RE: ply to Grant: Lawrence of Arabia and the Middle East

From: Lawrence DeBivort (
Date: Fri Feb 08 2002 - 15:11:42 GMT

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    From: "Lawrence DeBivort" <>
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    Subject: RE: ply to Grant: Lawrence of Arabia and the Middle East
    Date: Fri, 8 Feb 2002 10:11:42 -0500
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    > >From: "Lawrence DeBivort" <>
    > >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.

    > So...the Brits weren't playing both sides were they (courting the
    > Arabs AND
    > the Jews with empty promises)? I can't recall anything about the Balfour
    > Declaration in the movie _Lawrence of Arabia_. It's hard to keep all that
    > stuff straight...Balfour declaration, Resolution 242, PLO covenant, etc...

    Hi, Scott,

    The Balfour Declaration was motivated by the desire of the British
    government to secure Jewish European financing (e.g. Rothschild) for the
    war, and the Hussein-McMahon Agreement by the desire to mobilize the Arabs
    against the Ottoman Empire. The Sykes-Picot Treaty was motivated by a desire
    to avoid tension with France, a war-time ally. Besides the fact that
    different parts of the British government were involved in these and had
    their own priorities, the British DID try and thread their way through it
    all by inserting into each language that softened their incompatibilities.

    The first agreement, Husain-McMahon (1915), was the least equivocal: Great
    Britain would recognize and support the independence of the Arabs, reserving
    only the districts of Aleppo and Beirut (the coastal regions of northern
    Lebanon and Syria), where French interests, according to Britain, would
    require further consideration. No reservation about Palestine.

    The Sykes-Picot Treaty (1916) with France (Russia and Italy later joining
    in), stated their agreement to recognize and protect/uphold Arab
    independence, and divvied the Arab world east of the Mediterranean into
    British and French sphere of commercial interest, "provided the co-operation
    of the Arabs is secured."

    The Balfour Declaration (1917) by Britain to the Zionist Organization (with
    Italy and France later issuing somewhat different but supportive
    declarations) stated that the UK would 'view with favour' the establishment
    of a Jewish home in Palestine and use their best endeavors to facilitate
    this, provided that nothing would be done that might prejudice the civil and
    religious rights of the non-Jewish communities of Palestine.

    So the linguistic sleight-of-mouth was there, and Britain could claim that
    it did not engage in duplicity. But surely they must have known that those
    they were negotiating with were not going to let this carefully nuanced
    language stand in their way, and in particular we have seen many pro-Israeli
    arguments assert that the UK 'promised' the creation of the Jewish State in
    Palestine, and when Britain became the mandatory power in Palestine after
    WWI, the Arabs can rightly claim that the British failed entirely to live up
    to the commitments that the UK had made to them in all three agreements,
    commitments upon which they had revolted against the Ottoman Empire. (There
    were several other agreements that were made during this period (Wilson's
    Fourteen Points, Constantinople, the King-Crane Commission, the Joint
    Anglo-French declaration of 1918, the Damascus Protocol, Sevres, Lausanne,
    etc.) but the three that we have been talking about are IMO the critical
    landmark ones.

    Some memes emerged from these agreements, with concerted encouragement of
    those the memes favored, and others never 'took,' and others were mutated --
    were mis-represented in subsequent iterations. It makes a pretty interesting
    memetic case study.

    > The Brits (and French) wound up making it up to Israel in the
    > 1956 Suez war,
    > that sneaky little end-around play against Egypt without
    > consulting with the
    > Merikans. Naughty naughty.

    Yeah -- Dulles and Eisenhower had to reel them in. :-) But the British
    motivation was to regain control of the Canal (nationalized by the
    Egyptians) and the French to stick it to Nasser, whose influence in North
    Africa was beginning to undermine their control of Algeria. These were
    imperial and colonial motivations, rather than a desire to support Israel.
    Indeed, Britain and France felt that they were using Israel's military
    presence for their own purposes. Of course, the Israelis had their own
    reasons and were glad of the opportunity. US popularity in the Arab world
    rose dramatically with this, and undid much of the damage that Truman's
    support for the partition of Palestine into Israel and Palestinian entities
    had created.

