MARION – Betrayal births a ring of fire

Betrayal births a ring of fireIt seems that whichever direction you turn from Turkey you find a land filled with hatred and killing.Across the Black Sea lies the Crimea, caught in a tug-of-war between Ukraine and Russia, and Eastern Ukraine, where fighting between rebels and the government had grave international consequences with the tragic downing of a Malaysian Airlines jet.

The fighting still goes on, as fierce as everSwing around the compass a little and you reach Dagestan and Chechnya and other Russian republics that want their independence. Fighting is not confined to within the borders of the North Caucasus — terrorism regularly spills onto the streets of Moscow and the Boston Marathon bombers had links here.

To the east of Turkey, the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh has flared up again recently. Both sides last Monday reported an escalation of fighting with 18 soldiers killed over the weekend.

Sadly, the nations to the south of Turkey seem to have been engulfed in conflict for decades. Once more, we are witnessing horrific violence spilling out of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza Syria has been torn apart by a bloody civil war that has displaced millions of its citizens.

And now we are witnessing meltdown in Iraq, with minorities fleeing for their lives. Those outside of this region had scarcely heard of the Yezidis.

Now newspaper journalists and television reporters are explaining to the world the beliefs and the plight of an ancient people that are struggling for survival. Caught between the violent oppression of jihadi fighters and the searing heat of the mountainous desert, they are facing the real possibility of a genocide that would wipe them off the face of the earth.

It seems that the international community, as usual, is unable to do much. Thankfully, we have begun to see humanitarian aid being dropped and Chinook helicopters being used to rescue people from the mountainside.

The opening up of safe corridors is essential. An end to the fighting is required.

Assistance to surrounding countries such as Lebanon and Turkey, which are being flooded with refugees, is urgent.Sometimes, however, it feels that all the world does is talk.

Regarding Nagorno-Karabakh, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged both sides to “refrain from further violence and commit themselves to immediate de-escalation and continuing dialogue in the pursuit of a rapid and peaceful political solution.” Similar statements are made by world leaders relating to the sorry list of conflicts mentioned above.

But should we be surprised that the circle around Turkey is a ring of fire? In Scott Anderson’s 2013 masterly history of the life and times of Lawrence of Arabia, which has recently been published in paperback, we read these words which this week seem so chillingly prophetic:“Thus far the [Arab Spring movement] has shown little sign of coalescing around any notion of Arab unity, let alone the old dream of a greater Arab nation, but very much the opposite: a reversion to the balkanized patchwork of ethnic and religious enclaves that existed under the Ottoman millet system While no American government official will publicly admit it, Iraq today has largely devolved into three mini-states, divided along those sectarian and ethnic lines — Kurdish, Shia and Sunni — that predated the Western imperial mapmakers.”This is a stunning and broad-sweeping history of the overthrow of the Ottoman Empire and the political power-play that accompanied it.

Anderson aims at history, rather than biography, although all the familiar elements of the story are here. An archaeologist in Syria in 1914 becomes the legendary figure that unites the Arabs in their revolt, and leads the charge towards the coastal city of Aqaba The familiar characters such as Faisal ibn-Hussein and General Allenby all grace the stage, too.

But Anderson doesn’t fall into the familiar debate of whether Lawrence was a blessing or a curse to the Arabs whether he was pro-Zionist or pro-Arab whether he was a madman who thought he was a god or a mild, humble reticent human being. For Anderson, Lawrence was all of these since Lawrence’s views and attitudes changed throughout his life.

He presents us with Lawrence as a chameleon, and as a man uniquely changed and haunted by what he had lived through. He summarizes that for Lawrence, history was malleable and the truth was whatever people were willing to believe.

So instead of trying to decipher which of the several versions of events that Lawrence told was the correct one, he concentrates instead on the external historical events, whose evolution caused Lawrence to change his position.Unlike the famous David Lean film, with its haunting theme music that played through my mind continually while reading this, “Lawrence in Arabia” does not end when Lawrence is ordered home from Damascus.

It is from this point onwards that the real battle for Arabia began. Lawrence had one vision for the Arabs, the Turks had another, and Britain and France had a third.

Lawrence may have won the war, but as Anderson demonstrates, he was resoundingly trounced in the peace.“All he’d fought for, schemed for, arguably betrayed his country for turned to ashes is a single five minute conversation between the Prime Ministers of Britain and France.

” Through a series of backroom deals, vengeful treaties and arbitrary borders, the leaders of these two nations rushed through their plans for a new world order, before US President Woodrow Wilson with his views on the rights of oppressed people to self-determination arrived at their meetings.A meticulous researcher, Scott Anderson recognizes the weakness of accessing only Western sources and has attempted a history that covers more than one view.

It is thorough — so much so that even with the exasperatingly small print it runs to over 500 pages. But the lucid prose and keen insight, coupled with a refusal to make Lawrence into a saint or to turn a blind eye to the self-seeking moves of Western nations render, this a gripping and illuminating read.

The driving force behind his writing seems to be less a quest to understand Lawrence as a man, but more a fascination with the series of “what ifs,” and a desire to explore what the world lost when Lawrence lost.As the international community ponders its next moves in relation to the many horrendous situations in the ring of fire surrounding Turkey, it needs to ponder these, too.

For the fall of the Ottoman Empire “unleashed forces of such massive disruption that the world is still dealing with the repercussions a century later” We have been warned.“Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East,” by Scott Anderson, is published by Atlantic Books.

9,99 pounds in paperback. ISBN: 978-178239202-6Rating: five stars out of fiv.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman