20 SEPTEMBER 1963, Page 23

Oil Gush

A Golden Dream : .The Miracle of Kuwait. By Ralph Hewins. (W. H. Allen, 35s.) A Golden Dream cannot be regarded either as a serious history of Kuwait or as a serious appre- ciation of Kuwait's present social, economic or international significance. There is nothing in it either reliably to inform the historian, the economist, the sociologist or the student of cur- rent affairs, nor aesthetically to attract the lover of literature or the sophisticated tourist. It is written in a brash, colloquial, ungrammatical style of journalese, full of clichés, misspellings and misprints. There is a large number of minor factual errors, not particularly important in themselves, but cumulatively indicative of the lack of background knowledge desirable for writ- ing a work of this kind. There are some really ludicrous historical judgments and assessments.

One might have been disposed to show a little more charity towards the author if he had shown any signs of this quality in his book. But A Golden Dream is liberally bestrewn with sneer- ing and sweeping condemnation. The Bedouin way of life, the British way of life, the integrity and intelligence of British officials, the foresight of international oil companies, the morals of Arab potentates, Lawrence and Storrs ('show- men'), Sir Percy Cox ('it does not seem to have dawned on Cox'), Gertrude Bell ('a fifty-year- old spinster'), 'little' Abdullah, 'timid' Faisal: all are disposed of with a series of petulant flicks from Mr. Hewins's tourist fly-whisk. He goes through the Middle East like a dug-out Colonel with a hangover at a Sunday morning kit-inspec- tion in an Infantry Base Depot.

Most of the book consists of a history of the Arabian Peninsula from about 1700 onwards. Mr. Hewins, in preparation for his task, has ob- viously read widely, if not always carefully and discriminately. among the standard British writers on the subject—Doughty, Philby, Wilson, Gertrude Bell, Dickson. The result is discursive, ill-balanced, incoherent and lacking in a sense of proportion. There is also a description of modern Kuwait, of which the author has a good superficial first-hand knowledge, a well-deserved eulogy of the present Sheikh of Kuwait, and a long sneer about the British military expedition to Kuwait in 1961. According to Mr. Hewins, almost everybody concerned in the organisation and direction of this expedition, like almost everybody concerned in the direction of Middle East policy and in the obtention and exploita- tion of British Middle Eastern oil concessions during the last fifty years, suffered from an ex- ceptionally low level of intelligence, integrity and foresight. There is, of course, a good case for criticising all these things and the people respon- sible for them. But Mr. Hewins's peevish deter- mination to find fault over matters which he has not troubled, or not been enabled, properly to investigate cannot he dienified with the title of criticism