History Podcasts

T.E. Lawrence reports on Arab affairs

T.E. Lawrence reports on Arab affairs

On November 26, 1916, Thomas Edward Lawrence, a junior member of the British government’s Arab Bureau during World War I, publishes a detailed report analyzing the revolt led by the Arab leader Sherif Hussein against the Ottoman Empire in the late spring of 1916.

As a scholar and archaeologist, the future “Lawrence of Arabia” traveled extensively in Syria, Palestine, Egypt and parts of Turkey before beginning working formally with the British government’s bureau on Arab affairs in 1916. At the time, the Arab Bureau was working to encourage a revolt by the Muslim and Arabic-speaking population of the Ottoman Empire in order to aid the Allied war effort. The leader of the planned revolt would be Sherif Hussein ibn Ali, ruler of the Hejaz, the region in modern-day Saudi Arabia containing the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

Hoping to remain neutral and collect bribes from both sides, Hussein remained undecided in the war until April 1916, when he learned Ottoman leaders were sending a German-Turkish force to depose him. Wanting to strike first, Hussein declared a revolt in the Hejaz sometime between June 5 and 10, seeking the protection of the British Royal Navy along the coast of the Hejaz.

Around that same time, at Lawrence’s suggestion, the Arab Bureau published its first informational bulletin, featuring the observations and insights of the hopeful British organizers and backers of Hussein’s revolt. It soon became clear, as documented by the Arab Bulletin, that the British considered Hussein’s revolt to be a dismal failure. In his report of November 26, 1916, Lawrence gave his analysis of the situation: “I think one company of Turks, properly entrenched in open country, would defeat the Sherif’s armies. The value of the tribes is defensive only, and their real sphere is guerrilla warfare…[they are] too individualistic to endure commands, or fight in line, or help each other. It would, I think, be impossible to make an organized force out of them.”

Despite his derisive view of Hussein’s troops, Lawrence made clear his admiration for the sherif himself, as well as for his three elder sons, Ali, Feisal and Abdullah, praising them as “heroes.” He became close to Feisal in particular, and by early December 1916 he had joined Arab troops in the field, where he spent the rest of the war attempting, with varying degrees of success, to organize the disparate tribesmen into fighting units that would pose a real threat to the Ottoman enemy.

At the post-war peace conference in Paris in 1919, the victorious Allies failed to grant full independence to the various Arab peoples, instead placing them under British and French control according to the mandate system imposed by the Treaty of Versailles. While his son, Feisal, was crowned king of the new state of Iraq, Hussein himself ended up losing control of Mecca and the Hejaz to the rival Saudi clan in the 1920s. Meanwhile, T.E. Lawrence–who had accompanied Feisal Hussein’s Arab delegation to Versailles–resigned from his post in Britain’s colonial office in the Middle East, disgusted by the Allies’ failure to fulfill their promise of Arab independence. He lived much of the rest of his life in obscurity, dying in a motorcycle accident in 1935.

T. E. Lawrence

Is the Arabic epithet, El-Orens, merely a mispronunciation of "Lawrence" or does it have a meaning in the Arabic language?

Comment by St. John Armitage

Lawrence's name has no Arabic meaning.

As Lawrence himself wrote, he was addressed as "Auruns", "Aurans", "Runs" and "Lurens". The use of different vowels and diphthongs are merely transliterations to help convey what was heard. The sound of the consonants would not differ, but in cases where the "l" is omitted would likely be due to an Arab's hearing - and use - of an unfamiliar western name.

Arab writers simply use "lurans" or /"laurans" (the consonants of both words remain the same) not the Arabic equivalent of El-Orans or El-Lorans.

Those versions of his spoken name almost certainly stem from westerners' unfamiliarity with the sound of the Arabic. From hearing "ya laurans" - Oh! Lawrence" - as "yal-orans". Even plain "laurans" might have seemed to have been pronounced with a faint prosthetic "e" - "elorans". Such distinctions could be better explained by voice mail.

A more accurate transcription of their hearing of his spoken name would be eLorens, the e being an almost indiscernible prosthetic.

Comment by JR, an Israeli subscriber

I would like to add to St. John Armitage's explanation that the prefix Al or El in Arabic means 'the'. When the Arabs hear Al or El or L, they assume that it is not an integral part of the word or the name. Thus, when the Arabs encountered the name Alexander they assumed that it is actually Al-Eksander and dropped the Al. Alexander later was naturalized in Arabic in the from of Iskandar. Many of you will recognize the Al in words of Arabic origin such as Algebra, Almanac, Alcohol, Alchemy and Admiral which is a twisted version of Amir Al Bahr (the command of the sea) or even Arsenal which comes from the Arabic Dar Al-Sinaah (the house of industry).

So Arabs who heard the name Lawrence took it for "Orens" with the Al prefix.

Comment by St. John Armitage

JR has further explained how Arabs might have dropped the L/el/al to address Lawrence as Orens or "Aurans" as Lawrence himself noted. However, whereas Al-exander has been arabicised as Iskandar, Lawrence has not been arabicised only transliterated - without prefix or prosthetic - as Lurans/Laurans (depending on vowel or dipthong used).

But all these linguistic interpretations only touch on how El-Orens could have been used orally rather than how or when that form was adopted. I think it was first used in one of the popular fiction accounts, but not one of the better known. Gurney Slade, for instance, used "Lorens", the Korda screenplay "El Lurens", the Lean screenplay "Au-rens". There is no evidence of Arab usage in speech or literature.

Comment by Jeremy Wilson

I half remember that Lawrence told someone how the Arabs addressed him, and we may also have records in the memoirs of contemporaries (? Young, Rolls, Stirling, Kirkbride, Auda's son on TV?). I don't have time right now to check these things, but if someone can recall them please post.

Comment by Harold Orlans, USA

". over the local cries and the shrilling of women came the measured roar of men's voices, chanting, 'Feisal, Nasir, Shukri, Urens', in waves. "

Seven Pillars, 1935 text, 1.xi.18, p. 668

Comment by Jeremy Wilson

Yes indeed, that occurred to me last night, as did another instance in SP when Lawrence reports a message from another area asking them to 'Send us an Urens' - or words to that effect. No time to search for it now. Given the wild variations of spelling of Arabic words in Seven Pillars, 'Urens' could probably also have been 'Orens' or 'Aurens'.

T. E. Lawrence chronology

1888 16 August: born at Tremadoc, Wales

1896-1907: City of Oxford High School for Boys

1907-9: Jesus College, Oxford, B.A., 1st Class Hons, 1909

1910-14: Magdalen College, Oxford (Senior Demy), while working at the British Museum's excavations at Carchemish

1915-16: Military Intelligence Dept, Cairo

1916-18: Liaison Officer with the Arab Revolt

1919: Attended the Paris Peace Conference

1919-22: wrote Seven Pillars of Wisdom

1921-2: Adviser on Arab Affairs to Winston Churchill at the Colonial Office

1922 August: Enlisted in the Ranks of the RAF

1923 January: discharged from the RAF

1923 March: enlisted in the Tank Corps

1923: translated a French novel, The Forest Giant

1924-6: prepared the subscribers' abridgement of Seven Pillars of Wisdom

1927-8: stationed at Karachi, then Miranshah

1927 March: Revolt in the Desert, an abridgement of Seven Pillars, published

1928: completed The Mint, began translating Homer's Odyssey

1929-33: stationed at Plymouth

1931: started working on RAF boats

1932: his translation of the Odyssey published

1933-5: attached to MAEE, Felixstowe

1935 February: retired from the RAF

1935 19 May: died from injuries received in a motor-cycle crash on 13 May

1935 21 May: buried at Moreton, Dorset

This T. E. Lawrence Studies website is edited and maintained by Jeremy Wilson. Its content draws on the research archive formed through work on Lawrence of Arabia, The Authorised Biography and the ongoing Castle Hill Press edition of T. E. Lawrence's writings. Expenses maintaining the site are funded by Castle Hill Press. The site has no connection with any other organisation.

T. E. Lawrence

Under date April 26, Captain Lawrence sends the following notes on miscellaneous topics. They were collected by him during his sojourn with Abdullah in Wadi Ais.

Antecedents of the Hejaz Revolt

Talaat, in 1913, showed great anxiety about the situation in the Hejaz. Its subjugation and the imposition of military service there had been a favourite project. Mahmud Shevket and the Turkish Ministry generally looked upon the situation as disquieting, on account of the great hold Husein Pasha was getting on the people. This was the real reason of Wahib's appointment, and his withdrawal was a personal triumph for Feisal, who secured from Talaat a promise that Wahib would be tried by court-martial for infringing the privileges of the Hejaz.

Sherif Abdullah was regarded as the probable cause of trouble in the Hejaz, and to keep him out of it he was offered first the Wakf Ministry and then the Vilayet of Yemen. He saw the idea, and refused the appointments. Abdullah has a low opinion of Talaat's judgment, and regards him as brutal and ignorant.

The previous plan of Sherif Abdullah to secure the independence of Hejaz (as a preliminary to the formation of an Arab State) was to lay sudden hands on the pilgrims at Mecca during the great feast. He calculated that the foreign governments concerned (England, France, Italy, and Holland) would bring pressure on the Porte to secure their release. When the Porte's efforts had failed, these Governments would have had to approach the Sherif direct, and would have found him anxious to do all in his power to meet their wishes, in exchange for a promise of immunity from Turkey in the future. This action had been fixed (provisionally) for 1915, but was quashed by the war.

Abdullah gave the eastern Ateibah (he has little control over them, and they would probably not have come to Hejaz to fight for him, had he asked them) orders to help Ibn Saud against Ibn Rashid. It was partly on account of this that Ibn Rashid declared war on the Sherif. Abdullah doesn't really care at all if they help Ibn Saud or not but the order was an assumption of control over all the Ateibah (which Abdullah pretends to) in a form to which Ibn Saud could hardly object with grace.

The Turks gave decorations to Aida, Towala, and Fagir (Fuqara) Sheikhs. The recipients decided to show their new orders to Sidi Abdullah, but, as they were crossing the line near Toweira, they ran into a Turkish patrol, and the camel carrying their personal baggage was killed and had to be abandoned. The Turks have thus received back their insignia.

The Ateibah believe that Christians wear hats so that the projecting brims may intervene between their eyes and the uncongenial sight of God.

Dakhilallah el-Gadhi, who has had good means of judging, regards the Billi as less than half the strength of the Juheinah, and a little less than the tribes under Ferhan el-Aida. Ferhan (who is with Abdullah) is the son of Motlog Allayda, Doughty's old host. Dakhilallah says that Billi and Huweitat are much fiercer fighters than Wuld Ali or Ateibah. Indeed, I notice a contempt for the Ateibah among the Juheinah, and think that there is a good deal of justification for the feeling.

T. E. Lawrence chronology

1888 16 August: born at Tremadoc, Wales

1896-1907: City of Oxford High School for Boys

1907-9: Jesus College, Oxford, B.A., 1st Class Hons, 1909

1910-14: Magdalen College, Oxford (Senior Demy), while working at the British Museum's excavations at Carchemish

1915-16: Military Intelligence Dept, Cairo

1916-18: Liaison Officer with the Arab Revolt

1919: Attended the Paris Peace Conference

1919-22: wrote Seven Pillars of Wisdom

1921-2: Adviser on Arab Affairs to Winston Churchill at the Colonial Office

1922 August: Enlisted in the Ranks of the RAF

1923 January: discharged from the RAF

1923 March: enlisted in the Tank Corps

1923: translated a French novel, The Forest Giant

1924-6: prepared the subscribers' abridgement of Seven Pillars of Wisdom

1927-8: stationed at Karachi, then Miranshah

1927 March: Revolt in the Desert, an abridgement of Seven Pillars, published

1928: completed The Mint, began translating Homer's Odyssey

1929-33: stationed at Plymouth

1931: started working on RAF boats

1932: his translation of the Odyssey published

1933-5: attached to MAEE, Felixstowe

1935 February: retired from the RAF

1935 19 May: died from injuries received in a motor-cycle crash on 13 May

1935 21 May: buried at Moreton, Dorset

This T. E. Lawrence Studies website is edited and maintained by Jeremy Wilson. Its content draws on the research archive formed through work on Lawrence of Arabia, The Authorised Biography and the ongoing Castle Hill Press edition of T. E. Lawrence's writings. Expenses maintaining the site are funded by Castle Hill Press. The site has no connection with any other organisation.

T. E. Lawrence

The comments below were published as an appendix to the 'Concise Edition' of Lawrence of Arabia, The Authorised Biography (New York, Collier, 1992). They are posted here with further amendments.

Some months after Lawrence of Arabia, The Authorised Biography was published, a new 'controversial' biography of Lawrence appeared: The Golden Warrior, by Lawrence James (London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1990).

An advance press release informed reviewers that James 'provides documentary evidence that Lawrence concocted the story of his homosexual rape and torture at Deraa'.

If true, this discovery would have had great importance, bearing out the accusations of dishonesty made by a succession of controversial biographers since the mid-1950s.

The Golden Warrior duly appeared, and readers found on page 214 the following statement by James: 'It seems absolutely certain that Lawrence fabricated the incident at Dera'.

It turned out, however, that this assertion rested on a single piece of documentary evidence: the service diary of the 10th Motor Section of the Royal Field Artillery, a British unit at Akaba.

According to James, the diary records that on 21 November 1917 (the Seven Pillars date for the Deraa incident) Lawrence and Colonel Joyce were taking part in an armoured car reconnaissance up Wadi Itm, many miles from Deraa.

A closer look at this 'documentary evidence'

The war diary of the 10th Motor Section is crucial to James's case, but he does not reproduce it. What kind of a document is it?

The first page of the diary gives a description of the formation of the unit and its departure from Suez on board the SS Ozarda, which arrived at Akaba, according to the diary, on 21 November 1917.

At the head of the second page of the RFA diary, as was usual, Brodie repeated the last date on the previous sheet. This was 21-11-17, the alleged (but incorrect) date that the unit arrived at Akaba. Written alongside this date there are eight lines of text describing not one, but a whole series of operations, as follows: 'Carried out reconnaissance with Col P. Joyce and Col Lawrence, up Wadi Yetm. Carried out reconnaissance with Major Maynard in Wadi Araba towards Dead Sea. We reached a point five miles S.W. of Ain Gharandel and returned . . . Cars were used for transport of stores and personnel, including Sherif Fasil, to el Guierra, up Wadi Yetm and Maziaa . . . A working party was in Wadi Yetm making a road'.

After this block-entry, the NEXT date given in the diary is more than a month later, '25-12-17 approx', when the RFA section left Akaba bound for Feisal's advance headquarters inland.

Truly contemporary evidence

1. T. E. Lawrence's diaries
The date of the Wadi Itm reconnaissance can be established with certainty by looking at other records that are truly contemporary with the events. Lawrence's pocket diary (now in the British Library) may have been written up in arrears on occasion (because he probably left it for safety at base camp). However, that argument cannot apply at Akaba. It shows that he returned briefly to Akaba from his ill-fated northern expedition on November 26. He spent the nights of 27-29 November there, and the subsequent nights in Wadi Itm and Wadi Hawara. He was back at Akaba on December 3. What had he been doing in the interval? He wrote to his family on December 14 that he had spent 'a few days motoring, prospecting the hills and valleys for a way Eastward for our cars'.

