Erdogan: New Lawrences of Arabia destabilizing Middle East

Turkish president says new embodiments of famous British intelligence officer are "disguised as journalists, religious men, writers and terrorists.”

October 14, 2014 01:57
2 minute read.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed instability in the Middle East on new embodiments of the famous British intelligence officer T. E. Lawrence, known as Lawrence of Arabia, in a Monday diatribe at Istanbul’s Marmara University.

The French wire service AFP quoted Erdogan as saying that “there are new voluntary Lawrences, disguised as journalists, religious men, writers and terrorists.” Erdogan did not name these manifestations of Lawrence.

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Lawrence gained international fame with his defeat of a Turkish garrison in what is now the Jordanian port of Aqaba in 1917.

“Lawrence was an English spy disguised as an Arab,” said Erdogan. “It is our duty to explain to the world that there are modern Lawrences who were fooled by a terror organization.”

He added that “they are making Sykes-Picot agreements, hiding behind freedom of press, a war of independence or jihad.”

French diplomat François Georges-Picot and British MP Sir Mark Sykes negotiated a secret agreement during World War I to carve the Middle East into British and French mandates.

According to AFP, Erdogan also blasted the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is living in exile in the United States.

The EU and the US consider the PKK a terrorist organization. Turkey and the PKK have been engulfed in a bloody war since the 1980s.

Lawrence, widely considered an enigma, was criticized for pushing for Jewish settlements in then-Palestine and for favoring Arab independence. In a rarely cited remark, he said that “the sooner the Jews farm it all, the better; their colonies are bright spots in the desert.”

He died in 1935 in England as a result of a motorcycle accident. The 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia depicted his military triumphs over the Ottoman Empire during World War I.

During the US surge in Iraq, US Gen. David Petraeus ordered top military officers to read Twenty-Seven Articles, a guide Lawrence wrote for British officers, in order to help them understand the minds of Iraqis.

However, as Scott Anderson wrote in his book Lawrence in Arabia, the general “presumably skipped over...Lawrence’s opening admonition that his advice applied strictly to Bedouin – about 2 percent of the Iraqi population – and that interacting with Arab townspeople ‘require[s] totally difference treatment.’”

Writing in the Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, Jacob Rosen, a senior official at the Foreign Ministry and a leading Lawrence authority, noted that “Lawrence’s name has lived on in history and it would certainly behoove those attempting to understand the Middle East – and to operate in it – to closely study his legacy.”

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