Snippets: Desert Encounter – Knud Holmboe

Desert Encounter describes a trip across the Sahara made in 1930 by Knud Holmboe in an old Chevrolet. In the book he condemns the colonial regimes of North Africa and particularly the Italian colonial government that terrorized the Muslim population in Libya. Desert Encounter was immediately banned in Fascist Italy. Suspicions that Knud Holmboewas murdered by Italian intelligence because of the book’s content have never been verified. (from wikipedia)

Book is available in Arabic and English from here.

So many people who come over here look on the Arabs as animals and treat them accordingly. But what can you expect from people who don’t speak a word of Arabic, and who live under the strange delusion that civilization is culture?

“Salaam aleikum,” he said, in a voice that shook with age. We answered his greeting and asked if he were going to Tuggurt and could we give him a lift? But he just shook his head.
“But why won’t you drive with us?”
“Does it matter whether I arrive five days earlier or later?”
“But no doubt you have something to do in Tuggurt, and would like to arrive early.”
“Here, where there are no human beings, I am alone with Allah; here I can hear my own heart beat. Your machine is strange to me.
He patted the bag he carried across his shoulders.
“Here I have my dates; and I have some bottles of water. That is all I need, and I shall not fall ill till
Allah bends my body towards the ground.”

“Are you happy? “ I asked him.
His face shone. “I am always content. Don’t I learn something everyday from everything that happens? If I am happy and must starve, I thank God that He teaches me to be patient and content with little, and if I am rich and abundance I learn generosity. but through it all I see God’s face shine upon me.”

“Salaam aleikum! You ought to consider yourself very fortunate in being allowed to go. You are the
first who has been permitted to do so.”
“After what I have heard, it would have been quite understandable if you had shot me.”
He shrugged his shoulders.
“Allah alone knows your heart and your mind. I believe that what you have told us is true, but how
do you think one of us would have been treated if he had been captured by the Italians?”
I was silent.
As far as I had observed during the one day I had spent with them, they followed their religion scrupulously. Whatever fate might befall them, it would never occur to them to blame God for what happened. While they were standing at the gallows they would thank God for life they had lived, and
they would calmly endure any sufferings. The men who slept before me were probably poor and
ignorant, they could not read, and could hardly spell their own names, but they were the truest noblemen I have ever met.

“The European race introduces Western civilization in the Orient, and tramples down the culture which already exists. And while civilization and its factories advance the cancerous sores of civilization follow. The native artisan, who no doubt is an artist in his own sphere and who is content with very little, learns to become a materialist. Just like the greater part of the population of Europe, he becomes discontented, degenerate, drinks spirits, and neglects his religion, which hitherto made of him a very valuable human being.”

During the Terror of the French Revolution an average of three people were executed daily in France, which roughly gives twelve hundred a year. During the time I was in Cyrenaica thirty executions took place daily, which means that about twelve thousand Arabs were executed yearly, not counting those killed in the war or the imported Eritrean troops on the Italian side. The land swam in blood.

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