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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

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Bell, Sir Thomas Hugh Lowthian
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Wilson, A.T.
Haldane, Aylmer
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper
Iraq ยป Baghdad

33.315241, 44.3660671

June 1 Baghdad Dearest Father. I got your letters from Bombay with the Rs 40 and all about the Brownes - of course I remember him - and also your telegram from Port Said, bless you. The only thing I never got was the letter from Mahableshwar, which I fear wasn't found. So I don't know how you enjoyed India. A pity. I've also a long letter, very interesting, from Mother, of Ap 28 I think. Thank you very much for the news about the stove. If Mr Morgan's doesn't materialize I shall write and ask Mrs Brown to order me one. Meantime we are absorbed by other things. Fattuh's reports which I sent you will give you an idea of the beginning. We are in the thick of violent agitation and we feel anxious. Not anxious as to our safety - don't think that for a moment - but anxious as to whether we shall get through Ramadhan without a disturbance. And we think it's largely the fault of H.M.G. The Constitution which you've read, has all been translated into Arabic and printed ready for distribution. A.T. [Wilson] in very strong terms begged them to let us make it known before Ramadhan. They refused, for reasons unknown to us - we think for no special reason except that they always think they know better than we do. They don't. The results A.T. feared have happened. The fact that we never make anything but general declarations of our intentions of setting up Arab institutions, (no practical evidence of performance being given) coupled with the propaganda which has been going on from Syria and the feelings evoked by the Turkish peace terms, have given the extremists here a handle which they are using. They have adopted a line difficult in itself to combat, the union between Shi'ah and Sunni, the unity of Islam. And they are running it for all it's worth. There are 2 or 3 meetings every week in the mosques to celebrate this unexampled event. Sometimes in Shi'ah mosques (there's one at Kadhimain [(Al Kazimiyah)] this week) and sometimes in Sunni, and all attended by both sects. It is in reality political not religious and I don't know that anyone believes the boasted union to be permanent. There's a lot of semi-religious, semi-political preaching and reciting of poems, and the underlying thought is out with the infidel. My believe [sic] is that the weightier people are against it - I know some of them are bitterly disgusted - but it's very difficult to stand out against the Islamic cry and the longer it goes on the more difficult it is. It began about 10 days ago. Frank arrested a young hot head who had been making wild speeches. I think he was probably right but it is always a very delicate line of decision. Anyway next evening - last Sunday - there was a great meeting in the big mosque with the blue dome in New St, a crowd which he thought dangerous, and he sent out 2 armoured cars to patrol the street. One of the drivers had a brick thrown at him, drew back, and the mob made a rush at him. He fired a few shots over the heads of the people, a man was run over and the whole crowd ran like hares. The streets were empty in a second. I had heard of what was happening late in the evening and heard the shots just after I had gone to bed. So before breakfast I rode out to Frank to tell him what I knew and he told me what had occurred. The man who gave me information used to come in every morning and recite to me exactly what happened at all the meetings and I sent it on to Frank. He mostly knew all I knew but it was useful to have confirmation. He sent for some of the responsible people and said we intended to keep order in the town, that they might have religious meetings as much as they liked but that they weren't the place for politics. The result was that that night at the big meeting the leading Arab judge - in whose mosque the meeting was being held - got up and said that no politics were to be talked. And all went well. But the Baghdad fuss is rousing Karbala and last night's rumour was that Basrah [Basrah, Al (Basra)] was getting rather excited. There are the wildest rumours here that the Arabs under Abdullah himself (who is, incidentally at Mecca [Makkah]) are attacking both the Euphrates and Mosul [Mawsil, Al] road, and these are strengthened by the fact that during last week the tribes from the Euphrates side raided across to the Tigris and wrecked the line Bellow Qal'at Sharqat [Sharqat], which resulted in an accident to a train and the stoppage of the line for a day. Meantime the people who are organizing the business here - there are only 4 well known people among them, the others are quite insignicant - have sent AT a letter asking him to let them come and give their views. He has replied very wisely saying that they may come by all means but that he doesn't think the 12 or 14 signatories to the letter sufficiently representative and he will invite the other leading notables. He has therefore told Frank to invite the Mayor (Abdul Majid Shawi, you remember you had tea with him the last afternoon - he is an ex-Turkish deputy) some of the Naqib's sons and relations, Fakhri Jamil and people of that kind. The discussion may therefore prove of value for I cannot believe that a large proportion of those present will for a moment want an Arab govt without British protection. It would mean anarchy and they know it very well. Several of them know the outlines of the proposed constitution and approve of it; it would enormously strengthen AT's hand if he could give it out to the rest and even so I hope he will give an outline of it. The misfortune is that we should have been in a much stronger position if we could have given it out before the agitations instead of after them, but that, as I've said, isn't A.T.'s fault. I've been talking a great deal of Islam. I'll tell you a tale which shows how heavy its yoke is. There came into my office last week Husain Afnan - you remember he is the partner of Mahmud Shabandar and talks excellent English. He came with a message from Mahmud Shabandar, anxiously assuring me that he had nothing to do with the disturbances. I knew that without the message. Husain Afnan is a free thinker of an advanced type so I said "I suppose you're not fasting - will you have some coffee?" He replied "Well, I am fasting - yes, I know it will surprise you, but I must either fast or tell such an intolerable amount of lies that I would rather fast." Mr Norman is here staying with Sir Aylmer. I've been taking them about sightseeing. I lunched with Sir A. on Sunday and dined yesterday. I can't find any real solid person in Sir A. He is very kind and friendly, and most polite, but he doesn't seem to me to have a mind at all. His little book on the war is typical. There's absolutely nothing in it. He might just as well have published the bound pages without any printing on them. He is shy and nervous and un-self-confident, and of course the poor man is at a great drawback from knowing nothing about the people or the country. He is most anxious to do the right thing but has no means of knowing what it is. It's a great misfortune for us to have a wholely [sic] new man at this time. He's not going to Persia till things quiet down. I'm writing before breakfast - I must now go and dress and I hope my next letter may be more happy. The fact is while this kind of thing is going on, one feels actively unhappy the whole time. Unhappy and uncomfortable, for one can do nothing and one must just watch them going a bad way without being able to hinder it. Your very affectionate daughter Gertrude I send you a book we've just published for pilgrims about the shrines. I write the English. Fattuh is still with me and very useful as a giver of information. He says the Baghdadis are worse rogues than Rishan, though the latter has eaten several chickens lately.

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