Sunday, June 18, 2017

Gertrude Bell

Meanwhile I went to see Letters from Baghdad, but was disappointed. It was very informative, and had some moments of witty comments, but it felt slow and episodic. Gertrude Bell felt somewhat remote to me. I thought it could use a narrator to string the series of events together and fill in background on her life. Sort of like the narrator of a Ken Burns documentary.

Still the creation of Iraq was fascinating, with Bell literally drawing the border lines on the map. They mentioned the Sykes-Picot agreement to divide the Ottoman Empire for Europeans, and how Gertrude advocated for a genuine Arab state run by natives. The British eventually installed Faisal as king (even though he was from Syria) and Sir Percy Cox put the Sunni minority in control of the Shiite majority. Lots of decisions got made, but the documentary didn't really explain the impact. I guess they wanted to talk more about Bell's biography than politics, once she moved on to establishing the Baghdad Archaeological Museum rather than helping the Iraqi government.

The documentary was too superficial, I guess, avoiding topics like Bell opposing the Zionist movement, according to Wikipedia, and other Middle Eastern topics. Yeah, I guess the history there is too complicated to cover in a movie, but to gloss over any controversies seems to distort the picture. If I want more depth, I guess I'll have to look elsewhere.

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