposed to be a model for its writing.

  • “Much of the resentment of the Arabs as a civilisation is driven by their realisation that they cannot match the material achievements of the West. ”

    This is an interesting theory, but, again, it fails to address what I have been asking. Namely if Arabs have resented the West since the time of the Crusades, why have we only seen the type of radicalism by non-state actors, embodied by a group like AQ, over the past century? Continuing to rely on the simplistic slogan that they simply “hate us” is really disconnected from a pretty evident relationship of causes and effects.

    Furthermore, although I don’t know if you were attempting to apply your theory to the explanation of the motives of Islamist terrorists, the case is actually the opposite. These factions hate the west not because of any jealousy of our material might, but because they are resentful that Western materialism has been forced upon them. Sayyid Qutb is considered by many to be the inspiration of AQ and his thoughts are a clear indication of this. In particular, an extended trip to the US in the 50′s shaped his views on the decadence of Western culture, and gave rise to the notion that Islamists should not only attack “the near enemy” (faux-Islamic governments in the ME), but the “far enemy” as well.

    “Should I travel to America, and become flimsy, and ordinary, like those who are satisfied with idle talk and sleep. Or should I distinguish myself with values and spirit. Is there other than Islam that I should be steadfast to in its character and hold on to its instructions, in this life amidst deviant chaos, and the endless means of satisfying animalistic desires, pleasures, and awful sins? I wanted to be the latter man.”

    “The American girl is well acquainted with her body’s seductive capacity. She knows it lies in the face, and in expressive eyes, and thirsty lips. She knows seductiveness lies in the round breasts, the full buttocks, and in the shapely thighs, sleek legs—and she shows all this and does not hide it.”

    “Qutb concluded that major aspects of American life were primitive and “shocking”, a people who were “numb to faith in religion, faith in art, and faith in spiritual values altogether”. His experience in the U.S. is believed to have formed in part the impetus for his rejection of Western values and his move towards Islamism upon returning to Egypt.”

    I don’t understand why people who claim to be interested in history and have a desire to understand the motives of historical actors don’t just bother to look up the books that these people write or the statements that they issue. The cause of the rise of radical Islamist terrorism directed at the West is pretty clearly articulated.

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