Lawrence Was Big on Arabia But Was Arabia Big on Lawrence?
Fifty years after the recently deceased Peter O'Toole (all six foot two of him) played the British adventurer (who stood a stumpy five foot four) in the David Lean film, Fouad Ajami does an excellent job of tackling that question:
Ever since the legend of Lawrence took hold—the authors never tire of the man—there has been debunkers aplenty. He was a fantasist, some argued, his Seven Pillars a work of embellished fiction. His Arabic was poor, others claimed, he could not pass himself off as an Arab. He was too short, room was made for him in active service only when Turkey joined the Central Powers and he was sent to Egypt and attached to a military intelligence section. There were Arabs, in particular, who ridiculed his appearance in traditional Arab attire in the streets of Beirut and Cairo, and in the chancelleries of London and Paris.
No one could say with certainty if he loved or loathed the Arabs. It is easy to say that he was drawn to their “nobility,” which in this context meant the backward classes and tribes. Doubtless, Arabia held real attractions for him. He was of illegitimate birth, and Arabia made it possible for him to become “El-Orens,” the man of legend and fame...
If, like me, you are still captivated by the Lawrence story after all these years, I think you'll find Ajemi's brief essay to be most enlightening.
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