The powerful connection with a homeland is a vital force throughout the Middle East. Vincent Canby's 1981 movie review of Lion of the Desert emphasized this by pointing out, "The film is the biggest piece of movie partisanship to come out of the Middle East or North Africa since Otto Preminger's Exodus." In this spirit, maybe the two films should be run as a double feature overseen by the United Nations.
Omar Mukhtar, Lion of the Desert is a film that has, indeed, found its way into the realm of international politics. In 2009, its chief funder Muammar Gaddafi made a very public visit to Rome to sign an oil deal with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. He brought Mukhtar's elderly son with him, and as he met Berlusconi he wore on the chest of his uniform the photo of Omar Mukhtar taken just before his hanging in 1931. The film that had been banned in Italy as an offense to the Italian military was given a gala public showing, and the oil-hungry Berlusconi publicly apologized for Italian abuses in Libya.
But detente between Gaddafi and the west was short-lived. Mukhtar's name and image were taken up by Gaddafi's bitter enemies in Libya. An Omar Mukhtar Brigade was formed. Gaddafi may have once shared something of the spirit of the simple and honorable Mukhtar, but he had now become just another megalomaniacal tyrant -- an international clown whose legacy ended badly.
The saddest part of the film's story was the 2005 death of director Akkad and his daughter from a suicide bombing in an Amman hotel, where they were attending a Palestinian wedding. The bombing was undertaken by people associated with the Jordanian-born insurgent Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was either a "terrorist" or a "freedom fighter" opposed to the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, a cruel and disastrous imperial adventure if there ever was one.
Akkad, a man whose passion was to make art as a bridge between his religion and the region of his birth on one side and his adopted home in the United States on the other, was not a target of the bombing. He was collateral damage.