What an impression Omar Sharif apparently made, in his filmic glory. Schoolgirls liked to play their favorite record — the “Lara Theme” — endlessly, and imagine her (that is to say their) Slavic (Egyptian) lover, the quietly passionate Dr. Zhivago, as played by Omar Sharif. Schoolboys, on the other hand, dreamed of the cheekbones of La Skulastaya, Julie Christie. Adults who already knew that the Slavic Soul was something special, and so unlike that of shallow Westerners, could now become acquainted with, and fall in love with, the Russian countryside. Those special Russian snows, that endless Russian plain through which a choo-choo or kukushka would chug, taking Dr. Zhivago somewhere, somewhere….
Unfortunately, that endless Russian plain, and those special Russian snows, were filmed not outside Moscow, perhaps on the field of Borodino, but rather an hour or so outside Madrid, in the Sierra Nevada. It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that even the indoor scenes, those palaces and apartments all lit by flickering romantic candles or half-light, and the mock-Smolniy, or the mock-Winter Palace (I don’t remember if I even saw the movie and certainly can’t remember the details), may have been filmed in Rome, at Cinecitta.
Deceptive, those film-makers, aren’t they: pulling that wool over our eyes by giving us Phalangist instead of Bolshevik snow to swoon over, and Roman rather than Russian interiors.
What was it that Yeats wrote for that special Dr. Zhivago edition of Variety? Yes, I remember:
“How can I, that girl standing there/My attention fix/On Roman or on Spanish/or on bogus Russian pix?”
There are the mislineations of memory. And I may also have transposed a few words. It has been known to happen.
In any case, in his recent interview, Omar Sharif makes the following statement:
“I lived in America for a long time. Only 10% of all Americans have a passport. In other words, 90% never left America,” said Sharif. “They don’t know anything.”
This remark is not only condescending, but wrong. It is not necessary to have a passport, nor to travel, to discover certain things. The greatest Foreign Minister of 19th century England, Lord Palmerston, never left England.
Nor is it sufficient to have travelled. I know, I have met, I have seen on site, all kinds of Americans, from Junior-Year-Abroad Junior-Leaguers in Paris, at Reid Hall, thinking they are soaking up Paris, to the kind of professors who are on their fourteenth trip to Japan to discuss something — Total Quality Management, Just-in-Time Delivery of Supplies, whatever is the latest HBS fad — but who have never sunk beneath the surface of life.
One has to be well-prepared. One has to be able to make sense of things. John Esposito has been to the Middle East many times. So has Robert Fisk. So what?
Those who haven’t used their passports may, or may not, have learned something, even quite enough, about the nature of Islam. It depends.
Omar Sharif shows, in his dismissal of the knowledge that Americans possess, an unseemly condescension. Does he think that the well-traveled necessarily are more intelligent? Does he think, for example, that the peoples of Western Europe, constantly moving about within Europe and to exotic climes and resorts, have a better grasp of the Middle East, which means a better grasp of the one thing that he, Omar Sharif, does not dare to mention or to label, that is, Islam?
For if people in the Middle East do not understand or support the idea of democracy, it is because the spirit and letter of Islam goes against democracy, for the Muslim is seen not as a citizen, expressing his will at election time, exercising his rights, but as a “slave of Allah” who is used to, who is encouraged in every way to, submit to the authority of Allah, and then to other authorities, those despots who, as long as they are good Muslims, must be obeyed.
This is what Omar Sharif, ne Shalhoub, cannot dare to say. But he can say something that is true. And that is that Bush and others in the Administration were remarkably self-assured, though remarkably ignorant, in their messianic sentimentalism.
That he’s got dead right.