From Baghdad-born Allawi (Research Professor/National Univ. of Singapore; The Crisis of Islamic Civilization, 2009, etc.), a reverent, stirring life of the Arab nationalist, friend of T.E. Lawrence and first monarch of Iraq.
Using a host of lost Arab voices in painting the portrait of Faisal I (1885–1933), the author fills a void in scholarship with this nuanced biography of a seminal figure in the shaping of the modern Middle East. Although Lawrence of Arabia was certainly Faisal’s greatest champion and the most influential voice in securing British backing for his accession to the Iraqi throne in 1921, Faisal had proved himself an intrepid, incorruptible military leader. Allawi tracks this exceptional character from his desert childhood, as second son to Sharif Hussein bin Ali, through Faisal’s selection to spearhead Arab military resistance to Turkish rule and his calibrated collaboration with the British and ultimate vindication in the form of Iraq’s independence in October 1932, a year before Faisal’s untimely death of a heart attack. The author reveals by degrees the evolution of the able statesman, who had lived among nomadic tribesmen as a child, as well as in exile in Istanbul, and could speak beautiful Arabic and Turkish. As a young leader of tribal raids in the years of Arab revolt, he acted on his father’s authority and later hesitated to take the Iraqi throne, which should have gone traditionally to his older brother. Initially naïve about the ramifications of the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement and what would prove a devastating mandate system—ditto the Balfour Declaration—Faisal nonetheless made a strong case for Arab claims to “defend their natural rights” on the world stage at the Paris Peace Conference marking the end of World War I.
A misunderstood sharif finds a worthy, erudite biographer in Allawi.