August 30, 2011
A recent edition of The Economist (August 6-12, 2011) yearned for a British innovator to emerge (“Where’s Britain’s Bill Gates?” p.13) and be supported by a package of government policies. In another magazine a review article (which I cannot now find) talks about how innovators require a degree of genius and cannot be otherwise created.
The vote to take place at the United Nations session in September over whether or not to grant Palestinian statehood brings to mind a past British innovative genius. Michael Korda has written a readable biography of T. E. Lawrence called Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia (Harper Collins, 2010). Korda assesses Lawrence’s work and significance including how his military strategy was the basis for the hugely successful Long Range Desert Group, praised by Field Marshall Rommel, no less. (p.686) He also bore some responsibility for his role in shaping today’s Middle East, even though the eventual outcome was for him a source of guilt and disappointment. In a map he prepared and proposed in 1918 he sought to divide the Ottoman Empire in a way that “sought to respect the geographical, tribal, religious, and racial realities of the Middle East…He tackled head-on some of the problems that are still plaguing the region, like the claims of the Kurds for an independent nation, and the need to find a place for the Armenians.” (p.532) “He tried to create states or indigenous areas based on the religion or the racial and cultural identity of the people living there, and so far as possible to take into account geographical features and water resources.” (p.533) He clearly supported what was to become the state of Israel but wanted much more for those who sought an ‘Arab Nation’ in the process.
The extraordinary circumstances that gave rise to the current shape and issues of that troubled region could have been quite different had Lawrence been granted more influence than he had among the swirling rivalries and colonial aspirations of the major powers of the day. What it seems he knew was that everybody had to ‘win’ in some way and they did not. So we are left with the UN voting on potential statehood for a people who deny the right of Israel to exist. Should there not be some kind of mutual and explicit recognition of the right of Israel to exist and the ability to defend itself. Such a requirement would by no means be a blank check for Israel, nor allowing the reality of the ways in which Palestinians have been victimized at the hands of Israel to afford them a kind of moral superiority. I realize all this is way above my pay grade (as they say) but I oppose statehood without something that serves as an explicit recognition of the rights of Israel.
Hero is a very good book.