2. The papers of Colonel Joyce, Senior British officer at Akaba
These dates for the reconnaissance do not rest on Lawrence's evidence alone: the absence from Akaba is borne out by the fact that Colonel Joyce, who accompanied him, dispatched no telegrams during that period. Indeed, the regular telegrams sent by Joyce to Cairo and Jidda provide absolute proof that Lawrence had not returned to Akaba by November 21. Lawrence's superiors in Cairo were extremely anxious for news of him, as his expedition northward behind enemy lines had been regarded as little short of suicidal. Clayton had written to Joyce on November 12: 'I am very anxious to get news of Lawrence to hear that he is safe'. If, as James argues, Lawrence had returned to Akaba by November 21, Joyce's daily messages on November 22 and 23 would certainly have mentioned the fact. However, they contain nothing more than a report from Arab sources that Lawrence and Ali ibn Hussein had attacked the railway somewhere between Deraa and Jerusalem. The first definite information Joyce could send was on November 24, after Lieutenant Wood, the Royal Navy officer who had taken part in the northern mission, had returned to Akaba, probably bringing Lawrence's detailed report to Clayton. Joyce's telegram read: 'L[awrence] left at Azrak. Found original objective impossible. On Nov 7 L[awrence] destroyed one train with two engines. Reported considerable casualties to Turks.'

How could James be so wrong?

James's publishers stressed his university education: according to the dust jacket of The Golden Warrior he was 'a founder member of York University, where he read History and English, and subsequently he undertook a research degree at Merton College, Oxford.' Likewise, Phillip Knightley wrote in the Sunday Independent on 19 August 1990: 'Lawrence James is an unlikely iconoclast. He is a historian, educated at York and Oxford, whose previous books have been meticulously researched histories of Imperial Britain'.

But how could any serious historian put forward such evidence as the basis for a damning claim that his subject was a liar? The answer may be given in Phillip Knightley's article:

'James says he was always interested in Lawrence. "I was born in the West Country and over the years I came to know quite a lot of people who'd met him. I started to wonder where the truth lay, and, once I had read enough to realise that Lawrence was the only man this century to have made himself into a legend, I knew that one day I'd have to write a book about him."'

'The key episode in Lawrence's life', Knightley continues, 'that struck James as false was the homosexual rape at Dera . . . "I felt that Lawrence's account did not ring true. But I saw no way of taking the argument any further." Then, ploughing through war diaries and intelligence reports for the period, James hit paydirt. '

Could this mean that, from the outset of his research, James was utterly convinced that Lawrence had invented the episode? If so, did this preconception so blinker his research that, by the time he saw the RFA diary, he was incapable of seeing that his interpretation was incredibly unlikely? That sounds unlikely - but in that case what is the explanation?

An enormous number of operational records from the First World War survive, and it is always rash to base startling conclusions on a single document. A less eccentric interpretation of the diary shows that, despite its initial date error, it is consistent with surviving contemporary records. Far from proving that Lawrence gave a false account of his movements during November 1917, it adds detail to what is known from other sources.

It also draws attention to something else, which James might have spotted if he had been less intent on proving Lawrence's dishonesty. Years later, Lawrence would write that it was in 1917 that he had decided, nebulously, to join the ranks, and that the 'friendly outings with the armoured car and air force fellows were what persuaded me that my best future, if I survived the war, was to enlist'. Might it not be significant that his first contact with British forces after the Deraa episode was an expedition with the armoured car and RFA units from Akaba?

The second page of the RFA War Diary is reproduced in facsimile in J. N. Lockman, Scattered Tracks on the Lawrence Trail (Whitmore Lake, Falcon Books, 1996, p. 59).

Anyone still tempted to believe James's version should note that Michael Asher, a more recent and equally 'controversial' biographer, whose Lawrence, The Uncrowned King of Arabia (London, Viking, 1998) adopts many of James's theories, chose to ignore James's alleged RFA Diary 'evidence'.


1888 16 August: born at Tremadoc, Wales

1896-1907: City of Oxford High School for Boys

1907-9: Jesus College, Oxford, B.A., 1st Class Hons, 1909

1910-14: Magdalen College, Oxford (Senior Demy), while working at the British Museum's excavations at Carchemish

1915-16: Military Intelligence Dept, Cairo

1916-18: Liaison Officer with the Arab Revolt

1919: Attended the Paris Peace Conference

1919-22: wrote Seven Pillars of Wisdom

1921-2: Adviser on Arab Affairs to Winston Churchill at the Colonial Office

1922 August: Enlisted in the Ranks of the RAF

1923 January: discharged from the RAF

1923 March: enlisted in the Tank Corps

1923: translated a French novel, The Forest Giant

1924-6: prepared the subscribers' abridgement of Seven Pillars of Wisdom

1927-8: stationed at Karachi, then Miranshah

1927 March: Revolt in the Desert, an abridgement of Seven Pillars, published

1928: completed The Mint, began translating Homer's Odyssey

1929-33: stationed at Plymouth

1931: started working on RAF boats

1932: his translation of the Odyssey published

1933-5: attached to MAEE, Felixstowe

1935 February: retired from the RAF

1935 19 May: died from injuries received in a motor-cycle crash on 13 May

1935 21 May: buried at Moreton, Dorset

This T. E. Lawrence Studies website is edited and maintained by Jeremy Wilson. Its content draws on the research archive formed through work on Lawrence of Arabia, The Authorised Biography and the ongoing Castle Hill Press edition of T. E. Lawrence's writings. Expenses maintaining the site are funded by Castle Hill Press. The site has no connection with any other organisation.

T.E. Lawrence Foresaw the Middle East’s Problems (But No One Listened)

“The [British] Cabinet raised the Arabs to fight for us by definite promises of self-government afterwards…. It was evident from the beginning that if we won the war these promises would be dead paper, and had I been an honest adviser of the Arabs I would have advised them to go home and not risk their lives fighting for such stuff.”

-T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, 1926

Independence isn’t easy. The United States handled it better than most and our first hundred years still included Britain burning the White House and a Civil War.

Quite simply, Thomas Edward Lawrence could not have ensured the Middle East avoided chaos and bloodshed altogether.

But his insights might have prevented a significant amount of it.

More than a century after he offered his grand vision for the region, this is what Lawrence of Arabia recognized, why it was disregarded, and how it still matters today.

The Middle East in 1914

As had been the case for the previous 400 years or so, the major player in much of the region was the Ottoman Empire, which at the time controlled Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia and a significant portion of the Arabian Peninsula. Yet the Empire no longer stretched into Egypt—much territory had already been lost. By joining Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I, it was ensured the “sick man of Europe” would soon be taken off life support. (The Ottoman Empire officially ceased to be in 1922.)

Yet it still seemed unthinkable that the Arabs could seriously challenge them militarily. And no one could have predicted that one of the key figures in the Arab success would be a tiny, fearless Brit.

“Dropped One Form and Not Taken On the Other”

Born on August 16, 1888 in Wales, Thomas Edward Lawrence’s life began with a lie. His father, Sir Thomas Chapman, had years earlier fallen in love with the governess hired to take care of his daughters. Together, Sir Thomas and Sarah Junner abandoned his family, renamed themselves the Lawrences and moved from Ireland to Great Britain. T.E. did not learn any of this until after his father’s death in 1919. (Soon after, he started his own name changes—he began going by “John Hume Ross” in 1922.) In general, he had an unsettled youth as his parents spent years traveling—incredibly, they had five sons together and each was born in a different country. (His mother outlived both her husband and famous offspring, dying as a missionary in China in 1959.)

1963 Best Picture winner Lawrence of Arabia understandably shapes our vision of Lawrence today.

The film erred in a very basic way, however, by making Lawrence a literally towering figure. Peter O’Toole was 6’2”, but at a time the average man stood 5’9”, Lawrence was only 5𔃿″. (Mumps may have stunted his height.) As if to compensate, Lawrence displayed an outsized physical courage both at war and in civilian life. In particular, he adored speed, which led to his death at 46 after he crashed his motorcycle in 1935. (Lawrence collected bikes guaranteed to exceed 100 miles per hour.)

When World War I began, Lawrence was just 25. The Oxford grad, who had spent years working on an excavation in Syria, was assigned to the British Army in Cairo. In 1916, he became a liaison officer to the Great Arab revolt and was assigned to Prince Faisal. Lawrence embraced the Arab cause, yet recognized in some ways he would never fully connect. He later wrote:

“In my case, the efforts for these years to live in the dress of Arabs, and to imitate their mental foundation, quitted me of my English self, and let me look at the West and its conventions with new eyes: they destroyed it all for me. At the same time I could not sincerely take on the Arab skin: it was an affectation only…I had dropped one form and not taken on the other…”

Lawrence still made significant contributions to the Arabs’ highly effective guerrilla warfare campaign. Take the destruction of the Hejaz Railway, intended to connect the Ottoman Empire by linking Constantinople to Medina on the Arabian Peninsula 1,800 miles away. As Scott Anderson (author of Lawrence in Arabia) wrote in Smithsonian Magazine, “By his count, Lawrence personally blew up 79 bridges along the railway, becoming so adept that he perfected a technique of leaving a bridge ‘scientifically shattered’—ruined but still standing. Turkish crews then faced the time-consuming task of dismantling the wreckage before repairs could begin.”

The triumphs became more and more audacious, notably when they rode hundreds of miles across the desert to attack the port of Aqaba from land instead of sea. (Lawrence elected to keep the mission secret from Britain, only notifying them after the victory.)

Ultimately, the Allies, including Britain, France and the United States, defeated the Axis Powers. And this is when decades of future tensions were formalized.

Winning the War and Losing the Peace

As an incentive to fight, the Arabs had been promised self-government. Lawrence knew, however, that Britain and France had no intention of honoring this vow. He managed to convince himself that somehow things would still work out:

“I salved myself with the hope that, by leading these Arabs madly in the final victory I would establish them, with arms in their hands, in a position so assured (if not dominant) that expediency would counsel to the Great Powers a fair settlement of their claims.”

Lawrence himself presented a proposed map of the Middle East to the British cabinet. Deborah Amos noted on NPR’s All Things Considered that Lawrence “strove to recognize tribal patterns and commercial routes” and tried to take “into account local Arab sensibilities rather than the European colonial considerations that were dominant at the time.”

Ultimately, the British chose a different, particularly colonial method of mapmaking: one literally drawn with a ruler.

Straight Lines for a Crooked World

In 1916, Sir Mark Sykes, operating on Britain’s behalf, and Francois Georges-Picot, France’s representative, drew a new map for the region. Syria and Lebanon would fall under French influence, while Britain took much of Iraq and Palestine.

This was, to put it generously, shortsighted. The Arabs felt betrayed and were understandably embittered. Soon enough Britain and France saw their spheres of influences slip away.

Beyond this, the new national borders ensured future tensions and outright violence, as can be seen by examining the northern region of a place that has received a great deal of American attention in recent decades.

“F—-d Over in a Major Way”

A writer and editor for publications including LIFE and Epicurious, Michael Y. Park traveled throughout Kurdistan in 2012. (His brother had previously served near the region with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.) If you look at a map you won’t see Kurdistan—which lies in northern Iraq and the surrounding region—but you’ll certainly hear about it if you go there.

“People would talk about Kurdistan as opposed to Iraqi Kurdistan or Turkish Kurdistan or Syrian Kurdistan,” Park told RCL. “They talk about Kurdistan as one region.”

Much of Kurdistan is located in Iraq. The people are Kurds, but also Iraqi. How did they view that relationship?

“There was no relationship between Kurdistan and Iraq,” Park said simply.

Military force had kept the Kurdish region a part of Iraq. One of the places Park visited was Halabja, site of a chemical attack by Saddam Hussein on the Kurds: “There’s a big memorial to the victims.” On March 16, 1988, bombs containing mustard gas were dropped, killing as many as 5,000 civilians.

Saddam remained unrepentant to the end. On trial in 2006 for this and other genocidal crimes that killed as many as 180,000 Kurds, he declared: “My message to the Iraqi people is that they should not suffer from the guilt that they killed Kurds.”

The Kurds suffered thousands of deaths in the most depraved manner possible, in large part because two white, European men jammed them into a country with which they otherwise had no real connection. Park summed it up bluntly: “The Brits f—-d everyone over there in a major way.”

These particular atrocities didn’t have to be—Lawrence’s map had called for the Kurds getting their own homeland back in 1918.

Understandably, Lawrence’s reputation among the Arabs suffered when it became clear that his British compatriots wouldn’t keep their promises. Anderson wrote in Smithsonian that Sheik al-Atoun—a modern tribal leader in Jordan whose grandfather had fought alongside Lawrence—saw Lawrence as a man who ultimately served the British interest: “May I speak frankly? Maybe some of the very old ones still believe he was a friend of the Arabs, but almost everyone else, we know the truth. Even my grandfather, before he died, he believed he had been tricked.”

“A Very Strange Fellow”

The remainder of Lawrence’s life was less glorious but equally surprising. He lived a good chunk of it under assumed names and enlisted in the Royal Air Force, the Tank Corps and the RAF again.

His memoir, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, recounted being captured (“There were too many witnesses for fight or flight, so I went readily”), tortured (“As the punishment proceeded the whip fell more and more upon existing weals, biting blacker or more wet”), possibly raped (“The Bey cursed me with horrible threats: and made the man holding me tear my clothes away, bit by bit”) and unquestionably traumatized (“At last when I was completely broken they seemed satisfied”).

Or did it even happen at all? Scholars have long debated whether Lawrence fabricated this attack.

While often seeking an anonymous life—albeit it a dangerous one filled with racing motorcycles at top speed—Lawrence started some high-profile friendships. These included two with men who’d win a Nobel Prize for Literature: Winston Churchill, who employed Lawrence as an advisor on Arab affairs and would go on to achieve immortality for his leadership during World War II, and George Bernard Shaw, the celebrated playwright who won an Oscar for the film adaptation of his play Pygmalion, a work which inspired the musical My Fair Lady.

Upon Lawrence’s 1935 death, Churchill mourned the loss of everything he believed T.E. still had to offer the world: “For all his reiterated renunciations I always felt that he was a man who held himself ready for a new call. While Lawrence lived, one always felt—I certainly felt it strongly—that some overpowering need would draw him from the modest path he chose to tread and set him once again in full action at the center of memorable events.”

While Shaw was also a devoted friend, he was known to describe Lawrence in terms that were less flattering. Recognizing Lawrence’s endless capacity to reinvent himself in unexpected ways—Lawrence actually used the assumed name Thomas Edward Shaw until his death—Shaw called him “a very strange fellow, a born actor and up to all sorts of tricks.”

