On Tuesday, Feb. 12, Nabil Al-Tikriti delivered a lecture entitled “Troubled Man, Troubling Legacy: T.E. Lawrence, 1888-1935″ as part of the Chappell Great Lives lecture series at Dodd Auditorium on the UMW campus. The prezi visuals which accompanied the presentation can be accessed here: http://prezi.com/bjyci7hkur_a/te-lawrence-troubled-man-troubling-legacy/.
The Great Lives series official video production can be accessed here: www.umw.edu/greatlives/2013/02/14/video-lawrence-of-arabia/.
In advance of the lecture, The Free-Lance Star published an opinion piece by Prof. Al-Tikriti regarding T.E. Lawrence, which can be accessed here: http://fredericksburg.com/News/FLS/2013/022013/02102013/752750/index_html?page=1.
Here is the entire text of the opinion piece, published by The Free-Lance Star on Sunday, February 10:
“RARE IS THE individual who attracts over 40 biographies within decades of his or her departure from this world. Thomas Edward Lawrence, whose troubled legacy we will examine in Dodd Hall on Tuesday starting at 7:30 p.m. is one of those rare specimens.
Certain facts about his biography are well-known to casual observers, usually informed by David Lean’s 1962 film classic, “Lawrence of Arabia.” As everyone knows, Lawrence organized and led the Great Arab Revolt, which delivered the Arabs from the terrible Turkish yoke and overturned the mighty Ottoman Empire. He was more a sensitive scholar than a classic warrior, and was reluctantly pressed into service to help his country in its hour of need. He shied away from the limelight, and hated the attention he received as a result of his fame.
While each point is defensible, all are interpretations that have reached the public only after several levels of distillation. The real story is far more complicated.
Lawrence was indeed a complex man, a visionary of sorts who as a child craved to be recognized as a hero and then grew arguably insane as an adult due to his success in this realm. He welcomed the publicity offered by the prominent American journalist Lowell Thomas, the individual most responsible for shaping the legend of “Lawrence of Arabia.” He carefully managed his own image and was not above reminding people who he was when they were either unaware or uninterested in his fame. By the end of his life, he had developed a series of personality quirks that suggested borderline psychosis, and the account of his death never fully satisfied all observers.
Real contention about Lawrence springs from his legacy and the overall British legacy in the Middle East following the Great War. The popular narrative suggests that without the “Arab” uprising, the “Turks” would never have been defeated, as well as that, without Lawrence, there would have been no “Great Arab Revolt.” Neither of these propositions passes without intense criticism in the region itself. While those participating in Lawrence’s military endeavor were certainly Arab when they weren’t loyal soldiers of the British crown, they never numbered more than a few thousand, and were never more than an idealistic core of committed activists leading a motley crew of criminals, opportunists, and tribal raiders interested far more in the violent privatization of spoil and plunder than the ideals of national liberation.
As difficult as it has been for subsequent Arab and Turkish nationalists to recognize, the vast majority of Ottoman subjects in what is today the eastern Arab world were loyal to their empire to the end. In many cases, they were loyal beyond the end, as when Iraqi peasants appealed to Mustafa Kemal to rescue them from their new British overlords in the early 1920s.
Lawrence, who repeatedly claimed in his own classic “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” to have been tortured by his irreconcilable loyalties to both the British Empire and Arab independence, was capable of a ruthless pursuit of his often inconsistent agenda. He was aware of allied agreements destined to betray British promises made to the Hashemite family, and he believed that Jewish settlement of Palestine need not conflict with the rights of the indigenous Palestinians. He felt that putting Faisal on the throne in the newly created country of Iraq, and his brother Abdullah in the equally unknown Transjordan, discharged his obligations to the Arab cause. Much like today’s Obama administration, Lawrence found the judicious use of air power to be modern, humane, and more efficient than alternative methods of exerting sovereign control over recalcitrant populations.
Although this individual’s illegitimate birth, proclivity for whippings, misanthropic and chaste approach to sexual relations, and extreme personality tendencies are all psychologically fascinating, our talk on Tuesday evening will focus more on public interpretations of his legacy than his private demons. Those planning to attend should do their utmost to first screen Lean’s film classic, as all good history should begin with a great flick.”