September 20, 2013

Louis Massignon On The Sykes–Picot Agreement, T. E. Lawrence, And The Balfour Declaration

Louis Massignon (July 25, 1883 – October 31, 1962) was a French scholar of Islam and its history. Although a Catholic himself, he tried to understand Islam from within and thus had a great influence on the way Islam was seen in the West; among other things, he paved the way for a greater openness inside the Catholic Church towards Islam as it was documented in the pastoral Vatican II declaration Nostra Aetate.
Below are excerpts from, "My Entry into Jerusalem with Lawrence in 1917" by Louis Massignon. Source: Testimonies and Reflections: Essays of Louis Massignon. Selected and introduced by Herbert Mason. University of Notre Dame Press: Notre Dame, Indiana. 1989. Pg. 32-33 and 35-38.
"A second lieutenant in the colonial infantry, I was promoted temporarily to the rank of captain, on March 15, 1917, and attached to the Franco-British Sykes-Picot mission, to work on the implementation of accords signed in London in 1916 between Great Britain and France under the auspices of Lord Kitchener: to establish the zones of French and British influence in the Near East. I was chosen as one of the mission's three French adjutants because I was an Arabist and Islamist; the other two, Gaston Maugras and Robert Coulondre, were career diplomats. Sir Mark Sykes, assistant to Lord Balfour for oriental affairs, had with him only a sort of personal secretary, a Palestinian Arab, G. Albina; but from time to time the future Lord Lloyd was sent to him. Sykes and Picot were in direct contact with London and Paris respectively through coded cablegrams without having to go either through the British commander-in-chief in Cairo (General Murray and, later, General Allenby) or the French ambassador to Cairo.

I arrived on April 21, 1917, at Port Said (via Rome) and the mission put me in touch immediately with the army and with some Arab individuals. Sir Mark Sykes (who became very friendly towards me and to whom I owe, as I mentioned at the time of his premature death in Paris [Revue du Monde Musulman, 1919, pp. 15-22], my initiation into the remarkable British understanding of an international community in which the rights of small nations to exist would be safeguarded, an understanding foreign to most geopoliticians of the European continent) tested me by having me write the minutes of five diplomatic conferences held on board the Northbrook (we were the guests of the naval commander-in-chief, Admiral Wemyss). Three of the conferences were held between Wejh and Jiddah with Emir Faisal (May 16-18), two with King Hussein (May 18-20 en route from Jiddah). That was the beginning of my friendship with Emir Faisal, a trusting friendship that lasted until his death and which made me the guarantor of the agreement signed between him and Clemenceau in Paris on January 6, 1920, an agreement that was subsequently broken by Gougraud at Meisseloun in a betrayal which Berthelot sent me to investigate, at considerable risk to myself.

These beginnings convinced Sir Mark to treat Lawrence and me equally and to appoint us both adjutant officers of the Arab commander of the northern army, a unit which was then forming and which would be assigned to Emir Faisal at the time of the seizure of Gaza. This promotion issued simultaneously from the British Foreign Office and from Quai d'Orsay, but such could be operational only if the developing military situation permitted the balance of Anglo-French forces provided for in the Sykes-Picot accord to be maintained. Soon after, the failure of General Murray to take Gaza forced the four British divisions to be transferred from north of the Aegean to Egypt, obliging France to send to the Gaza front only the small detachment of Colonel de Piepape, thus dividing the eastern theater of operations between Sarrail (Macedonia) and Allenby (Egypt and Syria).

Furthermore, Lawrence, who had already done excellent fieldwork, had to agree to my appointment, and he had been forewarned against Sir Mark by his comrades in the Arab Bureau of Cairo (the Intelligence Service that was as stupidly Francophobic as ours was, despite my efforts, Anglophobic and Arabophobic).
Suddenly one day I received an order to go to Kalab, near Gaza, to the Great Headquarters. At the edge of that enticing desert of forbidden Arabia to which I had given myself as an outlaw nine years earlier on a very primitive and very naked impulse, I awaited my fate, which was in the hands of Lawrence. I had no illusions; my chiefs wanted to give me a large budget to "corrupt Syrian bedouins"; I was supposed to bring them gold; I was sure I would be assassinated. Even surer was my feeling of being damned for buying friends, I who had known the sacred hospitality of the Arabs. I had just carried to Suez (September 18 with G. Maugras) 950 thousand francs in gold to King Hussein, and Sharif Nasser told me later how Lawrence, in an alarming gesture of contempt, was throwing guineas into certain outstretched hands, for all their "hardships." To have left the front and the 56th R.I.C. for that!