Both descriptions were accurate. Lawrence himself observed: “All men dream, but not equally.” Lawrence’s unique collection of experiences and characteristics had given him an insight and ambition basically unmatched among Westerners looking at the Middle East. It was the world’s misfortune he failed to find more fellow “dreamers of the day” who “act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”

Messes of the Modern Middle East

Of course, the Kurdistan complications are hardly the only flashpoint in the Middle East. For those not keeping track, current ones include but are by no means limited to:

-Syria’s civil war, which has lasted for seven years and killed hundreds of thousands—it’s nearly impossible even to estimate an accurate casualty count.

-The war in Yemen, which shows no sign of ending, has killed at least 10,000 (potentially 50,000), and has the potential to be the worst human rights catastrophe since World War II.

-Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates reportedly nearly invaded Qatar.

-Iraq continues to suffer violence for a variety of reasons, particularly the tensions between the Sunnis and Shiites. There is some optimism over the recent election of a new president (Barham Salih) and his appointment of a new prime minister (Adel Abdul Mahdi). Yet the basic question remains: How do you unite a nation this deeply fragmented?

Oh, and relations between Israelis and Palestinians—volatile in the best of times—have by all accounts deteriorated.

If you want a better understanding of why writer Michael Y. Park believes that many Kurds consider the horrors of Halabja to be “key to their identity,” watch the video below to discover how it still impacts survivors three decades later.

This article was featured in theInsideHook newsletter. Sign up now.

T.E. Lawrence reports on Arab affairs - HISTORY

T.E. Lawrence - Lawrence of Arabia

George Amin Hoffman

After reading that T. E. Lawrence used a Colt frontier revolver during World War One, I sought to determine what model he used and its current location. No one seemed to know the answers to these questions – not even the experts at the Imperial War Museum. Finally, on reading a letter to Lawrence from his brother Frank, I was able to deduce the model of pistol he used at the beginning of the war. However, I have not been able to determine its current location or even if it still exists.

T. E. Lawrence – “Lawrence of Arabia” – was an archaeologist, soldier, writer, and designer of high-speed boats. He was a man of keen intelligence and great energy and athletic ability. In high school he could run a mile in under five minutes and in his thirties, without training, he could broadjump twenty-two and a half feet. In Arabia he gained the respect of the tribesmen by being able to mount a running camel and outride their best riders. Winston Churchill considered him one of the greatest geniuses of the twentieth century and John Buchan, the author of “The Thirty-nine Steps” and Governor-General of Canada, said he was one of the few men that he would follow anywhere.

Lawrence was born the illegitimate son of an Anglo-Irish baronet and educated at Oxford where he (and his brothers) learned to shoot at an Oxford rifle club and in the Officers Training Corps. His intelligence and good judgment were shown in his choice of weapons and, especially, in his deployment of them in battle in World War One. Even as a university undergraduate traveling in the Middle east in 1909, he carried a modern weapon of good quality, a Mauser model 1896 semi-automatic pistol with a capacity of ten high-velocity cartridges. He mentioned this pistol in a letter to his mother written in October 1909, informing her that he “sold my Mauser pistol (at a profit) in Beyrout on my departure (5 pounds)”. When he went to war in 1914 officers could use the pistol of their choice and Lawrence, like Churchill, chose the Colt Model 1911 which is still considered one of the finest combat pistols of all time.

After graduating from Oxford, from 1911 to the spring of 1914, Lawrence participated in an archaeological excavation at Carchemish near the Euphrates River in Turkey. His leisure activities included marksmanship practice and occasional hunting. Firearms he mentions in his letters are a Mauser pistol and a Mannlicher-Schoenauer carbine. A photograph of Dahoum, a close friend of Lawrence’s, shows him holding a pistol, presumably Lawrence’s. It appears to be a Colt automatic, possibly a model 1908.

His letters from Carchemish indicate a high level of skill with both rifle and pistol. In February of 1913, he reported hitting a six gallon petrol tin with a Mannlicher-Schoenauer carbine four shots out of five. In June of that year he wrote that he hit a medjijie (a Turkish coin) five shots out of seven at 25 yards with a Colt automatic pistol rapid fire. He also stated that he has been getting sure of medjijies and eggs at 25 yards, hit an orange crate five times out of five at 500 yards with the Mannlicher carbine and finally put three shots out of ten in a meter square target at 1,200 yards. In October 1913 he wrote that when two people came, they had no meat for them so he shot two ducks with a pistol, targeting the head.

Lawrence served in the British Army from 1914 to 1918, rising in rank from second lieutenant to colonel. He served in the Geographical section of the General Staff (Intelligence) in London until December 1914, then transferred to Cairo. There he was engaged in the preparation of maps, interviewing of prisoners and writing intelligence reports. In 1916, he became a liaison officer to the Arab forces in the Hedjaz and began the campaign that resulted in his name becoming a household word for most of this century.

Lawrence used a variety of small arms during the war. On september 18, 1914, he received two Colt automatic pistols from America, sent at his request by a friend travelling there. (There was a shortage of pistols in England for several weeks after the war broke out.) Lawrence did not mention the model, but a letter from his brother Frank, who became an officer at the outbreak of the war and was killed in France in 1915, contains information that leads one to the conclusion that it could only have been a Colt Model 1911 in .45 caliber. Frank Lawrence wrote to T. E. Lawrence in September 1914:

The Colt is a lovely pistol. The more I examine it the more I like it. There is a vast gulf between it and the ordinary revolver.

If you want anything in connection with it which you don’t want to write for I could get it for you. They keep two weights of bullets, I think 200 and 230 grains. The lighter weight has considerably higher velocity and penetrating power, though I suppose less shock.

This would indicate that both Frank and T. E. had Colt automatics that used the 200 or 230 grain bullets. In 1914 this would have been the .45 caliber Model 1911. (The British also used the Colt 1911 in .455 caliber, but this chambering was not introduced until 1915.)

Like most British soldiers, if not most officers, Lawrence used a Short Model Lee-Enfield rifle. Perhaps not surprisingly, his rifle had a rather colorful history. The rifle, originally issued to the Essex regiment, had been captured by the Turks at Gallipoli. It is one of four that had been inscribed in gold with the legend “Part of our booty in the battle for the Dardanelles” and presented by Enver Pasha, the Turkish ruler, to each of the sons of the Sherif of Mecca. One of these sons, Feisal, the leader of the Arab forces fighting with Lawrence against the Turks, presented his to Lawrence. Lawrence’s initials, T.E.L., and the date 4.12.16 (for December 4, 1916) are carved in the stock just above the magazine. There are also five notches carved in the stock, each representing a Turk shot with this rifle before Lawrence stopped counting his kills. After the war, Lawrence presented the rifle to King George V. It was later place in the Imperial War Museum where it is now on exhibit. Lawrence mentions this rifle in “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”, his story of the Arab revolt.

Lawrence was quick to recognize and adopt technological advances. He became an early advocate of the use of automatic weapons, replacing his rifle with a light machine gun which he carried in a scabbard on his camel. This weapon was a Lewis machinegun in the aircraft configuration without the heavy radiator, casing and shoulder stock found on the models typically used in the ground role. The Lewis used 47 or 97 round magazines and , according to Lawrence, fired “a wonderfully dispersed pattern”. After his exploits became known to the Turks and they offered a large reward for his capture dead or alive, Lawrence recruited a personal bodyguard that numbered up to ninety men. This group had extraordinary firepower for its size, for in addition to their rifles, pistols and daggers, they were equipped with one machine gun for each two men.

After the war, Lawrence wrote his memoir of the Arab revolt, served with Winston Churchill in the Colonial Office and then enlisted in the Royal Air Force where he remained until shortly before his death in a motorcycle accident. Lawrence did little recreational shooting during this period. He is reported to have kept a Webley revolver in his cottage, Clouds Hill and fired it at a tree on his property. One collector removed the bullets from that tree when it was cut down.

Today Lawrence memorabilia, from his letters and Arab robes to his daggers, is in great demand by collectors. The locations of many Lawrence-associated items are known. One dagger with a gold hilt and sheath, which he had made in Mecca, is in the vault of All Souls College in Oxford, England. Another of his daggers is in a private collection in San Marino, California. His letters and robes have sold for thousands of dollars at auctions. Unfortunately, except for the gold-engraved SMLE in the Imperial War Museum, the locations of Lawrence’s firearms seem to have vanished from record.

Lawrence, T.E.

Lawrence, Thomas Edward Brevet Colonel (later, Shaw, Thomas Edward). (1888-1935) Born, Tremadoc, Wales.

Intelligence officer affiliated with the Arab Bureau (MI 1(a)). In December, 1914 after enlisting, Lawrence was sent to Cairo where he became a more active part of the Arab Bureau activities encouraging the Hashemite revolt against the Ottoman Empire. In November, 1917, he was ordered to join the Emir Faisal's army as political and liaison officer.

Lawrence participated in the planning and execution of the bottling up of a main Turkish garrison in Medina, and executed the capture of al Wajh (Wejh) on 24 January 1917, which then served as the base to cross to and capture the port of 'al Aqaba, (6 July 1917) thus providing a support base to Allenby in Palestine. As part of Allenby's dash to Damascus, Lawrence commanded the victory at Tafila (21-27 January 1918), and was promoted lieutenant-colonel, subsequently directing the Arab forces as the extreme right wing of Allenby's offensive at Megiddo. The Arab Army entered Damascus on 1 October 1918, just before Chauvel's ANZAC Desert Mounted Corps. Lawrence served as a member of the British delegation to the Versailles Peace Conference, and as Arab affairs adviser to the Middle Eastern Division of the Colonial Office (1921-22), along with Winston Churchill and Gertrude Bell, and with many other members of the Arab Bureau.

T.E. Lawrence on Palestine: No One Trusts the British for More Than Two Minutes

&ldquoAll of us rallied round General Clayton, the chief of Intelligence, civil and military, in Egypt. Clayton made the perfect leader for such a band of wild men as we were. He was calm, detached, clear-sighted, of unconscious courage in assuming responsibility. He gave an open run to his subordinates. His own views were general, like his knowledge and he worked by influence rather than by loud direction. It was not easy to descry his influence. He was like water, or permeating oil, creeping silently and insistently through everything. It was not possible to say where Clayton was and was not, and how much really belonged to him. He never visibly led but his ideas were abreast of those who did: he impressed men by his sobriety, and by a certain quiet and stately moderation of hope. In practical matters he was loose, irregular, untidy, a man with whom independent men could bear.&rdquo

-Chapter Six, Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Clayton, who would soon be named Civil Secretary of the Palestine Government in succession of Sir Wyndham Deedes, may have given Lawrence early notice of the appointment, or mentioned that he was involved in discussing Transjordanian affairs on behalf of the Colonial Office with Emir Abdullah, for Lawrence writes,

"Yes I am glad you are going to Palestine. If any person of any race or creed anywhere in that country trusted one single person in the Government for two minutes, things there would be more stable. You'll do more than that!"

Clayton, who did not particularly favor the Balfour Declaration but was, within a limited definition, pro-Zionist, had long played a major political, administrative and intelligence role in the Mid-East. It was as chief of the Arab Bureau of the Cairo Intelligence Department that he &ldquoran," as much as anyone could, and it was in commemoration of that association that Clayton would appear throughout Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

On the 8th of August, 1922, Lawrence told Clayton that he&rsquod written a book &ldquoabout that dog-fight of ours in Arabia&rdquo and that he wanted a drawing of him for one of the illustrations. To this end, he suggested that Clayton sit for William Nicholson in September. This letter, seemingly, is Lawrence&rsquos unpublished reply to Clayton&rsquos consent, remarking as it does on Clayton&rsquos return to Palestine and once again, discussing his struggle with Seven Pillars of Wisdom - &ldquoa pile of loose sheets as yet&hellip unfit to publish, for personal as well as literary reasons.&rdquo Although Lawrence explains that he has &ldquoroughly printed, on a newspaper press&rdquo five copies, he advises Clayton not to read the present edition &ldquobecause there's some rather rough stuff in it&rdquo &ndash most likely the horrific and to Lawrence, immensely troubling, account of his torture and rape by the Turks.

Of particular note is Lawrence&rsquos off-the-cuff comment that he could not &ldquocome down&rdquo to visit Clayton because &ldquoI'm trying another job which takes all my time. Perhaps it may chuck me out shortly, & then I'd be delighted.&rdquo That job was in fact to begin just two days later: Lawrence of Arabia, for reasons known only to him, would enlist on August 21st, as John Hume Ross, an ordinary airman in the Royal Air Force.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom was not publicly available until 1927, and then in a severely amended text, as Revolt in the Desert. Lawrence did print eight copies (and not the five he mentions here) in February 1922, however. Running to 335,000 words, it is known as the &ldquo1922 edition&rdquo or the &ldquoOxford Text.&rdquo By 1926, he&rsquod trimmed it down to 250,000 words, for what would be a very limited, exceedingly lavish &ldquoSubscribers' Edition" with a print-run of less than 200 copies, each with a unique, sumptuous, hand-crafted binding &ndash and 118 illustrations of the principal actors by eighteen different artists.

Lawrence of Arabia: Arab Advocate, British Spy, Desertophile Or All Three

Lucy Ladikoff Much has been written of Lawrence’s fame as the great liberator and leader of the Arab Revolt against the Turks. Such a panegyric was duly extracted from Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Though I do not at all mean to underrate Lawrence’s contribution to the Arab Revolt, I am only trying to evaluate the facts and see how far they correspond to the visionary and romanticized descriptions which Lawrence gave in his book. He presents it as if it was the documentary story of the Arab Revolt. Subhi al_ Umary is one of the Arab leaders who personally knew Lawrence and who lived the Arab Revolt as an Arab. He had a very critical viewpoint of T.E. Lawrence and sees Seven Pillars of Wisdom “as a story about the Arab Revolt and not the story of the Arab Revolt” (1). Lawrence’s well written and romanticized Seven Pillars of Wisdom could not be much appreciated by those who lived and suffered that tragic part of Arab history, namely the Arab Revolt. “Lawrence wrote his book for Westerners who are used to read the Thousand and one night Tales and who believed every thing Lawrence wrote for they did not know the truth about the Arab Revolt. Westerners were always fascinated by those oriental stories especially those about chivalry, Arab poems, the Sheikhs, the desert and its thirst, the arab horses and camels, and the tamarisk oases” (2).


