1917 | Arabia

Conflict Resolution

T.E. Lawrence defuses a fight.

At last we camped, and when the camels were unloaded and driven out to pasture, I lay down under the rocks and rested. My body was very sore with headache and high fever, the accompaniments of a sharp attack of dysentery, which had troubled me along the march and had laid me out twice that day in short fainting fits, when the more difficult parts of the climb had asked too much of my strength. 

My followers had been quarrelling all day, and while I was lying near the rocks a shot was fired. I paid no attention—for there were hares and birds in the valley—but a little later Suleiman roused me and made me follow him across the valley to an opposite bay in the rocks, where one of the Ageyl, a Boreida man, was lying stone-dead with a bullet through his temples. The shot must have been fired from close by, because the skin was burnt about one wound. The remaining Ageyl were running frantically about and when I asked what it was, Ali, their head man, said that Hamed the Moor had done the murder. I sent all out to search for Hamed and crawled back to the baggage, feeling that it need not have happened this day of all days when I was in pain.

The Punishments of Hell: The Cold Water, by Cristoforo de Predis, c. 1476.

The Punishments of Hell: The Cold Water, by Cristoforo de Predis, c. 1476.

As I lay there, I heard a rustle and opened my eyes slowly upon Hamed’s back as he stooped over his saddlebags, which lay just beyond my rock. I covered him with a pistol and then spoke. He had put down his rifle to lift the gear and was at my mercy till the others came. We held a court at once and after a while Hamed confessed that—he and Salem having had words—he had seen red and shot him suddenly. Our inquiry ended. The Ageyl, as relatives of the dead man, demanded blood for blood. The others supported them, and I tried vainly to talk the gentle Ali around. My head was aching with fever, and I could not think; but hardly even in health, with all eloquence, could I have begged Hamed off, for Salem had been a friendly fellow and his sudden murder a wanton crime.

Then rose up the horror which would make civilized man shun justice like a plague if he had not the needy to serve him as hangman for wages. There were other Moroccans in our army, and to let the Ageyl kill one in feud meant reprisals by which our unity would have been endangered. It must be a formal execution, and at last, desperately, I told Hamed that he must die for punishment and laid the burden of his killing on myself. Perhaps they would count me not qualified for feud. At least no revenge would lie against my followers, for I was a stranger and kinless.

A crowded police court docket is the surest sign that trade is brisk and money plenty.

—Mark Twain, 1872

I made him enter a narrow gully of the spur, a dank twilight place overgrown with woods. Its sandy bed had been pitted by trickles of water down the cliffs in the late rain. At the end it shrank to a crack a few inches wide. The walls were vertical. I stood in the entrance and gave him a few moments’ delay, which he spent crying on the ground. Then I made him rise and shot him through the chest. He fell down on the weeds shrieking, with the blood coming out in spurts over his clothes, and jerked about till he rolled nearly to where I was. I fired again, but was shaking so that I only broke his wrist. He went on calling out, less loudly, now lying on his back with his feet toward me, and I leaned forward and shot him for the last time in the thick of his neck under the jaw. His body shivered a little, and I called the Ageyl, who buried him in the gully where he was. Afterward the wakeful night dragged over me, till, hours before dawn, I had the men up and made them load in my longing to be set free of Wadi Kitan. They had to lift me into the saddle.

British scholar and military officer T.E. Lawrence.

T.E. Lawrence

From Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Lawrence first became acquainted with the Arabian Peninsula while on a traveling fellowship from Oxford University’s Magdalen College between 1911 and 1914. He joined Emir Faisal’s army as a political and liaison officer in 1916, given the name “Emir Dynamite” for his willingness to demolish the Turkish railway as part of World War I’s Arab Uprising. Having published a 330,000-word version of Pillars in 1922, Lawrence died as a result of a motorcycle accident in 1935 at the age of forty-six.