‘Lawrence in Arabia’

Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle EastLawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Scott Anderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

T.E. Lawrence remains an illusive figure to most people. Most people (including myself) have first learned of him through the 1962 movie by David Lean. This book is certainly about T.E. Lawrence, but will cover far more ground and characters. It places the story of Lawrence in it’s historical context, in which the modern day Middle East was given the shape we are familiar with today.

It describes the conflict inside him in the roles he was playing, first on behalf of the British government, but later more and more on the side of the Arabs, and how in the end this conflict of interest would tear him up on the inside.

What is most interesting today (as it has been 100 years since the outbreak of WWI), is to see how the imperial powers of that time schemed and lied in order to pull of “The Great Loot” for the remains of the Ottoman Empire. Much of the turmoil and conflicts of today in that region stem from the decisions made during and immediately following WWI. About this the author writes:

“Certainly, blame for all this doesn’t rest solely with the terrible decisions that were made at the end of World War I, but it was then that one particularly toxic seed was planted. Ever since, Arab society has tended to define itself less by what it aspires to become than by what it is opposed to: colonialism, Zionism, Western imperialism in its many forms. This culture of opposition has been manipulated—indeed, feverishly nurtured—by generations of Arab dictators intent on channeling their people’s anger away from their own misrule in favor of the external threat, whether it is “the great Satan” or the “illegitimate Zionist entity” or Western music playing on the streets of Cairo.”

It remains pure speculation to ponder what would have happened had Lawrence’s vision for Arabia actually been realized. Lawrence himself was a changed man, after everything he had fought for vanished. About this the author writes:

“this was an experience that left him [Lawrence] utterly changed, unrecognizable in certain respects even to himself. Victory carries a moral burden the vanquished never know, and as an architect of momentous events, Lawrence would be uniquely haunted by what he saw and did during the Great Loot.”

The book has been an absolute pleasure to read! The narrative is gripping and it just flows. Hard to put down once you start reading it.

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