I cannot recollect the huge number of books I have seen or read in British libraries about the British army officer most commonly known as “Lawrence of Arabia”, however despite this every year or two we see a new book about this figure being published. All of these books look into the legend surrounding him, as well as the role that he played in the Arab Revolt, mostly leaning on Lawrence’s own writings, particularly his most famous book “Seven Pillars of Wisdom.” In fact, few in the West are interested in looking beyond Lawrence’s legend, whilst the Arabs, for their part, have shown little interest in doing so.
In New York, I found a 1965 edition of a book entitled “T.E. Lawrence: An Arab View” by Jordanian writer and historian Suleiman Mousa, who sadly passed away in 2008. Mousa was the first and only writer to contradict the British version of events with regards to Lawrence’s role which can be summed up in a book entitled “Lawrence and the Arabs”.
According to Mousa, the Arab Revolt was a purely Arab movement, and this was not “Lawrence’s Revolt, as claimed by some. He stressed that Lawrence’s role in this was limited to teaching bombing techniques and providing weapons. In his memoirs, King Abdullah I related that other British and French officers played a far more significant role than that performed by Lawrence but that few remember this. Mousa relates that in the view of most Arabs the Lawrence story is nothing more than a Western invention. He writes “in refuting this story I have tried to be as accurate and objective as possible, as I am well aware that what has been published until now is incomplete.” Mousa said that he listened to many men who knew Lawrence personally and were around during this era, stressing that before he had listened to this testimony he had no doubts regarding the truth of the British version of events. However after listening to these accounts, Mousa said that he discovered that some of what Lawrence had written was lies.
These inventions included Lawrence’s “journeys” to Baalbek, Damascus, Tadmur and the Druze Mountains. In the introduction of the Arabic language version of his book, Mousa pays special mention to the assistance given by Lawrence himself, as well as General Glubb Pasha and Gertrude Bell. Prior to the publication of the English edition, Lawrence’s brother – A. W. Lawrence – wrote a commentary on this book which was published in its appendix.
Only a very few Westerners were suspicious about Lawrence’s exaggerations with regards to his role in the Arab Revolt. However nobody can doubt Lawrence’s literary capabilities as can be seen in his correspondence with Winston Churchill, George Bernard Show and other prominent British figures. Although Mousa’s book may not have had a huge impact on Lawrence’s image – an image that Hollywood helped to polish even further – nobody can doubt that this is truly an excellent historical account representing an important attempt to rectify several false impressions and misinterpretations about Lawrence. As for Suleiman Mousa himself, he represents an important chapter in Jordan’s literature and culture; one that is worthy of great respect!