The Lawrence of Arabia syndrome Western politicians suffer from illustrates the limitations of people like Barack Obama, John Kerry and Catherine Ashton. Raised on Western values of pluralism and integration and influenced by British intellectual orientation, they have absolutely no ability to even imagine let alone appreciate or understand the manipulations of which Shi’ite Iranian Ayatollahs and Sunni Arab sheikhs and leaders are capable.
by Reuven Berko
Special to IPT News
January 6, 2014
Peter O’Toole, who was marvelous in “Lawrence of Arabia,” died recently. Many commentators and critics feel that Lawrence’s story and the movie about him influenced the actions of many European statesmen, politicians, and members of Western foreign ministries and security services. However, there is considerable argument as to whether and what, as a matter of historical fact, T. E. Lawrence contributed to the British war effort by collaborating with the Bedouin tribes of the Arabian Peninsula against the Ottoman Turks during the First World War. Not all historians agree to the truth of the glowing reports of his personality, moral stature and personal behavior.
Nevertheless, the enigmatic figure of Lawrence, an intelligence officer, became a role model for Western diplomats and statesmen, and he is revered as a master of mediating with the leaders of the Arab world. He seemed secretive and manipulative, with the rare ability and knowledge to exploit Arab ideology to achieve victory and foster the interests of the West, and to build inter-cultural cooperation and coexistence in a way that was both noble and romantic.
The Arabs with whom Lawrence collaborated were romanticized and made to appear exotic and other-worldly. The murder, grudges, blood feuds, treachery, deception, destruction, violence, theft, robbery and looting, all deeply ingrained in the psyches of the Arab tribes, were wrapped in romanticism and existentialist concepts explained and justified as necessary, forced upon the Bedouins by their daily struggle to subsist in the hard conditions imposed on them by the desert.
That was the foundation for utterly false and baseless concepts such as “Arab honor” and “his word is his bond,” from which the image of the noble, almost feral, desert Bedouin Arab was constructed. Tales worthy of the Thousand and One Nights were told about the loyalty of the Arabs, their honor, trustworthiness and other imaginary transcendental qualities, turning the Arab in to a paradigm on which generations of Western intellectuals were reared, especially those who eventually went to work for the British Foreign Office. Critics of the blind worship of Lawrence have always claimed that the image of the British officer and his Arab partners was constructed through an emotional idealization resulting from a general lack of expertise regarding the Middle East, a region veiled in mystery, wonder and enchantment.
Few people have bothered to read the Muqaddimah, or Introduction, written by Arab historian Ibn Khaldun in the 14th century, in which he describes the Bedouins as destructive, lacking any sense of morality or values, and working only to destroy culture and world order. Even fewer have read Fouad Ajami’s 1998 book, The Dream Palace of the Arabs: A Generation’s Odyssey, with its painful criticism of the pitiful Arab, whose inherent culture left him no shred of sincerity, creativity or courage. Worse, even fewer members of Arab society itself have dared to honestly criticize its faults for fear of reprisals.
In the West, however, there were scholars who did objectively study the weaknesses and faults of the Arab Middle East, but the lack of openness, jealousy and the dark, ancient tribal pride made the Arabs sneer at such scholars as “Orientalists,” unqualified pretenders who had the audacity to claim knowledge of the East. Those industrious, forthright scholars were accused by Arab “intellectuals” like Professor Edward Said of arrogantly patronizing the Arabs. The claim of Said, and others like him, was that they were not scholars but were in reality ignorant, stigmatizing the Arabs because of their imperialist-colonialist mindset and fanatical Christian hatred for the Arabs and Muslims, as well as their unjustified feelings of superiority.
Peter O’Toole was a great actor, but the movie “Lawrence of Arabia” was nothing more than a Hollywood fantasy which, like the imaginary story of Lawrence, swept away many romantics and for decades had a negative impact on the decisions made by influential Western officials and statesmen dealing with policy in the Middle East. The problem is that today as well, Western leaders and policy-makers view and discuss the problems of the Middle East through the prism of Lawrence of Arabia, romantic, distorted and nostalgic as it is, seeing only the unilateral Arab position of every conflict, and adopting paradigms, symbols and historical deceptions as the gospel truth.
Lies told repeatedly, as the past has shown, become historical truths. Actually, Hollywood’s world of dreams and fantasy did not penetrate the wandering sand dunes of the evil and unjust acts perpetrated by the Arabs and Bedouins throughout the years of the jahiliyya (the era of ignorance before Islam) which left their indelible imprint of murder and theft. Those crimes accompanied the Arabs and Muslims from the rise of Islam and accompany them to this day. All the evil storms of history visited upon humanity did not expose to the people of Europe (who today host well-established enclaves of radical Islam in their midst) even the surface of the slaughter and injustice carried out by Muslims in the name of Islam, “the religion of peace,” against Jews and Christians. Europe is still influenced by the fantasies of Lawrence of Arabia, captivated by the specious charms of the Arabs and Islam and unaware of the catastrophe that will be visited on the world as soon as the Islamist genie is let out of the bottle, making the World Trade Center look like three minutes of “coming attractions.”
Fortunately for the West, what was mistakenly called the Arab Spring quickly turned into the Arab Winter, and the storms of internecine Sunni-Shi’ite terrorism and slaughter exposed the convenient lapses of memory for what they were and tore away the myths concealing the true face of the Arab-Muslim world. It is now a recognizable fact that all over the globe, wherever there are Arabs and Muslims there is slaughter, terrorism, mass murder of both brother Muslims and “infidels,’ pedophilia, the oppression of women, rape, the murder and persecution of Jews and Christians, the burning of houses of worship, and the use of weapons of mass destruction to kill civilians, none of which has the slightest relevance to the so-called “issue of Palestine.”
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Dr. Reuven Berko has a PhD in Middle Eastern studies, is a commentator on Israeli Arabic TV, writes for the Israeli daily newspaper Israel Hayom and is considered one of Israel’s top experts on Arab affairs.