Lawrence in his “Secret Despatches” (3) gives the impression that the growth of national feeling in the period of the Arab Revolt was “sudden”. According to G. Antonius, the Arab historian, the National movement in the Arab world opens in Syria in 1847 with the foundation of a modest literary society under American patronage. And though Muhammad-`Ali’s intentions to establish an Arab Empire were merely a personal ambition, he could awake in the Arab minds what then could be called “public concern”. But his son Ibrahim, as the French Baron de Boislecomte, who paid him a visit after Ibrahim’s conquest of Syria, relates that he (Ibrahim) “made no secret of his intention to revive Arab national consciousness and restore Arab nationhood, to instill into the Arabs a real sense of patriotism, and to associate them in the fullest measure with the government of the future empire that he regarded his father’s ideas as narrow and merely imperialistic” (4). Muhammad-`Ali was called to Egypt by the Sultan of Turkey to put an end to Bonaparte’s invasion. The history of Egypt for the first half of the 19th century is virtually the story of this one man. Founder of the dynasty that was until 1952 still ruling, Muhammad-`Ali had been rightly called the father of this country. It is with his plans to set up an Arab Empire in 1799 that a consciousness of what is known as “public concern” was born among all the Arabs. Though Nationalism in its real modern meaning was still far away from the Arab mind, they still had that common feeling for free Arab countries revolts against the Turks had started long before “that” Arab Revolt the expulsion of the Turks from Syria was not a new idea which Lawrence is thought to have brought to the Arabs (though no one can deny him his important role and great contribution to the Arab Revolt) Ibrahim, Muhammad-`Ali’s son, was sent to liberate Syria from the Turks and was supported and well assisted by Arab inhabitants as early as 1832, more than three quarters of a Century before Allenby’s campaign. Though in both cases, the military advance had been heralded by promises of political emancipation, Muhammad-`Ali and his son had since then advocated the Arab national revival, though at that time, Arab national consciousness was non-existent. M.`Ali was the first to wake the idea of an Arab Empire which, for the first time, presented itself in world politics, and on that occasion, at any rate, Lord Palmerston took a stand against it. (5) Muhammad-`Ali’s plans failed for many reasons the principal ones were: England’s hostility, the non-existence of Arab national consciousness and the lack of anything approaching national solidarity in the Arab world. Now the events which brought the Arabs to war against the Turks on the British side do constitute part of our contemporary history. Yet, in order to really understand, contrary to the western or european public views, how the Arab Revolt took roots, and how the Arabs decided to fight on the British side against the Turks, some historical facts are hence necessary to know. With Muhammad-`Ali’s son, Ibrahim, the Arab revival gets to a further step. In addition to military schools, he founded large colleges in which the students, who were all Moslems, received a stipend as well as their full board and lodging besides, Ibrahim’s rule was characterized by his tolerance in a country where sectarian troubles had always been dominant. Eli Smith’s activities in Syria had far reaching results especially after the removal of his American mission’s printing press from Malta to Beirut. This was of great use to the Arabic language. “Though it was not the missionaries themselves who worked to save the language from its decay, still it was their means, such as schools and new educational systems, printing press equipped to issue books in the Arabic language, and their money that were at the service of the great, enlightened and intellectual Arabs of the period.” (6) Eli Smith and his American colleagues asked for the assistance of Nasif al-Yazegi and Butrus al-Bustani, the most important Arab figures who dominated the intellectual life of the period. The novelty of al-Yazegi’s preaching was all the more striking as it was addressed to Arabs of all creeds, to Christians as much as to Moslems, and it urged them, at a time when religious fanaticism was still violent, to remember the inheritance they had in common and build up a future of brotherhood on its foundation. One of Yazegi’s sons was to utter the first call to Arab national emancipation. It was on al-Yazegi and al-Bustani’s shoulders that the foundation stone for the Arab revival was built. After the rising of 1860, accompanied as it was by a savage massacre of Christians in Damascus and Lebanon, al-Bustani published the first political journal ever published in the country, which was mainly devoted to the preaching of harmony between different creeds and of union in the pursuit of knowledge. He preached the death of fanaticism and the birth of ideals held in common, a platitude, perhaps, but one that Syria had not heard before and which contained the germ of the national idea. For years European statesmen had viewed with greedy interest the weakened body of the Ottoman Empire. Everyone was anxious to know who would govern Constantinople when Turkey collapsed. After Sultan `Abdu ‘l-Hamid’s deposition by the Young Turks (a movement of young Turks and Arabs in favour of necessary reforms in the government), for sometime, the subject nationalities, including the Arabs, were given a measure of freedom but then Enver, the leader of the Young Turks, terrified at the power of the forces which he had let loose, reversed his policy particularly against the Arabs. Arab deputies were scattered and driven away from their countries, Arabic societies forbidden and even the Arabic language suppressed. Years before the coming of T.E. Lawrence to the Arab world, Faisal, the second son of al-Sherif Hussein, had been thinking of a revolution against the Turks, having seen his best friends led to the scaffold by the Turks. (7) Now when World War I broke out in 1914, the Allies asked the Arab’s help to get rid of Turkey which had been ruling the Arab world since 1517 and which was fighting against them on the German side. Surely al-Sherif Hussein as well as the rest of the Arabs would have preferred the Turks who were Moslems to a Christian ally or government, ” the Arabs believing, rightly, that there would be little sense in their helping to defeat the Turks if this merely meant exchanging one master for another”. (8) Had it not been for the bad conditions which the Turks imposed upon the Arabs: famine in the Arab peninsula and Syria the murder by hundreds of the best Arab leaders and intellectuals and the anti-Arab policy which Turkey went on applying al-Sherif Hussein would not have taken up arms against Turkey, a Muslim country.(9) In such a critical position the British “put on lamb’s cloth” to persuade al-Hussein to take up arms against Turkey, promising to help the Arabs in settling their problems, and in recognizing the independence of their countries. Lord Kitchener, Secretary for War, telegraphed Ronald Storrs, Oriental Secretary to the British High Commissioner in Egypt, requesting him to convey the following message to al-Sherif Hussein ibn `Ali(Sherif of Mecca): “Germany has now bought the Turkish Government with gold. if the Arab Nation assist England in this war, England will guarantee that no intervention will take place in Arabia and will give Arabs every assistance against external foreign aggression”. (10) Consequently, on the 14th of July, al-Sherif Hussein sent his well known memorandum to Sir Henry McMahon, British High Commissioner in Egypt he declared the desire of the Arabs to obtain full independence and unity for their territories and asked the British to help the Arabs achieve this by force of arms. (11) Thus, a British-Arab War started against the Turks with Lawrence as a liaison-officer between his country’s statesmen and the Arabs.


According to Subhi-al- Umary, Lawrence presented the Arabs as hoards of illiterate and savage Bedouins, who depended on British gold and himself (Lawrence) as the leader who organized and led those Bedouins against the Turks. And though Lawrence didn’t literally say so, yet any one who reads his books thinks that Lawrence was “the organizing mind, the planning person and the leader for most of the Arab Revolt campaigns, especially the Damascus campaign while Faisal and the other Arab leaders were only subject persons who obeyed his orders”. (12) Sulaiman Mousa and al- Umary refute Lawrence’s view in this regard and express their regret that no Arab leader, among those who participated in the famous Arab Revolt, wrote a book or books to point out Lawrence’s “lies”. It is the Arabs who took up arms to defend their own land, it’s they who felt the need for freedom and decided to pay for it. al- Umary goes on and accuses the Zionists to have distorted the facts on the Arab revolt laying their claims on Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Those detractors of the Arab Revolt show that the revolt was a Bedouin Revolt which depended on British gold and Lawrence as its leader, and those Bedouins were just savage tribes with no needs of any kinds, no national interest, nor were they worthy of independence “they were only thieves and with no aims other than plunder, looting, murder and vengeance for their family grudges. They are only enslaved and conditioned to be only servants for their sheiks, and their sheiks, in their turn, are enslaved to the love of money” (13). al- Umary sorrowfully says that the westerners have come to know about the Arab Revolt, after Lawrence’s accounts on it. And like ‘Ala’-el-Deen’s Lamp, Lawrence fascinated the world with his tales about the Desert and its life Lawrence though, knew that, for the Arabs, the Revolt has never been an adventure or an amusing tale written to draw fame and the attention of the world it is a sad story for the Arabs who paid with their lives for a noble ideal and a sublime end which they never achieved, and instead they were betrayed by their closest friend and ally. And here is Lawrence entertaining himself with all the incidents of this sad story, trying to build up his fame on the Arab leader’s shoulders so that, after the publication of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, he became the uncrowned king of Arabia. “No one all over the world would understand the Arab Revolt if it were not associated with the name of Lawrence”. (14) al- Umary goes on to say that the Arab Revolt was carried out by a good number of the Arab intellectuals, that some worked among the illiterate Bedouins in their settlements, that some were Syrians, others Egyptians and others Saudi-Arabians. They were scribes who worked for the Emirs, others were doctors, chemists, and politicians others were trained to blow up the railways, trains and stations, and those trained Arabs had to train their fellow men in the regiment. al- Umary mentions the name of the most famous fifty-one Arab intellectuals who worked for the Revolt and who, when the war was over, worked every one in his own field some were famous politicians and ministers. al- Umary says that he mentioned all those names to prove that the Arab Revolt was carried out by hundreds of educated and cultivated Arabs as well as illiterate ones. (15) Actually in Seven Pillars of Wisdom Lawrence talks about al-Hussein and how highly cultured he and his sons were. Lawrence found `Ali, Hussein’s third son, “very much a creature after his own heart, an intellectual in a wilderness of illiteracy, thoroughly well read in law and religion, honest and direct to the point that he failed to see dishonesty in others…”(16) Hafet Wahbah (17), a moderate Arab historian, affirms that the Arab Revolt was thought of by the educated and intellectual Arab leaders themselves, who established secret societies to discuss the plans of the Revolt years before Lawrence’s coming to the Arab world. Hafet Wahbah mentions the names of those who were with Lawrence himself during the Arab war, saying that they were the ones who in 1912 replied in all Arab papers, magazines and periodicals to the Turkish accusations and abuses. They aimed at awakening the Arab consciousness and reviving the national spirit by establishing centres everywhere in the Arab world and preparing the people to the Great Revolt.

1. The Arabs never trusted foreigners:

T.E. Lawrence in Seven Pillars of Wisdom, claims that he was treated as if he was an Arab, and that the Arabs took him for a Syrian. If Lawrence put on Arab dress, this doesn’t mean, for the Arabs, that he was one of them. A part from the fact that it was more than obvious that Lawrence was not an Arab, the colour of his skin, his blue eyes, his accent, could hardly be said to have been really Arabic. Besides, a Bedouin doesn’t recognize any one as his leader, not even if the latter were a king, for he (the Bedouin) has no trust in foreigners, unless this leader was the sheikh of his own tribe. And as Philby also says, a Bedouin, doesn’t have a great or sincere veneration but for his akarem (generous man) i.e. sheikhs, sherifs and courageous leaders, all the others he puts on the same level. (18) So Lawrence’s claims that the Arabs behaved to him as though he was really one of the leaders and that a Bedouin kissed his hand are just fantastic tales and al- Umary says “lies”. (19) Abdullah ibn al-Hussein himself said in his Memoirs that he was not glad to receive Lawrence in his camp,for he ( Abdullah) knew the negative effect Lawrence had on the tribes, and when Lawrence visited his camp the tribes’ chiefs murmured and complained against this newcomer while Abdullah tried to convince them that Lawrence was there only for the demolition work of the railways though `Abdullah’s words had their bearing on those men, they still did not like the foreigner’s presence among them. Besides, Abdullah had forbidden Lawrence from roaming around among his tribes. (20) al- Umary did not like the description Lawrence gave when he visited `Abdullah’s camp saying that Lawrence had no right to attribute such harsh epithets to Abdullah who thought that Lawrence was interfering in things that were no concern of his. (21) While Lawrence found that Abdullah lacked the vitality that would create the flame in the Arab heart that he was too comfortable, too much inclined to humour and too good a talker to be able or willing to demand of himself or his men that effort that stretched up to, and even beyond the limits of endurance that he spent his day reading newspapers, eating, sleeping, and teasing a certain Muhammad Hassan. (22) The real reason which made Lawrence turn to Faisal is the fact that Zaid and `Ali (23) were far less friendly to the British and more decisive and sure of their ideas than Faisal. (24) Striking is the difference between Lawrence and al- `Umary’s opinion of `Ali’s character. Lawrence believed `Ali, to whom he declares to have taken a great fancy, to be a pleasant gentleman, conscientious and dignified. “He was bookish, learned in law and religion and pious almost to fanaticism. He was too conscious of his high heritage to be ambitious”. Lawrence thought `Ali could be the leader of the Revolt if “Faisal should turn out to be no prophet”. (25) al- Umary on the other hand, says that `Ali was too weak a character, spent most of his time exhibiting his talents, ambitions and ostentations, was very influenceable and did not like books and knew little about religion. al- Umary thinks that Lawrence had thought of `Ali as a leader should Faisal have proved unfit to be one, for it would have been much easier for the British to deal with him than with someone as strong-minded as Abdullah or his father al-Hussein. (26) Lawrence found in Faisal what he was looking for “the flame of enthusiasm” but al- Umary says he was the easiest to direct and the most elastic and influenceable and the most accessible for the British. (27) al-Hussein on the other hand, is the one who mostly believed in the Arabs’ right for freedom and independence, he believed in an Arab rebellion against the Turks to gain national freedom and liberty he, Lawrence says “was outwardly so clean and gentle-mannered as to seem weak but this appearance had a crafty policy, deep ambition, and an un-Arabian foresight, strength of character and obstinacy”. (28) According to the Arab historian Hafet Wahbah, the real reason which made it difficult for Lawrence to deal with al-Hussein is the fact that the latter did not like and suspected Lawrence, and though Lawrence described al-Sherif to be a limited-minded old man, al-Hussein was so inwardly clean and maybe idealistic that he could not foresee the British double game but was so hopeful that every complicated problem would be solved as soon as the war was over he believed that England would work for his and the Arabs’ good according to the established agreement. al-Hussein’s good will made him wholeheartedly believe that England would fulfil its promises to the Arabs. (29) al-Hussein’s greatest fault was that he didn’t know the truth about the real intentions of the British and thought that “great men” would never betray their friends. During the two years of the Revolution, al-Hussein clearly stated his refusal of British interference in Arab affairs. Anis Sayeg says that al-Hussein never liked Lawrence, and Lawrence in turn describes him to have been an old obstinate man, while al-Hussein was only jealous for the Arab land and suspicious of Lawrence. al-Hussein was too clear in his hostility against the Turks, he wanted to defend Mecca and the Arab lands at all costs. He was against every Turkish system for reform, and his foresight made him understand that the Turks wanted only to strengthen their rule in the Arab world. (30)

