Monday, March 9, 2015

Taking Liberties With Gertrude

Now I get poetic licence, OK?

After all, I've read the Zionist narrative - haven't we all? - more times than I care to remember. Whether it's Next Year in Jerusalem, Making the Desert Bloom or The Palestinians Left at the Behest of Their Leaders, I've paid my dues.

Not, you'll be relieved to know, that the following interview has anything to do with the Zionist narrative this time around.

Still, it is an interview with a veteran spinner of ripping Zionist yarns, and this has to have some bearing, surely, at least in this case, on the question of just how far from the historical record can a historical novel stray before the adjective becomes entirely redundant.

Related questions in this case include:

a) seriously now, would you trust someone to write an historical novel if you knew their recall of much more recent events was, to say the least, decidedly shaky?

and

b) is a credulous fan of the Zionist narrative really the best person to interview that someone? 

I hasten to add that I haven't actually read the 'historical' novel concerned. My problem here is solely with parts of the following interview with its author:

Geraldine Doogue: Gertrude Bell was a British historian and linguist, a mountaineer, an intrepid adventurer as well as a diplomat and self-acclaimed [?] kingmaker in a region where Western women were few and far between. This was in the early years of the 20th century. Her story's coming to the big screen soon with Nicole Kidman taking on her role in a film directed by Werner Herzog, and a recently-published historical novel is also helping to make her incredible story more widely known. The Australian columnist and writer, Alan Gold is the author of Bell of the Desert, a novel, and I'm delighted to say he's with me in the studio... Gertrude Bell was a woman ahead of her time. She was tall, whip-smart, and somewhat unconventional, as you write. How did you become interested in her story? (Bell of the Desert, Saturday Extra, Radio National, 7/3/15)

Alan Gold: It was obviously around the time of the great kerfuffle in Iraq...

kerfuffle (n): a commotion or fuss

Half a million deaths or more. Millions of refugees. A country in tatters? That's a kerfuffle?

Geraldine Doogue: Circumstances took her to Tehran as a young Oxford graduate, that's Tehran, Iran, and this is where she quickly became fascinated with the Arab world...

So the best place to develop an interest in the Arab world is... Iran?! Interesting.

Alan Gold: Why did [the British government] turn to this woman? Well, she had been in the area probably for 10-15 years before WW I, and what she'd done was, she'd used her time as an archaeologist, as an explorer, as an adventurer to go around, but because she was a woman she was able actually get inside the camps of the Arab chiefs, inside their tents. How was she able to? Because she did it through the wives. Because she befriended the wives, she actually gave status to the wives of the leaders of these Arabs and she not only showed them what a woman should do in the Western world, what perhaps a woman could do in Arabia, but she actually made them feel self-important and that gave greater importance to the chieftains.

Just think - where would these benighted creatures have been without Gerty? One thing I imagine she taught them was the perils and pitfalls of giving women the right to vote. After all, Gerty was a big supporter of the Anti-Suffrage League (1908-18).

***

Alan Gold: After the First World War... there was a virtual vacuum in that whole area, Mesopotamia... they needed a king. So [Gertrude] looked around for who would be a suitable king and she found a man who'd just been booted out of Syria as king of Syria by the French, and he was in exile in London. His name was Faisal.* She knew him very well so she went to London and said 'Listen, darling. I can make you king of Iraq.' He said, 'What's Iraq?' and she said 'Come and I'll show you.' He came out with her and she spent a year with him holding his hand going around all of Iraq, introducing him to all of the tribal leaders until eventually there was a plebiscite as to who should lead this new country and he was voted in as king by 98% of the people and that became the first kingdom of Iraq.

Dumb Arab! Just think - where would this benighted creature have been without Gerty? But here's the thing, is the above account really what happened? Iraqi historian, Ali A. Allawi has a very different take:

"By the end of December 1920, the approaches from British officialdom regarding Faisal's availability for a leading role in Iraq markedly increased. Apart from Lawrence's soundings, Lloyd George had asked Philip Kerr to elicit Faisal's views on Iraq, and Curzon sent Young to the same end. In both cases, Faisal's reply was adamantly insistent - perhaps disingenuously - that he would not consider the throne of Iraq as his brother 'Abdullah had already been nominated for the post... However, on the night of 7-8 January 1921, the matter of Faisal's availability for the throne of Iraq was officially broached. Kinahan Cornwallis, whom Faisal knew and trusted, had been asked by Curzon to approach Faisal and ascertain his position... Faisal was doubtful of 'Abdullah's prospects in Iraq... But [he said] if the throne remained unobtainable for 'Abdullah... then he would accept the nomination... On the same day that Cornwallis ended his visit to Faisal, 8 January 1921, Faisal set out to the country home of Edward Turnour, the Earl of Winterton... The guests included Lawrence, and the Conservative MPs William Ormsby-Gore and Walter Guinness. Winterton, an Irish peer, was a personal friend of Faisal and had served with the Northern Army in the march from Aqaba to Damascus. Faisal spent the weekend at Winterton's home, and there the conversation turned towards Iraq. Winterton, who had been primed by Curzon,  also broached the subject of Faisal's nomination for the Iraqi throne... Winterton's biographer describes a five-hour discussion between Faisal, Winterton and the other guests... 'Finally... Faisal agreed to become king of Iraq.... Convincing him was not an easy matter. He felt a deep bitterness about the way that he had been treated by the British and the French, and he made some wounding remarks about the British character generally'." (Faisal I of Iraq, 2014, pp 319-22)

Lawrence, Kerr, Young, Cornwallis, Turnour, Ormsby-Gore, Guinness... but no Gerty! And no 'What's Iraq?' either.

