Main navigation:

Perspective: Himmet Umunç on Akaba and the Arab Revolt

Excerpt from “In Pursuit of a Futile Fantasy: A Critique of T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt,” presented in Turkish at the XVth Turkish History Congress, September 2006, Ankara, Turkey.

“The main concern of this paper is to make, by referring to Lawrence’s memoirs and other sources, a critique of Lawrence’s perception of the Arab Revolt and comment on the roots of his Turkish antagonism within the framework of his romantic and complex personality. Thus, the racist, hegemonic and imperialistic dimensions of the Lawrence factor in the Arab Revolt will be emphasized within the context of the subtexts in his memoirs…

…Lawrence got involved as a guiding tactical adviser in the irregular force that Faisal had created from the Arab tribes and, together with a group of Arab elements assigned by Faisal, organized attacks, by using guerilla warfare tactics, against the Turkish military facilities, chiefly including the Hejaz Railway, and the troops in the region. They captured the port of Aqaba and, together with Faisal, provided support for the British forces advancing under Allenby’s command towards Damascus from the Palestinian front.

Even though Lawrence tried in essence to base the Arab Revolt upon Arab nationalism and independence, these concepts did not carry any meaning further than futile fantasy because tribal allegiance was essential among the Arabs, who lacked the concept and philosophy of nationalism. Moreover, the traditional factions and hostilities among the tribes hampered the development of an Arab unity based on nationalism and independence. Therefore the Arab unity which Lawrence had envisaged with an entirely romantic and fanciful attitude did not materialize, and the Arab Revolt itself turned out to be no more than the endeavour of Sharif Hussein and his sons to secure political hegemony for themselves, and also provided the ground for banditry, plundering and betrayal carried out against the Turks. Moreover, the discourse of “Arab nationalism” and “Arab independence,” which Lawrence had himself formulated, was apparently not taken into account by the British government since, both in accordance with the articles of the Paris Peace Conference and also as indicated earlier in the Sykes-Picot agreement, which had been secretly signed between Britain and France on 16 May 1916 in London, the Arab territories outside Lebanon, the coastal part of Syria, and Palestine had come under the British mandate.”

Read Umunç’s entire paper in English (PDF) or in Turkish (PDF).