A few days ago while watching the movie, "Lawrence of Arabia," for the first time since its release in the early 1960s; I was struck by the similarities of events in the Middle East in the early 1900s and what is happening today.
In the movie, T.E. Lawrence, a British militarily officer, taking advantage of divisions among various factions of Arabs, help set the stage for the great Britain to become a dominant force in the Middle East. President Bush, taking advantage of similar, self-defeating division among the Arabs, is moving to make the U.S. the dominant force in the Middle East. Why else would this country be building the largest embassy in the world in Iraq? The key difference between Lawrence's efforts and Bush's is that in the four-hour long movie I don't recall ever hearing the words "Islam" or "Muslim." It was all about Arabs. In Bush's case, one practically never hears the word "Arab." It's all about Islam or Muslim.
The goal remains the same, however, people of European descent being the dominant force in the Middle East. General Petraeus represents another aspect of the Lawrence of Arabia syndrome — a White military officer having to lead the "uncivilized" Arabs. Did anyone with half a brain believe that General Petraeus' report was going to differ, in any way, from the policies of the Bush Administration? The press, as negligent as ever, didn't ask the general one very important question: How was it that when he was leader of security training for Iraqi forces, 110,000 of 185,000 AK-47 rifles, 80,000 of 170,000 pistols and thousands of pieces of other military equipment was unaccounted for? Some of this equipment is probably being used to maim and kill soldiers whom he is now sending into battle. Even Lawrence of Arabia never reached that level of incompetence.
Those of us who repeatedly stress the need for more group unity among Black people are often dismissed as day dreaming separatists or delusional followers of Malcolm X by those who insist that it's all about the money, all about individuals looking out for themselves.
One wonders if they have read what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said about the subject in his often-ignored book, "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?" Wrote King: "A second important step that the Negro must take is to work passionately for group identity. This does not mean group isolation or group exclusivity. It means the kind of group consciousness that Negroes need in order to participate more meaningfully at all levels of the life of our nation. Group unity necessarily involves group trust and reconciliation.
One of the most serious effects of the Negro's damaged ego has been his frequent loss of respect for himself and for other Negroes. He ends up with ambivalence toward his own kind. To overcome this tragic conflict, it will be necessary for the Negro to find a new self-image. Only by being reconciled to ourselves will we be able to build upon the resources we already have at our disposal …
This plea for unity is not a call for uniformity. There must always be healthy debate. There will be inevitable differences of opinion. The dilemma that the Negro confronts is so complex and monumental that its solution will of necessity involve a diversified approach. But Negroes can differ and still unite around common goals … This form of group unity can do infinitely more to liberate the Negro than any action of individuals.
We have been oppressed as a group and we must overcome that oppression as a group. Through this form of group unity we can begin a constructive program which will vigorously seek to improve our personal standards. It is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of high maturity, to rise to the level of self-criticism. Through group unity we must convey to one another that our women must be respected, and that life is too precious to be destroyed in a Saturday night brawl, or a gang execution."
These are the words of an action-oriented, thinking leader; they prove that he was much more than "I have a dream."
A. Peter Bailey is the former editor of Blacklash, the publication for Malcolm X's Organization for Afro-American Unity.