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What We Need to Learn From T.E. Lawrence

December 17, 2010

Michael Korda in The Daily Beast:

T. E. Lawrence was far more than a glamorous, swashbuckling, heroic figure in flowing robes mounted on a camel, leading the Arab tribes against the Turks in World War One. Those who only know him as he was played—brilliantly—by Peter O’Toole, in David Lean’s masterful 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia, do not know the story of Lawrence’s life before 1917-1918, the two-year desert campaign that turned him into an enduring legend overnight, still less the pivotal role he played after the First World War in the creation of the modern Middle East. Today, when the Middle East is the main focus of our attention, and when Muslim insurgency, his specialty (and to some degree his invention) is the main weapon of our adversaries, the story of Lawrence’s life is more important than ever.

Much of what we face today in the Middle East (and even in Afghanistan) has its roots in Lawrence’s doomed struggle to get the Arabs what he (and they) thought they had been promised and deserved for rising in revolt against the Ottoman Empire, and in the betrayal of their hopes and his at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Therein lies the birth of the many grievances and bitterly disputed frontiers that still divide the region fatally, and which in the last 90 years have caused enough bloodshed to stain the sands of the desert red, with no sign that it will stop any time soon. But neither have we turned back to Lawrence to see where the Western world went wrong, or to learn from him how to understand and deal with the roots of Muslim anger at the West, or with the wars of terrorism and insurgency of which Lawrence was to some degree the inventor. [More]

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