With the Persian Expedition

Source: Major M.H. Donohoe, With the Persian Expedition (London: E. Arnold, 1919), pp. 26-27

Text: The cinema also exercised a great influence on the native mind. Never quite understanding its working, he accepted it all philosophically as part of the travelling outfit of that strange race of infidels from far away who had chased the Turks from the shores of the Arabian Sea, who seemed to be able to make themselves into birds at will, and who rushed over the roadless desert in snorting horseless carriages. Men such as these were capable of anything, and when the first cinema film arrived, the Arabs filled to overflowing the ramshackle building which served as a theatre. In Basra I often went to the cinema, not so much for the show itself as to catch the joy with which that primitive child of nature, the Arab, followed the mishaps and triumphs of the hero through three reels. How they were moved to tears by his sufferings! And how they shouted with joy when the villain of the piece was hoist by his own petard and his career of rascality abruptly and fittingly terminated!”

One thing, I found on talking to some of these native onlookers, puzzled their minds exceedingly, and that was the morals and manners of European women as shown on the screen. The Arab is a fervent stickler for the conventionalities, and it was a great shock to his religious scruples to see women promenading in low-necked dresses with uncovered faces, frequenting restaurants with strange men not their husbands, and imbibing strong drink. “The devil must be kept busy in Faringistan raking all these shameless creatures into the bottomless pit!” said one Arab to me, when I asked him what he thought of the cinema. It was useless to seek to explain that cinema scenes did not represent the real life of the Englishman or the American, and that all our women do not earn thier [sic] living as cinema artists.

In Basra I never saw a Mohammedan woman frequenting a cinema performance. Even had she won over her husband’s consent to such an innovation, public opinion would veto her presence there, and she would not be permitted to look upon this devil’s machine illustrating foreign “wickedness.”

Comments: Martin Henry Donohoe (1869-?) was a major in the British army Intelligence Corps and prior to that a special correspondent for the Daily Chronicle newspaper. The Persian expedition described in his book was an Allied military force named Dunsterforce (after its leader General Lionel Dunsterville), formed in December 1917 and made up of Australian, New Zealand, British and Canadian troops. It played a part in the latter stages of the First World War conflict in Persia (Iran) against the forces of the Ottoman Empire. Donohoe travelled to Iran by way of Basra (now in Iraq), which had been part of the Ottoman Empire but which was now occupied by the British.

Links: Copy at the Internet Archive

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