    > What's your opinion of the _Washington Report on Middle East Affairs_? It
    > takes quite a pro-Palestinian view. I'm not opposed in principle to
    > Palestinian statehood, if Palestinians could respect Israel's right to
    > exist. Too bad things seem to have backpedaled from the Oslo talks which
    > I've been reading about in Mark Perry's _A Fire in Zion_. There were IIRC
    > some economists who thought that economic ties could help turn the tide
    > between the enemies. I doubt the Israeli hardliners like Sharon
    > are going to
    > help the peace process much.

    Palestinian independence and their recognition of Israel are pre-requisites
    to a negotiated peace in the area. Both sides have pretty much recognized
    this, though have their militant dissidents on this. The problem is that the
    implementation of this solution has a bunch of other issues -- important
    ones -- that are far from resolved, each one of them a potential
    deal-breaker. Hence, no progress. Oslo, IMO, was deceptive, in that it
    simply put off addressing these deal-breaker issues in favor of a period of
    'confidence-building' steps. But yes, Oslo is as close to a real negotiation
    as we have had.

    The notion of economic opportunity being used to bring Israelis and
    Palestinians together goes back a long ways...from Rothschild (great early
    supporter of Jewish migration to Palestine) where the cheap labor of the
    Palestinians would be a boon to jewish land-owning farmers, to Eisenhower's
    'Atoms for Peace' plan, to current Palestinian employment in Jewish
    factories and in the service sector... Palestinians seem to be happy for
    the employment, but that does not seem to compromise their desire for a
    freed Palestine or a Palestinian State within the boundaries of Palestine.

    I agree about Sharon. As the 'butcher of Lebanon' and under current
    investigation in Belgium for war crimes, he is ill-suited to deal with the
    Palestinians. But I do believe that he represents legitimate concerns and
    fears within Israel, and that his intransigence gives these fears some
    reassurance, at a time when it is greatly needed. You saw (and we debated
    ;-) ) the cognitive, memetic effect of Sept 11 on the US population; you
    can imagine what the effect of Palestinian resistance and attacks on
    Israelis must be. Sharon is, in the midst of the psychological and cognitive
    chaos, a steadfast point of reference. So...

    We have a near-perfect stalemate: the Palestinians won't stop their
    rebellion against Israeli control because they believe that is they ever
    stop it the world will forget them and that the Israelis, without the
    pressure of the rebellion to force them forward, won't pursue meaningful
    negotiations. The Israelis won't stop their oppression of the Palestinians
    because they believe that if they do the Palestinians will be emboldened to
    attack Israel even more, and that the Palestinians, under less pressure,
    will be even less inclined to accept the irrevocable reality of the Israeli

    > I'm not sure what to make of Arafat. Is he
    > still hemmed in under watch of Israeli tanks? How's he supposed to "crack
    > down" on his more bellicose Palestinians in that situation?

    There is a huge debate going on now about Arafat. In my opinion, he is old
    and tired. He took on a near-impossible task and it has broke him, The
    Israelis have now embraced the idea that he must go, and are courting other
    Palestinian leaders. But this may be a huge mistake: no replacement for
    Arafat will be less militant than he, and is likely to be much more vigorous
    and skilled than he is. In today's reports, it is said that Bush has refused
    to go along with Sharon's demand that the US break-off relations with

    > In Tom Segev's _One Palestine, Complete_ there's something about Chaim
    > Weizmann meeting T.E. Lawrence (in Aquaba with Faisal?).

    Hmmm... I haven't read this book. I do know that King Faisal, Lawrence and
    Weizmann met in Britain after the war but before the peace settlement
    conferences, and that Zionist aspirations in Palestine were discussed. Do
    you have anything more about an Aqaba meeting?

    To all our memetics list readers, I would like to recognize that in these
    discussions of the Middle East, Afghanistan, etc, we are straying far from
    the normal scope of discussion. I see this all as a wonderful case study of
    applied memetics, but understand that this may not be the view of many on
    this list. We are also discussing this due to the scurrilous and provocative
    attacks on Islam that a couple of members of this list have posted, and I
    have been among those rising to the bait and responding.

    I would welcome any thoughts or guidance you might give me with regard to
    the propriety of this discussion on this list, including any private emails
    you may wish to send me about this.


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