30 May 2007
George Santayana: Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Anyone who is interested in how Iraq became Iraq might like to pick up a new book that sheds light on the creation of the country as well as providing a biography of a fascinating woman: Gertrude Bell
Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations
by Georgina Howell
An excellent review of the book written by Christopher Hitchens appears in this month's Atlantic Monthly:
The Woman Who Made Iraq
A Review by Christopher Hitchens
To give you a feel for this review, it opens with:
"On the cover of this book is an arresting photograph taken in front of the Sphinx in March 1921, on the last day of the Cairo conference on the Middle East. It shows Gertrude Bell astride a camel, flanked by Winston Churchill and T. E. Lawrence. She wears a look of some assurance and satisfaction, perhaps because -- apart from having spent far more time on camelback than either man -- she has just assisted at the birth of a new country, which is to be called Iraq."
The British thought that Sunnis should lead the Iraqi nation, because the Shi'ite majority was regarded as too volatile to govern due to its largely tribal and nomadic base in Iraq, and hard to assimilate because of an unyielding religious bias for the "Ali" faction of the Muslim schism.
Bell said, "I don't for a moment doubt that the final authority must be in the hands of the Sunnis, in spite of their numerical inferiority, otherwise you will have a ... Theocratic state, which is the very devil."