The Arab Awakening

The Atlantic BOOKSHELF

by George Antonins
[Lippincott, $3.00]
ELEVEN years ago Marguerite Harrison published a book called Asia Reborn. Does it indicate a recessive trend in recent history that a book on the same subject to-day would more appropriately be called Asia in Travail? Certainly the old continent’s reincarnation is still far from complete either in body or in spirit. It is with a special aspect of that spirit that the present volume deals.
Its author is an Arab endowed by birthright with native language, background, and understanding and equipped by English university training to record the history of the movement he describes. He has had experience in British administrative service and ten years of subsidized study in Arab countries to assemble his materials and mature his judgments. His book tells something new and contains a message. Moreover it is a book of dramatic interest, dealing with a past still poignantly present in living memories and with current questions affecting the destiny of nations.
After the Ottoman conquest eclipsed their brilliant civilization in the age of Saladin and the Crusades, the Arabs lapsed for more than four hundred years into political and cultural coma — dormant in the Turkish matrix pressed upon them. Then about 1850 Western education - brought by missionaries, including Americans - started a linguistic and cultural revival that speedily awakened political aspirations. The latter germinated underground while the Turks were undisputed masters of the Arab lands. But when the Turks themselves sought more liberal government shortly before the World War the Arab movement took form in secret organizations among politically awakened classes, including the numerous Arab officers in the Turkish army. Its goal was the independence of the Arab-speaking countries of Asia — that is, Syria including Palestine, Irak, and the Peninsula — and its titular head was the Sharif of Mecca.
When the World War opened, the movement’s leaders hesitated between supporting the Turks for a price, as fellow Mohammedans from whom they might be strong enough to collect, and the Allies, whose word — especially that of the British — they trusted but whose imperial ambitions they distrusted. At last when England, harried by threat of a Holy War and hard pressed by Germany, promised the Arabs through Mecca independence and territorial integrity in return for military support, the Sharif accepted the promise, and during the campaign in which Lawrence played a romantic part the Arabs fulfilled their share of the bargain. But when peace came the secret treaties, France’s claims in Syria, the undeveloped implications of the Balfour Declaration, and Britain’s determination to have a territorial base north of Suez and a land route through Asia to India, induced the Allies to betray their promise. In the slang of the street, the Arabs were ‘gypped.’ Mr. Antonins publishes for the first time all the documents in the case, and the dry papers still emit an unpleasant war odor that is not of the battlefield.
In two concluding chapters the author tells us what has happened to the Arab countries in Asia including Palestine — since the war. The final section dealing with Zionist immigration and the new hostilities it has provoked is the first complete Arab presentation in English of the issues involved.
One feels on closing the volume that the Arabs will eventually work out their salvation as an independent people. Meanwhile their inhibited aspirations and sense of betrayal, together with their strategic position on the main highway of Empire, may in some crisis pronounce the doom of Britain’s world-wide dominion. They still have a long road to travel, however, for they seem not to be a united people with a common cultural level and confessional unity, or to possess as yet singleness of aim except in the one matter of independence. Therefore they may not achieve for a long time to come more than loose confederate autonomy. Ireland and Poland in Europe, however, and Turkey, Persia, and Egypt in Asia, admonish us that the fates have probably decreed them eventual control of their national destinies.