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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

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Reference code
Bell, Sir Thomas Hugh Lowthian
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Naji, Haji
Cox, Percy
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Churchill, Winston
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper

33.315241, 44.3660671

Baghdad June 12 Dearest Father. There has been no mail this week - confound all postmen. It has also been rather a tiresome week because of the Feast of Bairam, the 3 days feast at the end of Ramadhan. We contrived to spread it out to 4 days, for this reason - the calendar new moon was on Monday, but Monday evening was cloudy and I'm persuaded no one saw the moon. The Sunnis however pretended they did and "breakfasted" as it's called. The Shi'ahs with a würdig air declared they weren't satisfied and did not breakfast. So their feast went on till Friday and since it was Friday and the Shi'ahs were still feasting, no one did any work. Mr Garbett and I paid a lot of congratulatory calls on Tuesday, beginning with the Naqib at 7 a.m. I said I hoped we hadn't come too early. "Oh no" he replied "I've been receiving visitors since dawn." They are rather jejune occasions these 'Id visits ('Id = Feast). You eat sweetmeats and drink coffee and sherbet, with an inward hope that the latter mayn't be full of typhus germs. And you carry on a colourless conversation - at least I did, for I did not wish to embark on controversial politics. The Naqib sent you many messages, as he always does. I paid more calls by myself in the afternoon, but next day I confined myself to a before-breakfast call on Haji Naji who as a Shi'ah had just breakfasted. On Thursday I called on some Shi'ah ministers and also on the balance of the Naqib family who all live in a quarter just behind my house. The eldest son of the Naqib, Saiyid Mahmud, I found holding his levée in a diwan inside the sacred precincts of the Qadiriyah shrine, the burial place of his ancestor 'Abdul Qadir, so I joined the company of Sunni doctors and we talked of - the breeds of Arab horses and of how peculiarly beneficent to the horse are the waters of Euphrates!
Things are at last beginning to move. Telegrams have come from King Husain saying that Faisal leaves for the 'Iraq this week - a fact of which we were already aware. We now have to prepare the way for him. An inspired Reuter is to be sent from home tomorrow and next day Mr Churchill makes a statement on lines suggested by Sir Percy. After that Sir Percy will have a heart to heart talk with the Naqib and advise him as a friend not to come forward as a candidate on account of his great age. The Shaikh of Muhammarah, by the bye, has already withdrawn.

What everybody wants is to know our wishes and be guided by them and as soon as they get any kind of lead they will all, I think, come into line. Meantime, in my role as the Nabi 'Isa I receive many agitated visits from my young Sharifian friends asking for reassurances and for guidance, which I give to the best of my ability and according to Sir Percy's directions. He is a master hand at the game of politics; it's an education to watch him playing it.

I told you about Marie's falling off a pony - she didn't seem to get any less lame so finally we had her X rayed and found that she had cracked a bone. It's not serious and will probably be better in another fortnight, only she is told to walk as little as possible - she need not go completely to bed, to my relief. It's very boring for her, poor thing!

I've just had this Sunday morning a long visit from 2 big shaikhs, Fahad Beg of the 'Anizah (the giver of my dogs) and 'Ali Sulaiman, of the Dulaim. Both came down from Ramadi [Ramadi, Ar] to see Sir Percy and find out his views. They have hitherto been running a campaign on behalf of the Naqib, on the ground that they are perfectly content under our administration and know the Naqib to be entirely submissive to Sir Percy's wishes. So they have been told to stay here for a day or two when H.M.G. will make pronouncements.

I don't for a moment hesitate about the rightness of our policy. We can't continue direct British control though the country would be better governed under it, but it's rather a comic position to be telling people over and over again that whether they like it or not they must have an Arab, not British govt.

At the back of my mind there's the firm conviction that no people likes permanently to be governed by another. Last year when they were all crying for Abdullah it wasn't for his beaux yeux nor because they were inspired by Nationalist enthusiasm, but because they thought the cry was anti-British. I perceived it at the time and used to say to them that Abdullah would never dream of coming if he were not assured of British support - which was true - but I always felt that it was a gross want of statecraft on our part to have let the idea crystallize that Nationalism was anti-British. Now we're trying to foster Nationalism but I'm always ready to admit that Nationalism which is not at the same time anti-Foreign is likely to be a plant of weak growth. Faisal walking hand in hand with us will not be so romantic a figure as Faisal heading a Jihad might be! He won't head a Jihad; that's not his line. Can we get enough breath of life into him without it, to enable him to put real inspiration into the Arab state - enough to enduce men to enlist in the army for example? All depends on his personality and Sir Percy's discretion in keeping in the background. Well at least we're sure of the second item. Ever your very affectionate daughter Gertrude.

IIIF Manifest