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Thursday, September 22, 2011
Paris, Tripoli, Benghazi
Bernard-Henri Lévy returns to Libya in the wake of victory and
wonders: will this be the city upon a hill for the rest of the Arab world?
By Bernard-Henry Lévy
French president Nicolas Sarkozy in Tripoli
many times, we’ve waited for helicopters in Libya! Well, this time the last
choppers of this war are on time. As they land, they stir up storms of dust and
dirty sand. But this is the last storm, a symbolic and joyous storm, the lovely
storm of the victory of liberty.
Sarkozy and David Cameron step down first, gathering around President Abdel
Jalil. They raise his arms in a sign of victory, the way trainers do in the
ring when their champion has won the fight. One can read the elation on all
their faces. A second of apprehension, perhaps, when they step down on Libyan
soil. A final whirlwind when the last helicopter arrives, the gusts so strong
that all of them must lower their heads. But I look at Jalil. I watch Jibril,
his prime minister, at his side. And in their eyes, I can plainly see that this
is the last time they will bow their heads.
the foot of the elevator at the large hospital, first stop of the visit, where
the women of Tripoli are waiting, shoved by the crowd that demolishes the
proper protocol, I run into Sarkozy’s adviser Henri Guaino. My opinion of him
hasn’t changed, nor his of me. But I offer my hand, and he takes it. This
moment surpasses personal considerations. The event itself carries the day; it
appeals to us with all its power.
same thing occurs with French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé. Later, after
Benghazi, we’ll even have a kind of tête-à-tête. And then, like players who
turn over their last cards when the hand is finished, we’ll bring up the
subjects that led to disagreement. Once again, the event itself dictates the
tone and inspires us to set aside our quarrels for the moment.
the man I am watching with the most curiosity is, of course, Nicolas Sarkozy.
saw him in Tripoli, in a room at the Hotel Corinthia, confronting the entire
National Transitional Council. The city’s military governor, the embodiment of
the possible threat of radical Islam, is in the room. He knows it, he sees him,
but that does not prevent him from saying, with firmness and solemnity, that
Libya and France did not do all they have done together only to find
themselves, one fine morning, with a fundamentalist dictatorship on their
study him at Liberty Square, before the sea, in Benghazi, the crowd greeting
him—to his own immense surprise—with a prolonged cry of joy, long enough to
make one run out of breath, a cry they have held back ever since the day French
planes ran strikes against the tanks that were preparing to pound their city
watch them both, Cameron and him, facing circumstances so untypical of what they
have both been used to, and yet which they have produced. They are young. They
are the youngest protagonists, the first leaders in their respective countries
to play a role in a History with which neither has had any direct, personal
contact in his lifetime. And I wonder if perhaps that isn’t the key. The weight
of History paralyzed their elders. And the absence of History is such that
they, themselves, were freer and could thus fulfill the commitment of this
adventure, with all the risks entailed, the likes of which had never before
then there are the Libyans.
shooting me a look of complicity in the indescribable scramble at the entrance
to the museum of Gaddafist horrors, where the two youngsters of History are
invited to stop and reflect—wasn’t he the very first to welcome me to Benghazi
six months ago?
I saw Jibril smile. I saw Jibril happy. At the moment of this smile, the moment
of this sigh that is this day that belongs to Libya, I saw Jibril the Terrible,
the very same man I saw hold his own, inflexible, against Hillary Clinton,
transformed into a joyous companion, adjusting the glasses that nearly fell off
his nose, shuffling and shoving together with the crowd.
Jalil. There is at least one image of Jalil that I shall never forget. It’s the
last glimpse of his face as the helicopter bears him away. He is sitting on the
middle seat, before the open door, strapped in and facing the void. And, as his
own people watch him take off, he gestures with his hand, just a little sign,
but one that expresses better than any long speech the reconquered sovereignty
of Libya, his authority and his pride as a liberator of Libya.
will they do, all of them, with their revolution?
they be able to protect it from the appetite of those of its children who
already dream of devouring it?
they definitively become Girondins, or will they be Arab Montagnards,
gravediggers for their own freedom, conquered at such cost and so much
it is a question that applies to all of them.
all who are present are no doubt secretly asking it themselves.
one has accomplished this, when one has been an actor in these insane times
that have seen a revolt in an obscure country of the Arab world succeed, what
does one do? Forget it? Set it aside like a task well done? Take it off, like a
matador’s suit of light? Or try to remain true to what one has accomplished,
contemporary with this moment in and of itself, faithful to its brilliance.
event demands it.
seeks a future, hopefully.
this promise be kept.
those who carried it remain compelled by its grandeur.
may it also provide an example, wherever those who combat tyranny search for
-This commentary was published in The Daily Beast on 21/09/2011-Bernard-Henri Lévy is one of France's most famed philosophers, a
journalist, and a bestselling writer. He is considered a founder of the New
Philosophy movement and is leading thinker on religious issues, genocide, and
international affairs. His most recent book, Left in Dark Times: A Stand
Against the New Barbarism, discusses political and cultural affairs as an ongoing
battle against the inhumane