The Cure’s debut single from 1979, Killing An Arab, finds Robert Smith re-imagining the central scene in Albert Camus’ The Stranger (1942). In the scene he novel’s protagonist, Meursault, half-deranged by the heat of the Algerian sun, murders an Arab for no good reason. Condemned for his honesty about his feelings, Mersault is considered an outsider (or “stranger”) because “he refuses to lie” and “doesn’t play the game”.
Killing An Arab has courted much controversy over the years. When it was included on the singles compilation Standing On A Beach (1986) and the CD / VHS version, Staring At The Sea (1986), it sparked a campaign in the US to control the implications of it’s title. As a result, and after much wrangling with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the album was packaged with a sticker advising of racist language, mistakenly being deemed to be a racist slur against Arabs. Furthermore, the band agreed to adding a message in the credits of the VHS version. The song has continued to spark controversy ever since, including during the Gulf War and after the September 11th terrorist attacks.
“The fact is it’s based on a book that’s set in France and deals with the problems of the Algerians, so it was only geographical reasons why it was an Arab and not anyone else.” – Robert Smith, interview with Chart Attack (2011).
Coupled with an Arabian sounding musical backdrop courtesy of Robert Smith’s guitar lines, Killing An Arab finds The Cure attempting to put Albert Camus’ concept of absurdity within the context of life philosophy which says that, for the most part, all action is inherently meaningless, into song form. Little did they know that it would go on to be misinterpreted so heavily for years to come.