Britain and the Arabs (letter)by Geoffrey PartingtonNews Weekly
, June 5, 2004
Max Teichmann incredibly praises the recent SBS film on Lawrence of Arabia as "a finely-made and most illuminating production"(News Weekly
, May 22). In fact, it contains many blatant distortions, as does Teichmann's article.
First of all, no British government ever promised that all the lands ruled by Turkey and inhabited by Arabs would become a unified and independent Arab state. This was as impossible to achieve in the first quarter of the 20th century as it is today. Even the limited "United Arab Republic" consisting of Egypt and Syria began to break up within months of its inauguration. However, several Arab states, including the fully independent Saudi Arabia, did emerge from the wreck of the Ottoman Empire.
Secondly, there was no way in which Britain, had it wished to do so, could have made Ibn Ali Hussein ruler of all the Arab lands. Britain played a part in enabling Hussein to become King of the Hejaz, later Saudi Arabia, but he was forced to abdicate in 1924 by the Wahhabi revolt. Britain also assisted Hussein's sons, Faisal and Abdullah, to become kings of the newly created states of Iraq and Transjordania.
However, there were violent disputes between Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds within the new borders of Iraq and civil war raged throughout most of the 1920s. Faisal's grandson, Feisal II, was murdered with all his family during the military coup of 1958 that opened the way to the rule of Saddam Hussein. Abdullah, of course, was murdered by dissident Arabs in 1951.
Thirdly, the British Administration in Mandated Palestine consulted with Jews and Arabs. In 1917 there seemed to the Conservative Balfour, and to many Socialist and Liberal statesmen in Britain, great potential benefit to both Arabs and Jews in a Palestinian state that included a Jewish Homeland. The British governments of the day were in no way the "wicked or stupid old men" traduced by Teichmann. Their plan was the best as yet devised for Palestine, although it is now long beyond recovery. The fact that both Jews and Arabs claimed throughout the next 30 years that Britain unfairly favoured the other side is itself testimony to British fair play.Geoffrey Partington,