RE: ply to Grant: Lawrence of Arabia

From: Lawrence DeBivort (
Date: Thu Feb 07 2002 - 19:10:37 GMT

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    Subject: RE: ply to Grant: Lawrence of Arabia
    Date: Thu, 7 Feb 2002 14:10:37 -0500
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    Hi! Back from travels...

    I haven't seen BlackHawk Down or know much about Somalia and the US, but I
    do know something about Lawrence of Arabia...

    > I had recently seen the DVD movie _Lawrence of Arabia_ (no, it
    > wasn't about
    > deBivort ;-)). How closely did this movie follow true history? What about
    > Lawrence's _Seven Pillars of Wisdom_ book itself?

    The movie was pretty good, factually, and given its artistic power, the
    source of some pretty strong memes about the Arabs and their WWI history.
    There had been more contacts between the British and the Hashimite Hijazi
    leaders than the movie depicts (and they had visited Cairo several times
    themselves). The movie also is a bit elliptical about the Sykes-Picot
    treaty, which was a secret agreement between the British and the French to
    divvy the Near East into spheres of influence. France was to get what
    essentially is now Syria and Lebanon, and Britain Palestine, Trans-Jordan,
    and Iraq. But Britain had earlier made a pledge (in the Hussein-McMahon
    Agreement) to the Arabs: fight with us against the Ottoman Empire and we
    will support your post-war independence. The Arabs, led by the Hashemites,
    agreed and this provides the essential story of Lawrence of Arabia. In an
    attempt to reconcile this agreement with the later Sykes-Picot treaty, the
    British insisted on a clause that asserted that Britain and the UK would
    support the self-determination of the peoples of Lebanon and Palestine, west
    of the Homs-Hama and Aleppo line, and implementation of the whole Treaty was
    made dependent on 'the cooperation of the Arabs.' In the movie, we see
    allusions to this potential deception, and Lawrence's growing sense that the
    Arabs were going to be betrayed by the British.

    As I recall, there is no mention in the movie (correct me if I'm wrong,
    please) of the Balfour Declaration, which was issued by the British to the
    Zionist organizations a bit more than a year after the Sykes-Picot Treaty,
    in which the British said they 'viewed with favor the establishment in
    Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people...' providing nothing
    would be done that would prejudice the rights of the non-Jewish inhabitants
    of Palestine. Of course, whatever comfort this restriction might have been
    to the Palestinians was also betrayed in subsequent events. I don't know
    whether Lawrence knew of the Balfour Declaration at the time of the events
    of the movie (which do cover post-Balfour Declaration events in Damascus
    with the declaration of the creation of the independent Syrian State), but
    if he had it would undoubtedly have increased his sense that the Arabs were
    going to be betrayed by Britain.

    The book is also excellent -- great writing! -- and the only real area of
    euphemistic portrayal of actual events has to do with Lawrence's
    reconnoitering into Damascus, and his capture by Ottoman authorities. The
    movie is suggestive on this point, but I don't know that Lawrence ever said
    what happened. This has been a source of much speculation by Lawrence
    scholars and popular writers.

    Lawrence was a serious explorer and scholar on the Arab world, and is
    portrayed more poetically in the movie than he might have been. See his less
    known book, Oriental Travels, for example. He was fluent in several dialects
    of Arabic -- quite a feat.

    Lawrence (de Bivort!)

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