The Terrible Jewish Irony at the Heart of “Chariots of Fire”

March 1 2021

The film Chariots of Fire, released 40 years ago this month, tells the story of two real-life British athletes, Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, with Olympic aspirations. Abrahams—a Jew—faces often subtle but ever-present anti-Semitism, while Liddell—a devout Protestant—faces disapproval for his ultimate decision not to run on the Christian Sabbath. Meir Soloveichik comments on the movie, and the story behind it:

In the film, Abrahams’s response to anti-Semitism is not Jewish pride but assimilation. . . . When he is confronted at Cambridge by anti-Semitic dons who accuse him of interest only in his own glory, Abrahams indignantly insists: “I am a Cambridge man first and last, I am an Englishman first and last; what I have achieved, and what I intend to achieve, is for my family, for my university, and for my country.”

All this accords with the real life of Harold Abrahams. . . . In the 1920s, the precise moment in which the film is set, Abrahams wrote an article in an Anglo-Jewish publication encouraging English Jews to ignore Jewish Sabbath restrictions in order to compete.

Though Abrahams ultimately took in two Jewish refugee children during the war, he is remembered today as one of the most prominent British voices against a boycott of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Despite pleas in Anglo-Jewry, Abrahams, whose concern was whether it was “ultimately in the best interest of world sport” to withdraw, served as a British broadcaster at Hitler’s games.

Here, then, is a terrible irony. Chariots of Fire . . . is a tale not only of one Jewish runner but of Jews throughout our age who ran away from who they were. . . . Jews watching the film today must draw spiritual inspiration from the Christian Liddell rather than Harold Abrahams.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Commentary

More about: 1936 Olympics, Anti-Semitism, British Jewry, Film, Sabbath

How the Death of Mahsa Amini Changed Iran—and Its Western Apologists

Sept. 28 2022

On September 16, a twenty-two-year-old named Mahsa Amini was arrested by the Iranian morality police for improperly wearing a hijab. Her death in custody three days later, evidently after being severely beaten, sparked waves of intense protests throughout the country. Since then, the Iranian authorities have killed dozens more in trying to quell the unrest. Nervana Mahmoud comments on how Amini’s death has been felt inside and outside of the Islamic Republic:

[I]n Western countries, the glamorizing of the hijab has been going on for decades. Even Playboy magazine published an article about the first “hijabi” news anchor in American TV history. Meanwhile, questioning the hijab’s authenticity and enforcement has been framed as “Islamophobia.” . . . But the death of Mahsa Amini has changed everything.

Commentators who downplayed the impact of enforced hijab have changed their tune. [Last week], CNN’s Christiane Amanpour declined an interview with the Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi, and the Biden administration imposed sanctions on Iran’s notorious morality police and senior officials for the violence carried out against protesters and for the death of Mahsa Amini.

The visual impact of the scenes in Iran has extended to the Arab world too. Arabic media outlets have felt the winds of change. The death of Mahsa Amini and the resulting protests in Iran are now top headlines, with Arab audiences watching daily as Iranian women from all age groups remove their hijabs and challenge the regime policy.

Iranian women are making history. They are teaching the world—including the Muslim world—about the glaring difference between opting to wear the hijab and being forced to wear it, whether by law or due to social pressure and mental bullying. Finally, non-hijabi women are not afraid to defy, proudly, their Islamist oppressors.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Nervana

More about: Arab World, Iran, Women in Islam