“We had been hopelessly labouring to plough waste lands; to make nationality grow in a place full of the certainty of God… Among the tribes our creed could be only like the desert grass – a beautiful swift seeming of spring; which, after a day’s heat, fell dusty.” TE Lawrence
"...but suppose we were an influence (as we might be), an idea, a thing invulnerable, intangible, without front or back, drifting about like a gas? Armies were like plants, immobile as a whole, firm-rooted, nourished through long stems to the head, we might be a vapour, blowing where we listed. Our kingdoms lay in each man's mind, as we wanted nothing material to live on..." TE Lawrence
"The Wahabis, followers of a fanatical Moslem heresy, had imposed their strict rules on easy and civilized Kasim. In Kasim there was but little coffee-hospitality, much prayer and fasting, no tobacco, no artistic dalliance with women, no silk clothes, no gold and silver head-ropes or ornaments. Everything was forcibly pious or forcibly puritanical. It was a natural phenomenon, this periodic rise at intervals of little more than a century, of ascetic creeds in Central Arabia. Always the votaries found their neighbours' beliefs cluttered with inessential things, which became impious in the hot imagination of their preachers. Again and again they had arisen, had taken possession, soul and body, of the tribes, and had dashed themselves to pieces on the urban Semites, merchants and concupiscent men of the world. About their comfortable possessions the new creeds ebbed and flowed like the tides or the changing seasons, each movement with the seeds of early death in its excess of Tightness. Doubtless they must recur so long as the causes — sun, moon, wind, acting in the emptiness of open spaces, weigh without check on the unhurried and uncumbered minds of the desert-dwellers." TE Lawrence
“In my case, the effort for these years to live in the dress of Arabs, and to imitate their mental foundation, quitted me of my English self, and let me look at the West and its conventions with new eyes: they destroyed it all for me. At the same time I could not sincerely take on the Arab skin: it was an affectation only. Easily was a man made an infidel, but hardly might he be converted to another faith. I had dropped one form and not taken on the other, and has become like Mohammed's coffin in our legend, with a resultant feeling of intense loneliness in life, and a contempt, not for other men, but for all they do. Such detachment came at times to a man exhausted by prolonged physical effort and isolation. His body plodded on mechanically, while his reasonable mind left him, and from without looked down critically on him, wondering what that futile lumber did and why. Sometimes these selves would converse in the void; and then madness was very near, as I believe it would be near the man who could see things through the veils at once of two customs, two educations, two environments.” TE Lawrence
The character of Auda Abu Tayi in the film "Lawrence of Arabia" represents an historic person who was a principal collaborator of Lawrence in the Arab Revolt. Auda was a sheikh (chieftan) of the Huwaytat beduin tribe. In one cinematic scene set after the taking of Aqaba, Anthony Quinn (Auda) mentions some matter in which Lawrence differs from him on next moves and cries out "You see, he is not perfect." He then realizes what he has said and all that it implies. Art in this case imitates reality very well.
Lawrence may not have been perfect as a man but he was very nearly perfect as a leader of Arab tribal insurgents. He appealed to all that was deeply felt by them. At the same time he suffered from the vulnerabilities of those who can be such leaders, especially those operating in a foreign and alien cultural setting. Self doubt and a premonition of the ultimate failure of the insurgents' political cause is inherent in such ventures. Sadly, those most capable of such leadership are the most vulnerable to personal catastrophe. Lawrence was one such. If one reads "The Mint" it is evident how broken he ultimately was by belief in his own vanity and the weakness of his own character. He sought to hide from that self loathing in the ranks of the RAF as a mechanic but the shadow followed him there.
In the quotations above from "Seven Pillars of Wisdom," "Aurens" (as the bedu called him) describes the great danger posed by IS as the ultimate expression of Wahhabi fanaticism and intolerance of all others, especially those they consider apostate (murtadd) Muslims and for whom they think only death is a suitable penalty. Unfortunately, this idea is also like a "gas" drifting across the land. It has a certain appeal to many Sunni Muslims especially the young, who often feel their lives circumscribed by the onrushing wave of Western culture, a culture that implies the unreality of all that young Sunnis have been taught to revere. A rejection of the moderate faith of their fathers seems a path to salvation for many.
They are violent? Islam was spread with the sword. The Prophet himself fought in the early wars of Islam. It is not hard for fanatics to find justification in the early history of Islam. pl