Saturday, June 26, 2004

The Hell of Our Desire

I’m half way through Seven Pillars of Wisdom (SPW) by T.E. Lawrence. I read it for the first time several years ago. But after 9/11 the book has new meaning.

Lawrence was a scholar and simple map maker in British military intelligence who, through happenstance and a desire to make a difference, found himself leading a band of Bedouin in a guerilla war against the Turks. Lawrence had a belief that traditional British military strategy would fail in defeating the Turks in Arabia. He clearly understood the Bedouin could be motivated, and realized how the Bedouin could potentially defeat the Turks if only they could overcome their clannish tribalism and work together. None of his superiors believed it could be done. It is amazing to watch Lawrence pull together these tribal Bedouin by sheer personality and will.

An effective Arab culture ended with the First World War. SPW shows an Arab culture as it is first outpaced by changes in the world around them. What was an effective way of life was really outpaced by the Turks prior to WW I. Contrasted with today’s current events, SPW provides background and insight.

SPW is a classic in many ways; travelogue, cultural exposition and handbook for asymmetrical warfare. It’s clear that Lawrence loved the Middle East and the Bedouin who populates most of it. A stand-out of military memoirs, SPW is well written and a very entertaining read. The only weakness is a propensity to name these hundreds of Bedouin he meets in his travels, only to never be mentioned again.

This is a story by men about men. There are no women in this story, and are rarely even in the background as cooks and mothers in camp and distant wives while traveling. The relationships between men described in detail. It was surprising to read about the apparent acceptance of homosexuality between young unmarried men in Bedouin culture.

The descriptions of the landscape and daily life are richly detailed. From feast to near famine, the weather, landscape, life and death in the desert become very real. The book describes his military campaign and the politicking and diplomacy required to make it happen.

It’s very interesting to compare the Muslim culture depicted in SPW and the Middle East today. Similarities and additional background can be seen in SPW.

All in all, a very satisfying book on several levels.


Post a Comment

<< Home