A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Obligatory Titanic Centennial Post: the Arab Passengers on the Titanic

Unless you have spent the past week or two in a monastic cell, you are no doubt aware that this weekend marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of RMS Titanic. The loss of the world's largest liner on its maiden voyage, the "unsinkable" ship sinking quickly, the loss of some of the richest men of the gilded age, occurring as it did on the eve of a war that was to shatter that age forever, has fascinated people for a century. Unsurprisingly, even without the 3-D re-release of the movie, the media is filled with Titanic memorabilia.

And, since one rule of journalism is always "look for the local angle," the Middle Eastern press is reminding us of the Arab passengers aboard the Titanic, who tend to fade into the background in most accounts, but were definitely present.

It's even briefly in the movie, the mother calling "Yalla, yalla" in Arabic to hurry the children as the father seeks an escape route:

The exact numbers are trickier. All but one of the Middle Eastern passengers carried Ottoman documents indicating they came from "Syria," which then would have included modern Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel; the names were recorded haphazardly. There was one Lebanese in the crew. The one non-"Syrian" was an Egyptian. But the "Syrians," of whom many can be identified as Lebanese, numbered anywhere from 80 to 145 depending on who's counting, and constituted perhaps 20% of the third class passengers. One article suggests the Arabs were the fifth largest nationality aboard after British, American, Irish and Swedes, but its estimate is also lower than some.

There's actually quite a lot out there on the subject, but two English-language articles that go into some detail for the centennial are a three-part report from Al-Arabiya (Part I; Part II; Part III), which primarily focuses on the Lebanese and notes that several villages lost multiple citizens (Kafr Mishki lost 13 dead, Hardine 11, and so on); it also contains one list of dead and survivors. The other report, in The National, mostly focuses on the research of Palestinian-American journalist/writer Ray Hanania, but also offers more discussion of what the real total may have been.

The third part of the Al-Arabiya report also discusses the one Egyptian aboard, Hammad Hassab, who escaped in Lifeboat 3 and may appear in a photo taken of the lifeboat, reproduced with the article.

No comments: