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Spies in Arabia The Great War and the Cultural Foundations of Britain's Covert Empire in the Middle East by Priya (Assistant Professor of History, Stanford University) Satia

Spies in Arabia The Great War and the Cultural Foundations of Britain's Covert Empire in the Middle East



Spies in Arabia The Great War and the Cultural Foundations of Britain's Covert Empire in the Middle East by Priya (Assistant Professor of History, Stanford University) Satia

At the dawn of the twentieth century, British intelligence agents began to venture in increasing numbers to the Arab lands of the Ottoman Empire, a region of crucial geopolitical importance spanning present-day Iraq, Jordan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. They were drawn by the twin objectives of securing the land route to India and finding adventure and spiritualism in a mysterious and ancient land. But these competing desires created a dilemma: how were they to discreetly and patriotically gather facts in a region they were drawn to for its legendary inscrutability and by the promise of fame and escape from Britain? In this groundbreaking book, Priya Satia tracks the intelligence community's tactical grappling with this problem and the myriad cultural, institutional, and political consequences of their methodological choices during and after the Great War. She tells the story of how an imperial state in thrall to the cultural notions of equivocal agents and beset by an equally captivated and increasingly assertive mass democracy invented a wholly new style of covert empire centered on the world's first brutal aerial surveillance regime in Iraq. Drawing on a wealth of archival sources-from the fictional to the recently declassified-this book explains how Britons reconciled genuine ethical scruples with the actual violence of their Middle Eastern empire. As it vividly demonstrates how imperialism was made fit for an increasingly democratic and anti-imperial world, what emerges is a new interpretation of the military, cultural, and political legacies of the Great War and of the British Empire in the twentieth century. Unpacking the romantic fascination with Arabia as the land of espionage, Spies in Arabia presents a stark tale of poetic ambition, war, terror, and failed redemption-and the prehistory of our present discontents.


This book is nuanced, challenging, nicely written, interesting and thought-provoking... rich and rewarding... It is a book that is sure to be well received and it will further our understanding of Britain and the Middle East. * Matthew Hughes, History * [An] impressive work which ambitiously seeks to explore the cultural space within which political, military and intelligence personnel operated. * Keith Jeffery, Asian Affairs. * [...] a significant edition to the historiography of the First World War beyond Europe... [An] impressive study... * Nadia Atia, History Workshop Journal, Spring 2011 *

About the Author

Priya Satia is Assistant Professor of History at Stanford University.

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Book Info

Publication date

4th February 2010


Priya (Assistant Professor of History, Stanford University) Satia

More books by Priya (Assistant Professor of History, Stanford University) Satia
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Oxford University Press Inc


472 pages


Colonialism & imperialism

20th century history: c 1900 to c 2000
International relations



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