IBDP Sample IA: Was Lawrence of Arabia raped?

Was Thomas Edward Lawrence lying when he claimed to have been raped on the 20th of November 1917 by Turkish soldiers while disguised as an Arab?

The question that this investigation will explore is Was Thomas Edward Lawrence lying when he claimed to have been raped on the 20th of November 1917 by Turkish soldiers while disguised as an Arab? This situation has sparked debate, due to there being no evidence other than Lawrence’s own claims.[1]

Section 1: Identification and Evaluation of Sources
SOURCE 1: Seven Pillars of Wisdom, by Thomas Edward Lawrence, published privately in London in 1922.
This autobiography includes an account of Lawrence being raped, and was written by the man who had experienced the tragic event for himself. It involves events only he experienced without any of those accused allowed to rebut possible exaggerations or invented “facts”.[2] The book was written by Lawrence from memory, as his first manuscript was stolen at Reading Station in November 1919 and his notes previously burnt,[3] thus important events may have been forgotten or subconsciously changed, in this case perhaps due to trauma or a desire to forget the specifics, limiting the factual validity of the source.
The purpose was, Wilson argues, “no doubt ...  to be a true story of real events.”[4] From  the leading authority on Lawrence this is important, especially since he argues this in regards to the rape incident.[5] Therefore, Lawrence’s reason behind writing Seven Pillars of Wisdom is valuable to this investigation, since he hence focused on the facts of the assault. Content-wise Lawrence dedicated a few pages to his supposed rape, but the story is vague concerning what actually happened to him and those involved, limiting the value of the source.[6] Nevertheless, as the only source written by the man itself, Seven Pillars of Wisdom gives a valuable insight into Lawrence’s own emotional responses, allowing the reader to understand the effect the supposed rape had on him.
SOURCE 2: Lawrence of Arabia: The Authorised Biography of T.E. Lawrence, by the Historian Jeremy Wilson, first published by Heinemann in London in 1989
This book was written by the man considered to be the leading authority on Lawrence, meaning that the author is highly qualified to write about this man and his potential rape experience.[7] As the title suggests, this biography was sanctioned by Lawrence’s brother Arnold.[8] Given a family member known to have been close to his brother gave such consent suggests the view that Wilson would sincerely represent Lawrence, especially since Wilson actually used the insights of Arnold to write his biography.[9] Since the biography was written after the release of the British Government papers in 1975, Wilson had access to key information he used to make the biography an accurate account of the historical figure’s life.[10] Although this most likely had had no impact on his exploration, it is unlikely that Lawrence did not record this event due to its personal nature, the inclusion of a very strong opinion towards the existence of the rape makes this biography useful for this investigation.
The purpose of this biography was to give an accurate account of Lawrence through the use of public records, British Government papers, and Wilson’s own investment of £200,000 to actively sought out the most relevant and up to date information about Lawrence and his experiences.[11] Therefore, his explorations of Lawrence’s supposed rape is well researched and uses all available sources to put the event not just in context, but to explore the effects that it had on Lawrence as well. However, as this book is indeed an exploration of Lawrence’s entire life, the rape incident is not the focal point, with only a few pages dedicated to the event and the psychological impact it had on Lawrence.[12] On the other hand, these pages are far more focused and realistic than the ones that Lawrence himself wrote in Seven Pillars of Wisdom, making the content as well as the purpose valuable.

