Blame the current disorder in the Middle East on one Anglo-Irishman’s passion for an Arab boy from Carchemish, near Jarabulus, on the Turkish-Syrian border, abutting the caliphate now claimed by Islamic State. That’s a fanciful and doubtless unintended conclusion to be drawn from Anthony Sattin’s measured biographical account of the early years of that romantic exemplar of British imperial tenacity and derring-do, T E Lawrence (known to his family as Ned). For, as Sattin shows, Lawrence’s primary reason for supporting the Arab uprising against the Ottomans at a crucial point in the First World War in 1916 was his enduring, if platonic, love for Dahoum, whom he had met while participating in an archaeological dig at the Hittite remains at Carchemish. Sattin says the lad was not more than fifteen, but others have put his age as low as twelve.
In 1919 – when, to Lawrence’s disgust, the post-Ottoman Middle East was being ordered into Western-style nation-states of the kind that Islamic State is now trying to disassemble – he wrote to a Foreign Office mandarin, listing his motives for getting involved in Arab politics. They included patriotism and a