James Barr: Historian says Lawrence of Arabia invented rape scene to hide his own sexuality





Thomas Edward Lawrence arrived in the Arabian port city of Jeddah early on the morning of October 16, 1916. Four months earlier, the Arab ruler of Mecca had started a rebellion against the Ottoman Empire. Lawrence, an Oxford-trained archaeologist who joined the ranks of British intelligence at the outset of World War I, was on a fact-finding mission to determine how Britain should respond to what the papers in London were grandiosely dubbing the Great Arab Revolt.

As is well known, Lawrence spent the next two years fighting with Arab irregulars, conducting guerrilla operations against the Ottoman army, and, in the process, revolutionizing modern warfare. In his book, Setting the Desert on Fire: T.E. Lawrence and Britain's Secret War in Arabia, 1916-1918 (Norton), the British historian James Barr lends a fresh gloss to this legendary tale — the result of four years scouring declassified archives.

Chief among Barr's findings is his claim to have solved the mystery of one of the more controversial episodes of Lawrence's life. In his 1922 memoir, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence recounts being captured and raped by Turkish soldiers. (The incident also appears in the classic 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia.) Scholars have long questioned Lawrence's recollection — not least because the page of his diary covering the week in question was removed, presumably by Lawrence himself. Utilizing new forensic technology to disclose words written on missing paper, Barr concludes that Lawrence fabricated the tale for political purposes and because he was trying to come to terms with his own complex sexuality....



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