Section 2: Investigation
The debate regarding Thomas Edward Lawrence and his alleged rape assault has resulted in strong evidence for both sides of the argument.[13] This investigation will explore both.
The rape, if it had occurred, happened between November 15-21, 1917 when Lawrence claims to have been at the Syrian fortress town at Deraa, having been captured by Turkish Governor Hajim Bey and then whipped and raped by guards.[14] However, historians cannot confirm his actual whereabouts during this time, as the pages of his diary from this period were removed.[15]
Evidence now suggests the assault was a story Lawrence invented based on historian James Barr’s submission of Lawrence’s diary to electrostatic data analysis and one of Lawrence’s letters to make its claim. Barr’s analysis revealed an ‘A’ as an imprint from one of the missing pages, which is assumed to be Azrak, the castle Lawrence was staying at prior to being ‘raped’.[16] Possibly the ‘A’ could have been from any word and thus cannot be seen as conclusive, yet this evidence does question the validity of Lawrence’s claims, since it is unlikely that he would have written about Azrak if he was not at that location on the day he was writing. Supporting this is the letter Lawrence sent to his mother only days prior to the alleged assault, on November 14, 1917.[17] Given the recipient, a person he cared about to a higher degree than most,[18] would Lawrence have been less likely to lie? The line “I am staying here a few days; resting my camels, and then will have another fling” supports the idea that Lawrence stayed in Azrak instead of being raped in Deraa.[19] There is further evidence to suggest that the rape, if attempted at all, was unsuccessful. Writing to the Deputy Chief Political Officer, Lawrence states “Hajim was an ardent paederast and took a fancy to me. So he kept me under guard till night, and then tried to have me. I was unwilling, and prevailed after some difficulty. Hajim sent me to the hospital, and I escaped before dawn, being not as hurt as he thought.”[20] This letter indicates that Lawrence was impassive towards what he calls an attempted sexual assault, which would make his autobiography The Pillars of Wisdom an exaggeration of the event; strong evidence the assault never happened.
However, to understand where the rape claim originated, one must turn to the only primary source available: Seven Pillars of Wisdom.[21] Here, Lawrence writes in particularly emotional fashion, describing everything he saw and felt in explicit detail. “I was obdurate, so he changed his tone, and sharply ordered me to take off my drawers. When I hesitated, he snatched at me…”[22] Wilson argues that since this particular section of his book contains the emotions of fear and horror, evidenced in the language used, it shows how traumatic this experience was for him and therefore makes it justifiable as a historic source, since emotions are difficult to fake when concerned with an experience such as this.[23]Something happened in Deraa,” and it is not surprising “that someone enduring such a trauma might wish to adorn its memory with staggering violence, the kind of violence that offers an absolution of guilt by making all questions of will or resistance moot.”[24] Of course, many can indeed fake such emotions, from actors to authors. However, supporting Wilson, Korda argues that Lawrence had always hated any kind of physical contact from a pat on the back to a handshake; to have been assaulted in a physical sense may indeed have traumatised him to a degree that made it impossible for him to lie about it.[25] Written by the man involved and valuable as the only documentation of this event, it provides major historical significance through the insight about the man himself. The same testimony can be said about the highly awarded movie Lawrence of Arabia. Released in 1964 which has a scene that graphically depicts Lawrence’s stripped, prodded and beaten. whilst leaving open the possibility of him being raped to the viewer, as this occurred off-screen.[26] The screenwriter Robert Bolt used Seven Pillars of Wisdom as his main source, believing it to be essentially true.[27] The use of Lawrence’s account is not necessarily a limitation, as Bolt made sure to focus on Lawrence’s story and use the source that was at the time the most detailed account of the Arab revolt up to the release of the British Official Archives in the late 1970s.[28] However, rather than being a rehash of the autobiography, the movie provides insights into the way that the rape incident was perceived by people in the 1960s when it was more culturally acceptable to imply it in a movie at the time, showing the changing societal views about Lawrence. This is therefore true for the rape scene as well, using Lawrence’s own account to create an accurate portrayal.[29] Therefore, the movie Lawrence of Arabia is another source that proves that Lawrence was indeed raped.
