By: Jeffrey A. Blakely
Most Americans understand World War I in the Middle East through the epic 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia. Who can forget Peter O’Toole’s vibrant blue eyes as he blew up trains on the Hejaz railroad in modern Saudi Arabia and Jordan? Since American forces were not involved in the Egyptian/Palestine front, it probably would have escaped American interest were it not for the film.
But World War I shaped the modern Middle East. Nation-states from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf were brought into being by the British and French mandates. Their borders were drawn by colonial administrators in European chancelleries using inadequate maps and with little regard for and no input from the local populations, which were a swirl of ethnic and religious groups. Many of these states and boundaries are now breaking down.