MY MIDDLE EAST Part Two: T E Lawrence

“Yet I cannot put down my acquiescence in the Arab fraud to weakness of character or native hypocrisy: though of course I must have had some tendency, some aptitude, for deceit, or I would not have deceived men so well, and persisted two years in bringing to success a deceit which others had framed and set afoot.  I had no concern with the Arab revolt in the beginning.  In the end I was responsible for it being an embarrassment to the inventors. Where exactly in the interim my guilt passed from accessory to principal, upon what headings I should be condemned, were not for me to say. Suffice it that since the march to Akaba I bitterly resented my entanglement in the movement, with a bitterness sufficient to corrode my inactive hours, but insufficient to make me cut myself clear of it. Hence the wobbling of my will, and endless, vapid complainings.”

From TE Lawrence’s “The Seven Pillars Of Wisdom”, Chapter C.
When one is dubious as to which historian to trust, it may be helpful to listen to those who experienced day to day events. TE Lawrence was ideally placed between the Arabs in the middle east, circa 1916 – 1918, and the British government who were glad of the help of the Arabs in overthrowing the Turks of the Ottoman Empire, who occupied such places as Palestine, Syria, and parts of Arabia at the time, and who were allied with Germany in World War 1.
Lawrence knew, and liaised between, the leaders of both the British and the Arab command. And, clearly, from the above extract, he also knew, before the end of the war, that the promise made to the Arabs – that they should get Syria for their trouble in helping England against Turkey – was not going to be fulfilled.
In seeking a satisfactory explanation in my own mind for the generally termed “Arab – Israeli Conflict” I made myself aware, last year, of what seem to be the broad brush strokes – the difficult to refute facts of the matter, such as the actuality – which is not to say the wisdom of – of the Balfour Declaration, The Paris Peace Talks, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, and Winston Churchill’s ultimate decision to try and honour the earlier promises, in 1922.
It is very clear above that Lawrence was becoming mentally and spiritually scarred by his being caught (Charlie Chaplin – like) in the brutal machinations of the politics of his time. He was caught between a soldiers patriotism and duty to his country; and his admiration for the Arab people he helped to organize into what he thought was a fighting force which would ultimately reward them with their independence.
The psychological make-up of Lawrence makes the reading of his book very interesting, and was probably a strong factor in David Lean and Robert Bolt’s decision to tell the story in film. Initially, “Lawrence of Arabia” does seem to be the study of a complex man against the background of events in the desert. But, after several viewings, I have found ample material within the film to justify the authors’ gleeful claim in their retirement that they “…got away with it!” They in fact told the story of the fraud about which Lawrence speaks above, greatly helped by committed and excellent performances by Alec Guinness, Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Jack Hawkins, Anthony Quinn, and the rarely acknowledged but very important Claude Rains.
In My Middle East therefore, if the Arab people should have been annoyed with anybody at the time, it should not have been the Jewish people. The Jews arrived in the area grateful that a tract of land had been allotted to them by the strong powers of the world during this rare window of opportunity. And the Arabs “…should keep for their own, the territory they conquered from Turkey in the war. The glad news circulated over Syria.”
Judging by Lawrence’s comments, germinated right on the scene, and written up only a few years later, the Arabs should have properly been annoyed with the French and the English governments for the fraud Lawrence speaks about.
“Fortunately, I had early betrayed the treaty’s [Sykes – Picot] existence to Feisal, and had convinced him that his escape was to help the British so much that after peace they would not be able, for shame, to shoot him down in its fulfilment: while, if the Arabs did as I intended, there would be no one-sided talk of shooting. I begged him to trust not in our promises, like his father, but in his own strong performance.”
Another broad brush stroke of history makes it plain that Lawrence’s optimism was misplaced, and honour did not prevail. And so –
“When Feisal had gone, I made to Allenby the last (and also I think the first) request I ever made him for myself – leave to go away. For a while he would  not have it; but I reasoned, reminding him of his year-old promise, and pointing out how much easier this New Law would be if my spur were absent from the people. In the end he agreed; and then at once I knew how much I was sorry.”
A visit to Clouds Hill, Dorset where Lawrence found refuge to write his books, and to try and heal his soul, evokes much of this narrative.
Maybe it is ironic that “Lawrence of Arabia” was shot extensively in Jordan, which did not exist as a country until 1922. But it is land over which Lawrence rode and fought for the Arab people.
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