Perhaps one of the most interesting sources that supports of the veracity of the assault is actually Barr himself who, whilst never mentioning the actual event, has written two paragraphs concerning homosexuality.[30] Here Barr hints towards Lawrence as being “repelled by sexual activity in general” and that in his later life “Lawrence admitted that the only sensation which the thought of sex aroused was dread”, hinting towards a traumatic experience earlier in Lawrence’s life that lead to his dislike for sexual activities.[31] Possibly even rape.[32] That Barr published this book in 2009, two years after the article where he argued against the rape ever happening, shows a change in opinion altering the significance of his earlier argument. [33] And yet, all proof that can be found one way or the other becomes fruitless when one considers the hostility towards homosexuality that existed back then. People believed that only homosexuals were victims of sex rape, that that if desired they could have stopped it happening. A man claiming to have been raped would risk being labelled homosexual, the victim being blamed for having desired it rather than the perpetrator. Being homosexual in those times meant that you were oppressed, arrested or even killed, as it was illegal and seen as inhuman.[34] Therefore, rape stories such as Lawrence's were never publicised or even recorded for fear of persecution.[35] Also, it was common knowledge back then that the Turkish were brutal to their prisoners of war, and had been known to rape those they took a liking to. Therefore, it is highly likely that if Lawrence was considered a prisoner this horrific event could have occurred to him.[36] Anderson actively discredits Lawrence’s writings on the rape in Seven Pillars of Wisdom as unlikely and inconsistent, questioning his ability to escape after such an intense flogging, nevertheless accepting that something happened to Lawrence in Deraa, citing the two differing accounts of Lawrence following the publishing of his autobiography. In the second, Lawrence writes “for fear of being hurt… I gave away the only possession we are born in this world with: our body integrity” which Anderson argues demonstrates the intense physiological impact the ‘rape’ and ‘torture’ had on Lawrence, considering his lifelong stoicism and possible suppressed homosexuality as reasons as to why the event possibly did occur.[37] Therefore, the physiological changes that Lawrence underwent following that day in Deraa and the negative view of society towards homosexuality suggest that he was indeed raped. That Lawrence had the courage to write about it is remarkable making it more likely that records of this assault were not simply invented, especially since he displayed some of the post traumatic symptoms of rape assault: depression, anger and vulnerability.[38]
In conclusion, the evidence and social opinion of homosexuality mean that there is a higher chance that Thomas Edward Lawrence was indeed raped and brutally assaulted on the 20th of November while disguised as an Arab in the Fortress of Deraa by the guards of the Turkish Governor Hajim Bey, traumatising him throughout the rest of his life and causing him to bravely add the event in his book Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Section 3: Reflection
This investigation allowed me to understand the struggle of historians in acquiring appropriate evidence both factually correct and relevant to the inquired topic. The main issues faced were the lack of resources available concerning the rape of Lawrence and the language used in the sources, influenced by the changing views of society.
Gaining access to information about the rape is difficult as Barr found when writing his book, eventually crossing the desert to get first-hand evidence to stick to the facts provided from both British and Arab perspectives on Lawrence.[39] This difficulty is partly due to the lack of validity of sources found. Thus ‘The Daily Telegraph’ article may derive from a reliable newspaper citing an acclaimed historian, but the facts themselves may have been exaggerated or invented. Indeed, the amount of sensationalism in this newspaper led no less an authority than Roy Greenslade to denounce it as  “ nasty, inappropriate spin and just the kind of tabloid-style sensationalism that the Telegraph, in its former pomp, would have criticised.”[40] Even the more reliable sources were limited as they barely referred to the event itself. [41] Eventually I found this lack of reliability advantageous since it allowed me to argue against the source being factually correct, offering a different perspective.
Language used in the sources also presented a challenge. When researching conformational evidence surrounding a topic as controversial as this, language would either be graphic or overly emotional.[42] “While… reports that describe the details of rape… can offer a human dimension… it is important to use such accounts… to achieve much more than emotional responses…”[43] Neither language type focuses on the facts concerning Lawrence’s alleged rape, once again impacting on the validity of sources. Thus sources used by Wilson consist of Lawrence's personal letters and writings and are emotional, making it difficult for him to deduce the facts.[44] However, after some consideration I realised that having emotion and graphic details were useful, as the former provides insight into the terribleness of the situation and emotion hinted that the rape did actually occur. Once again I was faced with a dilemma that historians face, and was able to find a way to use it to my advantage.
Finally, when researching about such a controversial topic, the changing views of society are crucial. Hostility towards homosexuality- legal and social- was a major theme. As  society slowly began to become more accepting, the focus shifted from feelings of revulsion to sympathetic acceptance. This is what I found with Lawrence’s historians: the more recent the biography the stronger the focus is on Lawrence and his rape experience. Liddell Hart writing in 1934 did not mention the rape whatsoever; Korda by 2010 extensively exploring both the rape itself and the effects it had on Lawrence. [45] Therefore, there was a large change evident on the opinion of historians on rape as the years progressed. Such a change not only allowed me to find recent sources that explored the debated existence of the rape, but supported my argument regarding the lack of evidence towards the rape due to the persecution of homosexuals.[46] Therefore, the changing views of society was something that I had to consider with a topic as controversial as rape.

