The French celebrity philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy was banned from joining the former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to Libya this week because he is Jewish.
Mr Lévy was a vocal advocate of the French and British-led military intervention which helped to topple the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. He is credited with helping to persuade Mr Sarkozy to send French warplanes to protect rebels from Gaddafi’s forces.
According to the French news website Rue89, Mr Lévy was banned from Mr Sarkozy’s visit to Libya earlier this week because the municipal authorities in Tripoli feared his Jewish background would make him a target for attacks by Islamist militia. Mr Sarkozy threatened to cancel the visit but Mr Lévy urged him to support “friends in Libya” who are “in a delicate situation because they need to watch out for the Islamists”.
The Algerian-born Lévy, who like every good lecherous Gaul goes by his three initials, “BHL,” became famous as a prominent member of the French “New Philosophers,” a group that distanced itself from French intellectuals’ affection for Marxism and authoritarianism. In recent years, however, he’s been better known for being what Harper’s called a “larger-than-life thinker, writer, seducer, and friend to the world’s oppressed.” He is known as an advocate for free speech and democratic rights against militant Islam, and has lobbied on behalf of particular humanitarian causes, including prevention of genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda. He also wrote a book about his Tocquevillian travels in the United States that the New York Times Book Review called “the classic Freaks, Fatties, Fanatics & Faux Culture Excursion beloved of European journalists for the past 50 years.”
Then as the Arab Spring surged, Lévy took it upon himself to persuade French president Nicolas Sarkozy to support Libya’s rebels, some of whom he had gotten to know when they were anti-Qaddafi dissidents (New York magazine told the tale in December 2011). In BHL’s telling, his arguments, including famously telling Sarkozy that “the blood of the people of Benghazi will stain the flag of France,” won over the French president, who convinced British prime minister David Cameron, and eventually the U.S., to support a no-fly zone and bombing campaign. In the absence of a functional Libyan government after the rebels’ victory, though, it seems the Islamists BHL opposes wield all too much power.