2. Disorganization among Arab tribes:

In the brief reconnaissance made after having visited Faisal’s camp, Lawrence found the men in “high spirits”, because soldiers were being more handsomely paid than ever before and their families were being fed as well by the Sherif’s bounty. (31) Before the Revolt, Bedouins never felt the necessity to fight but for self-preservation and when they did they were never paid by anybody. It was the law of the desert and the nature of their social life which made them fight their enemies, who sometimes were the neighbouring tribes. The winner, as was the habit, used to take the caravans and the camels of the defeated tribe and this was not considered plunder or looting, as Lawrence thought, but the natural payment for their fighting. As for the British gold paid to the Arabs during the war, the Arab leaders and many others in the Revolt accepted and understood it as the British obligation in the British-Arab deal, many others, especially politically unprepared Bedouins considered the gold as the pay for an unnecessary fight. Thus it was natural that these Bedouins felt more delighted at being paid than aware of the necessity of a Revolt. Besides, Lawrence has forgotten that it is typical of these men’s race not to be much concerned for the future and its problems and dangers and that these men are “too free” to understand the English conception of a soldier. The Bedouins have always fought in guerilla warfare and succeeded in destroying many of the Turkish quarters. A Bedouin would feel anonymous in a regiment or in an army and could never be able to succeed in fighting his enemy in a small group the Bedouin feels more free, and this freedom is a psychological need that a Bedouin must always feel, especially if you want him to be what a brave soldier could be in an organized unit of the army. “The value of the tribes is defensive only, and their real sphere is guerilla warfare. They are intelligent and very lively, almost reckless, but too individualistic to endure commands, or fight in line, or help each other”. (32) No organization could ever be obtained in an army if this army, as was the case in `Abdullah’s camp, has four thousand men but only three machine-guns, and ten inefficient mountain guns. “The Arab army was short of everything: of food, money and guns”. (33) Actually Sulaiman Mousa (34) affirms that al-Sherif had no regular forces. He depended for the success of his Revolt on tribesmen armed with nothing but obsolete rifles which were useless for modern warfare. He had no artillery or machine-guns. He therefore sought the help of his allies. The British despatched a 4-5 howitzer battery, four mountain screw-guns, eight machine-guns and about four thousand rifles. These statistics would indicate that the British were quick in fulfilling their obligations to the revolt but, as it turned out, most of these weapons had been rejected by the British army as too old to be effective. Nuri al-Sa id stated that the greatest difficulties he faced upon joining the Revolt grew from “the suspicions with which the Allies viewed us…. Upon reaching Jedda, he supervised the opening of the cases which were expected to hold a number of guns only to discover that the guns had been sent in pieces, several of which were missing. Sights, for instance, were not available there were no written instructions on the method of use, nor did the British send any experts or instructors”. (35) (35a) Another reason for such ill-organization is the nature of the war which the Arabs had to wage. The Arab Revolt was an individual campaign, which made Lawrence’s personal magnetism and genius more apparent. While on the Western Front the enemy was a whole great army made of hundreds of British fighting against hundreds of Germans, who fought only because their governments sent them like wild animals behind their prey, in the desert the case was not the same for the Arabs the enemy was a man, a single man you could see. A Bedouin could smell the Turkish presence, he could see his face and sometimes even recognize him. The fact that the British wanted to win the war on the international level was not of great importance to the Bedouin he cared about his “personal” enemy and merely wanted to defeat him in order to earn his freedom in spite of the old tribal tactics, the only means the Bedouin had in his war (36)


1. The Archaeological Camouflage:

As Lawrence was keenly interested in Archaeology, D. G. Hogarth, a Fellow of Magdallen College and Curator of the Ashmolean Museum, turned Lawrence’s interests in the direction of the Middle East (actually Lawrence’s thesis for his degree was about the architecture of the Crusades). Lawrence’s first trip in the Euphrates zone was meant to have had a scientific purpose, particularly the trip to Carchemish, the ancient city on the banks of the Euphrates where Lawrence was sent by G. Hogarth as an assistant in an expedition sponsored by the British Museum in 1910. (37) In February 1911, Lawrence started off to Carchemish with Hogarth. From this date until June 1914, he was back in England only at Christmas 1912 and for two weeks in July 1913. “It has been suggested that during this period he and Hogarth were in fact undercover agents, spying on the German bridge building operations across the Euphrates. Then in 1910, when the Berlin-Bagdad railway reached the Euphrates, there came a sudden revival of British interest in Carchemish. Sound archaeological reasons for this were conveniently to hand…” (38) The British arrived as the German engineers were constructing a bridge over the Euphrates, and Hogarth’s headquarters were half a mile from the Carchemish side. In January 1913, Lawrence and Leonard Woolley (39) became members of the digging team led by Captain S. F. Newcombe in the Sinai Lawrence still had an archaeological cover in fact he states “…we are obviously only meant as red herrings, to give an archaeological colour to a political job.” (40) Having enjoyed this kind of work, Lawrence asked Newcombe about a war job the latter could only put his name together with that of Woolley on a waiting list. (41) Lawrence feeling bored as he waited at home in Oxford for a message from Newcombe, wrote to Hogarth for help. Hogarth was a member of the Royal Geographic Society and found Lawrence a job on the geographical section of the General Staff, drawing a large scale map of Sinai. In December 1914, Cairo Department of Intelligence confirmed Lawrence as Liaison officer with Faisal though not directly as he hoped, he still was subject to his colonels’ orders for every movement. When the news first broke about al-Hussein’s rising against the Turks, Lawrence did everything possible to be hated by his superiors so that he might be sent away to join the Arab Revolt. (42) Lawrence’s stroke of luck laid in his opposition to the French Colonel Edouard Bremond’s project Bremond together with the British General Wingate were in favour of regularizing the Arab Revolt by pouring in large numbers of French and British troops for a confrontation with the Turks believing that the Bedouins could not cope with the Turkish regular soldiers. (43) Since the idea of sending troops for such an adventure did not appeal to the British in General Head Quarters and since it was highly unlikely to get such authority from London where the new government of Mr. Lloyd George – never a great partisan of the Arab cause – was more worried about the situation on the western front in Europe, a report from a “man-on-the-spot” who, one must admit, understood the Arabs’ sensitiveness and jealousy for their land, was welcomed and considered useful to counteract Wingate’s and Colonel Bremond’s highly inconvenient and over-enthusiastic proposals. (44) Lawrence’s understanding of Arabs’ psychology made him realize that the war should have to be an irregular one, fought mainly by the Arabs themselves, but with the Allies furnishing arms, gold and food. Bremond said later that Lawrence was against regularization because it would have ended his own romantic and independent role. (45) And thus Lawrence’s dream of being in direct contact with the Arabs came true.


Lawrence’s romantic character made him yearn for the freedom of the Desert which had bewitched him and made him confuse the reality of the War and of his role as a British Officer in it, with dreams and fantasy. This could be easily understood by reading either the Seven Pillars of Wisdom or The Wilderness of Zin. (46) Thus Lawrence’s ambiguous role was clear from the very beginning. In fact when writing Seven Pillars of Wisdom Lawrence had to face the fact of this ambiguity: “was it only and all a dishonourable fraud?”. How much should he tell? Should he say that the British would have promised the Arabs almost anything in order to get them to revolt? Should Lawrence say in Seven Pillars of Wisdom that, because he knew Britain had no intention of giving the Arabs their complete independence his part in the plot was a shameful one? Lawrence surprisingly admits this in the first Chapter of Seven Pillars of Wisdom which was then suppressed on the advice of George Bernard Shaw “for political reasons” (48) it remained unpublished until 1939, when it was included in Oriental Assembly Records. It was reinstated in English editions of Seven Pillars of Wisdom in 1940. “I risked the fraud on my conviction that Arab help was necessary to our cheap and speedy victory in the East and that better we win and break our word than lose”. (49) It is well known that Lawrence was a visionary person. He also had so much imaginative power that it became almost impossible for him not to create fantastic events even in describing facts. His writing in a beautiful and romanticized style was influenced by Charles Daughty’s Travels in Arabia Deserta, to which Lawrence wrote the Introduction. This work of Daughty must have influenced Lawrence’s early outlook about the Arabs. He studied it for a period of ten years. (50) Seven Pillars of Wisdom is a mixture of real accounts and fancy. Yet, such real accounts still have a romanticized flavour. He is hardly ever a pure realist. Exagerations, imagined stories and contradictions made Lawrence’s description in Seven Pillars of Wisdom largely differ from his accounts in the official reports to the Arab Bureau which was set up on January 1st, 1916 by Clayton, an official highly regarded in Arabia. (51) Robert Graves, Lawrence’s biographer, reveals part of this ambiguity, so as to make it seem merely a psychological conflict revealed in the desert and motivated by the sort of life the Bedouin led he (the Bedouin) “has lost superfluous possesions and has won instead a personal liberty in the shadow of starvation and death. This was an attitude that moved Lawrence greatly, so that his nature has ever since been divided into two conflicting selves, the Bedouin self always longing for the bareness, simplicity, harshness of the desert – that state of mind of which the desert is a symbol – and the over civilized European self”. (52) Lawrence, after having read the typescript of the first eleven Chapters of Graves’ book on him, sent them back with marginal comments on almost every page. On the above mentioned concept he states: “the two selves, you see, are mutually destructive. So I fall between them into the nihilism which cannot find, in being, even a false god in which to believe”. (53) Lawrence has been seen by almost all Arabs to have betrayed their cause and worked solely for British interests in the Middle East because he wished to win the war at a price the Arabs would have never accepted to pay if they had known that a British victory meant the inclusion of the Arab countries into the British Empire a fact that Lawrence himself had always known. The Arabs paid with their lives only to achieve their full freedom and entire independence. This also was a well known fact to Lawrence. So Lawrence’s intensely self-critical nature caused him anguish and made him feel so guilty and scrupulous for having been ambiguous in the Arabs’ eyes. The favourable opinion after the war drove fear into his consciousness. At the same time, the Arabs who worked and believed in him during the war, now started to distrust him and doubt his sincerity and identity. Lawrence’s descriptive powers and his dramatic and imaginative tendencies were real assets to him. This is something we understand in the Arab world, but many of those who wrote about Lawrence in the West, took his sayings at their face value and accepted his book as an authentic history of the Arab Revolt: “By so doing, they were being less than fair to Lawrence, for they were reading more into his remarks and actions than he had intended by them”. (54) A good example is Lawrence’s description of his first meeting with Faisal. “Hamra opened on our left. It seemed a village of about one hundred houses, buried in gardens among mounds of earth some twenty feet in height”. (55)

But the fact, without the beautiful vision which Lawrence saw, is largely different. Faisal’s camp was near a very small village where there were no “gates” nor big houses it was a small, simple and even bare place. From Lawrence’s description, the place seems to have been a villa or a palace. (56) Lawrence claims that he was sent to Wadi Ais “to find out why Abdullah had done nothing for two months”. (57) S. Mousa says that this claim of Lawrence is a complete “conceit and impudence – characteristics which were not to appear in him until after the war, or which at least had not yet become obvious to the Arabs”. (58) For it is certain that Lawrence did not dare set himself up as Inspector General of the Arab armies, and Faisal certainly never thought of sending him off to Wadi Ais in this capacity. Faisal considered Lawrence an ordinary British officer who liked the Arabs, worked for their good, provided easy contact with the British Command and was always ready with advice while in his report to the Arab Bulletin Lawrence says that he was sent to Wadi Ais to deliver the documents Faisal had given him and not to “find out why Abdullah had done nothing for two months”. (59) I would like to quote one of Lawrence’s reports to the Arab Bureau, to show the reader the difference in Lawrence’s style when telling the facts and when writing Seven Pillars of Wisdom. “Meeting today: Wilson, Storrs, Sherif Abdullah, Aziz Ali al-Misri, myself. Nobody knew real situation Rabegh. So much time wasted. Aziz Ali al-Misri going Rabegh with me tomorrow. Sherif Abdullah apparently wanted foreign force at Rabegh as rallying point if combined attack on Medina ended badly. Aziz Ali al-Misri hopes to prevent any decisive risk now and thinks English Brigade neither necessary nor prudent. He says only way to bring sense and continuity into operation is to have English staff at Rabegh dealing direct with Sherif Ali and Sherif Faisal without referring details to Sherif of Mecca of whom they are all respectfully afraid. Unfortunately, withdrawal of aeroplane coincided with appearance of Turkish machines, but Aziz Ali al-Misri attaches little weight to them personally. He is cheerful and speaks well of Sherif’s troops”. (60) This report shows how Lawrence later in Seven Pillars of Wisdom attributed the opinions of the leaders of the Revolt to himself for instance this report that refers to the attack on Medina, which King Abdullah in his memoirs, say to have thought of himself. Abdullah wanted to travel to Medina and with the help of his brothers, launch a combined attack on the city and he had suggested this to his father, King al-Hussein, who approved it. This of course, had been planned without consultation with Lawrence. The report further refers to Aziz Ali al-Misri’s opinion with regard to the British Brigade, which is the same opinion Lawrence later carried to his superiors in Egypt and took great pride in having proposed. (61)

Aqaba, the most important port on the Red Sea, had been the most important matter of discussion between the British and King al-Hussein for quite a long time. The Turks were using it as a base for planting mines in the Red Sea and the Allies were afraid that the Germans might use it as a submarine base. While still in Wagh, Faisal’s base on the red Sea before conquering Aqaba, `Audah Abu Tàyeh, one of the most important, famous and courageous desert warriors, together with Faisal had planned to capture Aqaba. Actually, after the occupation of Wagh, Faisal had sent letters to the Sheikhs of the Northern tribes informing them of his plan and asking for their support. Faisal had appointed al-Sherif Naser to accompany `Audah as his personal representative. Nasìb al-Bakri, who witnessed these events, affirmed the fact that Faisal intended to push the Revolt north to Syria and was in touch with Nuri al-Sa lan and many other military and Syrian leaders. Consequently, al-Sherif Naser was selected to declare the Revolt in the name of King al-Hussein and to rally the tribes and various sections of the population, so that all might sink their private quarrels. Nasìb al-Bakri was sent as a political emissary to the leaders of Jebel Druze and of Syria to prepare their minds and explain the purpose of the revolution. The whole expedition was thus planned without consultation with Lawrence. However, Lawrence asked Faisal to participate in that campaign saying that he could help in planting mines. (62) Faisal agreed, and Lawrence together with other British Officers helped in removing the rails. Yet in Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence claims to have been himself the leader and inspirer of the Aqaba expedition. He states that it was a result of his journeys and interviews and that he believed in the possibility of forming seven Arab fighting groups to attack Turkish lines. He also says that he “was working out with Audah abu-Tayeh a march to the Howeitat in their spring pastures of the Syrian desert. From them we might raise a mobile camel force and rush Aqaba from the eastward without guns or machine-guns”. (63) Lawrence adds that during this expedition he had to move among the tribes trying to settle their private problems. It is to be noted here that this could not have been possible, for Audah himself complained of Lawrence’s presence saying that Lawrence had an adverse influence on the Bedouins of the North besides, those of the Northern part did not know Lawrence, thus his presence was disturbing and embarassing for the Arab leaders who had to explain, everytime a Bedouin asked about him, who he was and what was his role. There remains the fact that the Bedouins discussed their problems with their own Sheikhs and never with foreigners, even less if this foreigner was not known to them, as was the case in the Northern part of Arabia. (64)