Anderson, Scott. Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East. New York: Anchor Books, 2013.

Anderson, Scott. "Scott Anderson." The New York Times. Accessed November 15, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/by/scott-anderson.

Barr, James. Setting the Desert on Fire: T. E. Lawrence and Britain's Secret War in Arabia, 1916-1918. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2008.

Bancroft, John. Human Sexuality and its Problems. London: Elsevier Health Sciences, 2009.

Beard, Matthew. "Manuscript reveals dark side of Lawrence of Arabia's sex life." The Independent, January 31, 2004. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/manuscript-reveals-dark-side-of-lawrence-of-arabias-sex-life-76363.html.

Brantlinger, Patrick. The Reading Lesson: The Threat of Mass Literacy in Nineteenth Century British Fiction. Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1998.

Carchidi, Victoria. "Lawrence of Arabia: The Authorised Biography of T.E. Lawrence (Review). "Biography 17, no. 3 (1994): 301-303.

Davis, Richard Harving. Moments in Hell: Notes of a War Correspondent. Cambridge: Anthem Press, 2007.

Day, Elizabeth. "Lawrence of Arabia 'made up' sex attack by Turk troops." The Telegraph, May 14, 2006. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1518314/Lawrence-of-Arabia-made-up-sex-attack-by-Turk-troops.html.

Greenslade, Roy. "Cliff Richard: Daily Telegraph's sensationalist headline is nasty spin." The Guardian. August 15, 2014. Accessed August 31, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2014/aug/15/dailytelegraph-cliff-richard.

Haliday, Fred. Arabia Without Sultans. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974.

Hart, Basil Henry Liddell. 'T. E. Lawrence'; in Arabia and after. London: Jonathan Cape, 1934.

Korda, Michael. Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia. New York: Harper Collins, 2010.

Lawrence of Arabia. Directed by David Lean. Produced by Sam Spiegel. Performed by Peter O'Toole and Alec Guinness. United Kingdom: Columbia Pictures, 1962. DVD.

Lawrence, T. E. Lawrence of Arabia: The Man Behind the Myth (Complete Autobiographical Works, Memoirs & Letters): Seven Pillars of Wisdom (Memoirs of the Arab Revolt) + The Evolution of a Revolt + The Mint (Memoirs of the Secret Service in Royal Air Force) + Collected Letters (1915-1935). e-Artnow, 2015. Kindle.

Lawrence, Thomas Edward. "Letter to W.F. Stirling, Deputy Chief Political Officer, Cairo." In The Letters of T.E. Lawrence. 165. London: J.M.Dent & Sons, 1988.

Lawrence, Thomas Edward. Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph. New York: Anchor Books, 1991.

Phillips, Gene. Beyond the Epic: The Life and Films of David Lean. Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2006.

Roth, John K., and Carol Rittner. "How Should One Teach." In Teaching about Rape in War and Genocide. 64-84. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

Thornhill, Randy and Palmer, Craig. A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion. Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2001.

Tunzelmann, Alex Von. "Lawrence of Arabia: A Confabulous Romp through the Desert." The Guardian, December 19, 2013. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/dec/19/lawrence-of-arabia-peter-o-toole-true-story.

Tunzelmann, Alex Von. "Who Was T. E. Lawrence?" The New York Times. August 10, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/11/books/review/lawrence-in-arabia-by-scott-anderson.html?_r=0.

Wilson, Jeremy. "Foreword to Seven Pillars of Wisdom." Castle Hill Press. Accessed January 30, 2017. http://www.telstudies.org/discussion/war_service/wilson_seven_pillars_foreword_2014.shtml.

Wilson, Jeremy. "Lawrence of Arabia or Smith in the Desert?" Castle Hill Press. Last modified March 11, 2006. http://www.telstudies.org/discussion/film_tv_radio/lofa_or_sid_1.shtml.

Wilson, Jeremy. Lawrence of Arabia: The Authorised Biography of T.E. Lawrence. London: Heinemann, 1989.

Wilson, Jeremy. Lawrence of Arabia: The Concise Edition of the Authorised Biography of T.E. Lawrence. London: Mandarin, 1992.

Wilson, Jeremy. "Seven Pillars of Wisdom." Castle Hill Press. Accessed January 6, 2017. http://www.telstudies.org/discussion/writings_and_criticism/wilson_7_pillars_1.shtml

Wilson, Jeremy. " T. E. Lawrence."  Castle Hill Press. Accessed September 2, 2017. http://www.telstudies.org/reference/reference_contents.shtml.

[1]. Michael Korda, Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia, (New York: Harper Collins, 2010), 348-354.

[2]. Fred Haliday, Arabia Without Sultans (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974), 89.

[3]. Jeremy Wilson, "Seven Pillars of Wisdom," accessed January 6, 2017, http://www.telstudies.org/discussion/writings_and_criticism/wilson_7_pillars_1.shtml.

