British author James Barr visited AUB last week to present his book, “A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the struggle that shaped the Middle East.” Hosted by the Center for Arab and Middle Eastern Studies, the lecture touched on the secret Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 that defined the modern Middle East.
The Sykes-Picot agreement between the British politician Sir Mark Sykes and the French diplomat Francois Georges-Picot defined the Middle East borders that in place today with few changes.
The book’s title refers to the line in the sand the French and British drew on the map of the Arab World to split the countries among themselves after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1919, following World War I.
Barr’s book is more of a “book about men,” as AUB agriculture professor, Jad Chaaban, pointed out. In fact, it examines the men involved in this agreement and in the history-changing events that followed it, and how these men’s characters shaped the events, history and even the future of this region.
Although Barr’s book mentions a few prominent figures of the Arab World at that time, its major emphasis is on the men of Britain and France. When asked why that was, Barr explained that, unfortunately, publishing houses in the West are somewhat “sensitive,” as he put it, to Arab names.
“James is extremely knowledgeable in his field and his talk flowed very well,” said student Safia Alajlan, adding that the lecture was very interactive, perhaps because of the controversial nature of the topic and its sensitivity.
Moreover, there were several history professors and experts in the audience. Deringil Mehmet Selim, a visiting history professor at AUB, questioned and challenged a Barr who, despite “going around in circles, managed to get back with answers in the end,” according to Alajlan.
After saying “we” when referring to the British, Barr humorously commented that it “sounds bad” for him to associate himself, as the presenter, with one side of the discussion.
For a Briton presenting in the Arab world and to an audience with Arabs, Barr’s wording may have been perceived as insensitive by some members of the audience because of the role Britain played in the division of their lands, and as some view it, in the unrest and chaos that some of these countries suffer from till this day.
CAMES student and event organizer, Chloe Domat, was satisfied with the presentation. She said that Barr gave a good lecture with good attendance seeing that the event was not very well publicized.