Allawi again:

"On 5 June [1921] Faisal revealed a cable from Major Marshall, the British Consul in Jeddah, advising him that the cruiser Northbrook would be arriving in Jeddah and would carry him and his party directly to Basra. On 12 June Faisal embarked on the Northbrook heading for Basra. On board with him were a group of prominent Iraqis who had taken refuge in the Hijaz after the collapse of the 1920 rebellion. They were now returning as part of the amnesty that had been declared by the British authorities in Iraq. They included the Sh'ia religious figure Sayyid Muhammad al-Sadr, Yusuf al-Suwaidi, 'Abd al-Muhsin Abu-Tabikh, 'Alwan al-Yasiri, Rayih al-'Atiya and Ali Jawdat. Faisal also had his own group of advisers, including Rustum Haidar and Tahsin Qadri. Cornwallis, his newly appointed adviser... was also on the Northbrook... He had Faisal's confidence and was his trusted conduit for his dealings with the British authorities." (ibid pp 335-36)

A cast of thousands, but where was Gerty to hold his hand?

"The Ministry of Interior announced that 96% of the 'electorate' had assented to the election of faisal as king of Iraq." (ibid p 378)

What? Not 98? 

Alan Gold: At the beginning of the Gulf War when there was that terrible thing called shock and awe created by George Bush the first. What happened was the Iraqi army under Saddam Hussein virtually disappeared which left Baghdad without government...

Is this really so hard? The Gulf War was waged by George H.W. Bush (aka George Bush senior) from 1990 to 1991; Shock & awe was perpetrated by George W. Bush (aka George Bush junior) in 2003.

Finally, I bet here's one quote from Gerty you're unlikely to find in Gold's book (or Herzog's film for that matter):

"By the way, I hate Mr. Balfour's Zionist pronouncement with regard to Syria. It's my belief that it can't be carried out; the country is wholly unsuited to the ends the Jews have in view; it is a poor land, incapable of great development and with a solid two-thirds of its population Mohammedan Arabs who look on Jews with contempt. I think myself they will ficher themselves pas mal of Zionist ambitions, which it would be an invidious task to try and force upon them. To my mind it's a wholly artificial scheme divorced from all relation to facts and I wish it the ill-success it deserves - and will get, I fancy." (Letters 25/1/18, gerty.ncl.ac.uk)

[*On Faisal see my 18/6/14 post Iraq According to the Herald.]

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Now exactly what radical web site or deranged anti-semolina back yard Islamic preacher was our innocent little Gertrude following to force her to come out with such radical statements such as:
"...I hate Mr. Balfour's Zionist pronouncement" and worse still "I wish it the ill-success it deserves"?

She could get locked up for those views,
especially in the land of free speech. 'Our' values and all that.

Perhaps the once were innocent Gertie has been watching Q&A ?

Anonymous said...

Obviously Alan Gold, Werner Herzog and Geraldine Doogue don't let the facts get in the way of a good little Zionist spin.

All those tents, sand, camels and ever so cruel and devious Arabs. Of course all Arabs live in tents. Cheap to film. What a pity that Rudolf Valentino is not available for a ride on roll or at least a good whiping, in a tent of course.

Just don't mention the Sykes-Picot agreement or the Hussein-McMahon treaty. Stick to the script.

Anonymous said...

I nominate Arnold Schwarzenegger to play the kindly Dr. Theodor Hezl, after all Arnold has got the accent already.

What about Danny De Vito as the hapless archetype screen Arab- King Faisal of Iraq?

Mel Gibson as Churchill- make Gibson pay to be in it, still not forgiven.

Anonymous said...

Cartoon caution

Last week the Sydney Morning Herald had to publish an adjudication by the Australian Press Council which said that a Gaza cartoon by Glen Le Lievre caused greater offence than was justifiable in the public interest.But the punishment didn’t end there. In the wake of an intense campaign against the SMH, the paper has introduced a number of internal measures to ensure it doesn’t offend again.An extra layer of approval has been introduced for all cartoons before publication; and the editor-in-chief, Darren Goodsir and the news director, Judith Whelan, attended seminars convened by the Jewish Board of Deputies. Further seminars are planned for the top layer of senior editorial staff.Goodsir told the Weekly Beast it had been a roundtable discussion on antisemitism and associated matters which included a presentation from experts selected by the Jewish Board of Deputies.“It was a very productive session that occurred late last year; and I am grateful for the time and effort that went into the presentations. I feel newsrooms cannot be educated enough about the sensitivities involved in reporting on a range of community issues; and I aim to use this experience as a template for further sessions this year on other relevant news issues.”

MERC said...

I've already covered the Herald's grovel: 'SMH: Independent. No More. (25/1/15)

Anonymous said...

MERC, so Faisal "was in exile in London" according to Alan Gold.

Please give your readers the real history, I smell another rat.

How long was this "exile" and where is the evidence ?

MERC said...

Faisal was not in exile. He was in London at the invitation of Lord Curzon with a view to persuading him to agree to become the King of Iraq. He was there from December 1920 until April 1921 when he left for Port Said en route to Iraq.