Sunday, December 2, 2012

Two Books - Two Views

There are 2 books which have had more influence on events in the Middle-East than all of the diplomats and peace plans of the last 100 years combined. One, “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom” is an observation by T.E. Lawrence “of Arabia”, and gives insight into the fragility of the unity amongst the Arab tribes. It is also his personal observation of his experiences in the First World War as a liaison officer working with the Arabs against the Turks in the destruction of the Ottomon Empire in 1916-1918.

He took the title from the Book of Proverbs 9:1: "Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars.” Before the war had begun, Colonel Lawrence had begun a book on the 7 great cities of the Middle East, and their place in history. The finished version is actually the third version; the first having been abandoned by the outbreak of the war; the second having been stolen while on a train in England. (Wouldn’t you love to find that at a yard sale?)
“The Seven Pillars” is actually a rock formation located in Wadi Rum, or, what is present day Jordan. This is where he was based while serving with the British Forces in North Africa. Authorized by Emir Faisal he prepared attacks on the Ottoman Turkish forces from Aqaba in the south to Damascus in the north (present day Syria).
The dedication is one of the most debated in literature, with many believing it was dedicated to the young boy who acted as his aide-de-camp and was named Selim Ahmed, hence the dedication to “S.A.” Others believe the book was dedicated to the unity of the entire Arab race. Here is that poem;
I loved you, so I drew these tides of
Men into my hands
And wrote my will across the
Sky and stars
To earn you freedom, the seven

Pillared worthy house,
That your eyes might be
Shining for me
When I came

Death seemed my servant on the
Road, 'til we were near
And saw you waiting:
When you smiled and in sorrowful

Envy he outran me
And took you apart:
Into his quietness
Love, the way-weary, groped to your body,

Our brief wage
Ours for the moment
Before Earth's soft hand explored your shape
And the blind

Worms grew fat upon
Your substance
Men prayed me that I set our work,
The inviolate house,
As a memory of you

But for fit monument I shattered it,
Unfinished: and now
The little things creep out to patch
Themselves hovels
In the marred shadow
Of your gift.
The most unusual thing about this book is that T.E. Lawrence, who was an admirer of the Arab cause to be free of western influence, was the first cousin to Colonel Orde Wingate, the unsung hero of Burma during the Second World War, where he took on the Japanese with no outside support, constituting a third front and diverting valuable Japanese materials, and manpower to the area using tactics taken from the Old Testament, calling his 5 man groups the “Chindits” after the warriors depicted in the Bible. I have often wondered what dinner conversation was like between the two; what with one supporting Arab unity; while the other was an ardent Zionist.

The next book, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” or “The Protocols of the Meetings of the Learned Elders of Zion” was an anti-Semitic diatribe passed off as real. In it, it purports to verify a worldwide Jewish plan to take over the world financially. It was first published in Russia in 1903 under the supervision of Pyotr Ivanovich Rachkovsky, and then widely distributed in America by Henry Ford, who provided funding for 500,000 copies.  It was later used by Adolf Hitler to vilify the Jews in Germany and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Many people today still read this book and believe it to be true.

If you are wondering about this post; what its purpose might be; there is none really, beyond calling your attention to these two books which represent a large part of how the Middle East of today became the Middle East of today.

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