Although she may be condemned, with some justification, as a spy and an Imperialist, there is no denying that Miss Bell was an astute outside observer of Arab politics as practiced in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. The Arab War, written between 1916 and 1917, offers the reader a fascinating and vivid portrait of the complexity of the social and political traditions that would constitute post World War One Mesopotamia and Arabia. A complexity that thrives to this moment and belies the simple-minded cant that emanates from our nations capital on a daily basis.
As she wrote in The Arab Bulletin, October 5th, 1916,
"In our own history, from the Moot court through Magna Charta to the Imperial Parliament was the work of centuries, yet the first contained the germ of all that came after. The tribes of the Iraq have advanced but little beyond the Moot court, and should the shaping of their destinies become our care in the future, we shall be wise to eschew any experiments tending to rush them into highly specialized institutionsa policy which could commend itself only to those who are never wearied by words that signify nothing."
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Of special interest to our visitors is Chapter Four, Gertrude Bell's account of meeting King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud during his visit to Basra in November of 1916. Click here to read Chapter Four in its entirety.