[4]. Jeremy Wilson, "Foreword to Seven Pillars of Wisdom," accessed January 30, 2017, http://www.telstudies.org/discussion/war_service/wilson_seven_pillars_foreword_2014.shtml
[5]. Korda, Hero, 348-354.

[6]. Thomas Edward Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph (New York: Anchor Books, 1991), 443-445.

[7]. Korda, Hero, 348-354.

[8]. Victoria Carchidi, “Lawrence of Arabia: The Authorised Biography of T.E. Lawrence (Review)”, Biography 17, no. 3 (1994) 301-303.

[9]. Jeremy Wilson, Lawrence of Arabia: The Authorised Biography of T.E. Lawrence, (London: Heinemann, 1989), 1157.

[10]. Wilson, Authorised Biography.

[11]. Carchidi, “Lawrence (Review)”, 301-303.

[12]. Wilson, Authorised Biography, 1084.

[13]. Alex Von Tunzelmann, "Lawrence of Arabia: A Confabulous Romp through the Desert," The Guardian, December 19, 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/dec/19/lawrence-of-arabia-peter-o-toole-true-story.

[14]. Lawrence, Seven Pillars, 443-445.

[15]. Elizabeth Day, "Lawrence of Arabia 'made up' sex attack by Turk troops," The Telegraph, May 14, 2006, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1518314/Lawrence-of-Arabia-made-up-sex-attack-by-Turk-troops.html.

[16]. Day. "Sex Attack."
[17]. T. E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia: The Man Behind the Myth (Complete Autobiographical Works, Memoirs & Letters): Seven Pillars of Wisdom (Memoirs of the Arab Revolt) + The Evolution of a Revolt + The Mint (Memoirs of the Secret Service in Royal Air Force) + Collected Letters (1915-1935), (e-Artnow, 2015), chap. 4, Kindle.

[18]. Korda, Hero, 355-439.

[19]. Lawrence, Behind the Myth, chap. 4.
      Day. "Sex Attack."

[20]. Lawrence, Thomas Edward, The Letters of T.E. Lawrence, (London: J.M.Dent & Sons, 1988), 165.

[21]. Lawrence, Seven Pillars, 443-445.

[22]. Lawrence, Seven Pillars, 443.

[23]. Wilson, "Foreword."

[24]. Alex Von Tunzelmann, "Who Was T. E. Lawrence?" The New York Times, August 10, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/11/books/review/lawrence-in-arabia-by-scott-anderson.html?_r=0.

[25]. Korda, Hero, 348-354.

[26]. Tunzelmann, "Confabulous Romp."
[27]. Gene Phillips, Beyond the Epic: The Life and Films of David Lean, (Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2006), 275.

[28]. Wilson, "Foreword."

[29]. Phillips, David Lean, 310-311.

[30]. James Barr, Setting the Desert on Fire: T. E. Lawrence and Britain's Secret War in Arabia, 1916-1918 (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2008), 197-198.

[31]. Barr, Desert on Fire, 197.

[32]. Korda, Hero, 348-354.

[33]. Barr, Desert on Fire.
      Day, "Sex Attack."

[34]. John Bancroft, Human Sexuality and its Problems, (London: Elsevier Health Sciences, 2009), 255-256.
      Bancroft, Human Sexuality, 490-491.

[35]. Bancroft, Human Sexuality, 255-256.

[36]. Korda, Hero, 348-354.

[37]. Anderson, Scott, Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East, (New York: Anchor Books, 2013), 398-402.

[38]. Wilson, Authorised Biography, 461-462.
[39]. Barr, Desert on Fire, 1-2.

[40]. Roy Greenslade, “Cliff Richard: Daily Telegraph's sensationalist headline is nasty spin,” The Guardian, August 15, 2014, accessed August 31, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2014/aug/15/dailytelegraph-cliff-richard.

[41]. Barr, Desert on Fire.
      Lawrence, Seven Pillars.

[42]. Randy Thornhill and Craig T. Palmer, A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion, (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2001), 149.

[43]. John K. Roth and Carol Rittner, "How Should One Teach." In Teaching about Rape in War and Genocide, (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 64-84.

[44]. Wilson, "T. E. Lawrence. "

[45]. Basil Henry Liddell Hart, 'T. E. Lawrence'; in Arabia and after, (London: Jonathan Cape, 1934).
      Korda, Hero.
[46]. Bancroft, Human Sexuality, 255-256.