Article Overview:   How did Iraq and Iran, and the Middle East come to be as they are today?   For those wondering why the Middle East is a puzzle, the movie Lawrence of Arabia is a great historical teacher.   Viewing it is not only entertainment, but a journey toward understanding the massive conflicts the United States faces in reconstructing the desert.


Monday--August 4, 2003—Ground Zero Plus 691
Lawrence of Arabia--A Roadmap To Understanding Terrorism In The Middle East
Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

  GROUND ZER0, New York, N.Y.--Aug. 4, 2003--  In the opening minutes of the classic film, "Lawrence of Arabia," a Bedouin guide bringing T.E. Lawrence to see Arabic Prince Feisal is shot in the head by a rival Serif played by Omar Sharif.  The Bedouin's crime was drinking water from another tribe's well.  Drinking water belonging to another without permission was punishable by death.

Movie synopsis:  Sweeping epic about the real life adventures of T. E. Lawrence, a British major who unified Arab tribes and led them in the fight for independence from the Ottoman Turks in the 1920s

    The scene is momentous, for it serves as an example why the Middle East is a nation of tribes, divided and walled by centuries of conflict, and suggests the legacy of conflict between tribes may take more than America's occupation of the countries of Afghanistan and Iraq to bring even a portion of the Middle East into a state of unity.
    Bookending the opening scene is another startling example of the difficulties America and its allies faces.  It occurs near the end of the movie when the Arabic tribes take over Damascus under British Major Lawrence's leadership.  The newly formed Arab National Council engage in a bitter tribal fight over who is in charge of the electricity and telephones.   Unable to resolve their personal conflicts, the tribes leave Damascus to the British who are technically skilled in keeping the engines of urbanization well oiled.
     Between the opening and ending of the 1962 Academy Award winning film that runs 227 minutes, lies countless pools of blood, sucked up hungrily by the thirst desert.
     Death, it appears, is like swatting flies, as Lawrence of Arabia quickly finds when he must execute the very man he saved from the desert's cruel sun to keep the peace between tribes about to join in the attack on the port of Accaba.   Actor Anthony Quinn, playing a rival tribal leader who is more mercenary than loyalist, tells Lawrence, brilliantly played by Peter O'Toole:  "You gave life, now you take it."

"You gave life, now you take it" -Auda abu Tayi

    It has been a number of years since I've watched the movie, and never have I viewed it with more interest than now, in the wake of the challenges the United States faces not only in Iraq, but as it ventures into West Africa to tackle the bloodshed and violence in Liberia.
     As a westerner, born into a technologically advanced civilization, I take for granted the things of comfort such as running water, electricity, hospitals, police, public safety and the freedom to travel and drink out of water fountains without fear of being shot.
       The land of the desert is harsh, and the people who live in its shifting sands are even more harsh in their hunger to protect their legacies of beliefs.

       In Iraq and Iran, there are great barriers standing between the tribes, some that may be temporarily, or perhaps forever, insurmountable.

Despite its pristine beauty, the land of the desert is harsh, and its people are even harsher in their hunger to protect their legacies of beliefs

       Lawrence of Arabia re-emphasized for me the complexity of the Middle East, and caused me to better appreciate a culture and its rich history I often think I understand.  
       In a tragic message that America and other western nations engaging in the Middle East might wish to deny, even Lawrence of Arabia was unable to assimilate the ways of life.   Peter O'Toole, in a great scene of frustration, pinches his white skin and looks painfully at his close friend, Serif Ali ibn el Kharish, played by Omar Sharif, and cries:  "I cannot change this."

Peter O'Toole earned an Academy Award for his role of  Lawrence of Arabia in the movie

      He bemoans he is white, born English, not Arabic.   At that moment, you know if he could have one wish, it would have been to be born Middle Eastern so he could become truly part of what he was fighting for, and not stand on the outside of the ring looking in.

Colonel T. E. Lawrence led the people of the Arabian peninsula to independence

     It is easy to look at the tribal warriors as Terrorists, seeking to inflict Fear, Intimidation and Complacency upon others for the sheer sake of Terror.   While this might be true of some, there is something deeper that comes out of the film, at least, for me.
      It was the message of brutal violence resulting from generations of brutal life.    Life and death had little difference in the film, evidenced by the tragic loss of two young orphaned companions of Lawrence who died in his service, one sucked down in a hole in the sand, the other killed by Lawrence so the Turks would not torture him after the boy was wounded by a detonator that ripped open his belly.
      Lawrence of Arabia is a look behind the veils of the Middle East.  It shows the Arabs fighting in the 1920's for their independence from the Turkish Ottoman Empire, and reminds us that the struggle for independence has been long and bloody.
      Even though thousands of years are vested in the history of the tribes, little time has been given the people to learn to live as one.
      I thought of the United States and its allies as being a sort of Lawrence of Arabia in the 21st Century.    As Major Lawrence sought to unify the land and bring peace and prosperity to the sand, so is America trying to rally the tribes to act as one.
      But then I thought about the ending of the film, and the scene with the tribes trotting away from the heart of civilization back to their tents and sand, to live a life void of many things we treasure.

Lawrence (O'Toole) was successful in getting the tribal chief Auda (Quinn on the left) and Ali (Omar Sharif on the right) to work together

     I was reminded of the final words of Anthony Quinn, who plays Auda abu Tayi, the mercenary tribal chief.   As Lawrence is sitting defeated in the empty hall where he attempted to get the tribal chiefs to work together in Damascus, Quinn urges him to come with him to the desert, to leave behind the trappings of civilization.
     "This," Quinn says waving at the buildings, "this all means nothing."
     In a way, he is correct.
     We fight to civilize ourselves with conveniences, and become so dependent on them we forget they are our servants and become slaves to them.   When the lights fail we become afraid of the dark.    When noises frighten us we cower.   When our feelings are hurt we cry "victim" and lash out in revenge.

Watching Lawrence of Arabia might help us in our Vigilant understanding of our roles with other nations

     In ways, the desert life was without Terror, for it took constant Courage, Conviction and Right Actions to survive.
      Modern life, at least in the eyes of the tribes, was Terror.   To rely on a light switch or a water spigot, or someone to protect you from harm, all ran in opposition to the beliefs of the tribal chiefs.
        Perhaps, if we all watched Lawrence of Arabia again, and thought of our role with other nations, we might find our quickness to change their way of lives tempered with a reality that they might know more than we about Vigilance.


Aug 3--Burying The Bodies Of Terrorism

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