“It is difficult to explain. You Americans know so little of our politics. It is significant, I might say, of the New Arabia— Arabia for the Arabs. The great ben Saoud, who is a relative of this man, is an Arabian chieftain who has welded most of Arabia into one, and now challenges King Hussein of Mecca for the caliphate. Hussein is only kept on his throne by British gold, paid to him from India. Ben Saoud also receives a subsidy from the British, who must continue to pay it, because otherwise ben Saoud will attack Hussein and overwhelm him. That, it is believed, would mean a rising of all the Moslem world against their rulers—in Africa—Asia—India—Java—everywhere. It began as a religious movement. It is now political—although it is held together by religious zeal. You might say that the Ichwans are the modern Protestants of Islam. They are fanatical. The world has never seen such fanaticism, and the movement spreads day by day.”
“You don’t look like a fanatic,” I said, and he laughed again.
“I? God forbid! But I am a politician; and to succeed a politician must have friends among all parties. My one ambition is to see all Arabs united in an independent state reaching from this coast to the Persian Gulf. To that end I devote my energy. I use all means available—including money paid me by the French, who have no intention of permitting any such development if they can help it.”
“And the British?”
“For the present we must make use of them also. But their yoke must go, eventually.”
“Then if America had accepted the Near East mandate, you would have used us in the same way?”
“Certainly. That would have been the easiest way, because America understands little or nothing of our politics. America’s money—America’s schools and hospitals—America’s war munitions— and then good-bye. I am willing to use all means—all methods to the one end—Arabia for the Arabs. After that I am willing to retire into oblivion.”
Nevertheless, ben Nazir did not convince me that he was an altruist who had no private ends to serve. There was an avaricious gleam in ben Nazir’s eyes.
“D’you mind if I use You?”
For all his care to seem hospitable before any other consideration, ben Nazir looked ill at ease. He led me down again to a dining-room hung with spears, shields, scimitars and ancient pistols, but furnished otherwise like an instalment-plan apartment. He watched while a man set food before me. It seemed that Anazeh had gone away somewhere to eat with his men.
Ben Nazir’s restlessness became so obvious that I asked at last whether I was not detaining him. He jumped at the opening. With profound apologies he asked me to excuse him for the remainder of the afternoon.
“You see,” he explained, “I came from Damascus to Jerusalem, so I was rather out of touch with what was going on here. This conference of notables was rather a surprise to me. It will not really take place until tomorrow, but there are important details to attend to in advance. If you could amuse yourself—”