Libya: French intellectual tells it all

2011-11-09 12:44

Paris - French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy helped to persuade President Nicolas Sarkozy to arm Libya's revolution, and says Muammar Gaddafi’s downfall should serve as a warning to dictators everywhere.

That Levy played a role in Gaddafi’s overthrow has been known since the first days of the conflict in March, but the extent of his involvement was revealed this week in his new book on the war and in an interview with AFP.

He describes how - fearing the West would stand aside as a despot murdered his own people - he met rebel leaders in Benghazi and, on the basis of the briefest of meetings, decided to introduce them to Sarkozy.

"For an intellectual who is horrified by violence, who knows war well enough to be awfully afraid, it's not easy to take part - to what extent, I don't know - in the decision to launch or prolong a war," he told AFP.

With his trademark hand-made white shirts open to the chest, constant media appearances and celebrity lifestyle, Levy - or "BHL" as he is known in Paris - is sometimes mocked as a showman rather than a serious thinker.

But the 63-year-old has a long association with humanitarian and political causes, and says he did not take his role in the Libyan conflict lightly.

He admitted that in March he had little idea who the men behind the rebel National Transitional Council were, having only talked briefly with its leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil, but he nevertheless decided France must support them.

"I don't really know who Abdel Jalil is, but I know what a massacre is. I have seen many in by life," said Levy, an intellectual activist who lobbied for persecuted populations in Bangladesh, Bosnia, Rwanda and elsewhere.

Planned disaster

"I know what it is for a city to be punished by a dictator. I know what it is for a city to be ripped apart, to be terrorised by Sukhoi jets and militia fighters," he explained, at his Left Bank publishers' office.

"And so, in effect, it was instinctive. I told myself it was impossible to stand by, that everything must be done to prevent this coming disaster, this planned disaster," he explained, recounting his trips behind rebel lines.

On March 05, Levy met leaders of the fledgling NTC in the hours after they formed the body to unite revolutionary forces against the regime.

Gaddafi’s forces were closing in on Benghazi, rolling back a brave but indisciplined rebel force, and the strongman made blood-curdling threats to hunt down the "traitors" and take his revenge.

Levy grabbed a satellite telephone and called Sarkozy.

"My plan is to bring a delegation from the council that was just formed to Paris ... Would you agree to meet, personally, with this delegation?" he asked Sarkozy. "Of course", the president replied, according to Levy's book.

Five days later Levy brought a delegation to the Elysee. To general astonishment, France immediately recognised the rebel regime.

French and British diplomats worked swiftly to secure a UN resolution authorising force to protect Libyan civilians. On March 19 a salvo of US cruise missiles marked the start of a Western bombing campaign.

But Levy's role was not over. He made more trips to Libya, visiting rebels in the Djebel Nafusa highlands and the besieged port of Misrata, and arranging more high-wire shuttle diplomacy.

Midnight talks

He introduced NTC military leader Abdel Fatah Younes to Sarkozy in midnight talks in Paris on April 13. France sent military trainers and large quantities of weapons to the front, turning the course of the war.

The philosopher's role was shifting. He had become a player in the drama, helping the rebels draft public statements and attending talks between Younes and Sarkozy in which strategy and weapons drops were discussed in detail.

"Obviously when I heard him list the weapons he needed, when I heard him raise the possibility of opening a second front in the Djebel Nafusa, it was terrifying for me. I knew all of that must be handled with care," he said.

"Of course I never stopped having doubts," he said. "I've thought about it a lot and I think, at each stage, I did the right thing."

So would France have gone to war without Levy?

"I don't know. In this book I bear witness to what I saw and what I did. I took these members of the NTC to Paris and suggested they be recognised, which France did to the astonishment of the world," he said.

"I write - and this is not easy, because I'm not one of his supporters - that if President Sarkozy was not ready, if France was not ready, Gaddafi would still be in power and Benghazi reduced to cinders like Misrata."

Levy described France's intervention as a victory for humanitarian internationalism and the rule of law.

Despite Gaddafi's bloody end, tormented and lynched by the very rebels that Levy invited to the Elysee Palace - an incident which the thinker regrets - he believes it should serve as a model for future operations.

"It's a first for those of my generation," he said. "I think that it can serves as an example, that it can only make other dictators stop and think, at least those in the region."

Read more on:    ntc  |  nicolas sarkozy  |  mustafa abdel jalil  |  muammar gaddafi  |  france  |  libya  |  libya protests  |  north africa  |  uprisings
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
6 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
 

Zuma: Pray for peaceful polls

President Jacob Zuma has asked members of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God to pray for peaceful elections on 7 May.

 
 

Latest elections multimedia

Why Jack Parow wants you to vote on 7 May
The ad the SABC doesn't want to air
Elections 2014 in one cartoon
This year's election posters
 
Traffic
Lottery
 
  • Saturday Cape Town - 10:57 AM
    Road name: M3 Inbound
    EVENT - left lane closed between Rhodes Avenue and UCT
  • Saturday Constantia - 07:19 AM
    Road name: Rhodes Drive Both Ways
    ROAD CLOSED between Constantia Nek and Canterbury Road until 1300
 
More traffic reports...
 

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Escape winter, head to Mauritius

Escape winter by spending 7 nights in Mauritius' tropical bliss from R13 215 per person sharing. Includes return flights, airport transfers and accommodation. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Get many eggs in one basket!

Gaming bundles: 2 Super Hits games for R99, 3 Disney games for R99 and more + exclusive accessory bundles only available on kalahari.com. While stocks last. Shop now!

25% off bestselling books!

The Real Meal Revolution by Tim Noakes, Jeffrey Archer’s Be Careful What You Wish for, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frank and many more titles. Shop now!

Up to 25% off electronics

Buy top electronics and save up to 25%. Such as kalahari.com’s 1# selling product the gobii eReader, Patriot X Porter flash drive, Asus Nexus 7” 3G tablet, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Lenovo G580 Notebook and many more. Shop now!

DStv HD PVR Decoder now R949

The DStv HD PVR Decoder has further revolutionised the television experience with lifelike viewing, sharper images, more vibrant colours and precision picture quality. Now R949, save R550. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 30% off appliances & homeware

Save up to 30% on appliances and homeware this Easter! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Nokia Lumia 800

The stunningly social Nokia Lumia 800 features head-turning design, ...

From R2395.00

I'm shopping for:

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

Self-indulgence may be strong today. You may want to enjoy yourself to the fullest and share it with those that make you feel...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.