Modern History: Essay/Film Response From an historical perspective, David Leans’ film, Lawrence of Arabia was flawed with inaccuracies of both characters (especially Lawrence) and events, but it was truly an epic film that has been rightly seen as a classic. The crumbling Ottoman Empire of the 19th century was put under pressure by the expanding imperial powers of Britain, France and Germany, each wanting territory in the Middle East.
For example, Britain’s interest in the land was for oil, the Suez Canal and it’s land routes and the safeguarding of the sea routes to India.Contrary to the films adaptation, Lawrence, a “Jut jawed, deceitful man”, standing at 5ft, 4in opposed to Peter O’toole at 6ft, 2in was a committed Arabist who had been working as an archaeologist for several summers in the Middle East through the influence of his mentor, David George Hogarth who was the keeper of the Ashmolean Museum. He had studied under Hogarth at university and had a great comprehension of military, political, historical and archaeological aspects of the region. Lawrence had been taking part in military surveys whilst on these archaeological digs.By 1914, when war looked likely, Lawrence was already a major part in the British espionage system known as the Arab Bureau. Its aim was to bring down the Ottoman Empire.
The head of the Arab Bureau was ‘Bertie’ Clayton, which in the film, is Mr. Dryden. As opposed to the film where Mr. Dryden sent Lawrence to assess the prospects of Prince Faisal in his revolt against the Turks, in reality the Arab Bureau and Lawrence supported the idea of an Arab Revolt as outlined in the McMahon Letter. This letter, a case of conflicting promises is better understood as described by Edward Said.
He describes “Orientalism” as the way European’s viewed the inhabitants of the Orient as inferior politically, economically and culturally. As outlined in Perry’s: The Australian Light Horse (Novel), Sharif al Far qi who was a deserter from the Ottoman army, wanted the British to support a revolt against the Sultan of Turkey. Clayton and Lawrence supported this. They saw Arab nationalism as a means to overthrow the Ottoman Turks.
Lawrence did not believe in modernization through revolt but was obsessed with the Bedouins and their nomadic lifestyle rather than “Town Arabs”.He wanted self-determination for traditional Arabs and al Faruqi seemed to represent this. Lawrence was concerned that the French would back the revolt before the British did and pushed hard for Britain to take control of Alexandretta (Northern Syria). Lawrence believed if (after the revolt) the Arabs were properly handled, they would be incapable of uniting as a nation. He had no intention of giving any Arab group freedom or independence but being under British control.Unlike the movie Lawrence was aware of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which would divide the Middle Eastern territory, under Ottoman control, by France and England after the war was won.
This Arab deception was necessary for a fast, un-costly success (after the Gallipoli catastrophe) in the Middle East. On 16th June 1916 the revolt began by Hussein – the Sharif of Mecca. This stalled in September 1916, as Hussein did not have the capacity to gain wide Arab support. Feisal – Hussein’s second youngest son was a leader of a Bedouin coastal tribe and in him, Lawrence saw a true leader so he developed the relationship by offering riches.With the film focusing on Lawrence, detail of the war and Arab Revolt was lost.
The film saw Lawrence and the Bedouin forces alone attacking the Hejaz railway. The fact that there were British attacks on the railway by January 1917 and a French mission led by Colonel Bremond (not mentioned in the film), a good month before Lawrence first attacked in March 1917. 1917 saw the Bedouin tribe’s momentum building with more tribes joining the swelling force. The Turks were on the defensive and getting pushed back to Medina, loosing control of the railway, which was how they supplied their spread out army, as the Arabs pushed north.
The character of Sharif Ali was purely fictional; Lawrence did not serve with any one Arab leader throughout the war. There is no mention of the Balfour Declaration in the film other than a vague reference by Bentley the American reporter who, when speaking to Feisal in late 1917, after the fall of Aqaba, said he was looking for a hero that will draw America towards the war. By this time though, America had been in the war for several months. The reporter Bentley by the way is fictitious and his character is based on the American journalist Lowell Thomas who did not start reporting on Lawrence until after the war.The Balfour Declaration, stating that a “national home for the Jewish people would be found in Palestine while preserving the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish people.
” This again is a blow to the Arab cause and Britain could not resolve the conflicting principles. This declaration was a teaser for American Jews, who would help influence the US government to commit further to supporting the allied cause. The fact that once Damascus was taken by the Arabs and the Arab Council was established is true, but as apposed to the film; it lasted until 1920 when the French deposed Feisal.In conclusion the film did not help put into perspective Lawrence’s role in the Middle East. He was an Arabist but held the “Orientalism” beliefs that Edwards Said reflected.
The fact that he knew about the Sykes-Picot Agreement and that his deception was working for the British Empire showed where his true alliance was. This “double crossing” only added to the complexity that unraveled in the already complex issue of the Arab-Israeli situation. BIBLIOGRAPHY: * Class hand out sheets. * Roland Perry; The Australian Light Horse.
* My father.