In the summer of 1931, the security services in French-controlled Syria detained and deported a Danish journalist who had the previous year spent time in the Italian colonies of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica in North Africa, part of what would later become the modern state of Libya. The Italian fascists had reportedly contacted the French to request the expulsion of the twenty-eight-year-old traveler on the grounds that he was a dangerous subversive. French officials in Syria needed little convincing: the tall, blue-eyed Dane’s reputation had preceded his arrival and some of his reporting about Libya, they believed, had inspired anti-Italian riots in Syria that had left several dead. Soon after these disturbances, an article in the British press called the young man a “Danish Lawrence,” referring to T.E. Lawrence, the British military officer in World War I better known as “Lawrence of Arabia.”

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This article was originally published in the New York Review of Books.