On October 11, I was received by Clayton, and afterwards by General Bols, chief of the Great Headquarters. The next day, the 12th, I had two very long talks there with Lawrence, in a  tent in the desert. He talked, not of a future to be built with others, but of a kind of solitary space for two in a strange detachment from the world. He brought to mind a kind of elemental freedom forged out of an asceticism so utterly withdrawn that my own naked faith was shocked by the presence of his no man's land.

On October 13, General Bols summoned me and told me, on Allenby's behalf, that he had decided to cable the Foreign Office his refusal to give Lawrence and me our joint appointments under the Arab commander of the northern army (Lawrence later chose Pisani, who had no feel for diplomacy). If Lawrence had come back by plane from Aqaba the day before, it would have been to say he would resign if he and I were both appointed to Faisal. I was told that Lawrence had already worked too long in the field to be taken seriously (did Lawrence perhaps not want me to get killed?). General Bols commented, not without humor, that one was not always in agreement with Lawrence and that Allenby had told him to introduce me to the one who had just warned him that "Lawrence had bet on the wrong horse."

It is against this background that I went to greet Philby in his tent. The latter had just come out of the S.R. of the Indian army and was bent on persuading Great Britain to play the Saudi card, not the Hashimite card (of course, seven years later, Philby came with Ibn Saud as conqueror of the Hijaz; and twenty-five years later, the U.S.A. took possession of the Saudi map from Great Britain, along with its petroleum).

Philby lacked the class of Lawrence and learned Arabic very slowly; but he had foreseen accurately, contrary to Lawrence, that only the Saudis had a loyal military and social infrastructure in Arabia.

My comeuppance on Lawrence came very soon. In 1919 Lloyd George, to the furor of Lawrence, "abandoned" Faisal to us. On November 18, 1919, the Emir, who had received signs of my loyalty during 1918-1919 in Damascus, asked that I be put in charge of the negotiations for the Franco-Syrian treaty; but neither my letter of service signed on December 1, 1919, by Berthelot in the name of Clemenceau, nor the signed agreement of January 6, 1920, prevented the treachery of colonialism from making us break our promise at Meisseloun.

My last meetings with Lawrence were in December of 1917 (at the time of his death, I wrote to Deedes, who answered me with a very interesting letter: "he had to die like this"). On December 9, 1917, I saw him in the camp at Gaza; he was already anxious about the future of the Arabs. He felt -- and accepted the idea -- that we would be given Lebanon, but nothing more. On the 10th, the High Commissioner F.G. Picot was summoned (he took me; I had sensed this coming three months before) to the Great Headquarters at Gharbiya (via Deir Souleid) to receive the announcement of the surrender of Jerusalem. On December 11 came the solemn entry into Jerusalem, for which General Bols, in order to enable the Sykes-Picot mission and the Foreign Office to save face, thought of the following order of protocol: in the first car, Allenby and Picot; in the second car, Bols and Piepape; in the third car, Sir Wyndham Deedes, the Supreme Chief of the eastern S.R., a man of rare distinction for whom I have always retained a strong feeling of respect, Lawrence and myself. Other cars followed in which there were, along with the British officers, a (phantom) head of the Italian mission and an American attache. We stepped out of the cars at the Jaffa Gate at 10:30 A.M.

I spent the whole morning with Lawrence. The declaration of martial law in front of the Tower of David -- by Allenby -- snatched from the Sykes-Picot mission any power to make diplomatic decisions related to the Holy City (coveted by London for itself alone). Allenby threatened Picot harshly with arrest if he interfered with this order. Lawrence stayed close to me; his defeat was equal to mine, or even worse, and his innate nobility made him open his heart to me. Charged with assuring King Hussein that the Holy City would be entrusted to him, Lawrence had just learned about the negotiations of Lord Balfour with Lord Rothschild for a Jewish homeland. His country had entrusted him with the task of betraying his host, and Lawrence felt it was a sacrilege committed in violation of a promise given to an Arab, just as I had felt earlier at Meisseloun. Our entry into the Holy City occurred under the sign of this desecration. Lawrence was so shocked that, when we arrived together late at the luncheon held for Allenby in the Great Headquarters, near Ain Karem (in a Protestant school established for the Christianization [sic] of Israel: Allenby was rather anti-Zionist), and when we were passing through the large courtyard under the eyes of the officers, I signaled Lawrence to attach his left shoulder strap. He said, "Do you think that I have any respect for these people?" And at that moment he made a gesture of opening his pants to urinate in front of the headquarters. It was, in a small way, the gesture of Sir Thomas More at the Tower of London, but without its cheerfulness."