2. The Trip to Damascus:

This trip which Lawrence claimed to have carried out secretly, has aroused much controversy. Lawrence says that he wanted to explore the situation in Syria so that his “strategic ideas” could have been clarified. In his report for the Arab Bulletin, August 1?, 1917, Lawrence said that this trip took place before the departure of Nasìb al-Bakri for Jebel Druze, while in Seven Pillars of Wisdom he said that this trip took place after Nasìb’s departure he also said in Seven Pillars of Wisdom that ten bridges South of Ma`an were destroyed, though nothing of this had appeared in his report, a very important military action which Lawrence would not have ignored in the official reports to his superiors. (65) Sulaiman Mousa claims that he interviewed two Arabs who were with Lawrence during this period – Nasìb al-Bakri and Fàyez al-Gusain – and others indirectly involved, and that Nasìb al-Bakri told him that at this time Lawrence was not absent from the camp even for a day. Sulaiman Mousa says that Fàyez al-Gusain considered it would have been impossible to cover the distance involved in the time, and asked “Was Lawrence a bird to have gone all these distances?”. (66) He argues that the journey would have been impossible because Lawrence could not have hidden his identity for twenty-four hours, particularly in a country where the people are naturally inquisitive. “Everytime an Englishman attached to the Arabs went on a mission, he went with a Sherif or an Arab al- Sherif would trust. Who were Lawrence’s companions on this expedition? Where did they stay from day to day? Where did they get their food? Why did Lawrence devote so little detail in Seven Pillars of Wisdom to what was considered a major exploit?”. (67) Lawrence’s diary though tends to confirm his own account. Written in army message forms, they begin in much the same way as his report to the Arab Bureau. “Oh my… I’m terrified… to go off alone to Damascus… to get killed… for all sakes try and clear this show up before it goes further. We are calling them to fight for us on a lie and I can’t stand it”. (68) And later, Lawrence goes on to say that he “learnt that Hachim was NE of Ragga and Ibn Murshid in prison in Damascus and my plan thus failure… in El Gabbu (Gaboun)… has been entrusted by the Turks with the defence of Damascus”. (69) While Nasìb al-Bakri says “As for Lawrence’s claim that he went in disguise to Damascus, Ba`labak and Tadmur, it strikes me as very strange indeed, because it is far from the truth. I am certain Lawrence did not leave us for a single day, and we were not separated until after he left for Aqaba, with Audah and Nasir, while I left for Jebel Druze”. (70) Yet Lawrence came near to confessing that the story of his trip was a pure fiction in the notes he sent on July 22, 1927 to Robert Graves, who was engaged at the time in writing his biography: “In my report to Clayton after Aqaba, I gave a short account of my excursion from Nebk northward. It was part of the truth. During it, some things happened, and I do not want the whole story to be made traveable. So on this point I have since darkened counsel. You’ll have to say something, but you’ll not be able to be right in what you say, so, hedge yourself, and me, if you can, by cautionary phrases. Some such thing as the following: ‘From Nebk during the Aqaba expedition’s halt there, “L” went off on a solitary excursion northward. On this ride he was said to have been convoyed by relays of local tribesmen, beginning with the Rualla and changing them at each tribal boundary. Apparently, none of his own, nor Sherif Nasir’s men completed the journey with him. He is said to have been franked by private letters of Emir Faisal, but nothing certain is known of his purpose, his route and the results of his journey…’. (71) He adds: ‘You may make public, if you like, the fact that my reticence upon this northward raid is deliberate and based on private reasons: and record your opinion that I have found mystification, and perhaps statements deliberately misleading or contradictory, the best way to hide the truth of what really occurred, if anything did occur'”. (72) The evidence is deeply contradictory and it is not out of keeping with Lawrence’s character that he may have deliberately added to the mystery of this journey by his own reticence. This issue to me is unsolved.

If we compare Lawrence’s descriptions of the two raids on the railway line in the Arab Bulletin (October 8, 1917, N° 65) with that of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, we find that Lawrence in the latter account claimed that he looked after “an ancient and very tremulous Arab dame” and assured her that she would not be harmed, and that months later he received from Damascus “a letter and a pleasant little Baluchi carpet from the lady Ayesha, daughter of Jellal el-Lel, of Medina, in memory of an odd meeting”. (73) S. Mousa believes this story to be a fabrication and that the carpet was part of the booty plundered from the train. “Lawrence may have fabricated the episode to forestall the charge that he shared with the Bedouin this primitive custom of plundering the enemy, and to endow his story with something of romantic flavour”. (74) But the final proof that the carpet story was a mere invention is supplied by a letter that Lawrence himself wrote to a friend on September 24, 1917, two days after his return from the raid. Having informed his friend of his minor, but real part played in this raid, he goes on to say: “The Turks then nearly cut us off as we looted the train, and I lost some baggage and nearly myself. My loot was a superfine red Baluchi prayer-rug”. (75) Then Lawrence refers to Za’al as “our Leader” while in the Arab Bulletin Lawrence says that it was he who exploded the mine. al-Sherif Naser in the Arab Bulletin becomes “Sherif Aid” in Seven Pillars of Wisdom. I have chosen only the most significant accounts where Lawrence’s tales, adventures, raids and expeditions are elaborated and extended to cover many pages in Seven Pillars of Wisdom instead of one or two in his official reports, and where he mixed up names of the persons, leaders and facts. Lawrence’s accounts in Seven Pillars of Wisdom include many details which have no direct connection with the Revolt, but which none the less illustrate part of the general work of the Arab Revolt.

T. E. Lawrence and the Character of the Arabs

In a letter of December 1910, the young T. E. Lawrence defined civilization as “the power of appreciating the character and achievements of peoples in a different stage than ourselves.” No Englishman had a greater understanding of the past glory of Arab civilization and the modern contrast between nomads and city folk of the desert tribes and customs of homosexuality and asceticism, fanaticism and religion of the Bedouin methods of warfare, their blood feuds, bribery, plunder, and massacres of the heights and depths of the Arab character. The character of Arabs and their traditional way of life, always baffling to the West and now so horrifying, were endlessly fascinating and attractive to Lawrence.

To a large degree events of today have their origin in the convergence of this remarkable scholar and warrior, the servant of an imperial power, with a tribal people’s struggle to free itself from Ottoman rule. Lawrence promised self-government to the Bedouin tribal leaders who led the Arab Revolt and helped defeat the Turks in the Middle East. This goal came into conflict not only with British and French plans for their postwar empires, but more importantly, with the capacity of the Arabs themselves to go from that “different stage” of an almost medieval society to a modern state with a developed economy and political structure. As soldier and diplomat Lawrence’s insights into the Arab character were invaluable, but as propagandist for their cause he led the West into permanent conflict with Arab countries. He sowed the desert wind, and we have reaped the whirlwind.

Lawrence had read Classics and archeology at Oxford. Between 1909 (when he was twenty-one) and the outbreak of the war in 1914, he studied Arabic and crusader castles in Syria, walked through Mesopotamia (now modern Iraq), and worked on excavations in Egypt and in Carchemish (also in Iraq). Though his studies were genuine, they were a perfect cover for espionage, and under the guise of archeology he completed a military survey of the Sinai peninsula. For centuries the decaying and overextended Ottoman Empire had controlled the whole Middle East. With the advent of World War I, the Turks became allies of the Germans. Lawrence’s extensive experience in the Middle East as traveler, linguist, and archeologist put him in exactly the right place to become an intelligence officer, diplomat, and spy. Soon after the war broke out he joined the Arab Bureau under his friend and mentor, the Oxford archeologist David Hogarth, and worked in this center of British military intelligence in Cairo until December 1916. During these years he was entrusted with several important secret missions. According to his biographer, the poet Robert Graves, Lawrence traveled to the Senussi desert in Libya “to discover the whereabouts of British prisoners captured by the hostile Arabs there… . He was also sent to Athens to get contact with the Levant group of the British Secret Service, whose agent in Egypt he was.”

Lawrence had several dealings with the Turks, as both spy and emissary. Early in 1916, through the War Office and the British military attaché in Russia, he put the Grand Duke Nicholas in touch with certain disaffected Arab officers serving in the Ottoman army in the Turkish city of Erzerum, and helped the Russians to capture it. The War Office hoped Lawrence could perform a similar service in Mesopotamia, where the 10,000-man British garrison under General Charles Townshend at Kut was besieged by the Turks and threatened with annihilation. In April 1916 Lawrence was authorized to offer the Turkish commander two million pounds to free the garrison. The offer was disdainfully refused, and Townshend was forced to surrender unconditionally on April 29th.

The Arab Revolt against Turkish rule, led by Hejazi fighters and incited by the British, began with a rising in Mecca, in the Arabian peninsula, on June 10, 1916. The Arabs soon captured Mecca, the port of Jiddah, and the summer capital, Taif. This success in the Eastern theater of the war was especially welcome to the British after the slaughter of the allies at Gallipoli in the fall of 1915. But after these initial triumphs and the capture of 6,000 Turkish prisoners, the revolt became stagnant, and the Arabs were unable to take Medina, where the Turkish garrison was quartered. At this moment Lawrence, archeologist and anthropologist, student and spy, became the leader of several thousand tribal fighters. He acted as liaison between British and Arab forces, supplied military intelligence, and developed the strategy and tactics for the revolt. Knowing that modern wars with large armies and long-range weapons, like those on the Western front, were not suited to the historic desert battlefields, Lawrence exploited the disparate tribal armies who knew the desert and were skilled at raiding. He used his knowledge of Arabs and their customs to create a mobile army and weld the Hejazi nomads into a cohesive fighting force. He invented a new kind of guerrilla warfare—with sudden strikes and unexpected detonations—that avoided high Arab casualties but inflicted carnage on the static Turks, and transformed a series of separate incidents into an effective military operation.

Instead of pointlessly attacking the heavily fortified Medina, Lawrence left the 14,000-man Turkish garrison stranded in the vast desert and forced it into passive defense. This plan tied down a large number of Turkish troops for the duration of the war and forced the enemy to maintain the thousand-mile Hejaz railway from Damascus to Medina (completed by the Turks in 1909 to transport soldiers as well as pilgrims to the holy cities of Arabia). Lawrence earned the Arabs’ respect as a commander by risking his life in the dramatic manner of a desert hero. His affinity with them, his intellect, courage, endurance, his rare ability to live and fight like a Bedouin warrior, allowed him to lead the 1916–18 campaign in Arabia and become a kingmaker after the war was won.

In a letter of July 1918 Lawrence reflected on the austere yet poetic qualities of a race that had reached its cultural apex in the Middle Ages yet still maintained, in its opposition to the materialism of the West, an alluring simplicity: “the Arab appealed to my imagination. It is the old, old civilisation, which has refined itself clear of the household gods, and half the trappings which ours hastens to assume. The gospel of bareness in materials is a good one, and it involves apparently a sort of moral bareness too.” When writing about the Arabs, Lawrence consistently transformed their negative qualities into positive ones: “They think for the moment, and endeavour to slip through life without turning corners or climbing hills. In part it is a mental and moral fatigue, a race trained out, and to avoid difficulties they have to jettison so much that we think honourable and grave.” Lawrence’s description of how his hero Charles Doughty, author of Travels in Arabia Deserta (1888), embodied two cultures applies equally to himself: “His seeing is altogether English: yet at the same time his externals, his manners, his dress, and his speech were Arabic, and nomad Arab, of the desert.”

Lawrence had learned to admire the Arabs during the tranquil archeological digs before the outbreak of war. He was fascinated to discover, alive in their culture, chivalric traditions that he had merely studied before and that he thought were inherently noble, ascetic, and pure. A lonely person from an austere background, he was delighted by their tribal brotherhood. Their colorful embroidered garments satisfied his theatrical narcissism, their delicious intimacy appealed to his homosexuality. He was even more attracted to their darker side: their compulsion to deny the body that matched his own hatred of the physical, their renunciation of comfort that suited his Spartan ways, their inhuman endurance that matched his own need for self-punishment.

Despite this instinctive attraction to the Arabs, Lawrence always drew a sharp distinction between the artistic, intellectual, and military achievements of the caliphs who had ruled Damascus in the 7th century and Egypt (under Saladin) in the 12th century, and the Arabs of his own time, whom he considered degenerate and spineless, living on their dreams of past glories. Yet he could play on these heroic images of past history when it suited him, both to rally the Arabs and to confront their enemies. At the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, Lawrence interpreted for the Emir Feisal and often spoke for him. When a pompous French statesman, Stephen Pichon, asserted France’s claim to Syria during the Crusades, Feisal (speaking through Lawrence) replied: “But, pardon me, which of us won the Crusades?” Yet in his 1921 introduction to Doughty’s Arabia Deserta, Lawrence wrote of contemporary Arabs: “They are a limited narrow-minded people whose inert intellects lie incuriously fallow. Their imaginations are keen but not creative. There is so little Arab art to-day in Asia that they can nearly be said to have no art… . They show no longing for great industry, no organisations of mind or body anywhere. They invent no systems of philosophy or mythologies.”

Lawrence also made a clear contrast between the debased Arabs of the city and the primitive tribesmen of the desert. As early as June 1911, while digging at Carchemish, he exclaimed: “The perfectly hopeless vulgarity of the half-Europeanised Arab is appalling. Better a thousand times the Arab untouched.” Writing from Cairo the following year, he lamented that “the Egyptian people are horribly ugly, very dirty, dull, low-spirited, without any of the vigour or the self-confident independence of our [Carchemish] men. Besides, the [religious] fanaticism of the country is deplorable, and the treatment of the women most un European”—though it’s hard to see how the Bedouins’ treatment of their women, hidden from view and bound to domestic slavery, was more enlightened. By contrast, the young Lawrence—inevitably condescending on his first trip to the Middle East—found the Syrian villagers “pleasant: very childish & simple of course, & startlingly ignorant, but so far quite honest.” He always preferred the collective responsibility and group brotherhood of the tribal life in the desert to the individual isolation and competitive living of the crowded cities. He had no sympathy for rural people who might aspire to be city dwellers.

In his introduction to Doughty, Lawrence exalted the “air and winds, sun and light, open spaces and great emptiness” of the infinite desert. It maintained, even fossilized, the narrow-minded, fanatical religion that permeated every aspect of the tribesman’s existence: “He lives his own life in a hard selfishness. His desert is made a spiritual ice-house, in which is preserved intact but unimproved for all ages an idea of the unity of God… . Their conviction of the truth of their faith, and its share in every act and thought and principle of their daily life is so intimate and intense as to be unconscious.” Like the explorer Wilfred Thesiger, whose book on the Iraqi Marsh Arabs shares many of Lawrence’s views, Lawrence romantically idealized these primitive people, whom he thought noble precisely because they were savage. To the hyperintelligent and hypersensitive Lawrence, the idea of an intense unconsciousness had great appeal.

In his perceptive “Twenty-Seven Articles” on how to command the Arabs, written for British officers attached to Arab units and published in the Arab Bulletin of August 20, 1917, Lawrence advised them to “learn all you can about your Ashraf and Bedu. Get to know their families, clans and tribes, friends and enemies, wells, hills and roads… . If you succeed, you will have hundreds of miles of country and thousands of men under your orders.” For him, desert warfare was an aesthetic experience. He dressed himself in striking white robes and noted with pleasure how the colorful warriors enhanced the attractive landscape: “It was pretty to look at the neat, brown men in the sunlit sandy valley, with the turquoise pool of salt water in the midst to set off the crimson banners, which two standard-bearers carried in the van.”

