Race and Culture

“Those Desert Loving English”

It’s been my good fortune to know several Middle Eastern over there. And not a one of them were in government or diplomatic service. Some were traders from Beirut, Sunnis who set up shops in the sprouting Turkish malls in Bulgaria. They were constantly being hassled by mafia there, standard protection- extortion rackets. The daughter of the brother of my best friend there married one of those traders, Naji, a young man of about 30.

He was the one who hired a young Christian Arab refugee from Iraq, people that Saddam Hussein had protected, but had to flee after the Shia came to power under Bush. He rubbed my nose in it.

Good kid. I sent them both t-shirts of Allen Iverson, who Asen, the kid on the left, worshipped.

They had a Phoenicia Restaurant in Sofia, all Arab, which we frequented, always as Naji’s guest. Belly-dancing, traditional music, but the best, by far, was the men line dancing, where a man my age who looked a lot like that dead guy Suleimani, would lead, holding a white handkerchief. Memorable music.

I’ve had other encounters with Arabs, including spending the night in a sleeper from Moscow to Ukraine with two students from Palestine who were part of the Intifada, but spent the winter at a USSR technical institute, where foreign students went to be indoctrinated. and were on their way home to rejoin the Intifada. I had to look very official, and keep my mouth shut, and to let my escort do the talking with the train employees, since, if they’d known I was America I would have had to pay $200 instead of the $20 for this 2nd class sleeper.

My escort spoke almost no English, only Russian and French, and I spoke a little French, and one of the Arabs also spoke Russian while the other could speak some English. It was awkward even after the initial awkwardness of them wondering if I was Jewish. When they learned that I wasn’t it was hunky-dory, and the conversation turned to how much they wished they could come to New York and become rich.

They drank all my vodka. And everyone except my escort, Sasha, slept with one eye opened.

My point is, they ain’t all bad, have interesting customs and music, but yes, even among themselves, everyone seems to sleep with one eye open.

About the title, “desert loving English” it’s taken from the film “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), when Lawrence first meets  Prince Faisal, who carried out the Arab Revolt against the Turks during World War I. When thet first met Faisal asked if Lawrence was “one of those desert-loving English”, which means, as a type, the Arabs knew them well.

The Englishman Mike Batt,  who wrote this song, “Ride to Agadir” was one of those desert loving English.  Previously he had scored the soundtrack to “Caravans” a 1978 film about the caravan routes of central Asia and Afghanistan. Super music, average film.

I’m not sure why he wrote “Ride to Agadir”, maybe a film project that fell through. But the lyrics are interesting. Violent, but interesting. It is not about killing Christians, but killing French, which was a subject even French filmmakers of the “Battle of Algiers” couldn’t overlook.

Give it a listen.



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