Lawrence was also drawn to the Arabs’ uninhibited homosexuality, a physical release that acted on the powerful desires that he found difficult to express. In Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926) he idealized homsexuality as the biblical love of David and Jonathan, the Greek love of Achilles and Patroclus. Male passion had to be satisfied in the desert, sometimes through bestiality with the flocks of sheep or with the raddled meat of prostitutes. In his very first chapter, Lawrence boldly challenges conventional morality and writes of “friends quivering together in the yielding sand with intimate hot limbs in supreme embrace.” This homosexual union in an exclusively male society, represented in Seven Pillars by his devoted servants and followers Daud and Farraj, Lawrence considered a more honest, innocent, and spiritual union than heterosexual love: “They were an instance of the eastern boy and boy affection which the segregation of women made inevitable. Such friendships often led to manly loves of a depth and force beyond our flesh-steeped conceit. When innocent they were hot and unashamed. If sexuality entered, they passed into a give and take, unspiritual relation, like marriage.” Lawrence considered sex between his men clean and healthy, a useful bond that provided political as well as sexual unity.

Paradoxically, in the context of the harsh desert landscape, the Arabs’ self-indulgent homosexuality is somehow compatible with extreme, self-punishing asceticism, which transforms the hedonists into masochists—like Lawrence himself:

      Had the circumstances of their lives given them opportunity they would have been sheer sensualists. Their strength was the strength of men geographically beyond temptation: the poverty of Arabia made them simple, continent, enduring… .
        Their profound reaction against matter leads them to preach barrenness, renun-ciation, poverty: and this atmosphere stifles the minds of the desert pitilessly… .
        [The Arab’s] sterile experience robbed him of compassion and perverted his human kindness to the image of the waste in which he hid. Accordingly, he hurt himself, not merely to be free, but to please himself. There followed a delight in pain, a cruelty which was more to him than goods. The desert Arab found no joy like the joy of voluntarily holding back. He found luxury in abnegation, renunciation, self restraint.

      In one of the most lyrical moments of Seven Pillars, Lawrence describes a prewar ride over the rolling plains of northern Syria with Dahoum, a beautiful Arab boy whom he fell in love with at Carchemish and whose early death in 1918 supposedly inspired his great book. When they reach a Roman ruin whose clay had been kneaded with essential oils of flowers as a desert palace for an exotic queen, the Arabs lead him from perfumed room to room:

        But at last Dahoum drew me: “Come and smell the sweetest scent of all,” and we went into the main lodging, to the gaping window sockets of its eastern face, and there drank with open mouths of the effortless, empty, eddyless wind of the desert, throbbing past. That slow breath had been born somewhere beyond the distant Euphrates and had dragged its way across many days and nights of dead grass, to its first obstacle, the man-made walls of our broken palace. About them it seemed to fret and linger, murmuring in baby-speech. “This,” they told me, “is the best: it has no taste.” My Arabs were turning their backs on perfumes and luxuries to choose the things in which mankind had had no share or part.

      This brief apologue illustrates the inherent conflict in the noble simplicity of Bedouin life, which combines, in the ruins of another culture, perfume with mud, luxury with austerity. Lawrence creates a mood of tender intimacy and associates Dahoum with purity, throbbing sensuality, and Arab freedom. “Distant Euphrates” and “first obstacle” suggest the spaciousness of the desert and convey the nostalgic mood and the theme of mutability.

      Lawrence understood the Arabs’ need to despise luxury and pursue self-abnegation, even suicidal self-sacrifice. “Arab processes were clear,” he wrote, “Arab minds moved logically as our own, with nothing radically incomprehensible or different except the premiss: there was no excuse or reason, except our laziness and ignorance, whereby we could call them inscrutable or Oriental, or leave them misunderstood.” He then used this understanding to harness their fanaticism and lead them to victory against the Turks: “Arabs could be swung on an idea as on a cord for the unpledged allegiance of their minds made them obedient servants… . They were incorrigibly children of the idea, feckless and colour-blind, to whom body and spirit were for ever and inevitably opposed. Their mind was strange and dark, full of depressions and exaltations, lacking in rule, but with more of ardour and more fertile of belief than any other in the world.”

      Like many traditional societies, where the concept of honor was bound up with the idea of retribution, the Arab tribes were constantly torn by interminable blood feuds. In one notable case Lawrence—a foreigner and outsider—was forced to execute a murderer to avoid a blood feud that would have undermined their ability to fight the Turks. His ranks, nevertheless, contained hundreds of deadly enemies whose feuds, temporarily suspended during the war, always threatened to break out. The advance on Wedj, when tribalism had evolved into a kind of nationalism, was, Lawrence wrote in Seven Pillars, “the first time in memory that the manhood of a tribe, with transport, arms, and food for two hundred miles, had left its district and marched into another’s territory without the hope of plunder or stimulus of blood feud.”

      Nevertheless, they loved plunder and would not go into battle without being paid. Apart from their inherent divisiveness and mutual hostility, the tribesmen had to be bribed to keep fighting. They drifted away when they tired of battle, plundered the enemy and, unable or unwilling to deal with captives, massacred both civilians and prisoners of war. The heroic fighter Auda took bribes from Lawrence knowing, if the English failed to pay, that he could always get money from the Turks. The Arabs fought well under familiar conditions, but strange events—artillery shells or bombs from a plane—caused panic. Frustrated by the tendency of his fighters to disappear into the desert, even—or especially—at critical moments, Lawrence lamented: “A family would own a rifle, and the sons serve in turn for a few days each. Married men alternated between camp and wife, and sometimes a whole clan would become bored and take a rest… . Each [tribe] might be, usually was, whole-hearted against the Turk, but perhaps not quite to the point of failing to work off a family grudge upon a family enemy in the field.”

      The tribes went to war to gain honor and wealth. The most highly prized spoils were weapons, camels, and clothes—which they incongruously added to their own attire: “To an Arab an essential part of the triumph of victory was to wear the clothes of an enemy: and next day we saw our force transformed (as to the upper half) into a Turkish force, each man in a soldier’s tunic.” The indiscriminate and often destructive plunder sometimes turned them into wild beasts who disemboweled the railway carriages they had blown up and derailed: “The Arabs, gone raving mad, were rushing about at top speed bareheaded and half-naked, screaming, shooting into the air, clawing one another nail and fist, while they burst open trucks and staggered back and forward with immense bales, which they ripped by the rail-side, and tossed through, smashing what they did not want.”

      The effect, as they trundled their useless trophies into the desert, was degrading, absurd—and ultimately pointless: “Victory always undid an Arab force, so we were no longer a raiding party, but a stumbling baggage caravan, loaded to the breaking point with enough household goods to make rich an Arab tribe for years… . The restless, noisy, aching mob up the valley, quarreling over the plunder, boasting of their speed and strength to endure God knew how many toils and pains of this sort with death, whether we won or lost, waiting to end the history.”

      Lawrence sometimes encouraged the unremitting massacres, the most repulsive aspect of the desert war, as revenge for Turkish slaughter of the Arabs, as well as to satisfy his own lust for blood. In two vivid letters of July and September 1917, he contrasted the glorious appearance of his followers with their ignoble method of fighting: “My bodyguard of fifty Arab tribesmen, picked riders from the young men of the deserts, are more splendid than a tulip garden, and we ride like lunatics and with our Bedouins pounce on unsuspecting Turks and destroy them in heaps: and it is all very gory and nasty after we close grips… . This killing and killing of Turks is horrible. When you charge in at the finish and find them all over the place in bits, and still alive many of them, and know that you have done hundreds in the same way before and must do hundreds more if you can.”

      Lawrence wrote two versions of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, his account of the Arab Revolt and his part in it. The first, unpublished version—only eight copies of which were printed in double-column linotype at the Oxford Times in 1922—was 50,000 words longer than the published book. Lawrence’s initial portrayal of the Arabs—”one of the shallowest and least patient races of mankind”—is much harsher in this version than his idealized depiction for political and propagandistic purposes in the privately printed edition of 1926 and (with the same text but less lavish format) the posthumous trade edition of 1935. In the Oxford text he criticizes the Arabs for their failures, their excesses, their waste, and their unreliability for firing millions of shots in the air for their wild extravagance with English money. Though Lawrence shares the Arabs’ masochistic desire to prove their strength and achieve self-knowledge through intense suffering, this cruel wish for pain finally becomes abhorrent to him: “I saw something bestial in their deliberate search after abnormality, their breeding for it. After wrongdoing they would expect, almost claim, their punishment, as an honour due, welcoming it as a means of self-knowledge, by which to explore themselves, to learn how far beyond the bounds of daily fortitude their bodies could endure.” Lawrence himself often had to administer this severe punishment.

      Lawrence’s unflattering generalizations about the character of the Arabs echoed Doughty’s famous description of their polarized extremes of exaltation and depravity—from the excremental to the divine. Lawrence wrote that “his picture of the Semites, sitting to the eyes in a cloaca, but with their brows touching Heaven, sums up in full measure their strength and weakness.” Toward the end of his own agonizing epic Lawrence confessed: “I was tired to death of these Arabs petty incarnate Semites who attained heights and depths beyond our reach though not beyond our sight. They realized our absolute in their unrestrained capacity for good and evil.” Though disgusted by the pillaging, petty revenge, and pointless killings, Lawrence continued to harness the Arab taste for blood to achieve the main prize: to capture Damascus and win the war for the British. Later, full of self-disgust at his own complicity in their betrayal, he was burned out by the experience and horrified by what he had done.

      In Seven Pillars Lawrence substantiated his general comments about the Arab tribesmen by precise characterization of their leaders: Husein, Sherif of Mecca his sons Emir Abdullah and Emir Feisal the primitivistic, larger-than-life hero Auda and the self-sacrificial fighter Tallal. Lawrence at first liked the unworldly Husein, though he realized all too clearly that he would be unqualified to rule when the Ottoman Empire collapsed at the end of the war. Sherif Husein, he said, was “a very simple straightforward old man, clever enough too, but knowing so little. Upon us as a people is the responsibility of having made him a ruling power, and he is pitifully unfit for the rough and tumble of forming a new administration out of the ruins of the Turkish system.”

      Lawrence was consciously looking for an ideal leader to stir and command these disparate tribal warriors. At the same time he sought a romantic hero, and Emir Abdullah seems a promising candidate. The emir makes a theatrical appearance, but his faults are manifest: “Abdullah on a white mare, came to us softly with a bevy of richly-armed slaves on foot about him… . Though only thirty-five, he was putting on flesh… . [He lacked] the flame of enthusiasm that would set the desert on fire… . Abdullah was too balanced, too cool, too humorous to be a prophet: especially the armed prophet who, if history be true, succeeded in revolutions.” When Lawrence first meets Feisal, after rejecting his three brothers as potential leaders, he immediately realizes that he’s found the ideal warrior. He passes a slave with a silver-hilted sword in hand and sees the white-clad emir “very tall and pillar-like … framed between the uprights of a black doorway… . His hands were crossed in front of him on his dagger.” When Lawrence tells Feisal that they are far from their final goal of Damascus, “the word [falls] like a sword in their midst” and seems to promise that both will take up the bloody sword and conquer the city.

      But his intelligence reports at the time are far more incisive and hard-headed. In an early dispatch to the Arab Bureau in Cairo, a few days after first meeting Feisal in October 1916, Lawrence writes, more critically than in Seven Pillars, that Feisal “possesses far more personal magnetism and life than his brothers, but less prudence. Obviously very clever, perhaps not over scrupulous. Rather narrow-minded, and rash when he acts on impulse.” He concludes with a description of the emir that is remarkably close to his own character: “A popular idol, and ambitious full of dreams, and the capacity to realize them, with keen personal insight.”

      His personal accounts, in contrast, reveal how emotionally Lawrence identified with Feisal. In a letter of January 1917, just before the capture of Wejh, when “the initiative had passed to the Arabs [and] I was so joyous that for a moment I forgot my self-control, and said exultingly that in a year we would be tapping on the gates of Damascus,” Lawrence writes about Feisal with keen enthusiasm. In rather boyish language that applies to himself as well as to the emir, the twenty-eight-year-old Lawrence closely identifies with the Arab leader and his cause. Lawrence seemed proud of their friendship and praised the suave Feisal for his sensual attractiveness as well as for his military and political prowess: “Sherif Feisal (3rd Son of Sherif of Mecca), to whom I am attached, is about 31, tall, slight, lively, well-educated. He is charming towards me, and we get on perfectly together. He has a tremendous reputation in the Arab world as a leader of men, and a diplomat. His strong point is handling tribes: he has the manner that gets on perfectly with tribesmen, and they all love him. At present he is governing a patch of country about as large as Wales, and doing it efficiently.”

      Though Lawrence had become intensely critical of Feisal by the end of the war, he nevertheless repeated these sentiments in his anonymous article in the Times, written to advance the Arab cause, in August 1920. Glorifying Feisal’s romantic image and calling him a modern Saladin, Lawrence writes that the emir, a direct descendant of Mohammed, “had in him something of the prophetic fire, and his eloquence, enthusiasm, and knowledge soon gave him a personal ascendancy over all the tribes in contact with him.” At about the same time, writing more severely of Feisal in a passage omitted from Seven Pillars, Lawrence says that the emir is indifferent to detail and leads a Syrian staff that never grasps the nature of their Bedouin troops. In the Oxford text Lawrence states that “in accord with my year-old principle, Feisal would be kept in the background, in reserve, to be risked as a last card only if the situation was overtaxing our strengths, or if we were certainly victors.” Despite Feisal’s faults, Lawrence values him as a national leader and wants to make certain that he survives the war, which explains Feisal’s eclipse by the more colorful Auda and his disappearance from the latter part of the book. In the more negative Oxford text Lawrence, revealing a fatal flaw, admits that “Feisal was less than weak—he was empty, only a great pipe waiting for a wind,” and that he manipulated Feisal for political purposes: “I was not great, for I could feel contempt, a thin motive of effect, and yet chance made me his player.”

      Lawrence gave his final and most damaging estimate of Feisal in a conversation of 1933 with another biographer, the military historian B. H. Liddell-Hart: “Feisal, a timid man, hated running into danger, yet would do anything for Arab freedom—his one passion, purely unselfish. Here, as later in Iraq, it made him face things and risks he hated. At original attack on Medina he had nerved himself to put on a bold front, and the effort had shaken him so that he never courted danger in battle again.” Lawrence also told Liddell-Hart that he hid Feisal’s political weaknesss and exaggerated his military prowess in order to persuade his countrymen to back the emir: “As for his statesmanship, his defect was that he always listened to his momentary adviser, despite his own better judgment. All right so long as T.E. was his adviser! I asked T.E. why he portrayed Feisal as such a heroic leader in his reports. He replied it was the only way to get the British to support the Arabs—physical courage is essential demand of typical British officer.”

      In Seven Pillars Lawrence idealizes Feisal, especially when he first sees him, as a great and noble commander. He both contrasts him with his father, Husein, now portrayed as a vain, obstinate, and suspicious old man with an uncontrollable lust for power, and compares him to the revered General Edmund Allenby, whom Feisal finally meets as the two victorious armies converge at Damascus. Lawrence first writes that Feisal “was tall, graceful and vigorous, with the most beautiful gait, and a royal dignity of head and shoulders… . Appetite and physical weakness were mated in him, with the spur of courage. His personal charm, his imprudence, the pathetic hint of frailty as the sole reserve of this proud character made him the idol of his followers.” Lawrence also praises Feisal as a judge and diplomat, and for his ability to attract and unite the tribal armies, which he raised for a particular campaign as he passed through their territory and then left behind as he advanced northward. By the time the heterogeneous tribes reached Damascus, only a few hundred Hejazis remained in the army, and they had in their ranks “hundreds of deadly enemies, their feuds barely suspended by Feisal’s peace.”

      Privately, however, Lawrence’s views were negative. Lawrence’s secret wartime dispatches, his letters, his postwar journalism, the suppressed passages from the Oxford edition, and his correspondence with his biographers reveal that despite his first impressions, as the war progressed and Feisal’s weaknesses became obvious, Lawrence became intensely disillusioned and critical. Lawrence’s varied portrayals of Feisal served different purposes: pragmatic, personal, literary, and propagandistic. They revealed his own changing and contradictory views of Feisal and the Arabs in general.

      In contrast to the sophisticated Feisal, Lawrence portrays the naïve and recklessly courageous Auda (brilliantly played by Anthony Quinn in David Lean’s film) as the embodiment of epic and heroic virtues. Auda is associated with the Homeric catalogues of names and presents, grandiose boasting, furious races, and two monstrous feasts of sheep. Lawrence transforms this contemporary warrior into a legendary figure and exalts the primitive ideal makes him embody the spirit of a nation and glorifies his way of life at the same time that he records its disappearance: “He had married twenty-eight times, had been wounded thirteen times whilst the battles he provoked had seen all his tribesmen hurt and most of his relations killed. He himself had slain seventy-five men, Arabs, with his own hand in battle… . He saw life as a saga. All the events in it were significant: all personages in contact with him heroic. His mind was stored with poems of old raids and epic tales of fights, and he overflowed with them on the nearest listener.” Auda tolerates, even enjoys, Lawrence’s parody of his epic life: “I mimicked also his wave of the hand, his round voice, the rising and dropping tone which emphasized the points, or what he thought were points, of his pointless stories.”

      Auda fights valiantly and seems immune to injury: “Auda himself (in front, of course) had a narrow escape, since two bullets smashed his field glasses, one pierced his revolver holster, three struck his sheathed sword, and his horse was killed under him. He was wildly pleased with the whole affair.” Though the “thought-riddled” Lawrence could not identify with the intuitive Auda as he did with Feisal, he saw in the knight-errant the tradition of chivalric romance that had always fascinated him. For Auda too, “the world is greater as we go back,” but he has a direct and personal connection with that glorious world and recreates it in himself. Finally, however, Auda’s heroism is compromised by his bloodthirsty brutality: “in the empty land was Auda and in that night of his last battle the old man killed and killed, plundered and captured, till dawn showed him in the end.”

      During the final advance on Damascus, when the Arab army has been regularized and joined to the English under General Edmund Allenby, modern artillery and airplanes dominate the battles, and warfare is no longer a chivalric crusade. The noble death of Tallal—who “had been a tower of strength to us from the beginning, and who was one of the coolest and boldest horsemen I have ever met”—provides a striking contrast to the massacres of the vengeful Auda and marks a dark change of mood at the end of Seven Pillars. As Tallal and his tribesmen enter Tafas, they are horrified by the murder and mutilation of the women and children. Tallal, seeing this terrible slaughter in his own village, cannot bear to live with it. Moaning like a wounded animal, he

          galloped headlong, bending low and swaying in the saddle, right at the main body of the enemy. It was a long ride down a gentle slope and across a hollow. We sat there like stone while he rushed forward, the drumming of his hoofs, unnaturally loud in our ears, for we had stopped shooting, and the Turks had stopped. Both armies waited for him and he rocked on in the hushed evening till only a few lengths from the enemy. Then he sat up in the saddle and cried his war-cry, “Tallal, Tallal” twice in a tremendous shout. Instantly their rifles and machine-guns crashed out, and he and his mare, riddled through and through with bullets, fell dead among the lance points.

        The long sloping ride, dramatic spell of eerie silence, and powerful rhythm of this magnificent passage (a high point in the drama of the war), the futile and desperate war cry, and the brutal contrast of the machine guns and lance points, intensify the demise of nobility and honor, unchanged since the Middle Ages. Tallal dies, sacrificially but loyal to Bedouin values. His death, amid atrocities and automatic weapons, finally extinguishes Lawrence’s youthful idealism and exemplifies his great theme of a self-destructive triumph. In revenge, Lawrence orders the Arabs to take no prisoners, and they massacre the police battalion from Deraa (where Lawrence himself had been tortured and raped) as if only Turkish “death and running blood could slake our agony.” At Tafas, Lawrence—degraded by war—takes bloody retribution for himself as well as for the death of Tallal.

        In 1918 Lawrence’s forces, with the British and Australian armies, finally captured Damascus, “the lode-star to which Arabs were naturally drawn.” The liberation from Turkish rule, prophesied by Lawrence in his first meeting with Feisal, raised the pressing problem of who would govern the city and the disintegrating Ottoman Empire. By Lawrence’s account, the occupation of Damascus was disastrous. As a young lieutenant in the British army, Alec Kirkbride had to shoot a number of Arabs to restore order (“not that many,” he once told me). Self-seeking and anarchistic, the Arabs achieved a military triumph that proved hollow, ruined in Lawrence’s eyes by nightmare sights: by the carnage and sickening stench of the Turkish hospital, where rats “gnawed wet red galleries” into the corpses, and by the political chaos of the competing factions—Arabian, Syrian, and Algerian. The tribesmen knew how to fight, but not how to make peace. They lacked a national identity and could not unite to govern themselves effectively. “Such carnival as the town had not held for six hundred years” was celebrated in the “streets paved with corpses, the gutters running blood.” As Lawrence bitterly and clear-sightedly told Liddell-Hart: “Arab unity is a madman’s notion—for this century or next.”

        Lawrence supported the Hashemite claims to rule the Arabian peninsula, but after the war they were unable to maintain their power. In May 1919, after the resurgence of tribal hostility between Sherif Husein’s Hashemites and Ibn Saud’s puritanical Wahabis, Ibn Saud wiped out Abdullah’s army, and the peninsula became the modern Saudi Arabia. As Winston Churchill’s adviser, Lawrence helped “settle” the Middle East at the Cairo Conference in 1922. But the Hashemite leaders whom he placed in power did not, as the chaos of Damascus suggested, fare well and were completely driven out of Arabia in December 1925. Husein, forced to abdicate, died in exile in 1931. Feisal, king of Syria, was ousted by the French, ruled Iraq from 1921, and died of a heart attack in Switzerland (aged forty-eight) in 1933. Emir Ali, who succeeded Husein as king of the Hejaz, was also defeated and died in exile in 1935. Jaafar Pasha, who fought alongside Lawrence and became prime minister of Iraq, was murdered in 1936. Emir Abdullah, king of Jordan, was murdered in 1951. Ali’s son, another Abdullah, became regent of Iraq, and Lawrence’s comrade-in-arms Nouri Said later became prime minister of that country. Both were murdered in 1958. The present king of Jordan is the only surviving link to the Hashemite rule that Lawrence sought to impose.

        Seven Pillars of Wisdom described a culture and a society that was destroyed by the Great War. The invasion of Arabia by the modern world, with its technology and communications, and the Western discovery and production of oil transformed life in Arabia after the war and virtually extinguished the independent life of the Bedouin. Oil gave the Arab rulers unprecedented power and influence in the Middle East and throughout the world, without a corresponding sense of responsibility. Since Lawrence’s day the region has undergone radical changes. The harsh beauty of the desert has been polluted by oil, and Lawrence’s romantic vision of nomadic tribesmen has been replaced by repellent images of greedy, exploitative sheiks and their rapacious and ever-extending families, living in vulgar palaces in the ugly cities of modern Arabia. The ideal nobility of Saladin has been wiped out by the corruption of an Arafat or a Saddam Hussein, by the ruthless cruelty of Osama bin Laden and his fellow terrorists. In the light of recent history it is difficult to sympathize with Lawrence’s infatuation with the Arabs, his glorification of Feisal and his encouragement of Arab nationalism, which has had such a tragic impact on the entire world. To fulfill his promises and assuage his conscience, he helped establish conservative Arab kings who, though loyal to Britain, were unable to govern. By fulfilling their dynastic ambitions, he helped to create a time bomb in the Middle East. His political legacy, sustained by brilliantly effective propaganda, in Seven Pillars of Wisdom and elsewhere, has been catastrophic.

        Though their traditional way of life has almost disappeared and the Bedouin no longer have political power, their austere values remain an important part of the Arab mentality and myth. Many of the qualities that Lawrence noted in the Arab character still survive but look quite different when the exotic veneer is stripped away. Their past glory is even fainter now than it was in Feisal’s time. Arab politics is still dominated by bribery and corruption by factionalism and internecine warfare by extremism and religious fanaticism by blood lust and self-sacrifice and especially by the disregard of human life—their enemies’ as well as their own—and the massacre of innocent victims. Lawrence’s experience reveals that the Western powers cannot impose alien rule in the Middle East, which is still corrupt and torn by religious and tribal conflicts. The Arabs, in the six thousand years since Babylon, have never had a democratic government. Our current enterprise in Iraq will inevitably fail, and the country will revert, like Afghanistan, to civil war, bloody chaos, and oppressive dictators.

        T.E. Lawrence Wants to "Clear Up" The "Jewish Section" of Palestine in 1917

        On July 6, 1917, a legion of Arab riders captured the heavily-fortified seaport of Aqaba, after what was thought to be an impossible journey: a torturous six-hundred-mile ride through the desert, and descent from the interior to the unguarded eastern side of the town.

        The daring assault was conceived of, and led by, a sole English officer, Captain T.E. Lawrence. Small, peevish and rebellious, Lawrence was an archaeologist and mapmaker seconded to Military Intelligence. He was twenty-eight years old. When the hero of Aqaba wrote this letter, he was, fabulously, the most remarkable figure in the British army and all of the Mid-East and what he wanted, desperately, was Arab hegemony from Damascus all the way down through the Arabian peninsula. Standing in the way of his visionary Kingdom, however, stood the Jews, the French and, as he would ultimately come bitterly to comprehend, the British establishment itself&hellip

        Here Lawrence famously writes to his superior at the Arab Bureau, General Clayton, to ask whether he should send a just-penned letter to Sir Mark Sykes in which he inquires, inter alia, about Zionist aims. &ldquoOne must,&rdquo he tells Clayton, &ldquohave the Jewish section cleared up and I fancy we may (if we win) clear up the French section ourselves.&rdquo Clayton, as noted in autograph at the bottom of the letter, advised Lawrence not to forward his letter to Mark Sykes &ndash but a record of the unsent letter survived nonetheless. That missive is crucial to understanding exactly why Lawrence wanted the &ldquoJewish section cleared up&rdquo &ndash and addresses, en passant , Lawrence&rsquos conflict with the Zionist pioneer Aaron Aaronsohn and, by extension, those Zionist converts within the British establishment, like Sykes (and Balfour, Orsmby-Gore, Deedes and Meinertzhagen), whom Aaronsohn had influenced&hellip

        &ldquoGeneral Clayton showed me a letter from you which contained a message to myself - and this has prompted me to ask you a few queries about Near East affairs. I hope you will be able to give me an idea of how matters stand in reference to them, since part of the responsibility of action is inevitably thrown on to me, and, unless I know more or less what is wanted, there might be trouble. &ldquoAbout the Jews in Palestine, Feisal has agreed not to operate or agitate west of the [Wadi] Araba-Dead Sea-Jordan line, or south of the Haifa-Beisan line . . . &ldquoYou know of course the root differences between the Palestine Jew and the colonist Jew: to Feisal the important point is that the former speak Arabic, and the latter German Yiddish. He is in touch with the Arab Jews (their H.Q. at Safed and Tiberias is in his sphere) and they are ready to help him, on conditions. They show a strong antipathy to the colonist Jews, and have even suggested repressive measures against them. Feisal has ignored this point hitherto, and will continue to do so. His attempts to get into touch with the colonial Jews have not been very fortunate. They say they have made their arrangements with the Great Powers, and wish no contact with the Arab Party. They will not help the Turks or the Arabs. Now Feisal wants to know (information had better come to me for him since I usually like to make up my mind before he does) what is the arrangement standing between the colonist Jews (called Zionists sometimes) and the Allies . . . What have you promised the Zionists, and what is their programme? &ldquoI saw Aaronson in Cairo, and he said at once the Jews intended to acquire the land-rights of all Palestine from Gaza to Haifa, and have practical autonomy therein. Is this acquisition to be by fair purchase or by forced sale and expropriation? The present half-crop peasantry were the old freeholders and under Moslem landlords may be ground down but have fixity of tenure. Arabs are usually not employed by Jewish colonies. Do the Jews propose the complete expulsion of the Arab peasantry, or their reduction to a day-labourer class? &ldquoYou know how the Arabs cling even to bad land and will realise that while Arab feelings didn't matter under Turkish rule . . . the condition will be vastly different if there is a new, independent, and rather cock-a-hoop Arab state north and east and south of the Jewish state. &ldquoI can see a situation arising in which the Jewish influence in European finance might not be sufficient to deter the Arab peasants from refusing to quit - or worse!&rdquo

        Lawrence&rsquos reading of the incipient Arab-Zionist situation was, clearly, prescient - were a Jewish state established in Palestine, he feared the Arab movement would come to an end. Hence his intense interest in &ldquoclearing up&rdquo the Jewish and French &ldquosections". But even as he was promising Prince Feisal an empire consisting of the Ottoman territories from Damascus to the Arabian peninsula, the British and French had already decided to carve the region up between them - regardless of the wishes of the Arabs, the Jews, or anyone else who might be living in the territories in question.

        *Lawrence&rsquos reference to Aaronsohn&rsquos remarks is particularly interesting, inasmuch as Aaronsohn left an account of the meeting at which he made them. &ldquoThis morning I had a conversation with Capt. Lawrence,&rdquo he wrote in his diary on 12 August 1917. &ldquoAn interview without any evidence of friendliness. Lawrence had too much success at too early an age. Has a very high estimation of his own self. He is lecturing me on our colonies, on the spirit of the people, on the feelings of the Arabs, and we would do well in being assimilated by them, by the sons of Arab etc. While listening to him I imagined to be present at the lecture of a Prussian scientific anti-Semite expressing himself in English. I am afraid that many of the archaeologists and reverends have been imbued by 'l'esprit boche'. He is openly against us. He is basically of missionary stock.&rdquo Aaronsohn&rsquos assessment of Lawrence as an anti-Semite stands in stark contrast to Chaim Weizmann&rsquos opinion that Lawrence&rsquos relationship to the Zionist movement was a very positive one, in spite of his strongly pro-Arab sympathies.

        Watch the video: The Making of the Modern Middle East: Lawrence of Arabia and King Faisal I (January 2022).